It took us two uneventful days to get down to the French Alps, but as soon as Kerry and I started to see the peaks in the distance we both got increasingly excited. Our winter season here was so good it was like we were making a pilgrimage to a holy land... the holy land of powdery snow!
Driving through Bourg Sainte Maurice was funny as it wasn't the grey mess that snow tends to turn a town into but a fairly pristine alpine village. The sun was shining and everyone was walking about in shorts and T shirts.
Our new van hasnt let us down yet and we have put 2500 miles on her in a little under 6 weeks, but the 6km up to Sainte Foy station was painful. 2nd gear was the best we could achieve on the straight bits and we had to retreat down to 1st on the corners! But after 20 minutes of screaching and straining she finally got us there.
We had a walk around the station area, walked back up the 89 or so steps to the chalet and out on to the 'pistes' that were now just grassy fields. The first lift was completely removed and workmen were underway installing a new lift. Much needed as the old ones are very slow, but it did mean that we would be unable to go up the mountain by chairlift.
After a few pints in the Pitchouli bar the previous night it was amazing to wake up to crystal clear skies and the view we had woken up to for 4 months last winter, only this time without a trace of snow. We parked in a car park just down from our chalet and a paddock had been erected for horses and it was amusing to watch the kids have riding lessons with some pretty sturdy little horses.
Le Monal is a very small village up on the mountain which in winter is only accessable by skiing from the top of Sainte Foy and down the otherside through some off piste. We didnt try the run when we were last here in the winter as it has some up hill sections so not suitable for boarders. But now on foot and without a snowflake in sight, Kerry, Mia and I set off up the dusty mountain tracks.
The views from the otherside of the mountain towards Tignes were breath taking and we could see the last remblances of winter clinging on in the form of a glacier high above us on the opposite mountain.
The next day we took the van down the mountain very slowly, not wanting to overheat the brakes. Once at the bottom we headed in to Bourg to book ourselves on a white water rafting expedition the next day. We pulled in to the worst aire we've been in just as the heavens opened and the rainy afternoon was used to catch up on some television serieses we've been watching.
Bright eyed and bushy tailed we arrived by the side of the river Isere at 9am ready for our raft down the river. The Isere originates at the top of Val d'Isere ski resort and is controlled by the hige dam at Tignes to give constant water throughout the summer.
After putting on our very glamorous and skin tight wet suits and a short safety brief we were carrying the raft down to the rivers edge with our instructor. Just the 4 of us in the boat. A good thing or not I couldnt decipher! But we seemed to get the hang of it fairly easily and I was amazed at how manouverable the raft could be just by having people move their position in the boat.
We were meant to paddle in unison to get the best propulsion, however it seemed too hard for us, especially as we came in to the rapid section and all I could see was a wetsuit cladded Kerry bouncing around laughing her head off.
20km later and we were dragging the raft out for the van ride back. A brilliant way to see the alps and its gorges.