Yesterday afternoon, we walked up to la Cry. It was quiet because many of the french visitors arrive just after boxing day.
Walking up through the car park we could see the new restaurant, which the owner of the Bachais is building off to the right of the Cassina, and nearer to the ski lifts.
In fact the Cassina has changed hands this season and is now called the O.P.B. It has a smart new extension covering half the eating area to the front; and a matching one on the rear side overlooking the ski creche. The menu is different but we are pleased to see there is a sensible childrens selection so it will continue to be very popular for family lunches.
The lack of snow is strange but it was beautiful for walking around.
It is not a matter of altitude. Today we went to Chamonix and there were lots of parapents taking off from peaks that would normally be deep in snow.
There is some skiing around the area but last week the snowfall was all on the italian side of Mont Blanc.
Following the November snow, the resort was due to open on Dec 17th but there was no snow and none forecast for the next two weeks. This is the third year in succession but for different reasons! This year it is certainly cold enough, well below average but dry. The jet stream has shifted and the snow is falling in the italian resorts south of Mont Blanc. This whole region is in the shadow.
However, the princess lift is running and the ski school is operating. Today we went up to the top of Mont d'Arbois.. Over hard frozen pistes, crying out for a blanket of snow.
Although it was late afternoon, there were still a few infants having lessons at the top and the beginners area beside the mandarines piste was quite busy with lessons still in session.We walked down from the mid-station over pistes that were "open" but a bit short of snow.
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The news from our friends in Combloux is that there is already 70 cms of snow and quite a few of the locals have been skiing - the hard way because lifts are not open yet. You can see some of the evidence on our new website page. In fact the snow on the Bachais restaurant terrace looks nearer 100 cms deep.
There was some snow in November last year but this year looks very different. We do still have spaces around Christmas/New Year and although the dates are awkward this year we are flexible. In fact we are getting lots of queries from France which proves a bit taxing on the (not) rapidity of my French emails. Our friends d'outre-Manche are excited because they see more winter sports news than we do.
The second Bachais restaurant has the roof on, but I cannot see how it could be open for this ski season. Our friends sent us these photos taken on October 29th
CAR HIRE WARNING
There is still confusion about the new EU rules and hire companies play down the risk. People are not being stopped and fined but they could be and what happens in the case of an accident. I would not risk it. If you hire on the Swiss side of the airport insist that the car has EU registration plates. Otherwise hire from the French side of the airport - and drive through Geneva not by Swiss autoroute.
Well if the Donald does nothing else for us, since the US election the pound has outperformed other currencies and the exchange rate is not too bad now.
In October I ended an intensive 6 years as trustee for the local Age Concern so have more time to put our own house in order; and am chipping away at the website. Some is technically challenging i.e. time consuming because we use public domain software on a shared server, but peu à peu ...
SKI PASS - 40% DISCOUNT BEFORE OCTOBER 15th
In case you can take advantage, the combloux.com website has a 40% discount until October 15th. This is 272 euros each for two adults to purchase a full season pass (for the price of 11 consecutive days).
Last winter season was very unusual. At Christmas, it had not snowed since November 22nd and some of the pistes were green meadows but there were pistes open and it was still possible to find powder snow within a short car ride. When snowfalls are infrequent its hard to predict where they will be: often one peak but not the next but les Contamines was the Carlsberg of the French resorts (probably the best) being 70% open...
Then on January 4th it dumped and we soon had more snow than average, which, despite warm periods, persisted to the end of season - and (note) the skiing in March was superb. Look back on our snow records and news.
Summer bookings have been light for the last few years, because people seem not to know - or to have forgotten - how fantastic Combloux is in summer. Its a shame to think of the apartments standing empty. However, the Tour de France attracted attention this year and we had twice as many bookings. We were in Combloux ourselves to chill out and see the tour, but also to do a lot of work: painting the cabin of apartment A, replacing part of the balcony for studio B, and re-decorating inside a friend's studio we are helping to sell (as below).
The Bachais restaurant is very popular, has superb views, and is excellent value - but a bit difficult for absolute beginners to get to. This year the owner is building a second restaurant which could prove even more popular, and he hopes to have it open for the ski season. It replaces the old shack at the bottom of the slopes between Beauregard lift and the ski-school meeting place. By coincidence, JP has sold the Cassina this year, but we don't yet know anything about the new owners and their plans.
