French Alps: Dome, sweet home

It was remote and freezing, and huskies were her only neighbours, but Jo Kessel found that bedding down in an igloo was an amazing way to spend a night in the Alps

"It's worth bringing a head torch," I was told, "and a hat to sleep in, especially if you feel the cold." As I approached my shelter for the night – a dome of snow rising like a blancmange on a large white plate – this ominous warning came back to haunt me. Sleeping in an igloo had seemed such a good idea at the time: a way of pushing the boundaries, doing something more challenging than just skiing. But as I inched nervously towards my new home, then crouched on my hands and knees at its tiny entrance, the notion seemed more than a little foolish.

Apart from a team of huskies, there were only three of us there in the icy wilderness – my sister, myself and our guide, Philippe – encircled by the jagged, powerful peaks of the Champsaur valley. It seemed an unlikely spot for an igloo, this undiscovered pocket of the southern French Alps, 2,400m up on the Rocherousse plateau. My sister and I braced ourselves, before burrowing deeper inside.

The igloo's interior is chiselled out from solid snow. Not only did we get stuck crawling through the narrow shaft, but the snug main space at the end wasn't tall enough to stand up in. The only furnishing was a plastic mattress that lay uninvitingly at our feet.

A bookshelf fashioned from snow appeared to be a preposterously optimistic design feature. The igloo usually sleeps four, but as we were the only visitors that night, we'd agreed that Philippe should stay there as well: his cooking skills would come in handy, as would his outdoor expertise. Despite his confidence and competence, though, log fires and downy duvets held a dreamy appeal.

Back outside, the solitude up there, lonely in the Alps, was intense. The sun, a burst of orange, flared one last time before slipping behind the mountain, casting an eerie crimson glow across the snow.

Suddenly, a chill swept over us: Philippe suggested a snow-shoe walk to keep us warm. With the requisite winter footwear strapped to our feet, we skimmed the surface of the thick powder. There was no noise pollution, no light pollution.

"Listen," whispered Philippe, holding a hand behind his ear. We were a good kilometre away from the huskies now, but their sensitive hearing had picked up Philippe's voice. They yapped agitatedly in response.

"You're not cold, are you?" Philippe asked once we were back in the igloo, sitting cross-legged on the mattress. It was –5C outside, and only a couple of degrees warmer inside, but Philippe was still without gloves. Despite layers of padding, my own fingers and toes had turned numb. When Philippe popped a pan of water on a burner to make caramel tea, I sought warmth from the flame, watching as he continued to bring provisions out of a bag: two baguettes frozen solid, a box of fondue mix, and a smorgasbord of local salamis.

Philippe lit a couple of candles, promising that they would help warm the igloo to a scorching 5C. Within minutes, my extremities had thawed, and soon we were twirling squares of now-defrosted bread in a cheese fondue before hungrily downing cold cuts and pre-packed crêpes.

Later, stepping out for some night air, the inky sky was a breathtaking dazzle of diamante. It was now a chilling –20C and it was a relief to return to the relative warmth of the igloo. We unrolled sleeping bags, pulled on hats and wriggled inside. "Bonne nuit," said Philippe, closing the igloo with an ice-block before blowing out the candles.

The next morning, the roof of our igloo twinkled like an ice sculpture, close enough to touch. Breakfast was a leisurely affair, snuggled in duvets, dunking cold brioches in hot drinks. Eventually we exited our cocoons, braving the cold to locate the skis and boots we'd brought with us. This is the real pay-off when staying in an igloo: we'd been the last people up the mountain, and now we intended to be the first ones down – owning the slopes while the rest of the Alps slept.

We spent the remaining nights of our trip in a basic chalet on the fringes of Orcières 1850. Here there was more than enough to satisfy advanced skiers for a few days. There was also husky sledging on offer. We tried it out and were surprised by the rush, as we held on to our reins for dear life while the dogs raced through thick powder.

On the slopes, €12 bought a serving of tartiflette (creamy potatoes with cheese and bacon) and also dessert and coffee. Off the slopes, Le Cro Magnon, a tucked-away tavern, served the most mouth-watering duck stuffed with goats' cheese and honey. Nothing, though, quite matched our fondue, eaten on laps in an igloo. Did we shiver? Yes. Was it comfortable? No. But the achievement made this a ski trip to remember.

Traveller's guide: A night in an igloo

Staying there

Undiscovered Alps (0845 009 8501 or 00 33 677 36 2942; undiscoveredalps.com) offers a winter multi-activity holiday from €584 per adult. Price includes seven nights' accommodation, a six-day ski pass, equipment and activities including a night in an igloo.

