As an avid skier I’m usually on the slopes at least once a year – more if I can find the time and money to get over to France and enjoy my favourite pastime. However, one thing I regularly find is that I have to explain why I choose to go skiing when I get a break, particularly over holidays in the sun. While my friends are all heading out to Spain or Cyprus and spending their time sunbathing or at the beach, I’m turning down the chance to join them in favour of another trip to the slopes.
But it seems no matter how much I try and convince some of my friends, they have these misconceptions about ski holidays that are hard to break. So to help convince some other sun-seekers of the benefits of a ski break, here are 5 of the most common misconceptions I hear about skiing:
This is easily the argument I hear the most from friends and family – that skiing is simply too expensive. While it’s true that buying the latest Oakley goggles or getting custom made skis can cost quite a bit, you can easily hire all of this equipment, and there are a wealth of budget-friendly resorts available all over Europe, particularly in places like France. Skiing can be expensive, but so can any type of holiday if you’re booking five star and first class – shop around, book in advance and spend your money wisely and you can easily get a great deal on a fantastic ski trip.
The other one I hear all the time is people asking ‘why would you swap the sun for snow?’ I’m not sure why people think the slopes can’t be sunny, but if you go in spring you’ll get snow on the ground and beautiful sun in the sky – it really is the best of both worlds!
People always try and argue that there’s nothing to do on a ski trip if you don’t fancy hitting the slopes, and it couldn’t be further from the truth. For a start, there are a ton of other activities, from ice-skating to swimming, and if you don’t fancy the exercise, any half-decent resort will boast shopping, spas, restaurants, bars, cafes and lots of entertainment options. Ski holidays don’t have to be all about skiing!
For some reason people think of ski holidays as being adrenaline-filled, all-action affairs, but there’s so much more to them than that. I’ve already mentioned the spas and pools on offer, and the sun in many cases (meaning you can sunbathe), but you’re also in one of the most beautiful spots and will be surrounded by scenic walks, yoga, bike trails and usually a huge health and wellness scene.
OK, if you’re not an experienced skier then there might be some truth to this one, but it’s not like it sounds. Falling over rarely hurts and it’s always a lot of fun, and once you start to make some progress you won’t be able to stop getting back up for another go.
Opting to take a ferry to France is a great way to save money when you’re on a tight budget. However you could save even more than you expect if you take several other factors into consideration before you book your tickets.
In much the same way airplane tickets tend to vary in cost based on numerous factors, so too do the ferries to France. As such, if you’re able to book the right tickets you could actually end up traveling for a fraction of the normal cost.
Choose to travel off-peak
Weekends and holidays are when ticket prices tend to be at their highest – so if you’re able to be a bit flexibly, try to travel off-peak. The best fares are generally to be had midweek, and late night crossings are often a lot cheaper than at other times of the day. That being said keep in mind that if you’re modifying your travel plans and extending your stay for better ferry prices, you may incur additional costs for accommodation.
Book very early, or very late
To get the best deals on your tickets you should either book well in advance, or try to catch a last-minute ferry. Of the two booking early is definitely the ‘safer’ option, as although last minute offers can be great there’s no guarantee that you’ll be able to get one, or that there’ll be space available. If possible, try to book your tickets at least a month or two prior to departure.
Try different ports
As you probably know, there are several ports throughout the UK where ferries depart to France. While Dover and Portsmouth are known to have the most competitive rates in general, it might not hurt to shop around and see what is available at other ports too. Just remember to factor in any additional travel costs that you may have to incur on your end to get to a different port too.
Compare fares between ferries
With so many different ferry operators there is certainly a lot of choice available. That is why it makes sense to compare the fares between ferries to find the best deals available. Nowadays there are websites that will help you to search the available rates across all the various operators, and if you vary the date and time as well as the ports you should be able to find some nice rates that you can take advantage of.
All said and done it really isn’t all that hard to find cheap ferries to France. Now that you’re aware of how the ticket prices can vary, all you need to do is start to look around and see if you can match your travel plans with some of the cheaper rates that are available and figure out exactly how much you could save by doing so. While that may take some effort, it will mean that you’ll have a bit more cash to spend enjoying your holiday in France.
Perhaps the single most important thing to remember when heading for a family cycling trip in Normandy is that the success or otherwise of your jaunt rests entirely with tantrum-prevention. Or to put it another way, if you can keep your kids happy, entertained and enthusiastic at all times, you are in for the trip of a lifetime – guaranteed. Much of this of course comes down to ensuring rest periods and eating times are spaced out thoughtfully and intelligently throughout the day, never forgetting that from around 2pm, you can forget being served in any local bars, restaurants and cafeterias!
