By ProgBlog, Mar 5 2017 11:00PM
ProgBlog wasn’t posted last week due to the annual skiing holiday, this year undertaken by only two Pages, father and son. Booking a skiing trip inevitably involves a degree of chance, including will the weather be good for skiing and will there be sufficient snow to last the full week. There are other unknowns, too, such as the quality of the accommodation if, like us, you resort hop from year-to-year to experience different places.
Planning the trip normally relies on synchronising three diaries and taking into account Crystal Palace FC home fixtures, gig bookings and avoiding both UK and French/Italian/Austrian school holidays and everything has to be completed before the end of the financial year – for one of us working in local government finance.
We used to drive to the French Alps but for the last 10 years or so we’ve booked with a high street tour operator. Driving was fun. You could take whatever you needed and, as the family has similar musical tastes, turn the journey into one long progressive rock show. I downsized my car in 2008 and went without a car between 2012 and 2013 before getting an even smaller car which has effectively ruled out self-drive. Also, even when we set out on a Friday evening and stayed overnight at a budget hotel in northern France, the section of road approaching the Geneva turn-off first became a crawl and then a solid line of steel and aluminium, so now we fly.
Given the good-natured family relationship, built on a love of prog and a love of skiing, choosing a suitable destination ought to be easy but we do tend to book fairly late. With Google searches notching up the price of a holiday (unless you delete your Chrome browsing history) the choice is facilitated through a multitude of browsing tabs directed to different tour operators and TripAdvisor reviews. The range of reviews on offer needs to be carefully dissected and put into context. Some people like to ski and party and therefore just need somewhere basic to rest; some like home comforts and will criticise the noise from the street outside as revellers (see above) return to their rooms at 3am. We like something large enough to spread out a little and though we’re used to self-catering, we’re equally happy to be catered for... ...as long as it’s not a chalet!
This year I went back to Val d’Isère, having been there previously in 2003. This was my son’s first visit but I knew that he’d find enough skiing because the area is huge. We had been tempted by the cheaper Tignes as a lift pass combines both Tignes and Val d’Isère, at least partly because of the architecture but the accommodation was some way down the valley and was therefore a less attractive proposition. We booked an apartment in Alpina Lodge, very close to the central lift hub of the village, and were pleased to find it a good-sized suite intended to accommodate 6-8 people. I don't know if this was a post- EU referendum effect associated with the devaluation of Sterling compared to the Euro but Val d’Isère is a resort traditionally associated with the British and though English probably remained the dominant language in resort, the flight out from Gatwick was not full. However, I was quite happy to be put up in a space big enough for eight and I'd never been in self-catering accommodation of this standard before; there was a mezzanine bedroom, there were two bathrooms and even the cooker had four rings! Whereas I'm used to packing out my ski bag with cleaning materials and toilet rolls, Alpina Lodge was run on hotel lines with a mid-week clean, a plentiful supply of towels and complimentary toiletries. Luxury!
The wifi in the rooms was not brilliant but we were able to download films onto a tablet to watch after cooking and eating. We ate out on two nights; the first was at Flash Pizza, a recommendation by the Crystal rep. You'd expect ski reps to know the cheapest places to drink in resort but you might not be interested in their choice of restaurant. However, Flash Pizza turned out to be a tiny, cosy and friendly restaurant with a good choice of pizzas and though it would have been best to book, we managed to get seats at the bar after having to wait only 5 minutes. I had a Bailletta (tomato, mozzarella, goat’s cheese, walnuts and honey) which came perfectly baked; a thin crust on the well-done part of the spectrum and at €13 for a pizza 33cm diameter, the price for Val d'Isère was very reasonable. The ultimate recommendation came from the chef at one of the more established restaurants in the village – our intended destination for the last evening - who arrived to pick up his takeaway on his night off and stayed for a glass of wine and a chat. We didn’t get to eat at the Taverna d’Alsace because once again, we failed to book a table. Not booking a restaurant for the final evening of a skiing trip is madness, something we’ve done (or not done) on other trips. Fortunately, we could see another restaurant from the front door and made our way through the snow to La Casserole. A board outside indicated there was no break in service so fitting in two people at 6pm was not a problem.
La Casserole served local fare and the specialities, not surprisingly, were casseroles. The beef in my casserole, cooked in a local red wine, was presented in large chunks which melted in your mouth; genuinely lovely, filling home-cooked food. We also chose to indulge in dessert, both choosing a massive crème brûleé flavoured with vanilla, a hint of lime and bourbon and served in a special dish: A dessert to die for.
The first two days of skiing we undertaken in excellent conditions – clear blue skies and the occasional cloud and firm snow. Sadly, conditions on days 3, 4 and 5 included some of the worst mountain weather I’ve experienced where blizzards and flat light made progress very difficult. My poor eyesight means I’ve been known to fall over backwards from standing still when I’ve not been able to see features on the piste. We did manage to do some skiing on each of those days but in my case it was a genuine struggle.
Day 6 dawned bright and we set off for the furthest point in the area, the Aiguilles Percee beyond Tignes. This is a rock wall with needle-like features and an amazing quirk of geology, a natural arch in the rock which looks like some sort of cosmic space-time portal, accessible with a minor off-piste excursion. A full day ended with reduced light and strong winds, blowing away powder from the ungroomed pistes; a successful venture despite the reduced time on the slopes.
Downtime during the day when we were unable to get onto the mountains was spent preparing a postcard story, listening to music on my mp3 player, and going in search of coffee. The spread of independent coffee shops in the UK is taken for granted but, outside of Italy, mainland Europe is lagging behind and for those of us who rely on a good roast bean nicely prepared, the alternatives are rarely worth bothering with.
Fortunately for us, we found Arctic Cafe which does mountain energy foods, smoothies and organic coffee which was as good as anything you'd get in Shoreditch; a really well prepared espresso shot that we sought out every day and twice during the morning we were waiting for our transfer out of resort.
A Saucerful of Secrets – Pink Floyd
Fragile – Yes
In ogni luogo – Finisterre
Equatorial Array – Gareth Page
Invention of Knowledge – Anderson-Stolt
La Coscienza di Zeno - La Coscienza di Zeno
Meddle – Pink Floyd
Red - King Crimson
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I was lucky enough to get to see two gigs in Italy last summer while the UK live music industry was halted and unsupported by the government, and the subsequent year-long gap between going to see bands play live has been frustrating - but necessary.
The first weekend in September marked the return of live prog in England, and ProgBlog was there...