If you’re looking to experience the beauty of Gascony outside the busier, warmer months, then a skiing break in the Pyrenees might just be the perfect family holiday for you
Winter in Gascony offers a unique chance to view this beautiful and unspoilt area of Southwest France when it’s at its quietest. Wonderful countryside, low air pollution and population density, plenty of pretty market towns and history, and not to mention the mouth-watering selection of local wine and food – a winter holiday in Gascony can be whatever you want it to be!
The Pyrenees perhaps isn’t the first destination that springs to mind when you consider skiing in Europe, but much like the rest of neighbouring Gascony, it could be considered one of France’s best-kept secrets. While it doesn’t provide the well-known names, facilities and scale of the Alps, what it lacks in quantity it certainly makes up for in quality. The French Pyrenees have over a thousand kilometres of fresh, pristine, well-groomed pistes, 34 resorts and 350 lifts, all set against beautiful, unspoiled scenery. There’s plenty of opportunity for wonderful skiing and apres-ski, with far fewer crowds, no lift queues and all at a much lower comparative cost – lift passes in the Pyrenees cost half those in the Alps!
The Pyrenees are regarded as a great place for beginner skiers who are looking for a cheaper place to get some practice in or without the pressures of busy slopes, while the mountains of the Pyrenees-Orientales, close to the Mediterranean, tend to be sunnier than the Alps – also a big advantage for learners. Many Pyrenees resorts are specially designed to be ‘family friendly’ with extra facilities for younger children.
Having said this, experts say that the French Pyrenees offer some challenging and exciting skiing to rival the best of the Alpine stations, in resorts which are, more often than not, authentic French villages, full of local skiers rather than the all-tourist crowds to be found in many Alpine resorts.
One of the main geographical differences between the Alps and the Pyrenees is that the Pyrenees aren't as high as the Alps. Pic Aneto, the highest point, is 3,404 metres above sea level - nearly 1,500 metres lower than the summit of Mont Blanc. The Pyrenean mountains’ proximity to the Atlantic Ocean also means that the area generally receives more snow than the Alps, and the snow is wetter, allowing it to better stick to the steeper slopes. Because the slopes on the French side of the Pyrenees are mainly North facing, the area is known for having a reliable, long season.
Depending on who you ask you will get a different list of the best resorts in the French Pyrenees, but these are five of the ones often mentioned:
However, our preferred Pyrenees ski resort is Saint Lary, which has a lovely village atmosphere with plenty of shops, restaurants, clubs, and markets. Saint Lary prides itself on providing ideal skiing for all ages and especially for young children and beginners. About 30 minutes’ drive from St Lary is Piau Engaly, which is the highest ski station in the Pyrenees at 2600 metres and offers guaranteed snow with challenging runs for more experienced skiers. There will be more details about St Lary/Piau Engaly in our next blog.
To help you plan your winter holiday here are some of our properties that will be available this winter:
Each of these houses has central hearing and wood fires, and is under two hours’ drive to a ski station. This makes it entirely possible for you to look at the weather at early breakfast in your rental house, decide you want to go skiing and be on the slopes by 10am. This will give you time for 4 or 5 hours’ skiing, a late lunch and then back to your house. You will be able to organise all this with our new Working Partner, based on St Lary, who will make it all work for you! Details in our next blog.
Alternatively, if you don’t ski, the Pyrenees have a lot to offer which still allows you to enjoy the incredible scenery and mountain air. A huge range of winter activities are available, including snowshoeing, husky-dog sledding, skidoo riding, sledging, cross-country skiing or even paragliding! For other non-skiing Pyrenees activities, why not consider our Working Partners, Mountains2Med:
Richard & Yvett Prime run Pyrenees Mountains2Med (M2M) and have lived in the wonderful, diverse Pyrenees for 16 years. They have specific expertise in birdwatching, especially raptors, WW2 escape routes and resistance history, mountain refuges & wild camping. They take great care to share responsibly nature information and to preserve undisturbed the wonderful wildlife that is found throughout this remarkable area.
You will deal directly with Pyrenees Mountains2Med – we will simply provide you with the introduction.
Richard & Yvett Prime
00 33 6 16 22 66 53
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