Whichever way you look at it, Normandy is without any shadow of doubt one of the most outstanding cycling regions in the whole of Europe. Ever since the French government recently gave its official ‘voila’ to a new 443 kilometre cycling route that connects Mont Saint-Michel and Paris, families from all over the continent have been flocking to the region for dreamy weekend breaks. Brits in particular have extremely easy access to this glorious corner of France, with a quick hop on the overnight ferry with bikes in-tow being all it takes to soak up all that’s on offer.
The overnight ferry journey with Brittany Ferries never fails to prove exceptionally exciting for kids, kicking the holiday off on the right foot. By taking the overnight ferry, it is perfectly possible to cram three full days of cycling into a single long weekend. You’ll also find plenty of time to soak up the rest of the regional delights on offer, be it a horseback ride through a vineyard, sipping your way through the Cider Route or letting time pass you by on one of the region’s stunning beaches.
Back to cycling though, it’s regularly argued that the part of the route that runs through the Perche region of southern Normandy is by far and wide the most beautiful and enchanting of all. It stretches for a full 90km, which admittedly seems like quite the challenge, but is actually quite easy and manageable over three days – even with kids along for the ride. Most of the enormous route from Paris to Mont-Saint-Michel is traffic-free and gentle on the legs – this particular route being supremely enjoyable.
Part of the region’s voies vertes – aka green ways – the route follows the path of now abandoned railway lines that remain flat, safe, easy and enjoyable the whole way. Not only this, but the area is so completely tranquil and far from the nearest source of heavy traffic that letting your kids stray pretty far in front need not be a cause for concern. Even in the depths of summer, there is still plenty of room and you will never find the paths to be overly crowded. However, find your way out to this neck of the woods during the late spring or early summer and there’s every chance you will have km after km of this extraordinary cycle path to yourself.
Along the way, you will encounter everything from enchanting forests to the abandoned huts previously used by railway workers and the kinds of old buildings that just beg exploration. Over the past couple of decades or so, this particular region of Normandy has earned a strong reputation as the short break hotspot of choice for discerning residents of Paris in search of true tranquillity and escapism. Each time you come across a village along the way, you’ll find yourself presented with nothing less than a picture postcard snapshot of the kind of France few visitors are privileged to lay eyes on. Sleepy doesn’t even come into it, but you will almost always find the most idyllic lunch spots and eateries along the way, largely without a tourist insight.
This particular route involves a trip to Condé-sur-Huisne and back, which is a round-trip of approximately 27km. On another day, it is more than worth heading to Mortagne-au-Perche – an absolutely fantastic 30km roundtrip which if taken at the weekend will give you the opportunity to check out the local market. Once again, it’s the kind of affair that definitely isn’t put on just for the sake of tourists, meaning what’s on offer is as traditional and authentic as it gets. If you can score a jar or two of the local jam, you will not be disappointed! If you have a third day available, Mêle-sur-Sarthe represents another incredible place to head to and back again, promising some of the most glorious vistas of the surrounding Normandy countryside along the way.
There are plenty of places that make ideal bases for short cycling breaks to Normandy. The long and short of it being that to select anywhere on the Véloscenic route – Boissy Maugis for example – is to situate yourself right to the heart of exactly where you need to be. The local gîtes and farmhouse accommodation options come highly recommended, but at the same time it’s worth remembering that the kids are usually even happier with a spot of camping.
Not that this is the only outstanding cycling route available in Normandy – you might also want to consider the following options:
One of the most popular and highly acclaimed of all cycling routes in France, Lonely Planet recommends a round-trip route that starts and finishes in Bayeux. Often referred to as the D-Day cycle tour, you will set off down a series of quiet and tranquil roads which will eventually take you to Omaha Beach and the world famous American Cemetery. Port-en-Bessin-Huppain makes the most beautiful place to stop for a spot of lunch, after which it’s a case of enjoying a beautiful coastal cycle to Arromanche and taking in the extraordinary views from cinéma circulaire – more commonly referred to as the Arromanches 360.
Les Iles Chausey
Take your bikes over to the Les Iles Chausey archipelago by the ferry that runs daily during the summertime and you’ll discover a side of Normandy that is even more beautiful than the mainland. Well, perhaps not more beautiful, but teaming with beautiful deserted beaches, a dramatic coastline and so much to explore on a fun afternoon with the family.
Le Pont de Normandie
Last up, a bike ride to Le Pont de Normandie also comes highly recommended. Once again, it’s a case of hopping on the ferry with your bikes to Le Havre, in order to soak up the sites of a supremely important feat of engineering which just so happens to also have its own cycle lane! Honfleur’s pretty harbour at the other end makes the entire journey more than worthwhile.