Laid up in bed day 3 after my ACL knee surgery, I'm enjoying the peace and quiet of my two girls being on back to back playdates. My leg feels like a tree trunk, heavy and clumsy. In fact it almost feels like a cadaver's leg and no part of me at all. The pain fluctuates and apart from my hourly physio exercises, I'm left with only stillness and an incredible view of the Alps. With seemingly unlimitless time on my hands, I turn to what I do best - travel planning. I'm unsure yet as to the limitations placed on me now this Summer with the intense rehab required after this major surgery but what I do know is in a few short weeks we'll be bidding farewell to this beautiful Chamonix Valley and excitedly making our way sea bound to Devon.
Whilst we are looking forward to seeing our friends, being back in our own beds and for me, to potter in my beloved garden, we also have Summer holidays to think about. We Airbnb our home during the rammed 6 week Summer holiday so where to go? Stay local, travel back to Europe or to head long haul?
Here are my 5 epic locations perfect in August for adventuring families.
It's seldom a relaxed affair, going out for dinner as a family. Chamonix has some damn fine restaurants, most of which you wouldn't even consider dragging your kids to.
Surprisingly, finding a good family restaurant in Chamonix is harder than you'd imagine. In many restaurants the tables are packed like sardines with little room to throw a cat, never mind a child play. Play? In a French restaurant? Heaven forbid! Children in France are terribly well behaved. Mine in comparison must be an absolute disgust to most French families looking on.
For us, we don't want to pay through the nose, we need to have ROOM, good food and a kitchen opening at 6 rather than 7 (terribly British!). Here are our pick of the pops on what, in our opinion, are the best family non-savoyard restaurants the length and breadth of the Chamonix Valley.
Chamonix doesn't spring to mind as a 'family friendly' resort. Black runs, steep terrain & die hard mountaineers bien sûr, but skiing with kids?
I admit, after spending 6 Winter seasons in my twenties hooning around Chamonix's slopes, the idea of bringing my kids back here to do a Winter season daunted me. I wondered if the slopes would simply be too steep for them in this sheer V shaped valley and repeatedly questioned whether we wouldn't be better choosing a more family friendly resort such as Morzine or Meribel.
I needn't have worried. Chamonix actually has loads of child friendly pistes (I just never had them on my radar before) and has, in fact, got a lot more family friendly in recent years with a concerted effort on pistes and areas specially designated for families (such as the Mont Blanc Legend area on Flégère & the Ski Camp zone at Les Houches.)
If you're here in Chamonix or heading this way, read on to find the friendliest mountains in the valley to ski with kids.
Family skiing in Chamonix? Are you mental? Actually no, there's so much to do with kids on Chamonix's pistes
On ski days in Chamonix we have our pick of five mountains but each time our 6 year old begs us to take her to La Flégère (part of the linked Brévent-Flégère ski area). The lure being the totally brilliant Mont Blanc Legend kids zone. More and more ski resorts are now providing kid friendly pistes and Chamonix is no exception. It's hands down her favourite piste to ski. So if you're on a family ski holiday in Chamonix with kids, be sure to check it out.
The Mont Blanc Legend kids zone on La Flégère, Chamonix, is perfect for families
With skiing still off the menu for my pegleg, my poles and I, we decided a change of scenery - mountains to city was in order. Italy is bang on our doorstep (15 minutes through the Mont Blanc tunnel) so last weekend we headed to Milan to grab some city culture. I'll be writing in more detail about the highlights of the city but for now let me take you on a photo tour of Milan.
Chamonix is chockablock with fabulous restaurants of every cuisine. Book a babysitter and head to one of these bad boy eateries when you're in town. Tried and tested, here are our top restaurant choices in Chamonix for when you are blissfully 'sans enfants'. Bon appétit!
With ski fatigued tiddlers all tucked up in bed, get your glad rags on and enjoy some fabulous cuisine in Chamonix
A snow holiday can be a fantastic bonding experience for families. Spending time on the slopes is a sure fire way to spend great quality time together and something that 3 generations can enjoy together. That said, with so many other people enjoying the piste, it's essential to know how to keep your family safe. Here are our 11 tips to making sure your kids are safe on the slopes this Winter.
My 8 year old has been tanking it down the pistes recently and with the Alps at their busiest in February (the pistes are burgeoning with holiday makers) her speed makes me cringe. We've had another chat today about the rules of the piste, knowing her limits and the consequences of hitting someone at 30mph.
Whilst I am proud she is turning into a fabulous skier, the ignorance of having never crashed at high speed means her confident has grown ten fold. Dodging the tourists at breakneck speed while straight lining the home run has now become an adrenaline game of cat and mouse. And accordingly to my other half (as I'm now out of action on the slopes) she's developed an annoyance when someone overtakes her on the piste and follows in hot pursuit intent on trying to snake past them. And this is on Les Grands Montets, the highest and burliest mountain in the Chamonix valley where only the experienced ride. Lesson 1 - lose the attitude.
