It's cheap, it's cheerful, and it isn't that cold it's ski camping
Not in a tent, of course, but in a warm and spacious mobile home in the French Alps. Francis Jezierski and his sons try it out
Sunday 09 December 2007
The canopy of stars above us in the clear chill of the Alpine night was almost dazzling, which was just as well because, now tired and cold after a day pounding the slopes, we were otherwise in darkness.
Why? Because we had left the heat on before we set off from our new mobile home. There had been a delightful blast of warmth as I unlocked the door, but the excessive heat had made a safety switch turn off all the power. Only starlight (and intuition) enabled me to grope my way to the switchgear and right matters.
Years of children-induced budget-juggling have taught one that heat is an underrated commodity when skiing. At our mobile home in Le Grand Bornand, as we watched the ever-changing weather steadily entomb our hire car in ice, we were snug in accommodation that had a comfort blanket of thick, built-in insulation and a heating system whose ducts wafted warmth to every corner.
Thomson has chosen Le Grand Bornand in Haute Savoie in the French Alps, a (fairly) unspoilt village, to launch its new kind of caravan. There is a generous amount of space in the living area (more than offered in many chalets), separation from the neighbours and pleasantly unobtrusive design. Unlike much self-catering accommodation found in skiing resorts, the facilities are well up to producing full family meals.
The caravans are in a site that is reasonably well appointed, and regular buses whisk one to the nearest ski lift in five minutes. The resort, a generally easy 50-minute cruise from Geneva airport, is part of a ski complex in Les Aravis mountains consisting of five linked sectors said to provide 125 miles of skiing.
The slopes at Le Grand Bornand are mainly intermediate but we found plenty of space, and as much excellent skiing as we could handle. The run down to the village from the slopes remained an aspiration only for us, though. Much of it was a quagmire with grass visible on the final approach to the village.
The village proclaims itself suitable for "family plus", and the nursery slopes and child facilities are good. The ski buses to other areas in the skiing complex looked efficient, but beware. The pick-up point also serves the modern, industrial-sized resort a few miles from the village called Le Grand Bornand Chinaillon and the queues are on a scale to match. We waited for more than an hour.
Le Grand Bornand has a spectacular setting, and is neither spartan in the way of some east European ski resorts nor glossy high fashion à la Chamonix. Le Grand Bornand's website proclaims it to be a resort for all ages but teenagers and young adults might find its evening offering rather limited, though there are a couple of clubs.
But, of course, with Thomson's latest offering, it does offer one remarkable feature: the chance to ski in the French Alps at a rock-bottom price. And a bonus is that one is financially freer to sample the restaurants, of which the compact centre has a good range. Even the campsite has a pretty decent restaurant. There is a snazzy cinema almost next door, though, and other distractions from skiing must include the magnificent church and the picturesque park.
For a day away, Geneva is a great choice, and with a hire car even Turin 80 miles away could be a possibility. The caravans of Le Grand Bornand are truly a hot destination.
How to get there
Francis Jezierski and his sons stayed at Camping L'Escale in Le Grand Bornand, France, with Thomson Al Fresco (0871 231 3292; thomsonalfresco. co.uk), which offers seven nights' accommodation in a Vivaldi holiday home from 199 for two adults and up to four children sharing.
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