French Alps Mini Adventure
HOW WE PREPARED
Well, we got a few books about France from the library and every other day we would read them and learn about French food, their culture, their people. We also looked at our MAPS book quite regularly to learn about where France was located in the map. In my view, one of the biggest differences one might notice when travelling to a different country is the language, so we got a First Words in French by Lonely Planet which our 4yo loved looking at. A French-Canadian friend of mine also recommended watching a cartoon called Trotro which was an absolute hit. Oh yeah, we also made a French flag with paper and markers which our boy was super excited to take over to France and show everybody around.
HOW WE ACTUALLY TRAVELED
Our flight to Grenoble was departing quite early in the morning so we decided to stay over at the Sofitel Hotel at Gatwick Airport the night before. A taxi picked us up and dropped us off at hotel, the next day we took our Easy Jet flight which was about an hour long. For the first time since having our son it felt like we didn’t really need that much entertainment for our boy in the flight. He stared out of the plane’s window for most of the flight. Since it was an early departure, we didn’t really have time for breakfast, so he also spent a lot of time in the flight snacking. When we arrived in France, we hired a car and drove to our destination (Le Bourg-d’Oisans) which was about 1.15 hrs away from the airport.
To be honest, we chose this location because flights to Grenoble were cheap, then I just Googled ski resorts/hotels nearby and Hotel de Milan showed up with great reviews. Do not be fooled by the exterior of this hotel. It doesn’t look fancy at all, it looks old and like it’d be a perfect location for a horror film, but we were so pleasantly surprised when we went in. It is old but what’s not to like about a well-maintained vintage French hotel with spacious and refurbished rooms? Parking and breakfast were included and the couple running it were super nice.
The village itself was lovely too. Perfect size to stroll around with gorgeous little shops, restaurants, and patisseries. There is a tourist office as well, a pharmacy and a small Carrefour grocery store. I believe I saw a medical clinic nearby and a bigger grocery store 5 min drive away. L’Alpe-d’Huez (one of the ski resorts we went to) was 25 mins away and Col d’Ornon 40 mins away. Le Bourg-d’Oisans is right in the middle of about 5-6 ski resorts so it really is an idea location and much cheaper than staying at the actual resorts; however, hiring a car was kind of essential.
Most patisseries were open all day but a lot of restaurants close between 2.30-7 pm, which meant we had to have dinner at a patisserie (yum, but so much bread!) or buy something at the grocery store and then eat it at the hotel. Generally speaking, pretty much everything we ate in France was delicious though. The continental breakfast at the hotel was simple but enough to carry us through till lunch time. On the first day we had lunch at a lovely brasserie where our boy had a pasta (not very French buy yum) followed by a stop at the patisserie where we all had pastries to die for.
It was on our second day there that we learned French restaurants close at the time our boy was ready for dinner. This was frustrating but the local cheese shop saved us and we ended up having a bed picnic at hotel which we all loved. On our last day we went to a lovely mountain restaurant in L’Alpe-d’Huez called Edelweiss which was out of this world – typical French mountain food.
We planned this trip mainly to play in the snow but when we arrived the weather was sunny and seemingly not as cold so I was literally praying there’d still be snow in the mountains. Obviously, there was; the mountains are super high so I reckon you can probably ski till at least early April. Anyway, right at the bottom, the roads were icy and sludgy which was fun in itself. On our first day there we were just eager to find some snow anywhere so we drove to a place caked Villard-Reymond where the views were amazing. However, driving up there (30 mins from Le Bourg) was kind of insane and not for the faint of heart: loads of winding roads with cliff edges on both sides. Villard – Reymond is a tiny village really, but we found a hill full of snow and it was a lot of fun playing on it.
On our second day, we went to a mini family-oriented ski resort called Col d’Ornon. Well I don’t know how ‘mini’ it was but it definitely felt small and super local; we saw lots of families just pulling over, getting their sledges or snowboards out of their cars and up the mountain they went. Anyway, we hired a couple of sledges in the local ski shop and we sledged all morning. It was a really fab way to introduce our boy to the snow, how it felt to walk and fall on it. It was fun, but it was also really hard work; going down the hill was easy but climbing up wasn’t so. It was relieving to see other frustrated parents encouraging their tired little ones to help bring their sledges up again.
On our third day, we went to L’Alpe-d’Huez, a much bigger ski resort, the kind you see in movies. We decided to go up the mountain on lifts and gondolas as we thought it’d be fun. It was fun and an incredible experience for our little boy to see how high we were getting. Snacks and water were essential though as it took us about 40 minutes going all the way up; also, we saw a couple of people faint right in front of our eyes as I think they were affected by the altitude. We were excited to have made it to the top, but to be honest we were freezing too and I was worried it was probably a bit too intense for our boy so we headed down soon after taking the family photo.
Later that day we had booked a ski lesson for our boy but he spent the whole morning saying he didn’t want to go so in the end I said I’d take the lesson instead. As I suspected it, as soon as my boy saw me with skis on, he was like: ‘Hey, I also want skis!’ He ended up loving the lesson even though I could tell he was a little pooped. After an hour lesson we asked him if he wanted to have a go going down an easy slope. He said yes and up the lift he went on his own (after failing miserably when we did it together) and he went down the slope about 3-4 times.
WHAT WE LEARNED
So many things! But I guess the most memorable learning experiences we had (especially our boy – from my point of view) were:
- Nearly missing our flight on our way to France and having to literally run as fast as we could.
- Practicing French: our boy immediately knew people communicated differently in France and was super eager to try a few of the words he had learned (mainly bonjour and merci, oh and oui – he said oui to everything and everyone LOL, especially if we were at a patisserie).
- Skiing. This was memorable for obvious reasons but I think the thing my boy gained the most about the experience was confidence. He kept looking at people skiing down the mountain and we knew he was nervous and scared; he didn’t want to do it. But he gave it a go, he was brave – a powerful lesson, I think.
- Talking about dying. I’m super excited about this one. Sorry if that sounds weird/morbid but death is something I’ve always been interested about and I’m keen to talk about it like I talk about movies. We had an interesting conversation about death on the plane when our boy was looking at the safety card.