More information

Orcières 1850 tourist office (00 33 493 55 8989; orcieres.labellemontagne.com)

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

Suggested Topics
Sport
Laura Trott with her gold
Commonwealth GamesJust 48 hours earlier cyclist was under the care of a doctor
Life and Style
Upright, everything’s all right (to a point): remaining on one’s feet has its health benefits – though in moderation
HealthIf sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Griffin holds forth in The Simpsons Family Guy crossover episode
arts + ents
News
Orville and Keith Harris. He covered up his condition by getting people to read out scripts to him
People
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
France striker Loic Remy
sportThe QPR striker flew to Boston earlier in the week to complete deal
Arts and Entertainment
Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman
arts + entsFilmmaker posted a picture of Israeli actress Gal Gadot on Twitter
Sport
Vincenzo Nibali rides into Paris on the final stage of the 2014 Tour de France
Tour de FranceVincenzo Nibali is first Italian winner since Marco Pantani in 1998
News
Bryan had a bracelet given to him by his late father stolen during the raid
people
Arts and Entertainment
Chris Pratt stars in Guardians of the Galaxy
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Pedro Pascal gives a weird look at the camera in the blooper reel
arts + entsPrince Oberyn nearly sets himself on fire with a flaming torch
News
Danny Nickerson, 6, has received 15,000 cards and presents from well-wishers around the world
newsDanny loves to see his name on paper, so his mother put out a request for cards - it went viral
Arts and Entertainment
Zoe Saldana stars in this summer's big hope Guardians of the Galaxy
filmHollywood's summer blockbusters are no longer money-spinners
Sport
Red Bull Racing's Australian driver Daniel Ricciardo (C) celebrates with Scuderia Ferrari's Spanish driver Fernando Alonso (L) and Mercedes' British driver Lewis Hamilton
sport
Arts and Entertainment
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Public vote: Art Everywhere poster in a bus shelter featuring John Hoyland
art
Arts and Entertainment
Judd Apatow’s make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach is ideal for comedies about stoners and slackers slouching towards adulthood
filmComedy was dominated by the romcom at its most insufferable
Sport
Tour de France competitor Bartosz Huzarski’s legs have highlighted the gruelling nature of the race, after he posted a picture on Facebook showing extremely prominent veins stretching from his feet and all the way up his legs
Commonwealth Games
Life and Style
Elle Kaye demonstrates the art of taxidermy
food + drinkFood revolution taken a step further in new ‘edible taxidermy’ class
News
A rub on the tummy sprang Casey back to life
video
Sport
Halsall broke her personal best in the 50m butterfly
Commonwealth GamesEnglish swimmer is reborn after disastrous time at London 2012
Arts and Entertainment
O'Shaughnessy pictured at the Unicorn Theatre in London
tvFiona O'Shaughnessy explains where she ends and her strange and wonderful character begins
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Life and Style
Workers in Seattle are paid 100 times as much as workers in Bangladesh
fashionSeattle company lets customers create their own clothes, then click 'buy' and wait for delivery
Arts and Entertainment
Red Bastard: Where self-realisation is delivered through monstrous clowning and audience interaction
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
booksForget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Voices
The Express offices in the 1930s when writers (such as Orwell) were paid around £2 weekly
voicesWebsites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
Life and Style
A cut above: Katy Guest at The Ginger Pig
food + drinkThe Ginger Pig's hands-on approach to primary cuts
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    C++ Software Engineer - Hounslow, West London - C++ - to £60K +

    £40000 - £60000 per annum + Pension, Healthcare : Deerfoot IT Resources Limite...

    VB.NET and C# developer (VB.NET,C#,ASP.NET)

    £30000 - £45000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: VB.NET a...

    Visitor Experience volunteer

    Unpaid voluntary role: Old Royal Naval College: To assist the Visitor Experien...

    Telesales Manager. Paddington, London

    £45-£55k OTE £75k : Charter Selection: Major London International Fashion and ...

    Day In a Page

    A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

    A new Russian revolution

    Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
    Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
    Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

    Standing my ground

    If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
    Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

    Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

    The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
    The man who dared to go on holiday

    The man who dared to go on holiday

    New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

    For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
    The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

    The Guest List 2014

    Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
    Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

    Jokes on Hollywood

    With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
    It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

    It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

    Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
    Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

    Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

    Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
    Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

    Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

    Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
    Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

    Edinburgh Fringe 2014

    The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
    Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

    Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

    The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried