The ski resort of Arêches-Beaufort is based in a fantastic little village up in the hills of the Savoie Mont Blanc region of France. Arêches is a quaint village consisting mostly of chalets with beautifully carved balconies. It’s located at the base of Grand Mont, where you can take a chairlift up to the main ski area and then further ski and chair lifts higher up toward the mountains summit.
In winter the village is covered with snow and the Christmas decorations remain out throughout January for the winter season, giving it a very festive feeling. Along the road from Arêches is the small hamlet of Le Planay, where there is another ski area and various shops and restaurants.
A 10 minute drive downhill from Arêches along a winding road is the town of Beaufort, home to the Beaufort cheese factory, making big wheels of local cheese and a variety of small shops.
This is not a huge resort with bustling nightlife, but it’s perfect if you are looking for somewhere with good snow, views to Mont Blanc and surrounding mountains and a friendly village atmosphere.
We stayed just a 5 minute walk away from the bottom of the slopes in Arêches. One of the things we loved about the ski slope in Arêches is that before you can even reach the slopes you will need to hop on a chair lift, taking you high up into the mountains. When you jump off the first chairlift you will be awed by the stunning views to the snow capped mountains surrounding the slopes. From here you can easily reach the nursery slope or ski down to another chair or ski lift which will take you higher up the mountain to more difficult runs.
As beginners we spent the first day with an instructor, helping our children, especially the youngest who is new to skiing. She was fantastic and soon had him going up the ski lifts without a problem and confidently skiing down under and over obstacles. She also took us to a gentle blue run further up the mountain that we could ski down as a family, this became our favourite run to do together and we had great fun skiing down it several times a day. Further up from this were several red runs that we were definitely not ready for, plus plenty of jumps and some black runs for the more hardcore ski and snowboarders.
We also particularly enjoyed visiting the cafe near the top of the second chair lift for a refreshing drink and a tasty crepe surrounded by the beautiful view. At the base of the first chairlift you will also find plenty of picnic benches for eating lunch at or you can visit the Panoramique restaurant for a delicious meal. Be aware it gets busy around lunchtime so you may need to book a table earlier in the day during weekends and holidays.
Unless you are able to ski or snowboard down the black run to the base of the mountain you will need to hitch a lift back down on the chair lift again. This gives you a great view down into the valley and village below, which appears a lot further down than it looks on the way up!
At Le Planay, a 10 minute bus ride from Arêches you arrive at the beginner slope at the base of the mountain. You can take a chair lift higher up to the more difficult runs, but we chose not to as we were not ready to ski down ourselves yet! The beginner area is much bigger than on the Grand Mont, with 2 ski lifts, one taking you to the top of the beginner slope and the other higher up onto part of a blue run with steeper slopes and bumps. We mostly stuck to the beginner slope here as the end of the blue run was a bit out of our league when we couldn’t fully control our skis to bring ourselves to a quick stop. For this reason we preferred the blue run on the Grand Mont above Arêches, where we felt like we were skiing down the mountain, like the professionals, without putting ourselves in danger due to our lack of ability.
As we were staying at the relatively new MMV Clé des Cimes hotel in Arêches we were able to catch the bus directly outside our hotel to the bus stop beside the Grand Mont chairlift or all the way to Le Planay. The bus is free and fairly regular and makes it a lot easier to transfer children, skis and poles to the slopes without a lot of moaning about walking! It may only be a 5 minute walk to the chair lift from the hotel, however it takes a lot longer to walk in ski boots and carry 2 sets of ski’s there. So the bus was very much appreciated for this reason!
There are a variety of places to stay in and around Arêches and Le Planay. We stayed at the MMV Clé des Cimes, booked through Peak Retreats, which is an apartment hotel. So we were able to enjoy both the luxury of a hotel and the ability to self cater for ourselves, saving money on eating out. The MMV Clé des Cimes also gives free access to both the spa and swimming pool to guests. If I had checked it out before we arrived I would have remembered to pack the swimming costumes, although we would have had little time to swim as the kids were having so much fun up in the mountains!
The hotel also offered the option to order items from the bakery for breakfast each morning and pizza from the local pizzeria in the evenings. We didn’t take them up on this, but it seemed like a decent price for both.
Whilst staying at the hotel you can park your car along the road nearby, there seems to be plenty of space in the evenings or pay to use the car park below the hotel. If you are skiing or snowboarding you can also use your room key to access the ski storage area next to the car park at the front of the hotel. As you are not allowed to trudge through the hotel in ski boots, you can access the storage area and leave all your equipment in the heated storage area ready to put back on the following morning. The ski locker had enough room for 5-6 sets of ski’s, boots and poles. We left our snow boots in the locker during the day, but you can easily walk downstairs to the storage room in your socks!
