Monday 16 January 2017

Slope off to Morzine for skiing with soul

This charming French resort has perfect pistes, rib-sticking food, a buzzing live music scene -- and a genuinely warm welcome for visitors, writes Julia Molony

Julia Molony

Published 12/12/2011 | 06:00

If you can judge a ski resort by the calibre of its instructors, then I can say without a doubt that Morzine is thus far my number one. Sebastian, my guide and teacher, is as far away from the cliche as possible. He's young and handsome, of course, but doesn't smoke Malborough reds. He doesn't once shout at me to "bend zee knees" (although I think he's being nice, because I could probably do with a reminder).

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When intermediate skier hubris gets the better of me and I suggest a turn down the Swiss Wall -- the resort's most daunting black run -- a precipitous mogul field more than a kilometre long, he takes in the soupy weather conditions like a seasoned pro with more sense than his charge -- and steers me towards a more manageable red instead. All this, and he even pays for lunch. Sebastian is a Morzine local and his friendly welcome and assiduous care speak volumes about this place.

There's plenty else to recommend Morzine, but Sebastian's gentle warmth seems to sum it up. Despite boasting access to Europe's largest skiable area there's little that feels corporate about this place.

This, despite the fact that it's a bustling resort of international renown, seems testament above all to the character of the locals. Like Sebastian, everyone you speak to here seems to have retained an easy charm. From the restaurants to the tourist office, businesses here have a cosy, family run sort of feel. And when you are travelling and skiing alone, as I found myself after my companion was forced to cancel at the last minute, this is a decidedly reassuring thing.

The village of Morzine itself is quaint and accessible, but the real draw here is definitely the slopes -- all 650km of them. Morzine is one of three linked resorts that make up the Porte du Soleil, an enormous patchwork of pistes that caters for mountain lovers of every level of competence and adventurism. The inviting selection of gentle blues and greens make this an ideal launching spot for the skiing novice, while those with more daredevil tastes will find plenty to challenge them off piste amongst the trees and powder fields.

There are also 25 black runs including the daunting Swiss Wall -- which I am saving for next time. (One doesn't want to exhaust all options on the first visit, obviously.)

It's a famously good spot here for snowboarders too. In fact, Morzine is often credited with being the birthplace of boarding. The legacy of this culture is borne out by Morzine's low-key but palpable rock and roll edge. Groups of twenty-something boarders in trendy gear mingle easily with families. It's far away from the boozy, bawdiness of St Anton, sure, but there's a side to Morzine which is unmistakably cool.

It's not all family-run restaurants and raclette, certainly. Though if that's your thing, there is plenty to choose from. Possibly the best thing about skiing in France by my reckoning, is not so much the après ski but the wonderful opportunities for Le Nourriture. Morzine, in this regard, is no exception. A holiday spent there without seizing the opportunity to gorge on the rib-sticking local delight of tartiflette -- think potato, onion, bacon, melted cheese and lashings of cream -- accompanied by red wine, just isn't worth it, in my humble opinion. There can be no better dish in the world to fortify the soul before facing into a long afternoon on the slopes.

There's good fine dining here too, for those with more delicate epicurean sensibilities. Try Le Roitelet (www. hotel-le-roitelet.com) for creations based around local gastronomic themes, or La Table D'Antoine (www.table-antoine.com) for seafood and innovative dishes, carefully matched according to the extensive wine list.

Outside of dining hours, those with slightly wilder nocturnal tastes will be pleased to hear that Morzine boasts a buzzing live music scene. In keeping with the famous French community spirit, local events, festivals and cultural happenings are at the heart of this place. They are a well organised bunch too. The famous Rock The Piste festival, launched last year, was such a success that they'll be continuing it for 2012.

Running from March 24 to 28, it features a range of French and international pop and rock musicians, performing at various al fresco locations throughout the duration of the festival.

The organisers' ingenious plan for combining music and skiing involves keeping the location of the gigs secret until the day before. Registered fans will then receive details by text message -- giving them just enough time to plan their ski route to the slope-side venues that will have been specially built overnight.

After snowboarding home from a rock gig, something gentle and restorative might well be in order, and for this, a visit to the friendly proprietress of Massage du Monde, (www.spa-massage-morzine.fr) a tiny but welcoming spa in the heart of the village is highly recommended. The place has been designed along oriental themes, and the warm wood and exotic smells which characterise it provide a surprisingly pleasant counterpoint to the crisp snow and twinkling lights outside.

I treated myself to a four hands massage and an Ayervedic treatment which involved having my whole body wrapped and then gently warmed with hot steam. All of this was delivered with a smile, and more Gallic warmth than I've experienced anywhere else in France.

Morzine is a resort that seems to genuinely welcome, and even like its visitors, rather than just tolerating them. Tourism may be Morzine's staple, but it hasn't sold its soul.

For further information see www.morzine-avoriaz.com

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