By Belinda Buckley @ChamonixStylist
This third week of February is probably as busy as New Year week in Chamonix Mont-Blanc, as most of France, Belgium, Germany and the UK all have school holidays and these days most middle class children expect to have at least a week’s skiing every winter. So everywhere is busy and, in general, fully booked. But how can families enjoy a hectic school holiday week in a bustling mountain town without suffering from family holiday fatigue?
The key is to be super organised and book everything well ahead: you will not save any money hoping to get a last minute deal on anything during February half-term – most savvy skiing families book chalets, children’s ski school, flights and transfers some 12 months in advance. Indeed, if you leave booking anything too late, you are likely to find no availability or inflated prices for what is still available. So don’t plan your family skiing trip during the school holidays around what the snow might or might not be doing in February – the academic term dates will not change according to the weather and the conditions are usually fairly well snow-covered in the second month of the year.
Fortunately, Chamonix Mont-Blanc is well versed in the hectica of the half-term holidays and offers plenty of family activities both on and off the snow to keep your little darlings amused. The wonder of the Chamonix Valley is that each distinct village and associated ski area offers a wide range of social and sporting entertainment outside of term-time and away from the hubbub of downtown Chamonix.
The family-friendly village of Les Houches will be busier than usual this week, due to the Kandahar downhill men’s skiing competition, see this post for details: http://www.ehvoe-accommodation-chamonix.com/the-kandahar-mens-alpine-skiing-world-cup-competition-comes-back-to-chamonix/, but this won’t stop the village hosting its welcome drinks every Sunday evening during the school holidays, as well as night skiing and torch-lit descents with complimentary hot chocolate on the Le Tourchet piste on Thursday evenings. Next to Le Tourchet is the recently renovated outdoor Les Houches’ ice rink with plenty of sports shops for hiring skates nearby.
The excellent Alpine Museum in Les Houches holds fun educational craft workshops for youngsters on Wednesdays, while the one in neighbouring unspoilt Servoz has similar classes on Wednesdays and Thursdays. At ChamShake in Les Houches there are drama classes for children from 22nd to 29th February, go to their Facebook page for details . Both Les Houches and Servoz organise children’s treasure hunts and both villages have wonderful snow-shoe trails that can be enjoyed by all the family, for details and advice go to www.leshouches.com and www.servoz.com respectively. Ehvoé has the charming contemporary Chalet Diligence in Les Houches, which is perfect for family holidays in this part of the valley.
Up valley in Vallorcine is the most old school village ski area in the valley, La Poya, which makes a rural change to the cable car queues elsewhere in Chamonix during high season. Over the road from La Poya by the Le Buet train station is the Moon-Tine snack bar and children’s play area, which hosts free ice carving and snow sculpture classes for families every Wednesday afternoon in the winter school holidays, call +33450186815 for information.
In the centre of Vallorcine is the Residence Mont-Blanc, which has an outdoor ice rink that is open to all, where you can hire skates for just 5€. Between Le Buet and Vallorcine is the excellent off-the-beaten-track family restaurant La Ferme des Trois Ours, which many visitors miss due it not being right by a busy ski lift: La Ferme des 3 ours. Also in the heart of the village is La Ruche, which schools the local youngsters and hosts free theatre shows for children on Wednesdays out of school time.
Vallorcine is another great area for snow-shoeing, the hiking style for quietly enjoying the winter wonderland and witnessing its frosted flora and foraging fauna. All snow-shoe hiking is best enjoyed with a guide, who can show you the way and knows which wonders to point out, as well as getting hikers used to walking in snow-shoes. Every Chamonix Valley village’s Maison des Guides can help with arranging guided show-shoe hikes. Go to www.vallorcine.com for further information.
Down the hill and through the Col des Montets in Argentière, the village has welcome après-ski drinks in the village square every Sunday of the school holidays, torch-lit descents on Tuesday evenings and street theatre bands performing on Wednesdays. At L’Etape, the Argentière equivalent of Vallorcine’s La Ruche and Les Houches’ ChamShake, there are children’s dance classes on Monday afternoons and craft workshops for creating costumes that will culminate in their cowboys-and-Indians themed carnival on 24th February, for details go to www.letape-argentiere.com.
Ehvoé has several properties for holiday rentals in the village of Argentière, including chalets Atelier, Les Aiguilles d’Argentière and Chez Arsène in Montroc. For further information about this village go to www.chamonix.com and see our post http://www.ehvoe-accommodation-chamonix.com/the-up-market-wonder-of-the-up-valley-chamonix-village-of-argentiere/.
The valley capital, Chamonix itself, is also hosting a number of events for children during half term, such as Chamonix In Red hosted by Ehvoé partner ESF Chamonix, the French national ski school famed for its scarlet uniform. From 430pm on 26th February the ski school instructors will gather by the Maison de la Montagne on the Triangle d’Amitié square for a street party with a light and sound show, feasting on tartiflette, a zip line and face painting.
The town’s main carnival, which is animal themed this year, is held on the afternoon of 3rd March and sets off from Place Mont-Blanc in the centre of Chamonix. If you want to get a further full winter fairground experience in the centre of town, you can ride the Chamonix Luge-Alpine Coaster, which is open daily until 6pm, allowing for thrilling rides at nightfall, www.chamonixparc.com.
Across town in Chamonix-Sud is the Anglophone creative children’s club Le Petit VIP, which welcomes the children of families visiting Chamonix to their regular kids’ dance sessions and craft and paint workshops, held all year round: www.lepetitvip.com.
The rule of thumb for fun-filled family holidays in the high season of winter half-term is to not follow the crowds to the obvious, over-subscribed attractions of a winter sports resort, but to go a bit ‘off-piste’ for your non-skiing activities and explore all the magical secret spots of this long valley of inter-linked mountain villages that is Chamonix Mont-Blanc.