Several private transport companies like Cham Express have grown up over recent years. The big news this year is that ouibus.com now does a scheduled transfer from Geneva airport to Combloux. Six luxury coaches per day at 2 hour intervals, from 25 euros each way...
CAR HIRE WARNING
This summer hundreds of people fell foul of a change in EU import legislation that came into force on May 1st, catching the car rental industry completely unawares. Holidaymakers arriving at Geneva airport were told the car they had rented could not be driven into France! (Technically you are importing and could be liable for 20% of the value of the car; but outside the UK there is a lot of confusion about when and if EU rules are applied. Incredibly the Brexit campaign missed all this and seemed more obsessed with bananas and sausages!)
Seriously. Please be very careful and warn your friends. If you live in the EU and you rent a car in Switzerland (or any non-EU country) don't drive it into the EU unless it has EU registration plates. Get that assurance from the renters or hire from the French side of the airport (and stay off the Swiss autoroute unless it has a vignette).
TALKING OF BREXIT
The current value of the pound has everything to do with politics and speculation, and nothing to do with economy. Its true value has not changed, which means it is only a matter of time before it bounces back. So although our costs are currently up 15% we will NOT increase our prices in pounds. That does mean our price in euros has decreased and the volume of sales to our european neighbours has shot up to more than compensate the increased cost. To put it another way "our imports are more expensive but we have a net gain from increased exports". We are selling french holidays into France, and that creates new opportunites at home!
Last year, late January and all of March were more fun than February which is the French school holiday month but those periods are a bargain if you are lucky enough to be able to take advantage.
Christmas - New Year is a different proposition. Skiing is popular mainly for those who live nearby but not so much for French families. We Brits are keener to ski at that time, but this year I think many worry because the snow fell late for the last two years in succession. Are we forgetting the previous ten seasons or thinking weather has become predictable? The dates are tricky this year though because of weekends and short school holidays. Our answer is that we do not restrict you to a Saturday changeover or a 7 night stay. AND we will introduce a snow guarantee...
There may be runs kept open for ski school and beginners or there may be super skiing within a short drive. No matter. Our unique guarantee will say that if the Pertuis lift is not running (or not forecast to be running two days before your holiday starts) there is insufficint local skiing. In that case we will refund any cancellation charge, or if you are in residence will substantially refund the nightly charge.
BUYING APARTMENTS - ANOTHER EXCEPTIONWe know a few people who were thinking of buying their own property but have this on hold during the aftershock of Brexit. Generally that is wise, and because of the usual cost of buying and selling in France it is not smart to buy small with the idea of upsizing later. However, we have a studio that friends are selling as a real bargain. So cheap that it would be economic either to buy it and refit to a very high standard, or to buy with the thought of selling on in 2-3 years' time.
Two exceptions in fact. We still need to sell off some of our own apartments before we get too decrepit and in both cases, we would be prepared to sell now at £1 = 1.2 euros (provided we can sort out legalities).
Although we are forced to continue letting under the $multi-million monopoly of Owners Direct (aka Expedia, HomeAway, Abritel etc.), we will continue to operate our own website as added service. We may not be aware of everything their emails advise travellers but the statement on our website accurately describes what we understand to be agreed.
Aim to be informative and helpful, even if you do not stay with us - and not too frequent to be a nuisance. We hope to have more specific news about Combloux area at the end of November.
We have had a few big jobs to do on this "holiday". First of all to skim and paint the lounge wall in the Legg apartment to make it presentable for potential purchasers; then to redecorate in apartment A; and finally we have yet to repair the balcony "garde-corps" of apartment B. However, next week will also be very sociable with many French friends around, three other English owners coming for holidays in their apartments and the AGM and Fete of chalets des Ecrin to take place.
This has been the week of the Tour de France, and our first experience of it. On Monday we drove down to Sallanches and were surprised to see camper vans already parked in every available roadside space, and people sitting in deckchairs beside the road. OK, the tour would come through on Thursday and Friday but do they really want a week's holiday in a lay-by?
