Resort Profile: Serre Chevalier

By adamrowden, 30 Nov '12 at 11:10

The Serre Chevalier valley is made up of Briançon, which is a world heritage city and three other villages Saint Chaffrey/Chantemerle, Villeneuve / La Salle les Alpes and Monetier Les Bains.

Serre Che, as it's known to its friends, is one of the most southerly of France, Europe and the Alp's big ski areas. Located close to the Italian border, Serre Chevalier also boasts more than 300 days of sunshine a year. Although that statistic may make some snow lovers nervous, it's north facing slopes, reaching high with a big proportion above the tree line, together with extensive snow making capabilities (more than 400 guns covering more than 130 hectares of trails on lower slopes, make the resort relatively snow sure.

Its name comes from the old Provencal word 'cambell' which meant 'flock of sheep' and was given because flocks from nearby Provencal were brought up to Serre (little mountain) in the summer. The area's historical association with the Borel nobility is also present today as their coat-of-arms, emblazoned with an eagle, is used by the resort, and the eagles can still be seen on occasion.

There are some ski slopes that are suitable for all abilities and the high alpine area in the resort is widely known for its cracking off-piste. There is also a specialist ski park which is great for freestylers and the resort has a number of other cracking attractions including a number of quarter pipes, a 250m long snake, a few half pipes and a 2.5m high and 10m long big air jump.

The fact that the resort is large and expansive means that there is more than enough variety, which means you will do well to get tired of Serre Chevalier. There are loads of wide and gentle runs that can please beginners and intermediates and these can also ensure that you will never be stuck with a tough route home. Also, experts will very rarely end up being bogged down on flat terrain in Serre Chevalier. The north facing slopes hold the snow well and two thirds of the resort is wooded and beautiful.

If you fancy trying your hand at some downhill skiing, then we would highly recommend that you have a go on the now famous ‘Luc Alphand’ Olympic black run. It is an experience that is well worth trying out.

Off-Piste

Serre Chevalier is off-piste heaven on the right days, but be very careful - get caught out and you'll find yourself on the wrong side of the mountain and the walk back from the road to Grenoble is a long one! Here are some of the best off-piste locations in resort:

The Montagnole - [A word of caution: at the end of the season this has a habit of avalanching - not one face, the whole valley. You have been warned- it really is better to take a guide].

From the top of the Yret Chair follow the piste for 30 metres or so and drop off the back of the mountain where it says 'Danger Cliffs'. They aren't joking about the cliffs so be careful. From there on you are on your own. Totally out of view of lift attendants and only 10-15 people do this a day. You can't help but go the right way - it's a glacial valley and so you just follow it down and exit off at post five on the tabac run.

Yret Face - Follow the piste for 60m but keep your height and you can drop down on the face you came over on the chair. This is a 30 degree plus aspect and is also avalanche prone so pick your line well.

Cibout - Take the Cibout chair then traverse across to the tree line. Drop down the face onto the Tabac run and over that into the trees and rejoin the Tabac later.

All the pistes here are flanked by trees and you can have some excellent tree runs down them all.

Tete de Balme - take the Balme lift up and after you exit turn for Villeneuve. From there you just have to choose your spot to descend on the Cucamle side.

The Cucamle - take the Balme lift up and you can't miss the Cucamle - it's right in front of you. You can board to it as far as you can get then it's a 20-30 minute hike to the top. Descend on the valley side (towards the towns) as there are rocks on the other side.

L'Eychauda - It's a nasty drag to the top but from there its a small ledge drop on the face and a clear and long run down. You can rejoin the piste as early or as late as you like.

Living in Resort

If you have to find your own accommodation then it's expensive. But it's a resort so what do you expect? If there are enough of you and you are willing to forego a bit of privacy you can get 4-6 berth apartments in Villenueve town for £380 pcm. There are also plenty of places in St. Chaffery (unfortunately located next to the Gendarmerie).

Apartments are easier to locate in the larger town of Briancon. Here they will generally be larger and cheaper and based on a cost per month rather than cost per person per month. the only problem with being based in Briancon is that as it is a big town and the ski buses of Serre Chevalier are notoriously awful you may find yourselves in a with a long walk to and from the lifts. Also since Briancon is only at 1200m the snow disappears about mid-March and so there is no possibility of boarding/skiing all the way down into the town.

