We are lucky enough to live near the Pyrenees and be able to ski regularly, but time constraints mean that we tend to stick to a few resorts that are closest to us and easily driveable within a day. So I was delighted to be offered the chance to visit St Lary with the family to try out somewhere different.
St Lary is a “real” village – very pretty and with an almost Alpine feel, with varied shops and restaurants lining its streets. It’s linked to the purpose-built ski area of Pla d’Adet by cable car and telepherique.
Our ESF guide Francis helped us find our way around the 100km of pistes on the first morning. The ski area is made up of three separate domains which are linked both by red and black slopes as well as nice easy blue paths so that all levels of skier can access the whole domain. The sections are also linked by buses, which proved very useful when a couple of hours in, my nine-year-old daughter Olivia who was not enjoying the rather blustery conditions declared she had ear-ache and didn’t want to ski any further.
We spent the afternoon in the Sensoria thermal baths, a network of thermal baths, whirlpools, saunas and hammam within a faux-rock building which turned out to be more of a “have fun with the kids” type place rather than a relaxing experience, at least on a bad-weather Saturday.
Olivia was still complaining about her ear by the evening so for the next day, I booked her into the Centre de Loisirs Airel, which looks after children aged 3 to 12 (there is also a nursery for smaller children.) My previous experience of ski resort crèches has usually been that they tend to be quite rigid about pick-up and drop off times, but here they were very flexible and Olivia was quite happy there while we skied.
We found the resort easy to navigate and the snow conditions while we were there were excellent. Despite it being a fairly sunny Sunday in early February the wide pistes were uncrowded and we skied a good variety of easy paths and fairly steep blues and reds.
As we had promised to pick up Olivia for lunch we couldn’t try out one of the mountain restaurants but instead headed back to Pla d’Adet, where there are only a few restaurants which were pretty busy. Eventually we managed to find somewhere to eat but after lunch, by the time we’d got our skis back on, a huge wind blew up and within a few minutes, all the lifts had closed. Ah well.
There’s a wide variety of restaurants in St Lary serving the usual mountain specialities but also a lot more besides – we liked La Main à la Pâte for great pizzas and Casa Tom, a kind of French-Tapas fusion restaurant which did a fantastic three course set lunch for just 16.50 euros and a 9 euro children’s menu which included a fabulous chocolate fondue.
We also enjoyed dinner at L’Authentique, a large restaurant just outside the village which offers a varied, enormous-portioned menu. The children loved their non-alcoholic cocktails and massive raclette while my husband and I had melted camembert starters followed by perfectly cooked beef and lamb respectively. Luckily the restaurant has its own shuttle to pick you up and take you back to your hotel because, after so much food, it would have been a struggle to walk home.
The Haute Pyrenees is not the place for glitzy hotels – in fact St Lary has the region’s only four star hotel, the Mercure. We stayed at the three-star Neste de Jade which was ideally situated opposite the telecabine to the ski area and was friendly, clean, comfortable and did a fantastic breakfast – it’s not every day you get to eat macarons before nine in the morning. We had adjacent rooms with ensuite bathrooms but the hotel also offers family rooms which sleep four.
St Lary is a brilliant option for a family ski holiday – the pistes are extensive and varied enough to keep all levels happy and yet its small and manageable enough to be easy to navigate with younger children. It’s easily accessible from Toulouse or Lourdes airport – you can even be picked up from Lourdes and taken to your resort for just 15 euros per person as part of the region’s drive to reduce fuel emissions. Accommodation is very reasonably priced and a day’s lift pass is just 38 euros for adults or 32,50 euros for children. Because the transfer distances are quite short, it would also work well as a weekend destination.