We could have driven down and parked near the village centre to see the time trial coming through on Thursday, but it was a pleasant walk down with our next door neighbour, Christiane. We knew roads would be closed and expected huge throngs on the day - but really it was not that bad. The big excitement seemed to be the "caravan" of floats which come through maybe two hours ahead of the cyclists, and spectators scramble for the freebies they throw out. We cheered the first competitors on then walked back home and saw Chris Frome winning on TV. Interesting to see people cycling on familiar roads - faster than we would drive them (yes Tina, even me).
Yesterday the stage from Albertville came through Combloux, down to Domancy, and then up to finish at Bettex. Official info said the Bettex lift would be free all day but the Combloux-St Gervais road would be closed from 9am to 7pm (afterwards we learned that we could have driven up towards Bettex) so we again watched the race coming through Combloux and watched the finish in le Postillon.
Today, the last mountain stage runs from Megeve to Morzine: the same route that the amateurs' "tour d'etape" took on July 10.
We are in Combloux. However often we come it is always stunning. Yesterday we walked down through meadows and wild flowers, past the church, to the village centre.
The colours are brilliant at this time of year, especially after the rather wet spring.
We could not wait to have a coffee and read the local paper in the Postillon. "Grand café au lait" may be interpreted as "grand crème" elsewhere, or just an espresso with a tub of long life milk - but not in the Postillon.
The paper was full of the terrible news from Nice, and no mention of Brexit. On the subject of Brexit though, we are confident the UK will very quickly recover but more worried for other European countries. The low pound means our accommodation prices are relatively cheap and we have just taken two summer bookings from Germany. Is that a french export or a UK export?
Next week the Tour de France comes through Combloux (studio c is available for last minute bookings!).
On Thurs 21st the time trial from Sallanches ends in Megève; on 22nd the ride from Albertville ends at Bettex; and on 23rd the final alpine stage is from Megève to Morzine. In the meantime, the streets of Combloux are quiet!
Gael has come to stay for a few days and the other enfants and petits enfants will arrive tomorrow.
Yesterday we didn't ski but spent the day making improvements at the apartments. I have now replaced the shower/bath mixers in all four apartments. (see Wed 16th below)
We have been puzzled because some guests said the clic-clac in studio C was extremely comfortable but others could not sleep on it because they rolled to the middle. We could not understand because this studio actually had the best quality and deepest bunk bed mattress and the slatted base cannot sag in the middle... We also thought it was standard size 190 x 140cms.
Actually no! We found it was just under 190cms and only 127 cms wide. The mattress is in two halves jointed in the middle. Perfectly good for some people but if one was much larger and heavier than the other that joint becomes a problem.
We have now swapped it for a concertina sofa-bed which opens to 145 x 195 cms, which is actually larger than the standard beds in the other apartments. It is surprising how much a good 7 inches can help.
Today we were skiing with Robert and Robin.
Bob, Rob and Rob were picking their way carefully down the Grand Cerf black run while Tricia had shot ahead and waited for them with her camera at the ready.
How blue is that !
This is not a touched up photo. The sky is always deep blue when you look up the Prés chair lift coming back from Christomet.
The physiscists amongst us understand that it is something to do with Brewster's angle. The light is strongly polarised and scattered light is minimised.
Photographers would understand it is just like using a polarising filter on your camera.
The rest of us say "Wow, how blue is that?".
Les Contamines is at the head of a valley and has long fast runs above the tree line. On a sunny day, when the snow is fresh, they are superb - and today was perfect. There were not many skiers out so no problem with lift queues.
The great thing about living at Combloux is that it is just over 20 minutes by car to les Contamines and we can choose to avoid busy weekends, when there are long queues on the gondolas; or overcast days, when the scenery and skiing can be quite spartan.
This has been a weird season and the best ski conditions have definitely been in March. At Christmas and New Year we had green meadows at Combloux but they had managed to keep one run open and in very good condition. Les Contamines came into its own then because of the cold air that flows down from the glacier on the other side of the valley. It was 70% open, which was better than most or all french resorts.
In Combloux this season we have had more snow than usual at the top but lower slopes have struggled because of the warm base. The Megeve bowl suffered more and the runs down to Jaillet have not been usable since early March.
We didn't ski today. I got the trusty wood glue and cord out to repair a few chairs and then we went out and shopped around for a replacement thermostatic bath/shower mixer and fitted it in Studio B. It looks nice and protects against scalding so now I'll have to go out and buy another three to upgrade the other apartments!
Yesterday we skied at Cote 2000 and around towards Rochebrune.
