Gina Baksa enjoys a 4-day ski safari in France and Switzerland, exploring the Portes du Soleil resorts of Les Gets, Morzine, Avoriaz =1800 and Châtel

The vast ski area of the Portes du Soleil offers skiers and boarders 12 connected resorts in France and Switzerland. Boasting 600km of beautiful pistes of various grades, many of them located in and above authentic Savoyard villages.

A ski safari is the ideal way to see more of a ski region. Why visit the same resort year after year? On a ski safari, organisers carry your luggage, allowing you to ski unencumbered between resorts. From dense, wooded valleys to snow-capped peaks offering incomparable views of the Dents du Midi, Mont-Blanc and Lake Geneva, the Portes du Soleil is magnificent. Stay two or three nights in the same hotel and then simply ski on to your next resort. One ski pass allows access to all 12 resorts in the area.

My recent ski safari took me from family-oriented Les Gets, to picturesque Morzine – famous for its après-ski – via the lofty heights of ski-in, ski-out, car-free Avoriaz culminating in a ski down to charming Châtel.

Day 1 Arrival – Les Gets
Resort height: 1,170m
Snow range: 1,172 – 2,002m

Located between Lake Geneva (less than one hour’s drive) and Mont Blanc, compact, family friendly Les Gets has a permanent population of around 1303, which swells up to 17,000 during the height of the season. We take a taxi from Geneva airport, driving through snow-laden pine trees, under cerulean blue skies to our first destination, the charming village of Les Gets and our accommodation at the Hôtel Nagano, located in the heart of the village next to the ice rink. Breathing in the mountain scenery is beyond magical – it’s life-affirming.

Les Gets is an authentic Savoyard village with easy access to the slopes – you can ski either side of the valley at Les Chavannes and Mont Chéry. The village offers an excellent range of accommodation with luxury hotels such as the Chalet-Hotel Marmotte and the luxury chalet Grande Corniche. The main après-ski entertainment is along the main street. Choose from 40 restaurants, a fitness centre, myriad bars, pubs, a bowling alley, nightclubs and even a cinema. We took a bus to get around the village, and another bus takes you to Morzine. Skaters are catered for at Les Gets’ own ice rink, and children and toddlers have their own dedicated fun-ski areas at the Grand Cry territory, the mauve Milka chocolate run and the Chavannes boarder cross.

We enjoyed a superb lunch (duck and goats cheese wraps with superb smoothie and coffee) at the new Wild Beets Kitchen. Run by English couple Jo and Mark, the restaurant brings a super-fresh mainly vegan-veggie smorgasbord to Les Gets. The perfect filler before a gentle yoga workout with Mel outside the Restaurant la Grand Ourse (1750m) on the slopes of Mont Chéry.

Suitably stretched and relaxed, yoga is the perfect way to limber up pre-or-post skiing with the bonus of outstanding views of Mont Blanc. I can vouch for the cake and chocolat chaud here too. Relaxing later in the Hôtel Nagano’s sauna and pool, I feel sufficiently recharged to savour an aperitif and dinner at acclaimed Savoyard restaurant Fruitière des Perrières. A visit to this orgasmic gastronomic experience is a must when you’re in Les Gets.

Great slabs of Abondance cheese – made on-site – is melted before your very eyes… scrape off this divine dairy confection to accompany a selection of fine charcuterie. Alongside a superb local Savoyard Chignan Pinot Noir. Choose from fondue, raclette, reblochonnade and goats cheese raclette. This is Savoyard heaven on a plate.

Day 2: Les Gets to Morzine
Resort height: 1,000m
Snow range: 1,000-2,350m

Our first destination after a great breakfast at Hôtel Nagano is the ski rental at Nevada Sports in Les Gets. I haven’t skied in a year, and although I can get down the blues and reds, I haven’t had a lesson in my life. Ahem… slower skis for me please. We take the télécabine up to Mont Chéry (1535m) with its stunning views of Avoriaz hidden in the trees, Morzine, Mont Blanc, Les Dents Blanches and – hidden in the clouds – Mont Blanc.

The weather is fabulous and the views magnificent: Skiing down the red runs of Epervier and Chamois back down to Les Gets was drama free and I began to get my ski legs back – thanks to brilliant instruction from Chrys, our guide and a Morzine local. We also explore Les Perrières and Ranfoilly/Rosta areas. Lunch – superb – is at the Vaffieu restaurant at the top of the Folliets chair lift where we meet Sara who is guiding us for our afternoon spin down to Morzine. Book ahead since the gourmet French cuisine here is delicious, and very popular.

Crossing over to the other side of the valley we take the Charniaz chairlift up for a red run back down to le Grand Pré and then le têtes chairlift towards Chamossiere. From here we enjoy a selection of blues and reds (Arbis, Coutalays) between Chamossiere and Nyon, culminating in a gorgeous and easy (for me) tree-lined run via Lievre and Retour des Nants down into Morzine.

