Thinking of booking a last-minute escape to the snow? I loved laid-back, charming Le Grand-Bornand in the French Alps. And don’t be fooled by its quaint beauty, this ski village is also home to plenty of adrenaline-fuelled winter adventures.
If you found an illustration of the perfect winter mountain village it might look a little like Le Grand Bornand – think centuries-old wooden chalets clustered around a tall church, a food market in the main square selling local cheeses and cured saucisson, and towering above, the inviting white peaks of the Alps. This lovely village and its neighbour La Clusaz make the perfect base for a classic ski and snowboard trip, but are also an amazing place to try your hand at more weird and wonderful winter activities, including paragliding, ski biking and biathlon (this is the home of the biathlon world cup, after all).
Le Grand-Bornand is split in two villages – at 1000 metres is the traditional Savoyard village and up a winding mountain road is Le Grand-Bornand Chinaillon, at 1300m. The ski area which surrounds the two is a hefty 86km of pistes and 49 runs, with a healthy mix of gentle, winding greens, fun blues and reds and a few challenging blacks. Ski tracks lead all the way to La Clusaz and other neighbouring villages, making this the perfect area to hop between hotels or ski across to a different resort for a spot of lunch. Try one of the adventurous activities on offer, bed down at my favourite places to stay and fill up on local cheese and wine at traditional mountain restaurants. One week here and you’ll be hooked on the village locals affectionately call ‘Le Grand-Bo’.
WHAT TO DO
Searching for the ultimate rush? There’s nothing on earth like the feeling of skiing off a cliff and riding the wind above a landscape of white peaks and green winter forest. Paragliding above Le Grand-Bornand was a huge highlight for me, and whilst your skis stay on, there’s no need to be a confident skiier to take to the air – you’ll be strapped to an instructor who’ll help you launch the parachute, give you tips on steering and then help you land safely. It may look adrenaline-fuelled but it’s actually extremely peaceful to float high above the mountains – we even saw a chamois grazing not far below us as we whooshed past a peak.
If you’re like me, you’ve probably watched biathlon pros on the winter Olympics and itched to give this awe-inspiring discipline, a combination of cross-country skiing and shooting, a go. Le Grand-Bornand is home to the Annecy Biathlon World Cup, so the local know a thing or two about it, and there’s a huge shooting range anc cross-country course on one side of the village. Beginners can try cross-country skiing and then learn to load and fire slim rifles – it’s surprisingly hard to aim well straight after a strenuous ski.
These odd-looking ski bikes were new to me but turned out to be fanastic fun. Like a fixed bike on two fat skis, your feet sit on fixed pedals and you turn using your body weight. They’re also a brilliant way for non-skiiers to explore the pistes, as they’re surprisingly safe and difficult to fall off, and some of the local instructors at the ESF are trained to give lessons or guide you down the mountain.
You haven’t really been sledging until you careened all the way from the top of the mountain and down into La Clusaz on a tiny, terrifyingly fast luge. We took a mass sledge trip at sunset – these sleds are small, speedy and close to the ground and feel like nothing more then playing Mario Kart. Serious fun.
SKIING AND SNOWBOARDING
And of course, a winter stay in Le Grand-Bornand is all about long happy days spent skiing and snowboarding. There are 86km of downhill slopes to explore, including high glaciers, gorgeous tree-lined runs, lovely gentle greens and steep sharp blacks. A must ski? Le Col des Annes, the wildest part of the ski area.
WHERE TO STAY
Hotel La Croix Sant Maurice
Easygoing, family friendly and right in the heart of the village, La Croix Sant Maurice is the perfect base for exploring Le Grand Bornand and the mountains. Some rooms have incredible views and downstairs there’s a small but cute sauna and steam room. Breakfast is also amazing – fill up on pancakes before a long day in the snow.
Got a gang together for a ski adventure? Do you own thing and rent a self-catered chalet or a village apartment from a local. Or escape to a tiny mountain bolthole – my favourite is romantic little Cabane d’Ernestine, the perfect size for two.
Hotel Beaurgard, La Clusaz
Ski to and from the door of this sprawling wooden hotel, which boasts fabulous mountain views, a lovely pool for a post-ski dip and a welcoming fire burning in the cosy bar.
WHERE TO EAT
Les Terres Rouges
Right on the pistes and ever-popular, Les Terres Rouges is perfect for lazing in the sun on warm days or cosying up with a vin chaud inside when it’s bitter cold. Their homemade, healthtastic Buddha bowls and not-so-healthy burgers are especially delicious.
In summer L’Escale is a lively campsite but in winter the focus is all on the restaurant, which serves a traditional menu served on the top floor of a charming old chalet. A great place to sample a classic tartiflette.
Cave Le Vin Couer
Would-be sommeliers can get to know Annecy’s local wines at Cave Le Vin Couer, up in Le Grand Bornard Chinaillon. Sit round wine barrels and the friendly owner will give you a crash course in regional grapes, accompanied by local cheeses.