La Sapinière Chamonix hotel review

Pink mountains

As I began this review, I have an awe-inspiring view of the Glacier des Bossons slithering down the thickly-wooded hillside beneath Mont Blanc. This is one of the best points of La Sapinière, where I stayed my wife and my parents for a week in July.

Run by Inghams, it’s a chalet-hotel – home from home for British tourists, all members of staff speaking English. Like a favourite pullover, it’s lived-in and well-loved, but slightly frayed at the seams. Wooden beams abound, and the décor is rather old-fashioned. This probably suited the mature clientèle present during our stay.

The west-facing frontage with red balconies, of the Chalet-Hotel La Sapinière in Chamonix.
The west-facing frontage of the Chalet-Hotel La Sapinière in Chamonix.
The rustic bar at La Sapinière, an Inghams chalet-hotel in Chamonix.
The rustic bar at La Sapinière, an Inghams chalet-hotel in Chamonix.
The dining room at La Sapinière, an Inghams chalet-hotel in Chamonix.

Our room

My wife, Rachel, and I had a double room on the first floor. It was clean but spartan, with wooden flooring. There was only electrical socket accessible; I was glad I brought a four-socket trailing gang lead with me. My bed creaked whenever I turned over, an issue I raised with Nathan, the hotel manager. The en-suite bathroom, however, was modern and well-appointed. Room servicing didn’t happen every day. Our balcony was a partitioned section of the roof above the bar and dining room. This actually suited me very well because I could vary the position of my camera tripod for dawn shots of Mont Blanc.

Summit of Mont Blanc lit by early morning sun
Early morning sun lights up Mont Blanc, the moon and cloud dispersing over Chamonix.

Food and drink

Meals were very good – and provided on an all-inclusive basis. Breakfast covers all tastes, including cereal, a full English, pastries and charcuterie. Packed lunches were available – ideal for walkers – and afternoon tea was great on the days when we returned early: cake, sandwiches and even soup was on offer. Aperitifs with amuse-bouches preceded dinner every night. We were allocated seats for the nightly three-course dinner, the aim being to encourage guests to mix by sitting at a different table each evening. This felt like an imposition on the first night; less so subsequently as we got to know fellow guests. Wine, also included in the package, certainly helped! Dishes ranged from confit de canard to baked cod and tartiflette.

Salami, parma ham, cheese, olives and watercress on a slate board
Salami, parma ham, cheese, olives and watercress on a slate board
Choux pastry in white bowl
A beautifully-presented choux pastry dessert
Tartiflette in white bowl
Mouthwatering tartiflette

WiFi

Wifi for guests was free, albeit unsecured and available only in the bar and dining room. I did, however, manage to get a weak signal in our room, directly above it.

The town

The hotel is in Rue Mummery, a five-minute walk from Chamonix town centre. The hub for tourism in the area, it’s pedestrianised, with lots of historic buildings and interesting shops. The ice-cold Arve, fed by mountain glaciers, tears through the centre, beneath bridges bedecked with flowers. This being summer, Chamonix is thronged with walkers, here to enjoy the many paths up and along the mountains that hem in the valley.

Flowers adorn railings above the River Arve in Chamonix, with Mont Blanc in the background.
Flowers adorn railings above the River Arve in Chamonix, with Mont Blanc in the background
Le National Bar & Brasserie in Chamonix.
Le National Bar & Brasserie in Chamonix
Floral border in Chamonix town centre
A border bursting with colour from dahlias and more in Chamonix town centre

Weather

As you can from my photos, we were very lucky with the weather during our stay. The first three days were blisteringly hot – over 30ºC – and increasingly humid. The heatwave broke with a couple of biblical thunderstorms; temperatures thereafter were more comfortable.

Getting here

We flew with EasyJet from Gatwick to Geneva. Our outward flight left on time the return flight was delayed by 20 minutes by a missing passenger. Geneva airport, where there were far too few people on duty at the security-scanning stage, felt more chaotic than Gatwick, where passport control had actually been automated, in the style of self-scanning supermarket checkouts.

