Nicholas Skinner

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Archive for April, 2010

Review: Chalethotel Tarentaise, Meribel Mottaret, France (Ski Holiday)

Monday, April 5th, 2010

Hotel View From SlopeRecently stayed at the Chalethotel Tarentaise, Meribel Mottaret (Trip Advisor) from 21st March to 28th March 2010. I was pretty impressed with the whole experience, however it is worth noting I have not been on a skiing holiday for around 10 years therefore have a somewhat limited ability to make a comparison.

Main reasons for choosing the Tarentaise (with Mark Warner) were the Ski Hosting service available on 4.5 days (where they guide you around the best spots), ski-in / ski-out ability and WiFi Internet access available in all the rooms (although as I later found out this was not really required due to the prevalence of 3G in the area).

Hotel / Rooms

View From Room 7The hotel and rooms were all very modern, complete with artwork on the walls, and some with stylish looking sofas. Depending on the room you may either get a view to the front of the hotel (e.g. room 15) which did not particularly have much to see or a view to the back directly onto the ski slope (e.g. room 7). Rooms also have a fridge, but no kettle, or facility to eat. Breakfast is provided from 8-10am (croissants, bread, porridge, selection of cereals), along with a selection of drinks (tea, coffee, hot chocolate, orange juice), afternoon tea (cakes, biscuits etc) are available from around 3pm, and dinner is provided in the evening from 7.30-10pm. Dinner was not provided on Thursday (hotel staff’s day off), therefore you need to make your own arrangement, we chose to eat at a local Pizza restaurant walking distance from the hotel, in the same complex as the local supermarket and ski hire shop, however booking in advance (04 79 00 43 32) was required.

View From Room 15It is a family hotel and depending on the guests staying at the time you may be reminded of this by the sound of children running up and down the corridors (seemed particularly noticeable in the morning). Any noises in the corridor even just people talking as they went past carried into the rooms. Room 15 located on the first floor did not always seem particularly quiet at night with occasional sounds from the below floor noticeable however it was not particularly loud and was not something that really bothered me. I was also informed that room 7 was not particularly quiet however this was only on the last day when presumably kitchen staff below were up even earlier preparing breakfast for the early morning start.

View Room 7 - Down SlopeIf you are out past a certain time (from memory ~8pm) you will need a code to access both the front door of the hotel, and the ski room, therefore be sure to collect these from reception first.

In terms of luggage, the hotel does not have any elevators however on arrival the hotel staff load bags from the coach into a mini van which takes them upto the hotel (along a very short road) and then carry bags to your room for you. On departure you leave bags outside your room and staff carry them to the coach.

Two paper piste maps were left in each room and only just held up throughout the week. If you are going to be making regular use of them throughout the week in possibly snowy weather conditions you may wish to investigate if any alternate (e.g. laminated) maps are available.

Ski Hosting

We were originally considering Crystal Ski who also offer a Ski Hosting service (or as they call it a “Ski Escort” service) however they only offer it on 3 days which was part of the reason for going with Mark Warner.

With Mark Warner the ski hosting is available for 4.5 days (Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday Morning). You need to sign up the day before at the ski desk. The list is usually made available from 7.30pm although sometimes it was brought out upto 10 minutes early. On the first day just before the list is made available the hotel manager makes introductions in the bar area, therefore it is best to stay around the door area (closer to the desk) in order to ensure you are closer to the list / more likely to get a place. I never had a problem signing up for the leisurely group (there were a total of 3 different groups available), and I found that although there was often a queue forming at the desk at around 7.20pm if you came back 20 minutes later there was usually still space in most groups.

As mentioned in other reviews the general quality of the Ski Hosting was very good. The leisurely ski host leader seemed to be very knowledgeable on the whole area, lifts to take, or alternate routes to take if some were closed etc. The general quality of skiing however varied depending on the weather conditions as you would expect, Monday was ok in terms of the weather but the snow was not great, the middle of the week saw both better skiing conditions and sunny weather, and towards the end of the week the snow conditions were ok but the weather was not that great with poor visibility. From memory we made our scheduled destinations on 3 out of the 4 days with weather conditions meaning we stayed in the Meribel area for one of the days.

In our group there was a morning coffee stop at around 11am. Lunch was pre booked at a number of restaurants across the valley where we sat at reserved tables. Quality of the food was generally very good however the lunch stops themselves were often crowded with tables tightly packed in together. When stopping for lunch most people leave skis out in the snow however you will need to remember where you put them along with any distinctive markings on the skis, colours of the polls etc such that you can find them again later. It is a good idea to take a pair of sun glasses if it is a sunny day as you will likely be sitting outside.