It was a lovely day and as usual great to be moving against the tide of skiers working their way out from Megeve town.
And as usual at this time of year, the pistes were not particularly crowded!
This is the view from the balcony of the Bachais restaurant at lunchtime on Friday. We've stopped for lunch with a really nice family staying in one of our apartments and an English friend who also owns an apartment here.
It has been a lovely week with perfect skiing conditions and we feel really privileged to enjoy so much time here and have the opportunity to meet, ski and spend time with our visitors. It is beautiful here and delightful to show it off to new friends. This morning I've enjoyed zooming around with a little chap who is 6, decades younger than me, and will probably out-ski me in two years time! Earlier in the week we spent our time with a "sympathique" couple who felt that with us guiding them around the pistes they had been able to relax and regain confidence in their skiing.
It's great. We appreciate making new friends and sharing some of our pleasure with them - and they appreciate us adding a bit of value to their holidays. Skiing is not just about physical sensation, sun and snow, fresh air, food and wine, and scenery like this. What makes it great is how people can share all that
This morning it was snowing heavily until about 2pm. There'd been about 20cms at village level in the last 24 hours, but the road had been ploughed and was already clear when we went for a walk at 4pm - tarmac holds so much heat in March - but by 7pm the road was covered again. By the way this neighbouring property is an example of how tourism has developed farms. The barn on the first floor has been converted to a number of holiday apartments.
Yesterday was the last day of French school holidays but the pistes were surprisingly uncrowded and in super condition with fresh powder fallen overnight. It started snowing again at lunchtime and has not stopped so perhaps visitors had anticipated problems on the autoroutes this morning and left early.
We send an occasional newletter to people on our mailing list. We aim to feature things you would be interested in and not inundate you with what we want to push (i.e. we are not fans of the regular junk mail pushed out by big operators). Here, for everyone, is the content of our most recent newletter ...
The weather has been very changeable this season (throughout the Alps). There has been more frequent snow but in between, there is a tropical jet stream bringing warm air down the mountains from high altitude. before January 5th there was no snowfall since Nov 22nd but we had a few pistes open and they were in astonishingly good condition. We enjoyed those holiday weeks and so did all of our visitors. Since then skiability has been good because higher slopes have twice the normal depth of snow although lower slopes keep coming and going.
This is the 80th anniversary, of Combloux being the first French commune to install a ski lift and possibly the most unusual. We can experience a whole season from gorgeous powder to spring snow in the same week. Temperatures have varied between -9°C and +8°C and can change by ten degrees from one day to the next. Today it rained here and a bit more tomorrow, although snow is forecast for Megève and les Contamines - 20 minutes away - but by the morning that forecast may change!
HALF TERM TRAVEL
It's been a gradual change but over the years more and more families can only get away for school holidays, especially half term. For many years I have avoided February but I am here for a change. I travelled out on Friday 12th. Had to take the 06:36 tunnel because others booked out. The drive through France took 2 hours longer than usual and was more like an English motorway than my idea of a French autoroute (even down to the registration numbers!). Our Saturday visitors said they had booked the tunnel 6 months ahead and had no choice but to travel at 01:20. It is worth remembering that we do not insist on Saturday changeovers nor a 7 night stay.
As for the skiing. Combloux was fine. The car parks and roadsides were full but where do all those people go? The restaurants were busy but OK. With a bit of local knowledge you can virtually avoid lift queues, e.g. avoid the ski school rush for main chairs. You can do that whatever your level of ability.
Megeve side is a different story though. At half term it has more skiers than the lifts can carry and if there are beginners in your group you cannot avoid bottlenecks. We queued 40 minutes for the Mont d'Arbois cable. Reminded me of bad old days in the major resorts...
So what else is changing?
Not much change except the "Clarines", beside Marin Sports and the ski school, has again changed hands and is now called the "Tire Fesses". Crudely the name means "bum pull", which is olden slang for a drag lift. We have not been in but the menu looks rather like a burger bar. What interests us though, is that they are offering to sell fresh bread if ordered by 6pm the previous day, and they also do breakfast.
A LUGE FOR ALL SEASONS
The summer luge, at the foot of the Jaillet lift, has proven popular with our younger visitors. It has now been replaced with an all seasons luge which winds down through the trees on metal rails. The luges latch onto a pulley to take riders up for what is now a round trip.
