Close encounters of the herd kind

Photo credit: SavoieMontBlanc-Lansard.

Did a convoy of UFOs choose the Savoie Mont Blanc region in France as its starting point for an alien invasion of Earth? Frank Baldwin publisher of the Skier & Snowboarder magazine, who is based in Sevenoaks, considered it a distinct possibility when he skied in Val d’Arly.

“Peering up at the night sky, the small party of skiing and snowboarding friends I was with gazed transfixed as a row of lights streamed above us in a perfect line and exactly the same distance apart.

At first, we oohed and aahed – then we began to panic just a little. After ruling out planes and shooting stars, it seemed there was only one alternative left… we were witnessing an invasion of alien UFOs!

The search engine on a mobile phone brought us back down to earth. The internet revealed that the lights were part of Elon Musk’s Starlink constellation circumnavigating silently across the skies above Val d’Arly in the heart of the French Alps. We’d been lucky enough to get a glimpse of the first of many satellites that the Space X programme were launching into orbit to provide global broadband internet.

Taking refuge in La Ferme de Victorine restaurant, we welcomed the aperitifs which helped calm us down after facing what we thought was an imminent alien attack.

But as our meals arrived, we faced another close encounter of the herd kind. Cows from a neighbouring byre were watching us through adjoining windows as they tucked into their own supper!

The menu was a feast of mouth-watering Michelin Bib Gourmand recommended dishes, and we also tucked into some of the creamy Savoie speciality cheeses, like Beaufort, Reblochon and Tome des Bauges, produced by our nearby dining companions.

Having skied in this area before, I’ve realised that Val d’Arly and its four villages – Crest Voland/Cohennoz; Flumet/St Nicolas la Chapelle; Notre Dame de Bellecombe; and La Giettaz en Aravis – are full of surprises.

First of all, despite being linked to upmarket Megeve and two extensive ski areas -192km Espace Diamant and the 100km Les Portes du Mont Balance – few British skiers and snowboarders are aware of this hidden gem.

The villages have retained their traditional Savoyard charm and the slopes are refreshingly uncrowded with picturesque tree-lined pistes and panoramic views of the impressive Mont Blanc, Beaufortain and Aravis ranges.

The friendly and welcoming owners and staff at our cosy 3* hotel Le Caprice des Neiges went above and beyond to make our stay comfortable – including heroically rescuing us one evening when our minibus got stuck in a snowdrift!
Located within walking distance of the charming Alpine village of Combloux (described by French poet and novelist Victor Hugo as the ‘Pearl of the Alps, nestled within a jewel box of glaciers’) and within two miles of A-list hotspot Megève, a button tow across the road linked us to mile upon mile of varied terrain, from easy beginner greens and blues to more challenging reds and blacks, as well as snowparks and boardercross.

One of our favourite days was spent at La Giettaz, under the shadows of scented pine trees and mighty Mont Blanc. The Tête du Torraz chairlift treated us to a 360° view of the surrounding peaks at the 1,930m summit before we enjoyed the adrenaline rush of long and empty runs back to the village.

My companions and I also opted for another first – an introduction to ski-bobbing, which is a bit like riding a bike with snow blades. The Ski-bobbing World Cup is one of a colourful diary of events usually held annually. Other attractions include a Gourmet Week and a Winter Theatre Festival.

At the time of writing these ski resorts remain tantalising out of reach because of the French ban on British travellers. But once this ban is lifted, we can optimistically plan for long, hazy days of spring skiing when, together with the vaccine rollout, life may return to semi-normal.

The good news is Val d’Arly offers the reassurance of flexible packages, and I look forward to my next visit there being as carefree as my last in January 2020.”

• Frank Baldwin was a guest of Val d’Arly Mont Blanc – www.valdarly-montblanc.com – and stayed at Le Caprice des Neiges – www.hotel-capricedesneiges.com. At around a 75-minute drive or taxi ride from either Geneva or Chambéry airports, with the nearest train station at Megève, Val d’Arly can easily be accessed from the UK for as little time as a long weekend.