News Headlines     |     
Dec
26

Email

3 DAYS IN SERRE CHE - Katie Bamber, Serre Chevalier
Wednesday December 26, 2018 - Email this article to a friend

A very short trip planned to a personal favourite resort, with a full-on schedule. What do we do? Make it into a challenge.


What's there to do in a ski resort, apart from ski, hike and eat good, filling mountain food? Some might ask...

Well PlanetSKI's Katie Bamber put just this to the test in a last minute decision on a 3-day-er to one of her top rated ski resorts:

Serre Chevalier in the southern Alps.

It's a resort that's under-visited by the British (appealing?) but one where a fair few have settled and now call home.

For good reason.

Katie hooks up with Ski Connections ski school and rentals, and private chalet Chez Bear to help her out with this task.

"I've written before about my love for this resort", Katie reports.

"I've spent many visits over a decade exploring the off piste, enjoying the top tree skiing, and eating at some favourite alpine restaurants."

"This time, I'm taking the oppportunity to do all the other activities I put off for these pursuits."

"As well as the skiing (and not forgetting eating at the best on mountain spots), I squeeze in snowboarding, X-country skiing, snow shoeing, fat biking, sight-seeing, and several wellness activities, including Cryo therapy and a thermal spa visit."

"It was bound to be the most incredible and busy trip."

Let me tell you how it's gone, with thanks to encouraging pals at Ski Connections - who can pretty much organise any thing for you from night-time X country skiing to day trip to La Grave - and Joe and Josie at chalet Chez Bear for providing such a perfect sanctuary to come back to each evening to re-charge and re-fuel in such comfortable luxury.

Katie in Chez Bear Katie looked after in Chez Bear




























ARRIVAL DAY:

3 hours in to a swift 3-day ski trip in Serre Chevalier, I checked the weather forecast and what was on the agenda.

The weather: couldn't be more in luck.

Snow overnight for a clear arrival day, bluebird day, a metre of fresh the next, another bluebird.

And the promise (and ideas beyond those I could come up with) of any snowsport activity we wanted.

What was there to do?

I decided to take control and make the most out of a fabulous situation.

Do it all.

As many activities as possible during my short stay in this fantastic destination.

Resorts are not just offering, but encouraging visitors to do more than just ski.

There is so much, after all, the mountains offer aside from gravity and eyes drawing us down the hills.

After years of procrastinating, I finally took part in the other side of mountain resorts.

And it was totally worth the effort.

On the walls of BrianconOn the walls of Briançon



























I flew to into Turin, just over the border in Italy.

I wonder if this is a factor in Serre Chevalier's relatively unknown international status.

The disorientating cross-border access (though Geneva serves many of our best known in France.)

It was an easy 1.5 hours into the Guisane valley and Serre Chevalier.

On my many trips to Serre Che, I've raced through the old town of Briançon en route to the ski villages, to get suited, booted and onto to slopes as quick as I can.

But, I'm not on that trip and it's about time I took the time to take in the ski area's culture and origins.

So on arrival day I mooched around the medieval town.

Actually, Briançon is a city.

The highest in Europe.

It's a raised, walled, strongly fortified town that sits at the meeting of five valleys.

It's strategically an important one and has had a rich history, mostly of invasion.

It was built by Vauban to defend the region from Austrians in the 17th Century and, so close to the Italian border, the land has probably been Italian at some point...

Briancon Old TownBriançon Old Town



























Inside the walls there are sweet shops selling trinkets, wooden furniture and jewelery as well as cafes, crepe shops and places stocking serious amounts of saucisson.

Being walled, with winding streets, the sun hits the interior for just a few hours.

So after an hour of wandering, the cold forced me out into the bright sun to look out upon the Briancon area slopes of Serre Chevalier.

BrianconBriançon



























Serre Chevalier is another name for the Guisane valley, along which numerous ski villages are found.

It now refers to the entire ski area, linking Briancon at the start of the valley up to Monetier at the top/north-west end.

On to our accommodation for the stay: Chez Bear in Briancon.

It's honestly the epitome of a dream alpine chalet.

An old farmhouse (of course) it's a unique chalet with a games and cinema room below, with huge but cosy sitting room-dining room-bar and the bedrooms up in the eaves.

It's hosted many a famous guest, and my room was slept in by George Clooney.

What's there to do to unwind after an early start and day's travel? Hot tub, sauna and a five-course dinner Chez Bear.

But more of the gorgeous accommodation later.

Chez BearChez Bear



























DAY ONE

The skiing.

On a bluebird Monday, with 30cm falling the day before and a rough 70cm throughout the week prior, I only had one first choice for today.

