Valberg – “The Place to Be”. In keeping with a current bizarre French trend for labelling in English, Valberg’s tagline is admittedly and enticing one, begging the question of why it is the place to be.
The first thing to learn about this resort is that it’s quite small. The second thing is that it’s the nearest ski resort to Nice from among the three downhill ski resorts within striking distance of the Cote d’Azur capital.These are both strong advantages in my book. Large resorts are all very well but unless you’re planning on skiing every hour of the day for about ten consecutive days, do you need 500km of pistes? Also, Valberg’s size means that it’s an overwhelmingly French and very family-oriented ski resort.
So unlike some of the Trois Vallées resorts or the likes of Les Arcs at certain times of the year, you really don’t forget that you’re in France and not some outpost of a British young mens’ drinking challenge contest.
The atmosphere is pleasant and friendly and it’s still large enough to have all you might want – decent skiing for all levels, plenty of places to eat and drink and a good line in peripheral activities.I arrived here by car from Nice Airport but you can also take a subsidised bus route that only costs €1.50 to get here from Nice. In fact, hopping up to Valberg is a cheap option to go skiing on a whim if you happen to be based on the coast. Not only can you hire your gear for the day after arriving on a cheap bus, you can also get your ski pass for the day (€31.50 is the standard adult rate in 2015/2016) and even take out skiing insurance on a daily basis.
I had always wondered just how a ski resort copes when there’s a distinct lack of snow about the place. I was to find my answer here. I happened to arrive about 3 weeks since the previous fall of snow and just a week (as it turned out) before the next time several centimetres of white magic were dumped on the good people of Valberg.They coped extremely well. It was a strange sight when you got up on the higher slopes to see mostly brown earth and rock with the pistes and the areas surrounding the ski lifts all still covered in a thick blanket of snow. This is how well the snow machines work. What’s more, at Valberg, they seem to a really good job of maintaining the surface of the piste. We tried out mostly blue ones and they were all in perfect or near-perfect (you did have the odd icy patch) condition. Valberg guarantees snow coverage on 85% of their slopes.
From Valberg’s highest point (Dreccia 2,011 metres), you can even see the Mediterranean Sea and there are 56 pistes in all, covering a total distance of 90km. There are plenty of other facilities too, such as the Snow Park, the Family Park, the Video Zone of the Family Park and the Big Air Bag (in French, they call it “Le Big Air Bag”). With the latter, you can practice your jumps, safe in the knowledge that as you mess it up, you won’t hurt yourself with a big inflated air bag to break your fall.
There’s a good range of shops (one good supermarket and various other tabacs/newsagents and gift shops), a cinema, restaurants and pubs. There’s even an “Irish” crêperie called L’Irlandais – just in case you’re homesick and you needed a Crepe. I wasn’t there long enough to sample many of them but I can vouch for the quality of food at Le Chalet Suisse. It’s a very fine-looking Swiss-style hotel, with maximum use of timber and a lounge area that you can lounge in all evening long. The food is superb too and the owners turn out a great standard in cuisine and service going by my experience there. The accommodation is excellent too – at the upper end of the 3-star range and it’s right beside the main ski lift.There’s a decidedly non-competitive vibe at Valberg. There are no posers, no gangs of crazy drinkers, no pumped-up party animals and no rudeness (at least I didn’t see any but I was wearing goggles most of the time). It’s relaxed – a bit of skiing followed by a bit of eating and drinking. There was also a comedy festival on at the same time (le Festival du Rire en Montagne). I didn’t get to see any of the acts but I did ask around and it was apparently very good – with a mixture of nationally-famous talent and young up-and-coming acts. Maybe that put a smile on people’s faces too.
Extra-curricular activities include some superb spa treatment at the Centre 1700 Wellness Centre, as well as the Motoneige (snowmobile) place. We had to try this one out. Joël the owner took us through a brief and boring-but-necessary safety drill before taking off up the slopes at brilliant breakneck speed. It’s the best money you’ll spend and you can even do overnight adventures where you sleep in a yurt somewhere up the mountain as part of the deal. There’s also a good municipal swimming pool in Valberg, which is a great option when you’ve been overdoing it on the skiing, as well pony rides and an ice-skating rink.
Valberg celebrates 80 years as a ski resort this year. It’s a great option for quick skiing experience and it’s certainly a place that I was tempted to hang about for a week’s skiing too. If you’re looking for somewhere where you want to ski hundreds of kilometres in one week and party all night until dawn, meeting thousands of interesting people from all over Europe, then it’s not the place for you. Otherwise, Valberg is the place to be and the place to ski.
Get Yourself There:
We flew with Ryanair (www.ryanair.com) who operate daily flights direct from Dublin to Nice.
Staying There :
We stayed at the four-star Servotel Saint Vincent near Nice Airport, who do a superb breakfast and have free parking.
In Valberg, we stayed at the irresistibly comfortable and friendly Le Chalet Suisse, right on the main square. It looks like an Alpine hotel should look and is steeped in generations of catering.