Travel stokes a sense of wonder. A sense of delight.
When we stop seeing new things, stop taking the time to go a little deeper or to engage with the world around us beyond just the routine of our modern, work-day life - we run the risk losing a part of ourselves. The part that takes time to enjoy life and even squeal out loud. No acronym for that now is there. I wonder why?
Now more than ever, through the constant assault of perceived connection via social media and the internet, taking the time to enjoy at least one major annual family holiday is invaluable.
I can say this with honest conviction, after a busy Dec/Jan period of trying to manage work while my boys have been on holiday for what feels like an eternity through January. Many of us would agree, the end-of-year break is when we have to take the bulk of our leave, yet it often leaves us feeling utterly drained and wanting to escape more than ever. Unless you make it count.
And at least once, that annual holiday break needs to have some white Christmas snow at the end of the tunnel. This was confirmed by my recent trip to the opening of Club Med’s new French Alps ski resort, Grand Massif in Samoens
Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!
My room was snug. I arrived after taking two separate lifts across the zigzag resort set in the midst of the French Alps. Navigating the levels can feel complex but you’ll soon get the hang of it.
The room was clean, functional and worth each of its four tridents (a unique grading system created by Club Med which I'll get into later), I opened the door to my ground-floor balcony to discover about 20-inchs of fresh powdery snow stacked up to greet me. Like a fluffy, marshmallow pillow, I wanted to fling myself backwards and make some snow angels. I get it. Foreigners go crazy for something as simple as a springbokkie in the bushveld because it's well, so different. So different from what they're used to seeing.
This was just one of many squeal out loud moments. I know it's just snow. But as a South African, this snow was magical. Surreal. So, unlike anything I’m used. I‘ve been to Europe, a few times, and have experienced flurries before but nothing at all like this. Not where fir trees are blanketed in white, against mountainous ridges as far as the eye can see.
The true essence of a white Christmas comes to life. To see it in a picture is completely different to experiencing it. Pictures alone cannot do it justice, nor the tinsel hype we usually have back home. It feels like a gift, an unusual adventure, waiting to be unwrapped - yet it simply cannot be boxed.
Here are my highlights of the resort, voted one of the world's best by Forbes.com - fresh out the gate
Skiing is addictive...
Have you always wanted to ski or snowboard but you're worried about the investment required for such a rigorous sport, that you won't get to do all the time? Club Med’s all-inclusive model is exactly what you’ve been looking for.
Grand Massif Samoëns, at an altitude of 1 600 metres, is an authentic ski-in ski-out mountain experience that offers dual terrain - making it ideal for beginners as well as advanced skiers.
To call Samoëns' landscapes extraordinary is an understatement. As a commune in the Haute-Savoie department in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region in south-eastern France, located in the Vallée du Giffre (Giffre Valley) in the French Alps - the town officially carries the designation of a "ville fleurie" distinguishing it as one of the most beautiful towns in France.
And while Club Med tends to be the king of the all-inclusive, the value beyond accommodation, meals and drinks - this time round includes the costlier considerations too - such as your ski equipment and lift tickets.
Above all, it includes skiing lessons and their ski instructors are patient, well-versed in English and good at helping you get the hang of it. Skiing is addictive even if you're not very good at it at first. Snowboarding even more so, or so I’m told, as I didn't get to try it out this time round.
Reconnecting with a family-focused approach
Club Med Samoëns was purpose built to be the French brand’s new flagship ski resort with 420 guest rooms in totally and such incredible, family centric facilities.
Some of my favourite spaces discovered included the Spa and pool facilities, the rooftop bar and of course Bread and Co restaurant, which is part of the kids' club entertainment and day-care facilities.
My boys would simply love it here. The kids get the chance to run their own restaurant and invite their parents for an evening out. The children then cook and serve the meal, with lots of fun and games for the whole family in between. This is Resort living and family reconnecting at its best.
It’s not hard to imagine why in December, at the time of opening occupancy was already ‘90% booked’ until March 2018. This is definitely one adventure to start planning as soon as possible, if you do intend going.
When you're looked after by a GO...
While you might have read reviews or About Us pages for places you've considered staying at, where they gush about personalised service and attention to detail, none can come to what I experienced at Club Med Samoens.
Each of the Club Med Villages has its own personality, but the attributes remain the same, "extraordinary location, good value for money with its all-inclusive formula" and their Gentil Organisateuror (GO) and Chief Village Officers (CVO). At Club Med they go above and beyond.
See, I arrived at Geneva International, but my luggage did not (You can read about my ordeal trying to track it here). Yet from the get go, Olivier Hannaert, Managing Director for Club Med South Africa, our host for the trip, together with a team of GOs went the extra mile to help me cope. Even though it was not their fault and they were not obliged to, they arranged a small, essentials package, got a ski-suit for me to use (Literally a generous GO named Tiffaney lent it to me and even apologised because it was not new. The French are even more adorable when humble). And she was one of many who checked on me daily to update me, they even left notes (albeit in French) in my room. Since there was no bag, I concluded it was to inform me as such.
And while I went from a state of denial, to frustration, to I'm not going to let this ruin my experience, I certainly would not have been able to do so without their remarkable hospitality.
Air France did refund me for what was spent on essentials but it was good to know the Club Med holiday package insurance was there as back-up, if they did not. All-included, of course.
Getting there - What you need to know:
Samoëns, approximately 70km drive from Geneva Airport Samoens, is a popular summer destination as well as the site of a ski resort. It has a new lift (Grand massif Express) at the edge of town linking up to Samoëns 1600 also known as the Plateau des Saix. This is part of the larger five-town Grand Massif which includes Flaine and Morillon.
Currently you can book your Sun or Ski Holiday and save up to R8 500pp for travel between January to April 2018, with costs estimated at R25k per person (at the time of publishing), with a "deposit to secure the best prices". However, availability is limited.
Visa: A Schengen visa for your first point of entry, in this case France, is required. It costs R1 403 per application, and if Cape Town based start your application online through Capago.
Flights: Travel from Johannesburg would be via Charles de Gaulle International, connecting to Geneva International, and taking an hour-long transfer (included of course) over the French border to Grand Massif.
App: Download the Club Med Resort app from the Apple or Android app store. The app will provide you with really useful information and content before, during, and after your stay at Club Med Grand Massif Samoëns Morillon.
Dress Code: Each evening at the Club Med Grand Massif Samoëns Morillon resort has a different dress code and theme. So pack accordingly.
Other Essentials to pack - what first-time skiers need to know
Club Med provides you with your ski or snowboarding boots, skis or snowboard and helmets; but you do need to bring your own:
• Waterproof pants and jacket
• Thick socks
How will I know which slopes to check out :
The ski slopes at Grand Massif are colour-coded. Always be aware of the “colour” of the slope you’re on, graded according to degree of difficulty:
• Green – fine for beginners
• Blue – a little more steep than green
• Red – getting a lot more difficult
• Black – for experienced skiers and snowboarders only
Other activities at the resort:
Samoëns has been awarded the 'Famille Plus Montagne' label, making it a great destination for a family ski holiday. Samoëns is the only winter sports resort to be classified by the Caisse Nationale des Monuments Historiques. As well as skiing, Samoens offers a range of non-skiing activities including dog-sledding, indoor climbing, caving and diving under ice.
• Club Med fitness
• Multi Snow Sports Programme
• Weights and cardio-training room
• Swimming pool
• Walks, snow shoe walks and
• Nordic walking
What to read next on Traveller24:
*Traveller24 Editor Selene Brophy was hosted by Club Med for the opening of the Grand Massif Samoens flagship resort, including flights and stay.