At the centre of the Grand Tourmalet ski area in the French Pyrenees, purpose-built La Mongie is defiantly 1970s in style and appearance, which won’t appeal to everybody.
But the resort sits among imposing peaks that culminate in the 2,877-metre Pic du Midi de Bigorre, whose summit observatory looks every bit the lair of a James Bond villain.
Why Try It?
With a quirky vibe, and prices considerably cheaper than the Alps, France's La Mongie offers a very varied range of skiing.
It’s basically an open bowl that’s great for families and intermediates, and there’s challenging off-piste skiing.
For gentler skiing, the neighbouring resort of Barèges is a pretty and authentic mountain village, below tree-lined slopes. La Mongie sits at 1,800 metres but there is skiing down to 1,250 metres and up to 2,500 metres and it’s pretty snow sure.
The Pic du Midi can be accessed by cable car from the centre of town, and from its summit there are various challenging descents for confident skiers and snow boarders. It’s worth anyone’s while to ride up to the observatory for the panorama, which stretches from Catalonia to the Basque Country.
Freeriders will love not just the Pic du Midi but also the surprisingly large array of side- and backcountry terrain.
For intermediates there is an enticing selection of often sunny, uncrowded pistes (the long, blue-graded Bergers is a classic).
The more than adequate selection of beginners’ slopes are easily accessible in the centre of La Mongie. And the wide, open blue runs off the Col du Tourmalet are on the iconic Tour de France route come summer.
Off The Hill?
There’s not a huge amount to see or do in La Mongie itself, but 30 minutes down the hill is the attractive spa town of Bagneres-de-Bigorre with one of the best spas in the French Pyrenees in the form of Aquensis (two hours A$35).
The naturally heated swimming pool (complete with waterfalls, chutes and jets) is a great place to relax after a few days’ energetic skiing, and there’s also a wellness centre and gym.
Apres Any Good?
The bar at Le Schuss in the centre of town is always busy, or check out the friendly L’Igloo, which is popular with locals, although its small size means it can be a bit jammed at times.
Where Do I Eat?
Just outside La Mongie is one of the area’s best mountain restaurants, L’Etape du Berger. It’s now run by Eric Abadie, a bear of a man whose father-in-law started the restaurant in 1969.
Meats used in the kitchen come from animals that graze the sunny mountain slopes in summer.
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Where To Stay?
The observatory offers pricey stays in single or double rooms. The price includes dinner, breakfast, a tour of the observatory, incredible sunsets and jaw-dropping views (no Bond villain, though).
In recent years the region has seen excellent snowfalls, and because most of the accommodation in La Mongie is ski in/ski out, it’s a good choice for those who like to spend most of their holiday actually skiing.
Hotel Crete Blanche remains a classic of 1970s style: all that’s needed to complete the picture is Brigitte Bardot and Serge Gainsbourg sipping martinis in the bar, clad in tight ski pants and sucking on Gauloises.
It’s not the classic chocolate box mountain hotel, but still an authentic piece of French ski culture.
The Nitty Gritty
- 100km of pistes in La Mongie and Barèges, served by 32 lifts
- Highest altitude - 2,500 metres
- Good for - budget skiers, beginners, intermediates, and freeriders looking for a challenge
- Lift pass - adult from A$320 for six days, child from A$290
- Beer - A$9
- Green runs - 17
- Blue runs - 24
- Red runs - 21
- Black runs - 6
- Limitations - not much nightlife, and not everyone will appreciate the 1970s architecture
Visit your local Flight Centre store or call 131 600 for more advice and the latest deals on travelling to La Mongie.
This article originally appeared on guardian.co.uk
This article was written by Alf Alderson from The Guardian and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.