So a reality check for my 8 year old and a much needed deliberation and re-visitation on piste conduct. Do your kids have spacial awareness whilst skiing? Do they know the rules of the piste?
Catch the Aiguille du Midi cable car up to the finest view in Chamonix. Ascend to the dizzying height of 3842m and freak your kids out (& yourselves!) by standing in a glass box suspended over a horrifying 1000m. What's not to love?
Not only that. The 360 degree panoramic views over the French, Swiss & Italian Alps are stunning. Plus it's the closet you can get to the jewel in the crown, Mont Blanc, without strapping on crampons, wielding an ice axe & hiring a guide. A ride up the Aiguille du Midi is definitely a go go for families who love adventure.
The fear factor and stoke valve open standing in the 'Step into the Void' glass box, Aiguille du Midi
With the February half term holidays on the doorstep, many of you families out there will be looking forward to your annual ski trip or maybe your first? The whole of France go on holiday at staggered weeks throughout February so ski resorts all over the Alps will be fit to burst. Squeezing a family ski holiday into one short week is frantic so make sure you do some clever planning ahead to maximise your time on the slopes and avoid the queues.
Maximise family time on the hill by booking lift passes, ski hire & lessons online
Being injured in a ski resort sucks. Being injured so early in the season after spending 11 months planning our dream family ski season is heart wrenching. My first ski season in 10 years comes crashing down between my smashed, semi-useless knees and I've shed enough tears to fill a wine carafe. Enough! It's important to stay positive when a sports injury takes you out of action.
Try to see the silver lining of being sat on your backside injured - throw yourself into studying a language, start a hobby or do something (non-physical) you've always been meaning to do but never had time.
Family Ski Insurance - 6 tips to make sure you're covered & why a Carte Neige / E111 combo just won't cut it
Insurance. We all hate it. We all question it at some point or another. Are we paying too much? Are we paying too little and if so would we really be covered if the poo hit the fan?
With the late start to the ski season this Winter, most ski resorts in Europe are still drastically low on their base layer. Meaning rocks that are normally covered by now, remain visible and hard to the human form, particularly at fast speed. Skiing without insurance is fool hardy.
Already this season I’ve got two X-rays, an ECG, and an ultrasound under my belt and am booked in for an MRI at the hospital this Thursday. I'm gutted of course, that I've spend 3 weeks off the hill and counting from a suspected ACL rupture and meniscus damage. I'm hoping I can ski again once we know what damage is done and what brace to wear. Nevertheless insurance is quite a subject in our home at the moment. Thankfully it's nothing serious but I will be claiming back either through E111 or through our Ski Club GB ski insurance policy once we know the total bill.
Check our 6 family ski insurance tips before heading out to the mountains this Winter to make sure you and your family are fully covered and why we don't advise the Carte Neige / E111 combo.
'Lets face it – affordable is not a word we would associate with skiing. Gone are the days you could easyjet over to the Alps for a cheeky weekend – blasting the pistes at warp nine & drinking to oblivion at après ski!
There’s 3 or 4 or 5 (or more) of you now and that’s just added at least another 0 to the price of your holiday. So whether you choose to book last minute, fly, drive, self cater or chalet style your ski holiday – skiing as a family ain’t cheap, so do you really want to add kid's ski school to the long list of expenses?
I’m a big fan of kid’s ski lessons and it’s not just about getting some time off. Here’s why.
375 days ago my husband and I made a concrete decision. To move to France to do a ski season. With our children.
As 2016 recedes, it is with gratitude and a smile that I wave it goodbye. 2016 for us was a year of planning & anticipation. And the year I started The Family Freestylers blog. A lot can happen in a year, 365 days. Decisions made that change your lives. Today we finally realised a dream of our own. Walking through the snow with our children to their first day at school in France.
Thank you so much to everyone that's shown so much support for The Family Freestylers blog and our dream of heading to the snow. Here's a round up of our best bits of 2016 and where we'll be heading in 2017.
Make sure you carve time into your Alps schedule to catch the Montenvers funicular from Chamonix to France's largest glacier, the Mer de Glace. The cute, crimson toylike train, Chamonix's oldest tourist attraction, has been shunting sightseers to arguably the most stunning mountain scenery in Europe since 1908. A fab family day out, kids will love the excitingly steep train ride and the adventure of walking into a real live glacier (the ice grotto). It's easy to be overwhelmed by the sheer size of the surrounding mountains, and it's only up here that tourists can get close enough to touch the glacier first hand (unless you're skiing the Vallée Blanche). Dwarfed by jagged peaks and the spectacular scenery, enjoy a drink on the observation deck & gaze over the snaking tongue of the sea of ice. Definitely put this on your family to do list.
First time packing for a family ski trip? Here’s my essential ski kit for kids guide - the basics plus a few extra tips to keep your little ones warm and happy in the white stuff.