Strap on some skis and take on the whole of the Serre Chevalier area.

Sick views, even better pistes, and powder off the sides.

Serre Chevalier is made up of 13 villages, and the skiing stretches from Monêtier, through the villages of Villeneuve and Chantemerle, to Briançon.

A good challenge to cover them all.

The slopes are predominantly north facing - great snow conditions as the snow stays out of the sun and sticks around longer.

Sun and snowSun and snow



























Sun and snowAdventuring for some off piste



























Sun and snowSun and snow




























But there is brilliant sun.

And fresh lines to take.

And empty, perfect pistes that carving dreams are made of.

What's more to say?

As I stood on the slopes looking at a hella tall mountain in Italy, I learned that Mussolini was based up there, sending over cannon balls into France.

France shot back, taking off it's top and causing it to be 'flat-headed'.

It's steeped in history, like many resorts on borders through the magical Alps.

"What's the difference between French men and toast?"

Our guide says to balance the brief history lesson...

"You can't make soldiers out of French men."

Such a good day, lunch waited until 2pm.

We ripped it over to the Briançon area, where the sun feels strongest.

To the BBQ spot.

Serre Chevalier has stationed barbecue chefs on the hill to cook up whatever you fancy under the sun.

We had ours delivered by a man on skis (as we didn't make it to the shop) and had a feast of sausages, corn on the cob and all the usuals.

BBQ deliveryBBQ delivery with Easy Vallee



























BBQ mountain styleBBQ mountain style


























BBQ mountain styleBBQ mountain style




























For more on the general ski area and its off-piste opportunities, read on here from my plug season:
And check back in for my completely bizarre, but uber modern, evening activity following the skiing.

That's 24 hours in and I felt very satisfied.

I'll leave you with this dream...I'll leave you with this dream...


















Serre Chevalier's quiet spotsSerre Chevalier's quiet spots






















DAY TWO:

I'll start with what I did last night.

The ultra new therapy top athletes are using to help muscle recovery, inflammation and the getting rid of lactic acid.

Cryo Therapy.

I went also hoping to soak up the sleep benefits, perhaps also a little interested in what it promises for weight loss and improving cellulite - to get me up and skiing the next day without delay.

So, into the -100°C ice tank I went for 3 minutes to trick my body into thinking it has hypothermia.

After it was back to Chez Bear for the next treatment, the luxury kind.

Pure indulgence: Wonderful food and being taken care of in the gorgeous chalet.

After the 3-course meal the night before, that included perfectly cooked duck followed by a cheese board by the fire, I was looking forward to this evening too.

Pizza night.

Chez Bear, as well as everything else, has a pizza oven.

And so, drinking prosecco and wine, eating olives and arancini, we prepped and devoured homemade, freshest-of-the-fresh pizzas.

To fall asleep yet again in front of the fire with a limoncello and news of 30cm of fresh snow the day ahead.

Chez Bear Pizza OvenChez Bear Pizza Oven



























It says something about the accommodation, feeling satiated and relaxed enough to nap in the cosy comfort of one of Chez Bear's sitting rooms.

And so I woke and snowy it was.

The morning started with light snow but grew heavier throughout the day, and by 8pm it was coming down thick and fast.

It was also on this morning that I had to really get going to fit in as much of what Serre Chevalier has to offer.

So, with the early morning few centimetres of fresh snow, I picked out the excellent all-mountain Rossignol Exp 94 to take on as much of Serre Chevalier's untracked snow as I could.

Serre ChevalierSerre Chevalier, to the right of black Cabin de Berger



























But, in this bid to fit in as much as possible, it was a few runs on the powder and back down to Villeneuve's Ski Connections, helping me on this quest to cram activities, to grab a snowboard.

Then, racing back up for some more, which was by now 10cm on top of the pistes and a hell of a lot more off of them...

Deep in the snow cloudsDeep in the snow clouds



























Lunch in one of the many top restaurants in Serre Che, the Pi Mai, and a break from the flakes falling heavily from the thick, white sky.

Katie Bamber eating the best of alpine food in the hidden restaurantKatie Bamber eating the best of alpine food in the hidden restaurant



































The most perfect run down, top to bottom, for a snowboarder on fresh powder.

And on to the next adventure Ski Connections can sort...

Fat biking, at dusk, through the silent, snowy landscape.

Fat bikingFat biking



























Early evening (e-)fatbikingEarly evening (e-)fatbiking



























FatbikingFatbiking




























This isn't the end of the jam-packed day, not by a long way.

There's much more to do this evening before heading back to the comfort of the Chez Bear.

