Wider seats and waiter service

Resort:  Sauze d'Oulx
Journey:  Eurostar + TGV
By:  Richard Caswell

We are fortunate to own a very small apartment in Arcs 1600 in (my wife calls it ‘the shoebox’), but I have maintained that we should visit other resorts as well.  So over the last few years we have squeezed in a week in the Dolomites, Cervinia and Andorra, and then a week or so at Les Arcs. This year's two-country holiday was Sauze d’Oulx in Italy, and Les Arcs, in France.

Eurostar Standard PremierEurostar Standard PremierPhoto: Richard Caswell

We are now at the age of requiring comfortable accommodation, nice intermediate skiing with tree-lined routes, good apres bars for old ‘uns and stress-free travel, i.e. no more standing around at Geneva airport waiting a plane to arrive from another UK airport at the start of the holiday or waiting for that delayed transfer bus to come down from another resort at the end of the week.

Relaxing in SauzeRelaxing in SauzePhoto: Richard Caswell

For us it starts with a drive from rural Gloucestershire to Ashford station the night before, which mitigates M25 stress on the day. A new Travelodge has recently been built about 500m from Ashford International so we parked the car in the station long-term car park (D) and walked up to the hotel with the overnight bags. In the morning we skipped breakfast and walked down to the station to retrieve the skis etc. As your car is already “trapped” in the car park you can drive it up to the drop-off zone outside the station front door if you don’t fancy the five mins of lugging skis and luggage (and then pop it back to the parking area). Time to sit back and enjoy a bit of breakfast - our tradition dictates hot cross buns!

Photo: Richard Caswell

As we are now destined for Paris (rather than the direct train to the Tarentaise valley) I smugly procure the Paris metro tickets from the on-board Eurostar bar (having read this tip somewhere). Unfortunately for whatever reason they didn’t work (I had more success a few weeks later, but then my friend's ticket failed) but a kind French lady suggested that we take the old line to Gare de Lyon. The tickets worked for this but unlike the 2-stop express R line, this involves a lot more steps and about 6 stops! So any dreams of a relaxing coffee in a first-class waiting lounge soon evaporated as mild panic set in - and yes we were departing from Halle C, that didn’t exist last time I was here. Our first-class tickets were not much more on this occasion so we decided to splash the cash - it has wider seats and waiter service (sadly with plastic cutlery/glasses etc!). Soon we are speeding through the French countryside en route to Oulx for a 15h23 arrival.

This is happyThis is happyPhoto: Richard Caswell

At Oulx you can take a taxi or bus up Sauze d’Oulx - we took the latter but it did involve a wait of half-hour or so. Again, we were helped out this time by a friendly Italian lady destined for Sestriere on a different bus - she kindly checked our bus by asking in the station bar. As Daniel of Snowcarbon says, there is a cafe opposite Oulx station - but this looked busy. The bus driver kindly “argued” with a minibus driver in Sauze to get us to our hotel - the Grand Hotel Besson. The new bus driver didn’t seem very impressed with our tickets. None of our group can speak Italian - but we got there in time to use the fabulous spa before dinner. We had booked the hotel directly and everything worked well for us (unlike a British package group in an overflow restaurant area - clearly something had gone wrong there). The Besson is in a quiet area of the old town and the minibus driver was really kind in loading up the skis before whisking us up to the Sportinia lift every morning.

Photo: Richard Caswell

The skiing was good for us — as expected. But be warned: the ski back from the Sestriere and Sansicario was tricky this year - either a steep icy red/black (and generally in my experience steep in Italy is not the same as steep in France) or a stony and icy blue track. Strangely I had been on a “blokes” trip perhaps five years ago and had set out alone towards Claviere and just don’t remember any problems with the return ski. The mission then as it was this year was to find a little refugio bar where we decided to get married all those years ago. So this year we had a lovely ski in the Claviere area - lots of tree lined blues, and it was good to find the bar again. In the Sauze area there are many good, reasonably priced mountain restaurants. On the last day we found one which seemed a bit out the way on the far left of the piste map - unfortunately it is not far above the “Bear” restaurant in the Clothes area and I think most of Turin knew about it as well! Still a great meal, so well worth the wait.

Photo: Richard Caswell

At the end of the week we caught the bus down to Oulx - this was a lot simpler as our hotel minibus driver took us around to the bus station in Sauze. We took the train from Oulx to Chambery. After a short wait at Chambery we caught a local train up the Tarentaise valley to Bourg St Maurice. At Bourg you can catch buses to all the well-known resorts such as Tignes, Val d’Isere, La Rosiere. But by far the simplest way to Les Arcs 1600 is the funiculaire. To get this you have several options - get in the front of the train (which means the back at Chambery as front becomes the back at Albertville) and then jump on the Ronde navette (you would need to check the timetable as I have a feeling this is only a Saturday bus) or walk for 10mins or take a taxi. Alternatively get out the back on the train at BSM and climb the steps (no lift from the station platforms) and then take the covered walkway for 5 minutes or so to the lift/stairs at the funiculaire end.

We as usual had a great week at Les Arcs – self-catering.  Besides the funiculaire it is worth mentioning the free navettes for inter station transfers. So quite often we will have an apres beer at the Mountain Cafe in Arcs 1800 before taking the navette at the Charvet gare routiere for the five-minute journey back to Arcs 1600 (or what we call the firepit bar at Pre St Esprit, just below Arcs 1950). The busses always seem to run - even when you see people struggling with getting their chains on their cars en route to Arcs 2000! Les Arcs has recently made a new piste aptly named Secret from the top of the Comborciere. At long last they have regraded the (very) off-piste Malgovert from a red to a black. I don’t think I have ever been down it the same way twice!