Does lack of snow mean a disastrous family ski holiday? 5 alternative things to do in Chamonix with kids
Ok so we all got excited about that big dump of snow weeks ago in November, thinking it was going to be the most epic of all epic seasons EVER! Well it still could be. But not this week. That doesn’t help if you’ve booked your (expensive) family ski holiday over Christmas week and only a fraction of runs are open. With ski options limited the biggest hurdle to overcome is a change of mindset. Family ski holidays are not cheap and the pressure to still have a great time is high. Not skiing EVERY day can be a hard pill to swallow but luckily Chamonix, as oppose to other resorts, has plenty of other amazing activities to get stuck into.
Sure, a shortage of snow sucks but don't let it wreck your holiday. Chamonix has other activities to offer families who can't face another day on the same piste.
The sun’s shone endlessly since we arrived in the Chamonix Mont-Blanc valley affording us breathtaking views of magnificent mountain vistas on a daily basis. Whilst December thunders towards Christmas at a rate of knots, Chamonix talk is météo dominated. Long discussions on when the high pressure sat astride Europe might change and when, imperatively, the next snow fall is likely to be, are prevalent. As the resort agitates, I’m seizing the opportunity to squeeze in some family hikes whilst the snow line remains high. Stunning spots, such as Cascade de Bèrard, won’t be accessible again once the snow falls until well into the Summer months. Minutes from the Swiss-French border Cascade de Bèrard is a magical spot and an old favourite of mine. It’s a family friendly, gentle 20 minute hike into the Aiguille Rouge nature reserve, that takes in the charming hamlet of La Poya with spectactular mountain scenery.
At last 10 months and 29 days of preparation come to fruition. Our day of departure has finally come and we are about to embark on our first family ski season.
It’s a relief, after the meticulous (and stressful) planning, to be off with no more to do but bundle up the sleepy girls (it’s 5 am and -9 outside) tucking them into our van packed to the rafters. We’ve stayed overnight at our friend, Purple’s house in Brighton. It cuts 3 hours off our total drive time and means we can do the entire journey in a day. Bonus.
Pulling out in the dead of night it’s much the same start to any adventure.
Preparations for ski season departure + 9 awesome baubles for travel lovers to hang on their Christmas Tree
Whilst snow continues to silently fall in the Alps, we, amid endless to do lists & mounting piles of kit, can’t suppress our school child excitement. Epic conditions so far indicate it could just be the best season for snow since 1999! Turns out we couldn’t have picked a better season to go (aside from the feeble miserable pound).
Why female adventurers are vital for girls + 6 inspiring picture books for determined girls this Christmas
We all want our girls to be confident, daring and bold. Don't we?
Boys have Anthony Horowitz’s Alex Rider to fan the flames of literature whilst Bear Grylls is revered as Chief Scout by thousands of boys across the UK. Brownies lack no real figurehead with which to electrify & inspire and gutsy heroines seem rather thin on the ground since Nancy Drew. After attending the Shextreme film festival in Bristol a couple of weeks ago, it struck me again how vital it is to have female explorers and adventurers as role models for young girls.
If you're looking for stocking fillers, here's my top 6 picture books of real life pioneering women to encourage your girls to break boundaries.
Women Explorers - Perils, Pistols & Petticoats tells stories of pioneering women explorers before 1900. A great read for girls aged 10+ (£7.35 Amazon). Helen Thayer's Artic Adventure tells the real life story to 7-10 year olds of Helen Thayer, the first woman to travel solo to the magnetic North Pole pulling her sled with no outside help (Amazon £6.79).
The North Devon coastline is stunning. Blessed with magnificent stretches of golden sand to secret secluded coves, this designated area of outstanding natural beauty is a fabulous place to explore as a family. We're lucky enough to live on this beautiful coastline and we'll be staying local this half term as we prepare to leave on our family ski season to the Alps in 5 weeks time, so we'll be busy packing & visiting some our favourite spots in between this half term. Here are our top seven family beaches for you to discover this half term.
Last New Years Eve we made the gargantuan decision to head for the Alps this Winter for a FAMILY SKI SEASON. With the onset of October, we’ve said adios to Summer and are rapidly ramping up Winter preparations. So why did we decide to do it, what does it involve and could you do it too?
With the explosion of working remotely, the dream of a family ski season can become reality
Swap canvas for wood by booking into one of these cute hobbit houses for the weekend. Set in the heart of Exmoor, slap bang next to Wimbleball Lake, these pods are perfect for families wanting to get out on the water and guaranteed to keep you cosy this Autumn.
If you’ve never visited Sark, the tiny traffic free island in the Channel Islands, put it firmly and squarely on your bucket list! I’d been hankering to visit Sark for some time and with a family trip to Jersey organized, I seized the opportunity to tag on a 4-night stay.
The Family Freestylers are us - the Nixon family, who relish travel adventures both near & far