VERDICT

La Sapinière is a good base for hikers and skiers in due season. As general sightseers, we also enjoyed our stay, and everything Chamonix and the surrounding area had to offer. Although the hotel would benefit from refurbishment, the views it offers across Chamonix are virtually second-to-none. As a photographer, I would highly recommend it.

On holiday in Chamonix? Four excursion ideas for you

Cable car against mountain backdrop

In summer, Chamonix is a very popular destination for walkers. It’s also a good base for exploring the surrounding area. Here are four day-trips by public transport that my family and I enjoyed – and one that I suggest is no longer worth your while.

Brevent

I’m fond of saying that the view of the mountain is better than the view from it. So here’s the exception: seeing other mountains at altitude from the top of the one you’re currently on takes some beating. This was my experience on the first day of our stay, when we took a cable car up Le Brévent, which offers a fantastic view of the Mont Blanc range.

Mont Blanc massif under clear blue skies with red paraglider beneath
A paraglider in the skies over Chamonix enjoying crystal-clear views of the Mont-Blanc massif.
Jagged mountains with valley beneath
Looking north-east along the Chamonix Valley from Brévent
View across mountains under blue skies towards distant valley
Looking north-west from Brévent into the lower Arve valley

Brévent web page

L’Aiguille du Midi

Like an eagle’s nest next to Mont Blanc, this is reached by two cable cars. The second isn’t for the faint-hearted.

Cable car at bottom of descent from iconic mountain L'Aiguille du Midi
A cable car nears the second-leg base station of the Téléphérique de L’Aiguille du Midi after a long and truly vertiginous descent.

Under clear skies, the 360° views are fantastic. The air was also noticeably thinner.

Aiguille du Midi web page

Martigny by train

Martigny is a town situated at the crook of a 90° bend in the River Rhône. There isn’t too much to see there, but the journey by train is very enjoyable. Our hotel provided us with the Chamonix Valley Carte d’hôte (guest card), which gave us free train and bus travel as far east as Vallorcine. The onward return journey aboard the Mont Blanc Express, costs €36 to travel about 25km, including a vertiginous rack-and-pinion final descent into the Rhône Valley.

Road beneath avalanche shelter in deep wooded gorge
A road hugs the side of the Trient gorge, Switzerland
Roads, a railway line and a wide river form s-curves in a valley
Roads, a railway line and the river curve around the Rhône Valley near Vernayaz, Switzerland

Mont Blanc Express website (only provided in French)

Vertic’Alp d’Emosson

This is a three-stage ascent to a dam in the mountains, right on the Franco-Swiss border. It would be the ideal location for an action sequence in a spy movie. The first was a funicular railway that made a near-vertical 700-metre ascent:

Carriage on very steep funicular railway
Carriages pass on the funicular railway –
the steepest in the world – that’s the first stage of Verticalp d’Emosson.

The second was a mile-long train journey:

Miniature train with red carriages on the side of a mountain
The miniature railway that snakes around a mountain to the base of the Barrage d’Emosson.

The third was quirkier still:

Little red carriage on funicular railway
‘Le Minifunic’, the third stage of the climb to the Barrage d’Emosson, high above the Vallée du Trient, on the Franco-Swiss border.

From the top, the views were stunning:

Mountain valley beneath broken cloud
Looking across the Vallée du Trient towards Mont Blanc.
High dam built into mountain
The 180-metre high Barrage d’Emosson, right up in the mountains on the border between France and Switzerland.

At €40 for an adult to get up and down the mountain, it wasn’t cheap but we very much enjoyed it as the final treat in our week-long stay.

Vertic’Alp d Emosson website

Mer de Glace

And so to the trip I don’t recommend if you’re expecting a stunning view of a huge glacier. The sea of ice is now barely a sorry trickle as viewed from the station at Montenvers. The Glacier de Bossons, clearly visible from Chamonix, is more impressive.