The place that makes it all possible to do so much, the comfortable warm, haven at the end of the day for the best of food and company.

But not yet.

It was time for a restful activity, though.

Monetier, which is the furthest - and oldest - village in the valley has a thermal spring.

What do you do with this?

Make hella good public thermal baths, for everyone to rest their weary legs and bodies from skiing or after a tiring day outside in the elements.

Being in the mountains is not all about sport and energetic activities.

It's about energising and taking in the unique landscape and power of the big hills and Mumma Nature.

So why not take it easy here, in Serre Chevalier?

In the steaming thermal water under thickly falling snow:

Monetier Les BainsMonetier Les Bains



























Before picking up the pace again and moving on to the next thing...

Cross country skiing by moonlight.

Well, that was the intention, after suiting up and trying my best at gliding X-country style across the lovely loops in Serre Chevalier.

Alas, by 40cm of snowfall at this time of night (around 8pm) covering the beautifully packed cross-cuntry trail and no visible moon to slide under, I gave up the dream of packing one last magical activity into my day and handed back the skis...

Midnight cross-country skiing attemptMidnight cross-country skiing attempt



























All dressed up and no place to goAll dressed up and no place to go



































No hardship though to return to the warm hug of Chez Bear waiting with garlic escargot appetisers, bubbles and a 3-course meal featuring salmon and many more things good.





ON THE 3RD DAY:

What do you do when you've got half a day and it's dropped a metre up top over night?

You get up early and check out the snow from the valley, where no one has been, with a dog if you can find one.

This was honestly the best thing I've done fresh in the last few years of winter trippin'.

I've been meaning to snow shoe for years.

I always find some excuse to miss it, which is strange as hiking, slowing down and ski touring have become my new favourite things to do, over racing down first and fastest .

And if any day was better to get up there and ski first, it was today.

But you know what that also makes it the perfect day for?

Snowshoeing through the silent, deserted, sparkling valley of Serre Chevalier.



It was a treat, and something I'll never forget.

My guide, Rachel from Rando Zen takes showshoeing, ski touring & yoga..

Her sheepdog and I got in the van, drove through Monetier to Le Cassé.

This is the sweetet village, that homes less than 200 locals, has a sweet cafe and a gorgeous church.

Untrodden beautyUntrodden Serre Che



























The bells tolled as we were deep into our walk, across the noise travelling easily across untouched snow.

We saw no-one.

Serre ChevalierSerre Chevalier



































Watching the dog alone was energising.

The views and snow are unmatched.

Serre ChevalierTea break



























Bird foodBird food



































... the experience, unbeatable.

Never have I missed a few powder runs less.

Serre ChevalierSerre Chevalier



























But who says there ain't time for one more.

A plane journey without squeezing in as much activity as you can is always a harder one...

Chez Bear is located in Briancon, I was close to Monetier - so what better way to journey back home for the transfer than on a board across the whole ski area.

(On a tight schedule).

3-days in the Serre Chevalier... it felt like a week.

And my aim wasn't to suggest this schedule. More explore some of the options available in such an idyllic place.

I didn't even scratch the surface, spending a mere few hours taking in some the culture with just a few more on the action and relaxation.

The snow, conditions and terrain have kept me close by, keen not to miss the day on offer in Serre Che.

Next time I'm planning to make it to La Grave, weather permitting, for an adventure in its renowned off piste.

Where else has the opportunity to drive 30 minutes on a super snow day to go 'shred the gnar' in one of the world's wildest lift-assisted ski spots.

Or, half an hour's drive in the other direction, pop over the border for a lazy Italian lunch.

Perhaps even a cruise around the Milky Way ski area while you're there.

Or take an €8 train to Turin for a city-culture trip and visit a museum for an equally wonderful but completely opposite type of day trip to the off-piste extreme skiing on La Meije.

And a date ski touring with Rando Zen.

I'd best get back soon, with more than a long weekend.

Saying goodbye to Chez Bear's viewSaying goodbye to Chez Bear's view



























For the Spirit of the Mountains - PlanetSKI: Number One for ski news

Related Articles

PLANETSKI VISITS XMAS MARKETS IN TIROL'S CAPITAL (Tuesday December 10, 2019)
DECEMBER SKIING SECRETS (Monday December 9, 2019)
VIDEOS TO WHET YOUR APPETITE (Saturday December 7, 2019)
HOW TO DO A CITY AND SKI BREAK... (Saturday December 7, 2019)
BUSTING SKI MYTHS (Wednesday December 4, 2019)
CROWDFUNDING AN AVALANCHE DOG (Monday December 2, 2019)


With thanks to our main sponsors...

Platinum partners

Bronze partners