Amid the blizzard of gongs handed out at the World Ski Awards 2022, one recipient caught my eye – VIP Ski, whose Bear Lodge hotel in Les Arcs in France snared the trophy for ‘best new ski hotel’.
I view the London-based company through the prism of nostalgia, having had splendid snowboarding jaunts over the years staying at its French chalets in Val D’Isere (Club Bellevarde, 2010), Morzine (Chalet Alaska, 2011), and Avoriaz (Chalet Poudreuse, 2017).
In the latter I had a basement room with no view but still enjoyed it – thanks to VIP Ski’s knack for upbeat hospitality, comfort and good food. (Though I’ve learned that Chalet Poudreuse is no longer on the company’s books. Perhaps for the best, on reflection.)
Despite #basementgate, it gladdened the heart to see a company that works hard to please honoured at the Ski Awards – but was it truly deserved? I stay at Bear Lodge for almost a week with my family and conclude… probably.
Ted Thornhill checks in with his family to VIP Ski’s recently opened Bear Lodge hotel (above) in Les Arcs. The property is located in the resort’s Arc 1950 village
The hotel’s pool (above) is one of the big-ticket attractions at the hotel. It has a shallow end a five-year-old can stand up in, so great for young families
For starters, there are no basement rooms.
My partner, five-year-old daughter Emma and I are allotted a good-sized family room with a double bed, a bunk bed and an en-suite with a bath and shower hose. There are also well-placed charging points by the bed, including a USB socket.
The décor is plain, but copious wood panelling, a thick carpet and quality grey-and-green curtains keep the room cosy, while floor-to-ceiling grey tiles in the bathroom and a modish desk chair and lamp add whispers of chic.
There are no whispers when Emma sees the bunk bed – she goes bananas with excitement about the prospect of sleeping on a top bunk. And we adults struggle to contain squeals of delight when we clock the view from the terrace.
Rugged peaks loom, and we’re so close to the piste we’re practically within touching distance of passing skiers – and there are two chairlifts just 50 yards away.
Ted’s room is a double version of the twin pictured above. He writes: ‘The decor is plain, but copious wood panelling, a thick carpet and quality grey-and-green curtains keep the room cosy’
Ted’s family room features a bunk bed (left) and an en-suite with floor-to-ceiling grey tiles
Ted at Les Arcs during his trip, with the jaw-dropping Tarentaise Valley below
The hotel is on the western edge of Arc 1950, which is so small a poor location is impossible, but Bear Lodge occupies a particularly mouthwatering sweet spot.
Les Arcs is known as a ‘balcony resort’ – because it offers views across the Alps, including to Mont Blanc, which stands sentinel around 30km (18 miles) away.
It’s divided into four car-free stations, named for their altitude in metres – Arc 1600, Arc 1800, Arc 1950 and Arc 2000.
Arc 1950 and Arc 2000 sit beneath the mighty Aiguille Rouge peak (3,226m/10,583ft), while 1600 and 1800 nestle on the other side of a lofty ridgeline, above the jaw-dropping Tarentaise Valley.
The main dining room, with its red banquettes, ‘has something of the American diner vibe’
In contrast to the ‘rather bland’ Arc 2000 above it, Arc 1950 (pictured) ‘is like a snow-globe village’
Les Arcs is known as a ‘balcony resort’ – because it offers views across the Alps, including to Mont Blanc, which stands sentinel around 30km (18 miles) away. Above – Arc 1950
Arc 1950 (above) and Arc 2000 sit beneath the mighty Aiguille Rouge peak (3,226m/10,583ft), while 1600 and 1800 nestle on the other side of a lofty ridgeline
The view from the top: Ted takes this picture from the viewing platform at the Aiguille Rouge peak (3,226m/10,583ft)
I’ve stayed in top-notch 1800 a few times, but now I may be a permanent 1950 convert.
In contrast to the rather bland and commercial Arc 2000 above it, 1950 is like a snow-globe village, built in modern times but with wooden Alpine-style buildings clustered invitingly around gently sloping pathways you can ski on.
Over the course of the week, Bear Lodge proves to be a great 1950 launchpad for exploring the slopes, which are in good condition when we visit at the very end of December 2022.
The reception area at Bear Lodge hotel. A seven-night stay at Bear Lodge in January 2023 is priced from £783pp based on two adults and one child sharing
Water treat: Adjacent to the pool at Bear Lodge is this hot tub, which offers valley views
Every room is allocated a good-sized locker with boot warmers
We hire our kit from Intersport, which has a concession in the hotel’s boot room.
The fittings are efficient, every room is allocated a roomy lockable wooden locker with boot warmers – and there are plenty of padded seats to sit on to prep for mountainside jaunts.
In the mornings, it’s breakfast in the main dining room – which with its red banquettes has something of the American diner vibe – where we feast on fresh croissants, pain au chocolat, pancakes, porridge and proper coffee served in cafetieres.
Then the first order of business each day is depositing Emma in the Club Piou Piou ski club for little ones, which has a Bear Lodge division run by the Ecole de Ski Francais (ESF) that’s headquartered right outside the hotel in a little ‘snow garden’ enclosure.
An avalanche of cute.