A benefit to being on the bus route is clearly popular with those of us with young children or anyone who didn’t feel like walking up the hill with all the equipment. It’s definitely a bonus for the hotel!
The apartment itself is cosy and comfortable, with both a bathroom and shower room, as well as separate toilet. A kitchen and dining area that opens out into the living area, with comfy sofa, television and electric fire. Where you can peer out into the mountains from the balcony.
There were two bedrooms in our apartment, one double and one with 2 single beds, although this can be rearranged as the beds are all singles that can be pushed together and attached with velcro. The only issue we had with the beds was the very thin pillows, although this may be personal preference as I always like a hard cushion otherwise I wake up with a sore neck!
We had plenty of plugs to charge up electronics and the cooker and dishwasher were fairly easy to use. There were plenty of appliances from a coffee machine to toaster to use, plus an endless amount of glassware and crockery.
Unsurprisingly there are a variety of different ski rental shops in the area. We hired our equipment from one of the several Intersport Ski Hire shops who were very efficient at getting the correct fitting gear. They didn’t speak much English and as we didn’t speak much French the conversation was a little stilted, but we managed to work out what was going on! You can buy just about any equipment you might need in the shop too, so if you have forgotten your goggles or jacket then don’t panic. It took around half and hour to forty minutes to get us all fully kitted out with ski equipment, so make sure you’re not in a rush to head off elsewhere.
If hiring from Intersport I recommend you book in advance, just in case they happen to be very busy. You will probably be fine to just arrive and hire, but during busy periods such as holidays it might be more difficult.
We made good use of our ski equipment and they were in great working order, with no issues whatsoever. At the end of our ski holiday we took everything back to our shop and once they checked that everything was accounted for we could head on our way. It literally took minutes to return. Very efficient!
One of our first stops in the town was to the Arêches Tourist Office on the corner of the main street. They have all the information you need to plan visits to various local farms and other tours. They can also help out with maps for the local area, ski slopes and bus timetables.
There is a small general shop in Arêches, which has all the usual mini market items including frozen pizza, fruit and veg, cold meats and cheese, tins and packet food. The food here can be quite expensive compared to the UK, so if you are staying for a while then stock up at a bigger supermarket on the way and just buy the fresh food here.
Just around the corner from the Tourist Information Office is a bakery which has delicious baked breads and pastries. Beside the bakers is a cheese shop, where you can buy the local cheese.
The town also has it’s own pizzeria and several restaurants and cafe’s. There is a nice little creperie on the main street too, crepes are always a French holiday thing for us!
There are a couple of gift type shops, a photography shop and several different ski hire companies throughout the town.
There are plenty of other activities around the area, including sledging with the kids or hiring snow shoes to walk across the snow. We chose to arrange a visit to the local sawmill through the tourist office. The lady who took the tour was brilliant and even made a sheet of English words so she could definitely have the right terminology to talk to us. My husband is a arborist, so this was right up his street, although I think it would be of interest to anyone who wants to learn about local businesses.
The same person who takes the sawmill tour also offers a craft afternoon twice a week for children to colour in wooden decorations. We didn’t have time to do this, although our kids loved looking at all the items she had made.
Another tour we took was to a local farm, where we had a tour in French and didn’t understand much at all. However it was still interesting to see the cows and how they produced milk. The children had a go at milking the cows as well as drinking the milk and trying the cheese at the end of the tour. The highlight for my eldest and husband was definitely seeing the crane being used on the roof to move the hay into the cow shed. Our 8 year old has even made a Lego version of the farm complete with crane when he returned home! Unfortunately for me the hay caused my hayfever to start up with a vengeance, I guess I’m still allergic to pollen even when it’s been dried and stored for winter!! I’m sure everyone thought I had the flu or something and were giving me a wide berth! Whoops!
Our final visit in the area was to the Beaufort Cheese Cooperative where you can visit the museum for free in the morning and watch the workers in the factory below. All the writing and film is in French, although you can use a QR code app to get the English wording. Downstairs is the cheese and sausage shop associated with the factory and outside you can buy cheese in a vending machine if the shop is shut! You can also arrange a tour of the cheese caves (where the big wheels of cheese are stored to mature) in the afternoon, but this depends on numbers of people who would like to visit.