Picturesque Morzine is famous for its lively après-ski scene as well as excellent access to the slopes and the 600km of pistes in the Portes du Soleil region. Choose from more than 100 restaurants, from Savoyard specials at La Rotonde via pizzas at the Alpine Lounge to Michelin-starred cuisine at L’Atelier, Hôtel Le Samoyède. Bars include the Dixie and the Cavern where you can sample some of the local Green Genepi.

If you’re aching after a hard day on the slopes I can recommend Morzine Massage. They do hotel/chalet visits across the Portes du Soleil region and are very good. I used the pool and jacuzzi at the Hotel Alpen Roc beforehand to loosen the muscles. Roll off the massage table into a hot bath before dinner at the fab Chaudanne restaurant. Popular with locals and tourists the welcome is warm and the a la carte menu fabulous. Great variety of meat, fish as well as Savoyard options. And a good wine list.

Luxury chalets in Morzine include the Luxury Chalet Joux Plane and Consensio Chalets. If you’d rather stay on the slopes then L’Equipe and Champs Fleuries at the base of the Pleney slopes have easy access to the village.

Day 3 – Morzine to Avoriaz 1800
Resort height: 1,800m
Snow range: 1,000-2,350m

Today’s ski safari takes us across to lofty Avoriaz – at 1800m – the highest resort in the Portes du Soleil region. Starting at the Super Morzine télécabine we are blessed with sunshine as we ski Super Morzine down to Proclou to start, then around Les Crêtes de Zore followed by a gentle run down into the centre of Avoriaz. This impressive purpose-built resort looks stunning in the winter sunshine – not at all how I’d imagine; the wooden-clad high-rise apartments somehow looking natural in this spectacular setting.

Our second guide Aurelie suggests a stop for coffee at the Village Igloo ice bar and restaurant. Open daily during the winter season, this massive igloo has indoor and outdoor areas and even offers overnight accommodation. Suitably fortified we took the Choucas chairlift up to the formidable Swiss Wall. I declined the 90-degree descent in favour of the chair lift, watching in comfort while my fellow skiers negotiate the giant moguls below. Gliding into Switzerland in such stunning scenery and incredible weather is magical. I’m in heaven! A short ski here and we lunch at another fabulous mountain restaurant – La Buvette des Clavets.

A hearty croute au fromage and salad, accompanied by fine Fendant wine from the Valais and we are off, across to the Planachaux and Grand Paradis near Champéry. The skiing here is amazing and the scenery out of this world. Not too crowded either. Heading back to Avoriaz via the Abricottine run we stop for an aperitif at the new Folie Douce bar before checking in to the Atria-Crozat apartments.

Founded by skier and visionary entrepreneur Jean Vuarnet, purpose-built Avoriaz is a bit like Marmite. You either love it or loathe it. Frankly all the photos I’ve seen just don’t do this stunning resort justice. The high-rise apartment buildings blend into the scenery; its built on a high plateau and is ski-in, ski-out. No lugging your gear onto buses or trams. And blissfully the resort is car-free.

Our luggage was collected by horse and sleigh and deposited at our fabulous Atria-Crozat apartments. Located in the Crozats district, the new Pierre & Vacances Les Crozats residence offers south-facing panoramic views over the Avoriaz and Portes de Soleil mountains. And has direct access to the ski slopes and the resort centre.  It also boasts a gym, sauna and hammam and heating ski lockers. Watching the sunset that evening before dinner at La Cabane in the centre of the resort (highly recommended) was one of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen.

Avoriaz is ideal for beginners since the nursery slopes are next to the main resort. Intermediates also fare well with 240km of red and blue trails, while advanced skiers and boarders can head over to Chatel, Morgins and Champery as well as try the massive moguls on the Wall, head for pow or try the expert Les Haut Forts racing line. Off-piste opportunities are plentiful and there are four cross-country ski areas. There are 5 snow parks in Avoriaz including The Stash board park. As well as the 2000m2 indoor water park, Aquariaz, there are opportunities for ice-skating, sleigh rides and snowshoeing.

Day 4– Avoriaz to Chatel
Our day begins with a sumptuous breakfast at the only hotel in Avoriaz, the fabulous 4-star Hôtel des Dromonts. With more than a nod to the Sixties in décor and personality, this chic hideaway uses natural materials and makes full use of its refined yet quirky layout to make you feel you’ve stepped into a Bond movie. Avoriaz is car-free – instead people and luggage are carried around the resort by horses and sleighs. There are around 100 horses here – and they are all very well looked after. Our own sleigh ride and a visit to the horses’ stables proved that.

 We begin the day with blue run through the snow park The Stash – the first giant eco snow park in Europe and a haven for boarders and skiers. Designed by snowboarder entrepreneur Jake Burton, his vision was to create a forest area dedicated to freeride and freestyle.

