M’aidez! M’aidez!’ Deranged with panic, I flapped my arms and hollered for help. No ski trip for my family is complete without the international phrase for emergency being used at least once.
Only this time I wasn’t shouting it from a slope-side collision but from the hard shoulder of a French motorway after coming to a juddering halt an hour north of Dijon. We were out of petrol.
And were it not for a passing motorway maintenance man who calmly directed us to an SOS phone box, muttering ‘les Anglais’ as he got us on our way again, we might never have discovered the simple joys of one of France’s best-kept family ski secrets, Le Grand Bornand.
Grand Bornand lies at 1,000 metres and has plenty of Savoyard charm, says Fiona
Le Grand Bornand (pictured) is quieter than its flashier neighbours
Situated in the Aravis mountain range between Annecy, Chamonix and Geneva, Le Grand Bornand is quieter and less well known than its flashier neighbours.
But its Savoyard charm – tinkling cowbells not nightclub tinnitus – draws French families year after year and was the perfect balm to our shattered nerves.
Separated into two villages – Grand Bornand at 1,000 metres, and Chinaillon at 1,300 metres – we made the higher resort our base during our Easter break, quickly settling into Le Village de Lessy, a series of spacious and comfortable self-catering apartments, the thoughtful layout of which minimises the unholy mess made by a family of five.
Our Eurotunnel tickets plus return fuel costs meant travel for five came to about £470 while easyJet flights to Geneva during the Easter holidays would have set us back around £1,400 with car hire.
Ski lockers in the basement of our apartment were easy enough to manage, once we’d cracked the labyrinthine lifts. Hauling the kids’ clobber, and your own, up a steep incline to the ski school meeting point, less so.
Day two and we joined the dots. Why drive the car 700 miles only to let it stand idle for the week for fear of losing your parking space? Cramming the gear into the boot, we drove right up to the chairlift and parked in its shadow.
The chapel in Chinaillon, the village in which Fiona stayed with her family
Children finally fully dressed and dispatched to their instructors, it was time to face my own mountain demons. A shambolic skier, my limited abilities have dwindled even more since having children.
Thankfully, with a wide range of green and blue runs making up the majority of its 90km of pistes, Le Grand Bornand is a reassuring resort where a woman who skis slower with every passing year can find what remains of her bottle.
The lack of daredevil snowboarders also makes it perfect for the children. Rose, 14, and Evie, 12, were soon swooshing past, while beginner Felix, seven, excelled as a flocon – the only time I will ever proudly call him a snowflake.
And if the 16 reds and four blacks aren’t quite enough for advanced skiers such as my husband, they can jump on to the shuttle bus to the neighbouring resort of La Clusaz, and exhaust themselves on more challenging terrain.
The view of Chinaillon at 1,300m from Village de Lissy, a complex of self-catering apartments that Fiona stayed in
The lack of daredevil snowboarders at Le Grand Bornand, says Fiona, makes it perfect for children
Self-catering always sounds sensible when you’re counting the pennies. Less so when you’re staring into a sink wishing someone else would do the cooking.
Thank goodness then for Huski, takeaway service offering the broadest of comfort foods delivered directly to your chalet. Beef bourguignon and mash? Or chicken korma and a couple of beers? Be sure to specify your delivery slot well in advance of when you want to eat, or you’ll be glaring at the microwave way past bedtime.
It wouldn’t be a skiing holiday, though, without a near-death experience with cheese.
The interior of Le Village de Lessy, which Fiona describes as ‘spacious and comfortable’
The exterior of Le Village de Lessy. Its apartments are ‘thoughtfully laid out’
And there are few better places for a full immersion than Le Jalouvre, the warmest of restaurants providing a delicious nightly dilemma. Would madame care to drown by fondue or raclette? Five days on the slopes are always enough, so having returned our skis – and offered up silent thanks for no broken bones – we ventured to Annecy, where its magnificent lake and medieval town held us in wonder.
Our final night of indulgence before heading home was a pitstop in Chambery at Chateau de Candie, a glorious pile where we drank in the views of the Savoie landscape with a glass of the hotel’s own Viognier.
All that was left was to fill up the car and begin the eight-hour drive back to the Eurotunnel, eyes now firmly locked on the fuel gauge.
Fiona and her family travelled with Peak Retreats (peakretreats.co.uk) to Village de Lessy in Le Grand Bornand. Seven nights’ self-catered from £239pp including return Eurotunnel crossing with free upgrade to Flexiplus on most dates. Rooms at Chateau de Candie in Chambery from £90pp per night. Visit annecymountains.com.