I uploaded the route we took on 3 of the days ski hosting to Every Trail, (although seeing them on a Google map is unfortunately not as useful as seeing them on a piste map would be):

[Update: Also available on Mountain Dynamics Monday, Friday, Saturday]

In terms of prepetition I had done what I thought was a reasonable amount beforehand e.g. going for regular bike rides, going to the dry slope 1-2 times per week for 2 months beforehand but as the week progressed and people started dropping out the pace of the group started to speed up. I was generally fine on slopes that were not too steep and did not have too many bumps (moguls) however felt I was somewhat unprepared on some days having had no real experience with them back on the dry slope. I would suggest that anyone going on the hosting get at least some experience on how to deal with moguls in the correct way, or e.g. take a lesson the first day you arrive. I would also suggest that if you have been practicing on a dry slope most of the time it would be an idea to go at least once or twice to a “real snow” slope if there is one near you such that you get a more realistic idea of what it will be like.

Piste MapThe 3 Vallees area in general seems very good with a large number of lifts, and runs especially for intermediate skiers, and also has a number of areas / lifts / runs specifically for beginners (some of which are also free, there is also a free bus service as well). However in a way the large amount of choice may not be ideal for the beginner new to skiing as it makes trying to navigate your way around more challenging. The 3 Vallees has a newer more efficient ski lift pass system whereby all you do is place your pass in your top left pocket and it will automatically be read in your jacket and the turn style will let you through.

I would certainly recommend the ski hosting however I found that I was not leaning as much as I really should / might otherwise if I had to read the map, and find my own way around. This was also the experience of others in the group who e.g. chose to leave the hosting early / at the lunch stop and who later relayed stories of taking a number of wrong turns meaning they ended up getting back later than planned. The last day was a half day and I was somewhat expecting that we would be taken back to the hotel however we were left at the lunch stop and given instructions to find our own way back. View From LiftHaving just done a weeks worth of skiing, in the area, and being in a group of ~8 others (likely some that have been on a number of holidays before) I am assuming the ski host thought that we should be able to find our own way back fairly easily, however we actually ended up making a number of wrong turns (as had those leaving the group before the end of the day earlier in the week) meaning we eventually made it back to the hotel just slightly earlier than we might normally. It was not a bad thing seeing as some in the group (who were not confident going out on their own) may have otherwise missed out on half a days skiing however is certainly something to bear in mind. I would certainly advise that anyone even those going on ski hosting carefully study the map and listen to what the host tell you (as much as you can do on the reasonably fast pace of the hosting), along with learning the basics of the lifts, how to read the maps, subtleties with the maps such that you do know where you are at all times and at least have better chance of finding your way around.

View From LiftOn one occasion after mishearing directions on a day where the regular ski host was not available (and a substitute who had not done it before took over) I ended up going the wrong way, and after taking a few more wrong directions (attempting to get back to the hotel on my own) it was nearing the end of the day and lifts started shutting meaning I had to get a taxi at a cost of ~100 EUR for a 1hr ride back to the hotel. I was informed the rest of the group did wait for me / try and find me but unfortunately we did not manage it in the end. I would advise that you keep the number for the hotel handy, ensure that you have enough credit, along with a plan that does actually allow you to call it from your phone, and have the local taxi numbers handy, along with studying and trying to understand the map as much as possible beforehand. On another occasion with the regular ski host someone else did take a wrong turn as well however the ski host managed to find them and we were back on our way a few minutes later.

I had planned on taking a number of photos however with the pace of the group, and not wanting to put the camera in a pocket where it was likely to get damaged / wet this ended up being quite difficult. An ideal time for taking photos is on the lifts however again this ended up being difficult without risking dropping anything else, e.g. your gloves / polls. If your camera has a snow mode however you will certainly want to use it to avoid dull looking photos.

Internet Access

WiFi Internet access was available in the hotel on a daily or weekly basis. From memory the weekly package (which I bought) was 25 EUR. I noticed another reviewer mentioned he thought it was expensive however I thought it was reasonable considering a lot of other hotels do not offer it at all, and it would be quite a lot more difficult to e.g. get a bus into town and find an Internet cafe, or more expensive to use a 3G dongle.

In terms of the quality of the Internet it was not that fast so you are not going to be watching YouTube videos however it is fine for browsing web pages and checking email which is likely what you would need it for anyway. Worth noting that it did get very slow / unusable once or twice, I am assuming this was because a lot of other guests were using it at the same time, for these times I switch to using my 3G dongle. Also worth noting that accessing VPNs did not seem to work through it.