It’s a spectacular area. We continue along the Combe à Fleurey towards our lunch stop in the quaint goats village of Les Lindarets. The portions at Restaurant La Crémaillére are immense! Goats cheese salad is superb and there are plenty of Savoyard options. Suffice to say you will never go hungry at any mountain restaurant in the Portes du Soleil – the standard of cuisine is very high.

Our new guide, Lionel Vuarand, took us across the Plaine Dranse down to Les Combes chairlift then we skied down into Châtel arriving at Pré-la-Joux. That night we dine at the fabulous Le Fiacre – very popular with tourists and locals the food is superb – a great selection of seafood as well as local cuisine. We stay at the centrally located Hôtel Macchi, a gorgeous family run hotel with its own spa and pool. And the best Ayurvedic massage ever. And a very friendly welcome from the hosts.

Day 5 – Châtel and La Chapelle d’Abondance
Resort height: 1,200m
Snow range:

The most fabulous breakfast at Hôtel Macchi is followed by a brief tour of the village. Chatel is a low-rise chalet-style resort and quieter than its Portes du Soleil neighbours and well suited to families and couples. Savoyard character and charm is plentiful here with local restaurants and bars and a calmer après-ski. The skiing in Châtel is separated into two distinct areas, Barbossine-Super Châtel and Linga-Pre la Joux, with the former connecting to the Swiss face and the latter heading over to Portes du Soleil’s Avoriaz and beyond. We spent the morning skiing at the Super Chatel lift and skied in the Morgins area – very close to the Franco-Swiss border, then headed to La Chapelle d’Abondance via the télécabine La Pantiaz. There are some lovely gentle runs through the trees around Châtel, perfect for beginners to intermediates. And superb black runs at Super-Châtel and Linga – linked by chairlifts – for advanced skiers.

For those who prefer a more gentle pace, the area offers 40km of snowshoe trails. Non-skiers are well catered for with plenty of walking trails, two cinemas and a fabulous aquatic centre, located next to the Hôtel Macchi. The brave – or foolhardy – may want to try the Fantasticable – a 1,200m zip wire at the top of the Rochassons chairlift. Apparently it reaches speeds of up to 100km/h.

Many Châtellans (inhabitants of Châtel) continue to work in agriculture today (about 30 families in all), farming several hundred Abondance cattle, producing the famous Abondance cheese (AOC since 1990). We visited cheesemaker Mme Vuarand at her farm –  a cheesemaking family for four generations who even supply Harrods in London. The flavour is divine – and apparently for 8kg cheese they need 100 litres of milk. Inside for the winter her family’s dairy herd is non-stop manufacturing.

Recommended restaurants in the village are the Le Fiacre – we loved it – also Le Macchi at the Hotel Macchi, La Poya and La Fleur de Neige. Great lunch stops in the mountains are Changabang at the top of Les Prodains cable car Chez Nannon (Troncs Express chairlift) and the unique La Paika (Vorosses piste). This former shepherd’s hut serves up fabulous steaks and seafood.

Suffice to say I put on weight with all the local indulgence but what a pleasure! A Portes du Soleil ski safari is such a great way of experiencing different resorts in France and Switzerland. Ideal for beginners, intermediates and expert skiers and snowboarders as the Portes du Soleil has 32 challenging black runs and .

Ski Safari Portes du Soleil 
The Portes du Soleil is a huge ski area linking 12 French or Swiss village-resorts. Each resort has its own beautiful location with Lake Geneva on one side and Mont Blanc on the other. On a week’s holiday here, you can sample several of the 12 connected resorts in Switzerland and France. Best of all, just one ski pass gives access to all 12 resorts. From dense, wooded valleys to snow-capped peaks offering incomparable views of the Dents du Midi, Mont-Blanc and Lake Geneva, the Portes du Soleil is magnificent. Stay two or three nights in the same hotel and then ski or snowboard on to your next resort. I felt as if I’d been away four weeks not four nights. Highly recommended!

How & Where
The Portes du Soleil Ski Safari package includes:
* 8 days ski pass in Portes du Soleil.
* 7 nights with breakfast and city tax in 3 different properties in Switzerland and France.
* Welcome pack (map of the ski area, gifts and vouchers).
* Luggage transfer (1 luggage per person, max 23 kg).

On request:
* Ski equipment rental.
* Ski teacher / ski guide.
* Transfer from / to the airport.
* Concierge service for restaurant booking, activities, spa treatments etc

Ski Safari Packages:
Package Ski Safari premium – 2 191 CHF / 1 932,19€  per person (VAT included):
* Les Gets: Hôtel Marmotte – superior room.
* Avoriaz: Hôtel Les Dromonts – superior room.
* Champéry: Hôtel  Beau Séjour – lifestyle double room.

Package Ski Safari deluxe – 1 698 CHF / 1497,50€ per person (VAT included):
* Morzine: Hôtel Sporting – double room.
* Châtel: Hôtel Fleur de Neige – privilege room.
* Morgins: Hôtel Helvetia – double room

Plan the adventure – visit and for more.