Tail of glacier in steep rocky valley
The much-shrunken Mer de Glace, from Montenvers

The journey is worth taking only if a walk in the Alps is your plan or if you have the Mont Blanc MultiPass. We used this to  visit Brevent and L’Aiguille du Midi, as well as the Mer de Glace. Although expensive, it was much better value for money than paying individually for each attraction.

Mer de Glace web page

 

I hope you find my suggestions useful. In my next post, I’ll tell you about where we stayed. If you’ve visited any of these attractions, or you’d like to share your own suggestions, please do so in the comments below. I look forward to hearing from you.

Taurito Princess, Gran Canaria – hotel review

10 things you’ll want to know about staying here

My wife Rachel and I had long wanted to take a winter sun break; this year we took the plunge. The Canaries were the obvious choice. They’re easily accessible from our local airport, and offer reliably warm weather at this time of year. Having travelled with Thomson before, we booked our week with them less than four weeks from departure. We chose the Taurito Princess on Gran Canaria because it was in a quiet resort, all-inclusive and highly-rated by other guests. This is my review.

1. The hotel in general

Located right next to the beach, white marble is the architectural theme of this hotel.

Hotel atrium with white marble floor.
The atrium

The atrium is very light; the central staircase less so. The hotel comprises over 400 rooms over eleven floors. You have a bit of a walk and a slow but scenic lift ride to get anywhere if your room is on one of the upper floors. Members of staff are reasonably friendly and the hotel is very clean.

2. Rooms

We stayed in a junior suite on the second floor. It was spacious and included a desk, TV, sofa and armchair, two large single beds, generous hanging space and balcony. Other rooms in the hotel have yet to be refurbished, I believe.

Hotel bedroom, including sofa, desk and two single beds, looking towards the double windows.
Our beds
Hotel bedroom, including sofa, desk and two single beds.
The seating area in our room

There are four electrical sockets, so recharging multiple phones and other devices shouldn’t be a problem. Our bathroom was a very good size, and its shower over the bath was the hottest and most powerful I think I’ve come across in a hotel.

Hotel bathroom with shower over bath and dark tiling.
Our bathroom washbasin
Hotel bathroom with large white sink unit.
Our shower over the bath

We paid €21 to use the safe for the week (this includes a €5 key deposit). The interior of ours was about 30cm tall, wide and deep, with a single shelf, so if you intend to bring a DSLR and lens or two, they should fit.

3. Food and drink

This hotel works on an all-inclusive buffet basis. Whatever your nationality, dietary needs or general preferences, I imagine this hotel caters for it.

Breakfast is served in the main restaurant on the ground floor. You can enjoy their version of the full English: egg, bacon, sausages (not really in the English style), beans and so on. I loved their scrambled eggs, in particular. A selection of cereals, fruit and yogurt are also on offer, along with cheese and cold meats for continental palates.

Bananas, melons, kiwis and other fruit on hotel buffet
The hotel’s fresh fruit buffet

Lunch is served in a smaller restaurant on the floor above. As many people do, you can take this meal out to the terrace around it. Rachel tended to stick to salads. I loved the chance to try different fish, like tilapia, hake and panga. Their ratatouille-like vegetable dishes are very good.

Dinner takes you back the main restaurant on the ground floor. It’s very busy early in the evening, so we tended to wait until about 8.30pm (it closes an hour later). Again, there’s a very wide selection and a griddle, where meat and fish is cooked throughout the evening. We found most dishes well cooked and delicious. Each night has a different theme – French, Italian, Tex/Mex and so on – with the restaurant decorated to match. Our stay coincided with St. Valentine’s Day, so each table acquired a balloon and other romantic decorations.

Tables in outside restaurant with red table decorations
Al fresco dining on St. Valentine’s Day

At lunch and dinner, dessert choices tend to be cold. Cream sponges featured throughout the week; fresh fruit and ice cream were also available. Expect to go home a pound or two heavier!

Melon, grapes, kiwi cream tart, cup cake
A mix-and-match dessert of mine from the buffet.

