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Postcard from the Pyrenees - Catherine Cooper, French Pyrenees
Thursday February 25, 2016 - Email this article to a friend

There's more to skiing in France than the Alps - the Pyrenees make an excellent alternative, particularly for families. We report from the Grand Tourmalet.

Grand Tourmalet is the largest ski area in the French Pyrenees with 100 km of pistes, sitting just below the Pic du Midi observatory.

The resort is made up of two main centres - we stayed in La Mongie, a small, purpose-built resort where all the accommodation is very close to the slopes, rather than Barèges, a more traditional village but one where you need to get a bus to the slopes.

La Mongie is excellent for children and beginners, with a nursery slope at the bottom of the pistes with a long magic carpet so they don't have to negotiate a button lift or cling onto a rope.

For more experienced skiers, there are 100km of mainly wide and well-groomed pistes, plus as well as a snow-park and plenty of off-piste terrain.

Grand Tourmalet, French PyreneesGrand Tourmalet, French Pyrenees















Those looking for something even more challenging can ski off-piste down from the Pic du Midi observatory which is perched above the resort - there are even occasional guided moonlight descents throughout the season.

What makes La Mongie a great choice for families is that there's plenty going on for children even when the lifts close.

In the late afternoon there's often a group of huskies at the base of the slopes which can be petted while they wait to take people out on sledge rides.

Grand Tourmalet, French PyreneesMeet the huskies

















The magic carpet carries on running after the other lifts have closed so that people can sledge on a floodlit piste without having to hike up the slope.

For something a bit more full-on, you can also toboggan 3km down from the iconic Col de Tourmalet.

While you're here you can take two cable cars up from La Mongie to visit during the day or even book an overnight stay to enjoy a gourmet dinner made from local produce plus the chance to see the moon, stars and planets through powerful telescopes.

One evening we took a ride on a converted piste-basher to the upper slopes to watch the sunset with a glass of wine (or soft drinks and biscuits for the kids).

Another time we drove snowmobiles up and down the lower pistes as the sun went down - there are miniature versions so that kids as young as six can drive themselves.

Much of the accommodation in La Mongie is apartments but there are also some hotels.

We stayed in Hôtel la Crête Blanche which overlooks the pistes - like most of La Mongie, it has a modern and unprepossessing exterior but inside it's cosy and traditional with plenty of furs, wood, and ancient ski objets.

Our family suite included a separate bedroom and bathroom for the kids - always a bonus.

There's also a bar with games and books, a TV room and a restaurant serving an excellent three-course fixed menu.

Even a bad-weather day isn't the end of the world here - a half-hour drive down the mountain will get you to Bagnères-de-Bigorre where you can spend a couple of hours in the Aquensis thermal spa.

Highlights include jacuzzis on the roof, a pool with underwater music, a sauna where you can watch people tip buckets of cold water over themselves through the glass door and a massive hammam which offers free Moroccan mint tea just outside.

Grand Tourmalet, Pic du Midi Grand Tourmalet, Pic du Midi

















For more information visit  and

A family suite in La Crête Blanche costs 281 to 301 euros per night, plus 30 euros per person for a half-board option.

Erna Low offer short breaks in Grand Tourmalet from £289 , Tel: 020 7584 2841

See here for the main PlanetSKI news page with all the latest stories from the world of snowsports.

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