Skiing around the corner
Who cares if the annual pilgrimage to the Alps is out of the question this year?
Some winters are so mild that the ski station at Prat-Peyrot doesn't really open for more than a few days during the whole winter season. But this winter, perhaps as a consolation prize for the free-falling pound, there is over a metre of snow in Prat-Peyrot and more forecast.
Situated at 1440 metres above sea level, and around an hour and a half from either Nimes or Montpellier, a trip to Prat-Peyrot makes a delightful day out. It's not too far, not too posh, not at all international and not at all pretentious. There's some comfortable money here of course, but also a reassuring number of people skiing in jeans and anoraks. A few BMWs kitted out with chains and snow-tyres, but plenty of mud-splattered jalopies and family saloons.
Happily, prices reflect the humble nature of Prat-Peyrot: for downhill skiing, an adult day pass is 16 euros, and 10 euros for a half day. Kids and students ski all day for 8 euros. Cross-country skiing is even cheaper and sledging is free. If you want to bring your own refreshments, there's even a picnic room supplied just for you.
All the hire shops are found in the village of Espérou - a row of chalets strung out along the main road about 5 kms below the slopes - where you can hire skis, sledges and other equipment. Prices are equally reasonable here: ski-hire starting at around 11 euros.
So having got yourself kitted out in Espérou, you drive up to the slopes. The parking up at the ski station is free but at weekends it can be hard to find a place, especially after lunch. Up the top there is only one canteen - a cheerful, cavernous hall filled with rosy-cheeked people eating chips and swigging jugs of red wine.
There is also a first aid station, a mountain rescue team and a small ski school where you can book lessons. But really and truly, there isn't much to tempt the cash out of your pockets. Just perfect scenery and some nice easy skiing. No, there aren't any black slopes, there's no Cresta Run, no hideously difficult glaciers. But there are enough different slopes and lifts to keep you happily pottering about exploring the runs all day.
The station is open from 9 to 5 every day and of course the clever money leaves slightly early in order to get their hire equipment returned without having to queue with everyone else at five past five. Having got rid of the skis and boots, the nicest way to finish the day is in one of the cosy cafés in Espérou: hot chocolate in front of a log fire always seems particularly welcome after an afternoon skidding about with your feet attached to a pair of planks.
The official website is very useful and contains a load of information including temperatures, weather forecasts, latest snowfall, webcams and the like, so there's really no excuse to miss out on this year's triumphant local skiing.
See you up there.
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