by Garry Cook (published in Daily Star Sunday)
I went to France a novice skier and came back Plagne crazy.
And it’s not just because this huge French Alpine resort has seven villages called Plagne – Plagne Centre, Aime La Plagne, Plagne Village, Plagne Soleil, Plagne 1800, Plagne Bellecote, Belle Plagne.
No, it’s the slopes, the views and the delicious raclette.
They call this area Paradiski and it’s not hard to see why.
La Plagne has the lot – from gentle nursery slopes for novices like me to tough black runs.
The ten different resorts that make up the La Plagne area also cater for the more adventurous, from ice climbing and ice baths to mogul fields and the Olympic bobsleigh run.
I was a bit worried that La Plagne would be one huge, characterless, commercial resort – it was anything but.
Its collection of villages were every bit as cosy and Alpine as I had imagined.
And with each linked by ski runs, chairlifts and cable cars, you can explore them and the surrounding mountains to your heart’s content.
I stayed in an apartment at Le Chalet d’Anaite in Montchavin, a few miles east of the Plagne villages. It was immaculate and surprisingly roomy with two bathrooms, two bedrooms, a kitchen, dining room and lounge area.
My stay at the resort coincided with the Telemark World Cup in January.
But even during the three-day event, the slopes were surprisingly empty and locals say it’s the best time of year to go if you want them to yourself.
I’d never heard of Telemark skiing before – but that didn’t stop me enjoying the spectacle of skiers speeding down the mountain, pulling off dazzling jumps and whizzing around 360-degree banked snow curves before sprinting across the finish line The night-time celebrations complete with torchlight procession to mark the sport’s 140th birthday were pretty cool too.
My own skiing career started under the guidance of Frederique, a delightful French woman who had me turning my ankles outwards while keeping my skis flat in no time (that’s how to brake, if you didn’t know).
In little more than an hour I was ploughing to a halt at ease and turning in satisfyingly big arcs. It was only the baby slopes – but I still impressed myself.
Even when I took a tumble it felt good to look up at the blue skies and jagged mountains.
A few hours later a serene ride up a chairlift took us to the Restaurant Le Saujet in Montchavin les Coches, the snuggest Alpine lodge you’ve ever seen.
The traditional food – I had pork, raisins and winter vegetables – was as good as the raclette I devoured at Le Petit Chaperon Rouge in Plagne 1800 the previous evening.
Even if you don’t like cheese, you’ve got to try raclette – where a huge slab of the stuff is slowly melted by a table-top heater on to your plate.
And what better way to celebrate a successful morning’s skiing and a big lunch than a 60mph jaunt down a 1500m bobsleigh run?
After being strapped in and saying our last goodbyes we were pushed off.
The bob was supposed to turn itself, though that didn’t stop it slamming into the sides with such force the four of us all thought we were going to flip over and die.
That apart, it was great fun.
We watched those more adventurous than ourselves strap themselves into the horrendous-looking mono-bob, a scary, one-man, selfsteering contraption. The victims (I mean riders) lie feet first and let gravity do the rest.
Later, we enjoyed another meal in one of the lodge restaurants. And the way the French do meals – slowly and with loads of drinking – there was no need to head to a bar.
By the time we got back to the chalet and my head hit the pillow, I was already dreaming of my return to La Plagne.
LA PLAGNE FACTS
WHERE TO STAY: It costs £530 per apartment per week or £188 per person per week based on three sharing, including breakfast at Le Chalet d’Anaite. To book visit anaite.com
FLIGHTS: Fly with easyJet from £54 return to Geneva from Gatwick, Luton, Bristol, East Midlands, Liverpool, Newcastle, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Belfast. Visit easyjet.com
SKI & BOB HIRE: All the villages have hire shops. The bobsleigh holds four and costs £27 each.
SKI PASSES: If all you want to do is ski, six-day passes cost less than £150. A pass for a single afternoon starts from £15.
There are plenty of family offers, plus accomodation and ski pass inclusive deals available. For example, an apartment and six-day pass costs £112 in April. For details, see la-plagne.com
All images © Copyright Garry Cook