French Alps: Provided for in Provence

This week’s welcome snowfall helped Mary Novakovich get the best from the intimate resort of Les Orres

Size isn't everything. While much of the ski world is obsessed with spreading tentacles into neighbouring resorts to create one giant domain, others are content to stay small and intimate. So it is with Les Orres, tucked away in a corner of the Hautes-Alpes in northern Provence. Admittedly it too caught expansion fever in 2008, when Les Orres 1650 spawned a slightly swishier little brother and gave it the topographically useful name of Les Orres 1800. But it remains small, happily so, knowing that within its 100km of pistes there is enough to keep people entertained – especially families.

They don't make it easy to get to, though. It's at least three hours by coach from Turin airport, part of it along the hairpin bends to Briançon. And first impressions could be better. Les Orres 1650 is as brown as the landscape of thickly forested mountains that hadn't had fresh snow since early January. Its architecture betrays its 1970 date of birth, while Les Orres 1800 is in a gentler shade of pine.

Both resorts cluster around the bottom of their respective ski areas, which makes the ski-in, ski-out brigade happy. They're like little toy towns, with a decent number of affordable restaurants, bars, ski outlets and food shops. The Alpine cuisine and steaks at the Winter Lounge quickly became a favourite. And it's immediately obvious that everyone is inordinately friendly. I mean, really, really nice. The whole atmosphere is solidly, pleasingly French, echoing with the distinctive twang of the Provençal accent.

There was just enough light when I arrived last Sunday afternoon to wake up my ski legs on the green runs through the forest above 1800, otherwise known as Bois Méan. I was having a proper introduction the following morning, when cheerful Thierry from ESF took me along the lower runs of both Bois Méan and 1650 where there was plenty of forest cover – handy for when the weather turns bad. Icy patches here and there, however, made me impatient for some fresh snow. "Snow is coming tonight," promised Thierry. "Don't you worry."

I didn't have time to worry as I had a snowshoeing session that afternoon with Serge, also from ESF, who had the grizzled look of every snowshoe guide I've ever seen. Snowshoeing takes you to places that are otherwise hard to reach, and Serge led me into the woods that surround the pistes of Bois Méan. Occasionally we had to cross the slope, which felt a bit naughty as skiers were still cramming in a few runs. A very light snow started to fall as the sky turned dusky, while the only sound in the forest was that made by the crunch of the snowshoes.

A cheese fondue fest was in store that evening at Grand Cabane in 1650, which was worth the 20-minute walk along the winding path that connects the two resorts. The snow flurries that arrived that afternoon turned into a proper dump, transforming the brown footpath into a magical white world.

As in the rest of the Alps last Tuesday morning, I woke up to more than a foot of snow. I could just about see it through the thick fog that gave everything a ghostly look. But before I could get too worked up about the lack of visibility, the clouds started to dissipate as I ploughed through the powder. My grin was as wide as the lovely broad pistes.

The heavy snowfall did cause some havoc, however. The upper slopes around the 2,700m peaks were closed, with signs warning of avalanches. I was happy to heed, considering the number of avalanche deaths already this winter.

The thick snow led to my most embarrassing moment, thanks to a heavy-set horse and excitable dogs. I was trying ski joëring, another snow activity that's been popping up around the Alps. Strapped into your skis, you hold on for dear life to feeble-looking reins while a horse leads you along a trail. Well, that's the theory. You're not meant to have three dogs running about and getting in the way. And it helps if the path has been groomed. Otherwise, the knee-high powder impedes you to the point where you fall over inelegantly on an incline and can't get up. Or even get your skis off.

The horse's rider, Eveline, was yelling for her husband to come and help, but I'd given up and trudged down the hill. My mood was lightened soon afterwards by a party of local schoolchildren in the middle of a lively snowball fight. They were spending their PE lesson snowshoeing on one of the cross-country ski trails that wind through farmland a few kilometres from 1650. Not for the first time, I wished I'd been brought up in the Alps.

My inner child did have its chance to come out for a bit of fun, thanks to the Orrian Express. This monorail luge run beside the piste at the bottom of 1650 starts soporifically enough as you're pulled up 710m while you sit back and enjoy the view. At the top you're let loose to spin and spiral down at insane speeds for 1.5km. Shrieks of delight rang through the air, most of them from grown-ups.

All that was needed at the end was some mulled wine on a bar terrace and the last few rays of the afternoon sun. That's après-ski Les Orres style: relaxed, intimate and as warm as the Provençal sun.

Getting there

The writer travelled with Crystal Ski (crystalski.co.uk; 0871-231 2256), which offers seven days self-catering at La Combe d’Or apartments from £335pp including Thomson flights from Gatwick to Turin and transfers. Six-day adult ski passes cost £152; six days’ ski hire from £55.

Being there

ESF (esf-lesorres.com) offers snowshoeing starting at €18pp for two hours. Le Kiowah(ctekiowah.fr) has ski joëring from €10pp for 20 minutes, as well as horse and pony rides. Rides on the Orrian Express cost €4.50 adults/€2 children. Winter Lounge (00 33 49254 3510). Grand Cabane (restaurant-agrand-cabane.com).

More information

lesorres.com

Suggested Topics
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
British author Helen Macdonald, pictured with Costa book of the year, 'H is for Hawk'
booksPanel hail Helen Macdonald's 'brilliantly written, muscular prose' in memoir of a grief-stricken daughter who became obsessed with training a goshawk
Sport
footballLive blog: Follow the action from the Capital One Cup semi-final
Life and Style
food + drink
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
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
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

    Recruitment Genius: Group Sales Manager - Field Based

    £21000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Located on the stunning Sandban...

    Guru Careers: Email Marketing Specialist

    £26 - 35k (DOE): Guru Careers: An Email Marketing Specialist is needed to join...

    Recruitment Genius: Tour Drivers - UK & European

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity to join a is a...

    Old Royal Naval College: ORNC Visitor Experience Volunteer

    Unpaid voluntary work: Old Royal Naval College: Join our team of friendly volu...

    Day In a Page

    Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

    Greece elections

    In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
    Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

    Holocaust Memorial Day

    Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story
    Front National family feud? Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks

    Front National family feud?

    Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks
    Woman who was sent to three Nazi death camps describes how she escaped the gas chamber

    Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary

    Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
    DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

    The inside track on France's trial of the year

    Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
    As provocative now as they ever were

    Sarah Kane season

    Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
    Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

    Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

    Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
    Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

    Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

    One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
    The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

    The enemy within

    People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
    Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

    Autumn/winter menswear 2015

    The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    Army general planning to come out
    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century