Ted reveals that his daughter, Emma, ‘adores the hotel’s nannies’ and is ‘more than happy to while away afternoons playing in the piste-side Bear Cub playroom [above], sledging and building snowmen’
The cinema is a huge plus point for the hotel. It screens movies for adults and at 5pm daily, films for children. The shot above is a publicity image. In addition to the sofas, the space now has plentiful cushions and giant bean bags
The picture above shows the hotel’s bar, where afternoon tea and cakes are served. Out of shot is a table football game and a dart board
TRAIN BEATS PLANE TO THE ALPS
We try to travel to the Alps and back from London by train alone – Eurostar to/from Paris, then TGV to/from Bourg-Saint-Maurice – but the Boxing Day rail strike thwarts this plan, with every Eurostar cancelled.
So, we are forced to shell out £1,000 for a hop by plane from Gatwick to Paris for the first leg, a journey that serves to underscore how inferior air travel from London to Paris is compared to the train. We pay enough money for first-class Eurostar tickets – which come with at-seat meals by super-chef Raymond Blanc – but for a journey that takes twice as long. And it’s 100 per cent no frills on our Vueling flight. We get a seat each and… that’s it. I feel nauseous. Though not quite enough to make use of the sick bags, which I should add also come with the ticket price.
The onward journey by TGV from Paris the following day – after a stay in the superb Hotel Barriere Le Fouquet hotel – is enjoyable, though the mountain views are ruined by extremely dirty windows. On the way back it’s a scenic three-train journey to Paris – with changes at Aix-les-Bains and Lyon – then a Eurostar to London St Pancras. Joy.
Then we generally cruise around Les Arcs’ glorious blue and red pistes, one day visiting the Aiguille Rouge peak via a dramatic cable car ride.
One’s breath is taken away by the view across the Alps at the top – and by the epic red run back down.
Lunchtime dining spots in 1950 include slopeside Le Chalet de Luigi, where the service is hit and miss but the carbonara and raclette next-level, and Nonna Lisa, where the tartiflette is akin to a religious experience.
The hotel then affords us parents yet more time on the slopes thanks to its first-rate nannies, who can be booked to give little ones lunch after their lessons and look after them throughout the afternoon.
They can even be hired to run a ‘pyjama club’ between seven and 9.30pm so parents can have dinner in peace, the children having had an early dinner served at 5pm.
Emma adores the nannies and is more than happy to while away afternoons playing in the piste-side ‘Bear Cub playroom’, sledging and building snowmen.
In the evenings before dinner there’s an occasional game of table football in the bar, but the big-ticket attractions are the excellent pool – which has a shallow end a five-year-old can stand up in – and the superb, super-cosy cinema, kitted out with luxurious sofas and giant beanbags and where a children’s movie is screened every day at 5pm. Contentment central.
Dinner in the evenings is a jovial affair, with every guest in high spirits.
The food is a parade of tasty crowd-pleasers from chicken supreme to sticky toffee pudding and the wine cheap – but cheerful.
We really enjoy our stay, with satisfaction levels buoyed by the consistently jolly, caring and helpful staff – some of whom could carve out a solid career in a five-star hotel.
The 30-room property could be a tad cosier, some extra poolside loungers wouldn’t go amiss (towels are strewn along the floor during busy times), along with some seats outside, and I’m not quite convinced whether the property is 100 per cent hotel – for instance there’s no lunch offering and we’re asked to tick off which meals we would like for dinner each day on a little clipboard, which isn’t very… hotel-like.
Still, we’re happily recommending Bear Lodge to our parent-friends via excited WhatsApp messages mid-way through the week – knowing they’d love how wonderfully family friendly it is.
Hotel, chalet-hotel, hotel-chalet… who cares, this is a property that helps a stellar resort shine that little bit brighter.
The ESF Club Piou Piou snow garden outside Bear Lodge hotel
Ted and his family were hosted by VIP Ski’s Bear Lodge hotel in Arc 1950. A seven-night stay at Bear Lodge in January 2023 is priced from £783pp based on two adults and one child sharing, including a scheduled coach transfer from Geneva Airport and catered accommodation.
VIP Ski has partnered with ESF and offers smaller classes of up to six with an English-speaking instructor who meets groups at the ski-room door. The classes run from 9.30 to 12, Monday to Friday, and cost £210 per person. The groups are described by type (skier or boarder), ability (beginner, intermediate or advanced) and age (under 6, 6-12 or 12 and over).
Nanny service: From £279 for five and a half days. VIP Ski’s Bear Lodge has its own Club Piou Piou snow garden outside the Bear Club playroom. If guests have booked full day or half-day childcare, then their nannies will liaise with the instructors and collect them again in time for lunch.
PROS: Amazing location, friendly and helpful staff, comfy rooms with stellar views, wonderful cinema, great pool, good food, playroom and nanny service makes a stay a breeze for young families.
CONS: Could be cosier, needs more pool loungers, no seats outside, choosing meals by ticking a photocopied menu isn’t very hotel-esque, no lunch menu.
Rating out of five: ****
For more on Arc 1950 visit www.arc1950.com/en/arc-1950-a-unique-ski-resort.
Visit Eurostar.com for information on its high-speed services between London St Pancras and Paris Gare du Nord.
Ted uses the superb Blacklane chauffeur service for the journey from his south London home to Gatwick Airport and in Paris for a transfer to Gare de Lyon for a TGV to Bourg-Saint-Maurice, which lies below Les Arcs. Blacklane has a brilliantly user-friendly booking system and operates in more than 200 cities around the world. Visit www.blacklane.com/en.