Arc 1950, a buzzing ski village in the heart of the French Alps – Scotland on Sunday Travel
Remember the buzz. That first blue sky morning, snow fields dazzling in filtered sun. Breakfasts passed in a blur of impatience, impedimenta gathered frenetically, boot room etiquette abandoned in the elbow rush to the door. If you forget your lift pass, first tracks will go to lesser mortals. And you'll never get them back.
This is how it was when the ski starved saw the sun break through after five weeks of cloud on the third Sunday in December.
Until 20 years ago, Arc 1950 (https://www.arc1950.com), an Alpine village in the Vanoise firmament that also includes La Plagne, was a fragment of piste between Arc 2000, a settlement created out of starkly curved apartment blocks, and the rail head at Arc 1600 far below. Enter Intrawest, the Canadian developers who put onion domes and cuckoo clocks into Vail and Squaw. Their signature was Alpine cute, expressed in Arc 1950 by a central piazza, life size cows in gold and scarlet and an excellent bakery. It's the Tarentaise equivalent of a country cottage with roses round the door, a comforting place to be.
The new season brings Bear Lodge (vip-chalets.com), 1950's first hotel. Flexible accommodation – part bedrooms, part catered apartments, with all guests sharing spas, bars and pools – is increasingly popular. Bear Lodge has 30 rooms on the lower floors and 12 suites on the upper ones, each catering for between six and 12 guests, though squeezing an extra child or so into bunk beds may be possible. As there is a 20-seat deluxe cinema and a dedicated playroom, your kids will praise your holiday pick. Ski in, ski out and an on site Intersport rental shop speed departures.
We arrived in Penthouse Mischa at 10pm after a 14-hour journey via Geneva. A first taste of hour-long post-Brexit queues for immigration – better get used to it – and snow falling steadily – never any complaints about that. Champagne and canapes at the ready, followed by a midnight feast that included cheese souffles and fish cooked to perfection. Thank you Lee, master chef, and hosts VIP, who have taken over Bear Lodge in toto. Just their luck that Macron should ban Brits on Covid grounds shortly after our visit; hopefully things will be resolved before the February half term break.
Les Arcs is a comforting place to ski. A swooping piste links Arcs 1950 and 2000 to the top of the Transarc, the high speed gondola that rises from the main population centre at 1800 and the satellite villages, Vallandry and Plan Peisey. The mid and lower mountain runs are easy running, a mix of broad boulevards between trees for bad light and open snow fields for sunshine cruising.
The Aiguille Rouge, the 3226m peak that dominates the upper mountain, is largely expert terrain with black runs, moguls and off piste challenges. From the top, a 6km black run joins a 9km red one for the descent to rustic Villaroger: do it without stopping and you'll know you got out of bed. You may also need refreshment: rustic La Ferme (http://www.restaurant-la-ferme.fr/) at the bottom will provide the necessary. Beyond Vallandry, the Vanoise Express flies high over the ravine to the greater complexities of La Plagne, a huge 'must do' circuit best kept for a sunny day following an early night.
Arc 1950 has a mere 3,000 beds, but it is justly proud of the wholesome early evening entertainment it offers its guests. The Sunday welcome features toasted marshmallows. Monday is curling, Tuesday snow mini golf, Wednesday airboarding, Thursday laser biathlon, Friday sliding party. Only on Saturday, the seventh day, does the entertainment team rest.
For a top meal out, look no further than La Vache Rouge (https://www.facebook.com/lavacherouge1950), easily identified by the shiny red cow outside. Owned by Florian from the Vendee, this restaurant surpasses most Alpine aspirations. The building is not so much on the street as in it. Passers by lick their lips at the sight of banked seafood platters topped by Brittany oysters and Madagascan prawns. The meat, displayed in a cooling chamber by the door, is Limousin, with Wagyu as an alternative if you're short on molars or splashing out. This is a place for the rest of the afternoon so ski hard, book late and settle in.
For the other variety of apres, make your way to La Folie Douce (www.lafoliedouce.com/en/les-arcs.html) : yes, Val d'Isere's branded lunch on speed arrived at Arc 1800 in December 2019. A pandemic later, there is surplus pent up frustration to release as pro artistes are challenged by dedicated amateurs on the outdoor stage. Writhing limbs are silhouetted against the setting sun as the scantiest clad compete for Outrage of the Day. The certifiable may find it hard to re-enter the real world. The food's okay too.
VIP Ski (vip-chalets.com): Bear Lodge, double room, seven nights from £1,344 per person, including breakfast, afternoon tea and dinner; Penthouse Mischa, from £1,444 per person, including chalet catering, welcoming champagne and canapes. Prices include coach transfers from Geneva.
Lift passes (vip-chalets.com): Six day adult pass, Les Arcs from £250 Les Arcs, Paradiski Essential (includes La Plagne) from £285. Child and seniors, Les Arcs from £200.
Easyjet (easyjet.com): Edinburgh, from £51 return (February). There are also flights from Glasgow and Aberdeen.