They had also erected a temporary outdoor patinoire in front of the Combloux Tourist Office. That's new I think.
Several private transport companies like Cham Express have grown during the last few years. The big news this year is that Starshipper.com now does a scheduled transfer from Geneva airport to Praz-sur-Arly stopping at Combloux. 8 luxury coaches per day at 2 hour intervals, for 25 euros each way.
Owners Direct is part of a cartel that monopolises private bookings (be wary). We had to offer bookings through them or lose 75% of our exposure despite paying to advertise. I hoped at least it meant I could avoid a rewrite of my own website which was overdue to escape from unreliable Microsoft platforms. But alas no, I find OD to be restrictive and intrusive and so decided I had to make big coding changes and continue to do bycar.com bookings ...
It took several attempts to discover how to use OD's more rigid system to provide the fair and flexible pricing we want. Finally we have managed to keep to our weekly prices but offer sensible terms for flexible stays. We achieved it by charging a fixed amount for any length of stay plus a daily rate that varies throughout the year, whichever day of the week you start or finish.
Book either way
We keep the availability calendars aligned on both sites. Bycar bookings are instant. You can only pay by cheque or bank transfer but we normally give 3 days grace before payment is due - we hold on while you book travel but please check with us in case of unikely technical problems.
Owners Direct is a good service but we find them too pushy. They can take payments by credit card (possibly other means), and we have 24 hours to accept, but as soon as we do confirm they take your payment. They relay emails on the pretext of security but once they have your address you get unsolicited emails. Apologies to one person because I was fooled into giving them your address.
Login and booking agreement
Even if you book through Owners Direct we compile a formal agreement on our own site. We made this change to address tax and insurance issues but it also makes sure we have fully understood your needs. We often find we can add value if we have your mobile phone number and names and approx ages of your party. It is also useful to know how you are travelling and when you expect to arrive.
We have made the login more secure to protect your personal details. It now needs your email and password - but if you forget the password we send a reminder to your email and you can reset the password when logging in.
A consequence of the change to Owners Direct is that reviews are vitally important. Without them the advertisers make us much less visible and we would not get enough bookings to continue letting. If you have stayed in the last 12 months, please spare the time to review us on https://www.ownersdirect.co.uk/accommodation/p8004263 (select the apartment and click the reviews tab).
The exchange rate is likely to be changeable and at the mercy of nervous investors until after the EU referendum, but currently the pound is trading at around 1.26 euros which is spot on the equivalent purchasing power in France.
OK. Not the favourite conditions for fair weather skiers but this is just what is needed for the start of half term.
We had a lovely day at Mont d'Arbois but we could do with more snow on the lower slopes.
Tricia couldn't resist a photo of the queue for the Beauregard lift. This is what we often have to endure outside of school holidays, but the skiing makes up for the terrible waiting time!
Broad smiles on the faces of visitors who are not tied to school holidays. They had a superb ten days at the end of January.
People who take short breaks have done very well too.
This is how the entrance to Aiglon looks in mid-January.
It started snowing on jan 4th and by Jan 7th we had over the seasonal average. Just to tempt those who only get away during peak weeks, here is our car in its usual mid-morning position on the edge of the piste in the lower car park. needless to say, we didn't have to queue to park!
Combloux had one run open which was down from the Beauregard lift. The snow was in amazingly good condition, faster than spring snow and not crowded so you could ski safely and at a fair speed. They had of course gone to a lot of trouble and expense to keep a facility open for ESF lessons, but the folk we were skiing with were not very experienced and by all accounts the run was long by New zealand standards.
We didn't ave the traditional new year party in Cassina this year but we did end up eating there from JP's standard menu. A table for eight instead of the usual 25+ but the food was excellent.
... and we were all feeling good for skiing from the Princesse the next day.
The view from our apartment was green meadows. In fact it was lovely fresh spring weather. And the same was true of the majority of Combloux pistes. We went for an early afternoon walk which took us up the Gentiane blue run!
We had arrived on Dec 14th to the weirdest season ever. Although it had snowed in November, there was now a southerly jet stream bringing warm dry air up to Europe from the tropics and Africa. Warm air was flowing down the mountains from high altitude. A few well shaded areas still had snow, for example this is the black run down from the top of Bettex.