There are several smaller villages in the valley which are worth checking out, including St. Chaffrey and Le Bez. The bus service runs through them, but they are rather out of the way for apres-ski events. You can expect a walk if you are out late.

There are estate agents in all the towns so it is just a case of getting there early and matching your requirements to your budget. You can expect to pay about £280 for a reasonably sized apartment or section of a small chalet which will sleep two, three or four, depending on how friendly you are.

All in all Serre Chevalier is a relatively quiet place, but go to the right places and you'll have a blinding time.

Bars and Clubs
Briancon 1200 is not Soho, but nevertheless you can have a good beer and a laugh!! The Saloon in Briancon (previously The Rosbif Bar) is a lively and large apres bar that attracts a wild bunch of tourists as well as locals. It is located at the bottom of the main lift so is easily accessible, check it out. Spirit is another bar/restaurant that is located in Briancon, that has an international menu that includes a cracking Sunday roast. Spirit is a relatively new bar that has a nice interior and also hosts some pretty banging nights.

Duo is a nice French bar with a piano and some comfy couches, and The Gotcha Bar is a Dutch place that sells cheap beer and is often the place to go if you like dancing on tables. A few other good bars in Briancon include The Schuss, Bar Central, The Tucson and The Eden Bar.

There are also some good bars in Chantemerle 1350. The Extreme Bar has WiFi and also has regular live music. It also has some pretty hardcore dance DJ nights, which are best avoided, unless you are into that sort of thing, then why not head over. Chantemerle also plays host to Ullivans, which is a cool Irish pub, Escapade, which is a very French club with karaoke and The Saloon, which is beneath the Grand Hotel. The Nortlander is also worth a mention.

Another part of Serre Chevalier, Villenueve, is also good for a night out. Baita is a cracking nightclub that is well worth a visit. It is pricey, as all nightclubs in the Alps are, but if you get to know the staff then you might be ok. It does host some cool themed nights too. Other bars in Villenueve include Loco Loco, Mojos, Le LB Bar, and of course Le Grotte.

If you are in Monetier 1500, then you can head to L’Alpen which has a decent atmosphere; Rif Blanc, which is the best place to watch the football and has a decent, yet relaxed atmosphere; and of course Que Tal, which is a crazy cavern bar that has erratic opening hours.

Away Days
A seasons pass gives free days in other resorts, so you can go to Alpe Duez, Les Deux Alpes, (only 45mins drive), Montgenevre and Sestriere, Puy St Vincent and new this year 6 days in Courmayeur.

Not far away is La Grave - Europe's largest off piste area. One 30 minute lift to the top and you choose your own route from there. DON'T do this without a guide - at 3550m this is mostly glacier and you will fall in a crevasse if you're not careful. However if you don't go soon after a good snowfall it won't be worth it. Paying £60 for a guide and pass to bounce over other people's frozen tracks isn't my idea of fun.

Sestriere is only 45 minutes away by car and from there you can access other Italian resorts. They do have some fantastic off piste and because it's higher then Serre Che it generally has better snow. If it's windy though forget it - the high winds mean plenty of lift closures.

Shopping
Briancon has its own Geant (think Tesco but French) which is good value. If you have a vehicle, it's always worth going to ED, which is in the industrial estate on the road towards Gap, (there also a Champion). It's cheaper than the big supermarkets. Of course there's always the saisonaires' favourite, Aldi, which is on the main road before you hit Briancon.

Serre Chevalier has its fair share of good board/ski shops and the deals to be had at the end of the season are incredible to the tune of board/jacket/baggies/bindings for under £400.

Eating Out
There is no shortage of great places to eat in Serre Chevalier. Pizza still popular along with traditional French cuisine. Ca Basa in Chantmerle does great pizzas, as does a man in a van on route to Villenueve [he sells wine as well ;-)]. Most of the hotels will accept on spec diners turning up and asking nicely.

Transfer Day
At less than two hours away from Turin it's a godsend. There are usually few problems. A handy local company, The Alpine Transfer Company, with British drivers has recently been set up for transfers for up to eight people, and larger groups catered for with coaches and British reps. The company will also cover local resorts such as Montgenevre and Risoul.

Thanks to Gail Karn, Stephen Isaacs & Celia Gates for contributing to this Resort Guide.

For more resort profiles click here. Or, to find a good transfer company to take you to Serre Chevalier click here.

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