I was surprised to find that the mobile phone, and 3G data coverage was very good everywhere I tried in the 3 Vallees area, from the hotel on my laptop to half way up a mountain and on the cable cars on my iPhone. It seemed both more available and faster than back in the UK. I sometimes found myself responding to emails while in some of the longer cable cars.

There is not that much reason to take a 3G dongle as the hotel has WiFi (apart from as a backup when the WiFi is running slowly) however if you are taking a laptop / 3G dongle or Internet/email enabled phone to France (or a reasonable number of other European / non European countries) you will likely want to go with Vodafone (PAYG SIMs if you do not have a contract). After looking into all the options I found that Vodafone offer the best per day 3G roaming rates, £9.99 per 50MB on the dongle, and £4.99 per 25MB on the phone. I found my phone roamed to the SFR (sfr.fr) network when in France. Call charges were 38ppm to make calls and 18ppm to receive calls, text messages were 11p. An even more cost effective option may be to try and obtain a SFR SIM card locally however this was not something I looked into.

By chance I found myself in room 15 which happened to have the WiFi router (not sure if it was the only one, or just one of many in the hotel) but needless to say I never had any issues connecting to the WiFi network on it.

It is worth noting that the WiFi card you buy to get access (contains a username/password to login) only works on a single computer. I tried signing in on my phone but received an error message therefore you will either need to stick with 3G on your phone or buy two Internet access cards to use it on two devices. It also had a slightly annoying requirements that you needed to keep signing in every time you connect.

Travel

CardWe ended up on an early morning flight leaving Gatwick for Geneva at 6.40am (with checkin at 4.40am), on Viking Airlines, the whole plane had been reserved for Mark Warner customers. Viking is a budget airline and this was evident by the cramped conditions, and limited facilities on board. I found it somewhat odd that mobile phones were not allowed to be used even in “Airplane Mode” according to their FAQ, and mentioned over the intercom on boarding.

When you arrive at Geneva airport you are greeted by Mark Warner staff and given a coach number, however note that there may be another line of coaches behind the first if you can not immediately see your coach. Again on the airplane and coach, you may be at times reminded that its a family friendly tour operator by the sound of babies and young children.

Lac d'Annecy, FranceIn terms of transfer time on the coach, the brochure quoted it as being 2 hr however I would suggest this is a conservative estimate. I did not time it but believe it was at least 2.5hr, and the weather conditions were not really that bad, especially on the outgoing trip, although they were somewhat snowy initially on the return journey. The return flight was slightly delayed as apparently a coach driver did not arrive on time (daylight savings time had started that same morning).

During the outward coach transfer Mark Warner representatives gave a small introduction, and arrange lift passes (payment was made later at the hotel when collecting them). If however you want to get out on the slop Sunday afternoon you may wish to arrange your own pass beforehand or you will be limited to the free lifts only. Extra insurance was also offered if you have not already purchased it.

Weather / Snow Conditions

We experienced a range of weather conditions from sunny to snowing with poor visibility. The Merinet website has further details on weather conditions that can be expected at different times in the year but in generally I think we picked a good time of year with both the slops/lifts not being too busy and the weather being acceptable (reasonably sunny, and not very cold) most of the time.

Ski Equipment Hire

Ski BootI pre-booked ski equipment with Mark Warner. On arrival at the hotel a member of staff walked us up to the hire shop (Intersport) from the hotel. It was nice to have things well organised (may have otherwise needed to spend time finding the shop in an unfamiliar environment which could have taken some time) however as we were walked up in the groups and the shop only had two members of staff working, this did mean a small wait. Helmets (not pre hireable on the Mark Warner website) were available directly from the hire shop at 15 EUR. The shop will also deliver equipment to the hotel saving you from carrying it yourself. I went with the “Superior” boots and “Sports” skis and ended up with a very comfortable pair of boots. At the end of your stay you just leave the skis / boots in your hotel locker and the company comes to collect them.

Other Activities

Looking on the Merinet website there are a number of other activities available including:

  • Snow-Mobile
  • Segway Human Transporter Tours
  • Ice Rink
  • Indoor Climbing Wall
  • Ice Karting
  • Ice Climbing
  • Husky Sledding

However most seemed to start quite late in the afternoon / evening therefore we did not end up doing any of them. Other activities that are available during the day include Walking Trails, Snowshoe Walking, and swimming in the Olympic complex.

Overall

The Tarentaise is on the more expensive end of hotels offered by Mark Warner but based on the other reviews on Trip Advisor it seems you get what you pay for, and it certainly lived upto our expectations.

Overall I was very impressed, it is a well run / organised hotel, ideally situated on the slope, with friendly / knowledgeable staff. My next holiday will very likely also be with Mark Warner and possibly to the Tarentaise again.

[Photos: Flickr]