4. Drinks

Wine on tap was one of the highlights. I’m sure it’s just table wine, but it was very drinkable and spared us the extra expense of a new bottle every couple of nights. Beer and soft drinks are also available on a similar basis. Fruit juice is some sort of concentrate – the pineapple is OK – and hot drinks were dispensed from machines. I recommend the hot chocolate, but coffee with milk was weak. Cappuccinos seemed to be some sort of concoction involving chocolate – best avoided. Smoothies and cocktails are also available to buy at the poolside bar.

5. Wifi

This was disappointing. It’s €19 for the week, or €12 for three days, and only available in public areas on the ground floor. The hotel is closing in May for refurbishment, I understand; I hope it’s one service they’ll improve.

6. Outside

Built on the side of a cliff, the hotel makes the most of its small grounds. There are two main pools – one heated in winter – plus a couple of paddling pools for young children.

Swimming pool outside large white hotel, with beach bar in background.
One of the swimming pools

During our stay, they were only open between 10am and 6pm. Sun loungers are plentiful and patiently rearranged by the poolside team at the end of each day. Beach towels are provided. Reserving loungers them first thing in the morning is futile; hotel staff remove towels and items left on them.

7. Beach

There is a small beach at Taurito, with a lifeguard and paid-for sunbeds.

Beach, promemade, large hotel, blue sea and sky
Taurito beach

Its sand is volcanic: dark grey and moderately fine. Even in February, the water is warm enough for swimming. With currents coming in from across the Atlantic, breaking waves can be big. There are submerged rocks on the south side of the beach, so be especially careful here.

8. Weather

Average temperatures on Gran Canaria in February are about 21 Celsius, and a lot hotter during the summer. Half-way through our week, thanks to the Calima wind blowing in from the Sahara, they soared to 27C. We had lots of sun, one afternoon of cloud and a bit of rain in Taurito. We understand the weather was worse in the capital, Las Palmas, on the north side of the island.

9. The resort

Enclosed within a deep canyon, Taurito is quite a small resort. It’s dominated by big hotels like the Taurito Princess. Apartment blocks, a waterpark (€15 for adults) and some bars and gift shops also feature. Probably its biggest attraction, at least for Rachel, were its resident cats. They now have their own Instagram account, @tauritocats!

White, ginger and tabby cats begging for food on blue and white paving.
Some of Taurito’s cats

10. Getting around

There’s a daily courtesy bus from the hotel to the neighbouring resort, Puerto de Mógan. To use this on a Friday – market day – you need to ask for a ticket from reception at least a day in advance. The resort styles itself ‘Little Venice’, although this overstates the case somewhat. Its beach, protected by a breakwater, is nice – and there’s a very pleasant grid of whitewashed houses behind the harbour.

White-washed cottages and palm tree beneath blue sky
Harbour-front cottages at Puerto de Mogán.

Local buses are plentiful and cheap. We took one to Puerto Rico, a few miles down the coast (€1.40 per person each way). The coast road is pretty hair-raising, so you can understand why millions were spent boring motorway tunnels a short way inland. Puerto Rico is a bigger resort than Taurito, but there isn’t much to see there.

Sandy bay with hotels behnd, captured from the coast road heading south of the resort.
Puerto Rico

We thought about visiting Gran Canaria’s capital, Las Palmas, but didn’t on this trip. There’s a semi-fast – and probably inexpensive – direct bus from Taurito.

Various excursions are available from the hotel. A tour of the island in an eight-seater people-carrier tempted us – but again, perhaps next time.

My verdict

This hotel is a great place for a week away from it all: good food; comfortable rooms and reliable weather. Unless you make a few excursions, you might go a little stir-crazy if you stay longer. Rachel and I would happily return, and use it next time as a base to see more of the island.

Other hotel reviews you might enjoy:

Sol Gavilanes, Menorca

San Ranieri, Pisa

Have you stayed at the Taurito Princess? Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments below.