Winter Magic in Morzine

HEIDI FULLER-LOVE heads for Morzine, a magical ski resort standing in the shadow of the mighty Mont Blanc, to enjoy some winter fun.


"Chestnuts roasting on fire", plays on the radio, as I cross the shiny wooden floor of the pine-panelled lounge at AliKats’s (www.alikats.eu) plush new Riverside Lodge. I will spend the next week here scoffing gourmet food and sampling a wide range of winter activities.

As Nat King Cole finishes crooning his classic Christmas song, Al and Kat Judge, who own the cluster of three wooden chalets near the Morzine-Avoriaz ski slopes, welcome me warmly then send me outside to the hot tub with a glass of bubbly while they cook my evening meal. Scantily clad in slippers and robe, the cold takes my breath away, but soon I’m in the hot tub watching frost sparkle on trees and listening to children singing carols somewhere far off in the woods: it’s a wonderful start to my festive break.

The chalets each have their own cook. Ours serves us a delicious breakfast of fresh croissants, smoked salmon and other goodies the following day, before AliKats’s complimentary mini bus takes me up to the ski slopes. As the bus whizzes along a winding road, I gaze at the surrounding snow-capped peaks etched across a deep-blue sky and breathe in deep lungfuls of fresh mountain air.

Picking up my ski gear, rented online via Ski Mobile (www.ski-mobile.com), I pull my bonnet way down over my ears and head out over the crisp, cold snow for my first activity: cross-country skiing with ESF ski school (www.esf-avoriaz.com).

At an altitude of around 1200 metres and with some 25 kilometres of well-maintained tracks, the Manche Valley is an ideal area for novices, like me, to learn safely. I master the herringbone stride for climbing hills, and practise kicking and gliding without poles, and then I slot my skis into the well-groomed tracks and glide away through the vast valley studded with bluish spruce trees.
"...my wooden chalet… stands like a giant doll’s house surrounded by snowy peaks gleaming beneath a bright full moon.”
Celebrities such as British actor Jason Statham and tennis player Tim Henman love to spend time in the Savoyard market town of Morzine. As I dig in to my bowl of creamy French onion soup at cosy little restaurant Le Clin d’Oeil (www.restaurant-leclin.com), and take in views of the surrounding slopes, I can easily see why. At the heart of the fabled Portes du Soleil ski region, this snow-lovers’ paradise is still a traditional town with lots of historical buildings. After lunch I walk off the calories with a stroll along snowy roads ringing with the bells of horse-drawn sleighs. In backstreets lined with shops selling local arts and crafts and handmade chocolates, I find plenty of presents to take home. I spend half an hour watching local potter Gérard Menu make his delightful range of colourful pots and table items (www.facebook.com/Poterieyvoire). Then, I spend the rest of the afternoon in the shop of cheesemaker Nicolas Baud where I learn how local specialities tomme, abondance and reblochon are made. Afterwards, I sample some of these cheeses in Nicolas’s snug, stone-clad restaurant, La Ferme de la Fruitière (www.alpage-morzine.com).

That evening I return to my wooden chalet, which stands like a giant doll’s house surrounded by snowy peaks gleaming beneath a bright full moon. Londoners Tarik, Mo and their teenage children have arrived. Over a dinner of succulent pomegranate-glazed duck breast served with creamy polenta followed by a fruit-and-hazelnut pavlova drizzled with sweet chestnut cream, we discuss life, love and novice skier Mo’s countless bruises, painfully gained on the higher slopes where she bravely followed her more experienced family earlier in the day.

The following evening we are together again for a night snowmobile ride with Avoscoot (www.avoscoot.com). The sun disappears behind the pine trees and the moon begins to rise, as we climb aboard our motorised sleds. “Flutter the throttle, then move forward slowly — you need to learn how to operate the gears,” the instructor tells us. “And maintain your braking distance — it takes a lot longer to brake than a car,” he yells, as we move off in single file.

We whiz down the slopes cheering each other on as rabbits scurry out across the snowy tracks ahead of us. Our appetites whetted by our exciting ride, we have dinner at L’Atelier d’Alexandre in the very chic Hôtel Le Samoyède (www.hotel-lesamoyede.com). Wolfing down our meltingly good sautéed beef fillet served with butter beans and wild mushrooms followed by homemade iced almond nougat served in a rich apricot and rosemary cream sauce, we chatter until midnight.

Increasingly popular, since featuring in the 1999 movie Silver Wolf, ski joëring, a form of skiing where you’re pulled along by a dog or a horse, is to be my final challenge in Morzine. I’m a bit nervous at the idea of trying this fast-moving adrenaline sport, but guide Philippe Canteux (www.en.morzine-avoriaz.com) reassures me that even people with basic skiing knowledge are fine.
“…I’m in the hot tub watching frost sparkle on trees and listening to children singing carols somewhere far off in the woods…”
The sturdy Fjord pony stamps and snorts in the snow as I pull on my skis and grab the bar a few paces behind the pony’s beige rump. “Just keep your skis parallel and knees supple,” says my guide, leading the pony forward. Sliding across the silk-smooth snow, gripping the bar tightly, I feel like I’m waterskiing — and, just like waterskiing, I take a few spills, but once I relax it’s surprisingly easy and I have a lot of fun.

After my strenuous snow activities I head for Un Cocon Au Pays des Flocons (www. uncoconaupaysdesflocons.com), a bijou beauty spa and salon where I’m booked in for one of their innovative hair beauty treatments. Like many women, after a day in the snow, my hair, stuffed into a woolly hat, frizzes and refuses to settle. In a comfortable room at the back of the salon, bubbly spa owner Nathalie patiently untangles my rebellious mop and applies a series of luscious, luxurious Léonor Greyl products. After the 90-minute treatment, my flyaway hair hangs sleek and shiny over my shoulders, and I hardly recognise myself in the mirror.

Over the next few days I take the ski lift to the higher slopes in Avoriaz and learn to walk with snowshoes near Morzine. I also take a bus to visit the neighbouring town of Les Gets, where I spend a long and lazy afternoon easing my aching muscles in the steam room and pool at Séréni-Cimes spa (www.serenicimes.com). On my final evening, over a “moklat” — hot chocolate with Baileys liqueur — in Morzine’s Cavern Bar, I smile at the glittering snow outside and raise a toast to this friendly Savoyard village that has given me so much festive fun.
How to get there
• The closest airport to Morzine is Geneva Airport, in Switzerland. A number of airlines fly from Australia to Geneva via London or Dubai. Geneva is just over an hour’s drive from Morzine.
• Alp Nav Transfers (www.alpnavtransfers.com) provide fast and efficient transfer services from Geneva Airport to the famous Portes du Soleil resorts of Les Gets, Morzine and Avoriaz. Transfers cost from €67.50 return based on a four-person booking in a shared transfer or €100 based on a four-person booking in a private transfer
• For more information on the Morzine-Avoriaz ski area and Portes du Soleil, visit www.morzine-avoriaz.com


Lift passes
• 6-day Portes du Soleil pass costs €242.50
• 6-day Morzine-Les Gets pass is €191
* Prices correct at time of publication.

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Author
Based in France for the past 17 years and married to a Frenchman, Heidi Fuller-love (www.heidifuller-love.com) contributes to countless publications worldwide, has a regular hotel and travel column for Good Things in the UK and hosts an award-winning radio show for British Airways. She had her own Chambres d’Hotes in Charente for many years, is a trained chef and the editor of French travel website.