In a nutshell
Attempting your first ever skiing holiday when you’ve small children in tow might sound like madness but Belambra Neige et Ciel club in Les Menuires, France, is designed with the youngest of guests in mind, from baby gear, kids’ clubs, a children’s food station and a prime location beside the slopes. Not to mention vino on tap for mum and dad…
An easy 90-minute flight from Gatwick to Geneva, then a coach transfer. This took less than three hours and was a less winding journey than expected, a relief when travelling with travel sickness prone little ones. Alternatively, you can take a train or taxi, or if you hire a car, there is free parking at the hotel. Chambery, Lyon and Toulouse airports are within 110 miles of Les Menuires, too.
Les Menuires was purpose built as a winter holiday destination in the 1960s, sitting in the renowned Trois Vallees ski area of the Alps, and sandwiched between Saint Martin de Belleville and Val Thorens. Its modernist architecture is famed for being ugly, but it looked like a white wonderland to our family after a snow-starved winter. There’s also no denying the excellence of the slopes and range of family facilities, from children’s ski schools to seasonal festivals.
Belambra is a French holiday club with 63 resorts around the country. We plumped for its Neige et Ciel hotel over a nearby self-catering option for two reasons – to take a break from the usual daily chores and because it’s a stone’s throw from the slopes, allowing us to “ski in, ski out”. It’s no fun having to carry your own skis and poles on and off a bus, never mind those of your children, too.
Our 15th floor family room was basic but clean, warm and very comfortable, with a TV and fridge for storing snacks. You can prebook a cot, bottle warmer, baby bath and baby lounger in advance, with hairdryers on loan from reception (saving a bit of space in the case!).
The hotel has a lobby with table football and TV, and candlelit bar with candyfloss station, roaring fire, dancefloor and evening entertainment for both children and adults, from karaoke to covers bands. Both areas offer free WiFi. There is also a laundry room if you run out of clean and dry ski socks for the kids.
Our half board package included breakfast and seven tokens per person to use for lunch or dinner, to suit. Full board is available but we found it easier to grab a snack on the slopes during the day.
Food is served buffet style but absolutely top notch, with masses of choice. Our dinners became five course affairs of soup, fresh salads, and steak and dauphinoise potatoes, followed by delicious puddings and local cheeses. After a day on the slopes burning calories, there was not an ounce of guilt as we filled our (ski) boots and partook of the red and rose wine on tap. The dessert station is a sure fire hit with all children.
The restaurant boasted a surplus of highchairs and booster seats, and I was impressed with the “families with babies” area right next to the food, along with microwaves for heating up milk and meals. There was also a baby buffet area, with offering yoghurts, fruit, veggie purees and pasta.
On Wednesdays and Thursdays, you can pay a supplement to dine in Les Hermines, a small dining room, and enjoy a traditional Savoyard meal, such as fondue (a fun way to get picky eaters munching!), with table service and local wine list.
The daily Poisson and Renardeaux children’s clubs welcome guests from 3 months to 6 years, with an evening childminding service, too. Housed in the hotel’s basement, the rooms are secure and filled with toys and play equipment, with organised activities to keep them entertained. There are additional clubs for older children during school holidays.
Budding small skiers taking lessons with Ecole Ski Francais can be accompanied to and from their classes by staff, for a supplement. At 5.30pm, Leo, the club’s fox mascot, greets younger guests in the bar and hosts entertainment like clown shows and a disco. Prepare for your children to become besotted with him!
Be aware that the clubs and activities are in French, but staff speak fairly good English.
The superb childcare facilities at the Belambra give parents plenty of time to hit the slopes or take lessons, if needed. The hotel has a secure ski room on the basement floor, where you can hire skis, poles, boots and helmets. The main La Croisette area, where many of the lifts begin, is a short ski away, while there are two nursery slopes with carpet lifts close by, accessible without a chair lift.
ESF also has a dedicated and secure Piou Piou children’s kindergarten, with special skiing obstacle courses and mascots, games and indoor activities. Pupils can have their lunch there if you like and there is a discreet viewing area for parents to see how their charge is getting on, without them knowing you watching. Prebook lessons and lift passes through the hotel for discounted rates.
If you’re not a natural ski bunny, the resort’s Sports Centre is a five minute walk from the hotel, with an indoor pool and soft play for the children, plus relaxation zone of sauna, steam room and Jacuzzi for when they are at the club.
The hotel loans sledges or, if you are a bit braver and have children who are 7 or older, you can attempt the Roc n Bob, a 4km luge track running down the mountain – it’s huge fun! Daredevils of age 5 and older can also take a ride on Speedmountain, a 1000m rail toboggan where you race against the resort’s mascot Boukty, a short bus ride away.
Or take a free shuttle bus to picturesque Saint Martin for a hot chocolate and look around the town’s tiny but fascinating museum, explaining how winter sports transformed the area.
Despite our misgivings, the whole family declared this one of our best holidays ever and it was brilliant value. The hotel was perfect for our needs, tiny skiers were brilliantly catered for and we slept like logs every night. We’re already saving up for next year…
Six nights in ski season half board for around £1600 via Booking.com
Ski hire from £77 for a week, £18 extra for a helmet. Six-day ski pass for Les Menuires from €207 per person for two adults, under-5s free. Extra €60 for Trois Vallies.
ESF skiing lessons booked through the hotel from €145 for six half days
Entry to Sports Centre Aqua-Spa is from €8.50