Winter is a great time to enjoy the outdoors as a family. That’s a given. Who does not like snow? (Whom am I kidding, if you’re Canadian like us and your winter lasts six months with -40 Celsius, you start to have negative feelings towards the white fluffy stuff). However, if you live in a habitable place on this planet, where you get none to moderate amounts of snow, you do occasionally enjoy an escape into a wintry location.
One of our favourite places for winter getaways are the French Alps. There is something there for everyone in terms of winter activities and budgets. We recently spent a wonderful two weeks over the Christmas holidays there and we did it without breaking the bank.
How we got there:
We are currently based out of Provence, so our cost to get to the Alps was a two-hour drive, a tank of gas and a highway toll. Of course, if you are flying in from far away, you’ll have to factor in the additional cost and time.
Where we stayed:
We split our time between two different locations. The first week we rented a gorgeous chalet near the town of La Roche-des-Arnauds. It was a spacious three-bedroom house and somewhat secluded. Our backyard was an entire mountain and a forest.
The second week, we stayed in an Alpine village called Puy-Saint-Eusèbe near the town of Gap, in a holiday apartment. Here we had a few more neighbours and amazing views of Lake Serre-Ponçon and the surrounding Alps.
Each place cost us less than €60/night for our accommodations and both places were fully furnished and equipped holiday homes.
If all you want to do is ski, then staying at a ski resort will make sense for you but costs will be higher. Because we like to do many different activities, we prefer to rent accomodations from private owners in towns or villages. You can even negotiate your rate sometimes. There is something for every budget.
Our food costs were no different than when we are at home. We brought all of our groceries with us, did not eat a single meal out. This was mostly due to the inconvenience of leaving our secluded place the first week and the fact that the only pizza place in the second very tiny town (population 123) was closed for Christmas. We were quite happy to be away from any hustle and bustle. Plus we love cooking.
Activities we did and costs:
This is the only activity we actually spent money on. We skied at the Céüse Ski Station which was 15 km away from our first chalet. Our costs including equipment rental were roughly €70/day for three people. It was a great station for all levels of skiers (two of us are still beginners). Here is a list of their fees.
We brought our own sleds with us, but the first place we stayed at had sleds available free of cost. We did a lot of sledding as this is our 9-year old’s favourite activity.
You can bring your own snowshoes or rent them, but the second place we stayed at provided them to us at no extra cost. We made good use of them, going for snowshoe hikes almost every day. When you are looking to rent a place to stay, ask the owners if they provide any free equipment.
We absolutely love hiking. It might be one of our favourite activities regardless of season. We hiked almost every day with or without snowshoes depending on trail.
Playing in the snow
Kids (and some grown-ups) just love snow and they can spend all day playing outside with it. We built several snowmen and dug some snow dune shelters. Just for fun.
Having a picnic in the snow
Despite all the snow around us, we found the temperatures to be pretty warm most of the time. We took advantage by having several meals outside.
A couple of times the weather did not cooperate. We did not complain. We used our time wisely playing board games, watching movies or just warming by the fire.
There are plenty of other activities to fit different tastes and interests. In the future, we would love to try husky dog sledding, igloo building and a wildlife tracking expedition. There are also other activities, like snowboarding, cross-country and nordic skiing. And for more adventurous souls there is ice climbing, snowkiting and winter paragliding. And the list goes on and on.
As you can see, Alps are not out of reach if you plan well and look for deals.