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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
The second was a mile-long train journey:
The third was quirkier still:
From the top, the views were stunning:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
There is a small beach at Taurito, with a lifeguard and paid-for sunbeds.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.