I’ve looked at it often, up there on its lofty shelf, as I’ve driven along the Tarentaise Valley to Les Arcs, Tignes or Val d’Isere. But for some reason I’ve never, until now, closely inspected La Rosière, the quiet resort of the area.
What I didn’t know is that this isn’t really France at all. It’s a far-flung outpost of the UK – well, Yorkshire to be precise. When we outrageously lost Calais, Normandy, Gascony, Aquitaine, Anjou and the rest of our rightful Plantagenet heritage, La Rosière plainly got forgotten and is still safely in British hands. Even the local Ecole du Ski Francais has been the subject of a bloodless coup and is a British-headed oasis of calm amid the stormy issues of foreign ski teachers and ski hosting that affect nearby resorts. Ententes could hardly be more cordiale than the one in La Rosière, where returning British guests arrive by the car and coachload each week.
I’m staying in some comfort at the virtually slope side The Penthouse chalet in La Rosière, one of six operated in the resort by the Mountain Heaven holiday company. Apart from towering views over the Tarentaise as if from an eagle’s eyrie, the chalet is also opposite an award-winning ski rental shop. Olympic Sport won a recent vote as the Skiset chain’s flagship outlet on the strength of old-fashioned helpfulness and efficiency combined with a great range of interesting skis – Yorkshireman Jonny Wilkinson, who has worked there for many years, helps make sure they have the edge over the competition.
And you might be astonished to learn that the local ESF is run by another Yorkshireman, Simon Atkinson – the only British director of an ESF school. He came for a season many years ago and worked cleaning bars until the early hours each day so he could devote his days to becoming a fully-qualified ESF instructor. This is certainly the chill out zone of the Tarentaise, basking in sunshine (more often than not) and gazing out in serene fashion over the more frenetic slopes on the opposite side of the valley.
And while in late season La Rosière may get a little more sun than is strictly good for the runs, that’s no real problem…because it links with the largely north facing slopes of the Italian resort of La Thuile. This is cross-border skiing par excellence… I can choose wall-to-wall sun one day, more perfectly preserved snow on north-facing slopes the next. Or a mixture of both because the linking route is quick, straightforward and with some entertaining skiing on the way.
The two resorts co-operate in a unique way to make the most of the link…if you’re staying in La Rosière you can buy an add-on that lets you spend a night in La Thuile and also visit the superb spa there. You simply pack an overnight rucksack and drop it off at your Italian hotel in the morning after arriving on La Thuile’s slopes.
Simon Atkinson and the ski school’s star guide Seb Metais have been showing us around – taking in some lovely and quirky restaurants, such as Lo Tata (in the town of La Thuile really but still technically ski-in, ski-out) and Offshore (definitely on the mountain but thinks it’s a ship), and L’Antigel on the La Rosière slopes.
Seb, by the way, pretends he’s French, but he has an English wife, Clare, and a degree in civil engineering from Brighton University – so well on the way to being British in my book. Very comforting being on a chairlift with him – he points out the lift pylons he had a hand in building. ‘Careful here though, my day off when that one went in.’
If you go to La Rosière, beg, borrow or steal a St Bernard dog to take with you (unless you already have one of course) The breed is prized highly here because of its historic link with the area and you’ll get a free six-day lift pass if you turn up with one – sounds like an opening for an enterprising rent-a-St-Bernard business to me.
Also plenty of time to book up with Mountain Heaven for a last-minute bargain week in a chalet.