Richard Jones explores one of the world’s oldest winter resorts hidden away in the Alps
“Do you fancy a trip to the Milky Way?” Of course, nine-year-old Isla didn’t hesitate in agreeing to this latest daddy-daughter adventure.
Although, when I explained that we wouldn’t actually be exploring outer space, but instead the Via Lattea (or Milky Way) winter sports area in the Italian and French Alps, she seemed a little bemused.
Nevertheless, after a couple of seconds and a leaf through the Crystal Ski brochure, she was more than satisfied with my choice of holiday destination.
Claviere is one of the world’s oldest winter resorts, and there has been a ski school there for over 100 years.
However, unlike long-established Swiss towns such as St Moritz and Davos, and French village Montgenevre a few miles away over the border, Claviere has hardly grown at all.
In fact, speaking to the village’s mayor during our trip, he seemed more than satisfied with what they already have and sees no real reason to build up this well-kept secret, at least for the foreseeable future.
Nestled in the Alps, the charmingly small resort is full of character with a blend of Italian and French influence.
Meanwhile, the expanse of snowy terrain, well-groomed runs and breathtaking panoramas throughout the Monti della Luna and the Milky Way makes Claviere an ideal winter destination.
The nearest airport to Claviere is Turin and it was from there that Isla and I made our way through the Alps on a sun-drenched Sunday morning.
Although the area attracts all nationalities, Claviere is particularly popular with the UK’s snow lovers (70% of the winter tourists are Brits), as well as French and Italian weekenders.
And it’s this mixture of nationalities which gives the town its unique cosmopolitan character.
Evenings are filled with cosy apres ski drinks and fantastic cuisine, while families appreciate the peaceful, unhurried atmosphere and first-class childcare facilities.
Our base for the four-night stay was the Hotel Grande Claviere.
A stay here includes a standard buffet-style breakfast, packed lunch and evening meal.
At night, the salad bar meant we could pile up as much healthy food as we wanted – a dining option that pleased my wife Rachel back home who feared that Isla would be filling up on junk during her weekend away with dad.
The all-inclusive wine and beer (after 4.30pm) was also a massive bonus for me, while the bar was a nice place to head for a pre-meal drink and chinwag about the day’s exploits.
Crystal’s renowned children’s programmes, the Whizz Kids Club and Pepi Penguin creche, are also housed in the Grande Claviere and, although Isla was a bit old for the creche, the other families we spoke to thought the facilities were great, with kids given plenty of room to burn off energy, and lots of toys and books to keep them entertained.
Anyone who has been skiing as a family will tell you that these holidays require a lot more organisation than winter breaks without kids.
Every morning you’re in a rush to get both yourself and the kids ready, but having all the facilities in your hotel is a huge advantage.
Throughout our stay, the staff were energetic, helpful, and always on hand to make sure Isla and I got the most out of their stay.
Once we had settled into the hotel, on the Monday morning, we spent an hour after breakfast on the gentle slopes outside the hotel with the aim of getting Isla’s skiing legs back.
Then we headed down to join the rest of the Whizz Kids for their three-hour ski lessons at the Claviere Ski School.
Although a little apprehensive at first, and unsure which group to join, Isla settled in nicely and made friends with another little girl, Georgina, who was in her class.
Isla had a great time learning to ski. She stayed almost exclusively in Claviere but made it up to the mid station and snowploughed her way down a red.
She wasn’t afraid of the odd fall and, whenever I passed, or slowed down to watch her on the slopes, she had a big smile on her face which was great to see.
During the mornings, when the kids were in ski school, us parents had three hours or so to explore the rest of the ski area.
The French resort of Montgenevre is just one chair lift away, and those feeling more adventurous can ski further east to the bigger Italian resorts of Sansicario, Sestriere and Sauze d’Oulx in the Milky Way.
I had the Two Country Pass which allowed me access to Claviere and Montgenevre, and one day in the rest of Via Lattea.
Slope-wise, everything is covered – there are motorway-wide blues, some nice cruising reds, steep icy blacks and tree-lined cat tracks.
Plus, for the adrenaline junkies, there are plenty of opportunities to wander off piste into powder for a few hundred yards before rejoining the slopes.
After Isla’s lessons in the morning, we would tuck into our packed lunch in the sunshine outside the bar at the bottom of the slopes, before embarking on an afternoon’s ski-ing together.
Then on the last day we decided to leave Italy behind and head over the border to France.
Of course, Isla’s original idea of travelling into space never became a reality on her weekend away with her dad.
But she did make it to both Italy AND France, which is an achievement of sorts, and our short stay in Claviere was out of this world.
Crystal Ski Holidays offers a week’s half board at the three-star Hotel Grande Claviere from £524 per person (family of three from £1,572; based on child staying in same room) including flights from Glasgow to Turin and transfers (price given is for departure on March 19, 2017).