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During half term we were lucky enough to be invited to stay in some great family friendly accommodation in the French Alps. Nestling in the Southern French alps close to the Italian border, and between the world class ski resorts of Serre Chevalier and Montgenèvre is the picturesque village of Les Alberts. Just a short distance from the N94 road that leads to the resorts, Les Alberts is an oasis of calm at the foot of the Vallée de la Clarée, which in summer is surrounded by meadows bursting with flowers. It was Les Alberts that we were to be based at for our family cycling holiday within this stunning part of the Hautes-Alpes area.
The Clarée valley is one of the most visited areas of the Hautes-Alpes due to it's outstanding natural beauty, having been protected since 1992 to preserve the methods of farming, agriculture and forestry that have been in use in this area for centuries. It has popularity all year round, with many cross-country ski routes accessible during the winter. As the weather changes, the Clarée river becomes a hive of activity for white water rafting and kayaking due to the meltwater that flows down from the mountains. As the winter fades into memory, the greenery wakes to reveal the natural beauty of the valley, and so it becomes a magnet for walkers and cyclists alike. Basically, there's something to do all year round - no excuses!
Our hosts were Florian and Marketa Schwey (parents themselves) who offer bespoke holidays for families looking to experience the fabulous outdoor experiences available in this beautiful part of the French Alps. The house, Maison Amalka, is a converted 19th Century barn which can sleep up to 10 people.
Situated at the foot of the Vallée de la Clarée, Les Alberts is the perfect base for families looking for a remote rural retreat where you can cycle or hike from the door, but within a 10 minute drive of the nearest supermarket.
It's a stones throw from the resort of Montgenèvre, famous for its winter sports but with a strong reputation for summer sports including mountain biking. Maison Amalka is also a similar distance from Briançon, Europe's highest city and a Unesco World Heritage site due to a number of impressive military fortifications, beyond which lies the valley of Serre Chevalier.
We flew Easy Jet from Manchester into Milan-Malpensa airport, which was a 3 hour drive to Les Alberts. Turin is much nearer, in the region of 1hr 30 mins, but we couldn't get a direct flight from an airport in northern England at the end of May (Londoners fare better!). You could also fly into Geneva, which is approximately a 3 hour drive through the Alps. There's parking available at the house, and there is space to store bikes (or ski's) in the garage, plus a work bench for any maintenance required.
Maison Amalka can accommodate up to ten people. There are four bedrooms - a master bedroom with ensuite shower and balcony, two double rooms and a twin room.
There are also bunk beds for two additional guests, which are in the communal area leading to the other bedrooms, and are used when the property is exclusively booked by one party.
There is a family bathroom, family shower room and two toilets. There's plenty of dining space and a very well stocked kitchen (more of which later), meaning large groups can be accommodated very comfortably.
A large, comfortable lounge with log burner is great for evening conversation, and the basement, with it's beautiful vaulted ceiling, is a games room and second lounge that is perfect for allowing older kids / teenagers and their parents to co-exist without too much interaction (more of that later!)
Realising each family has different requirements for their holiday, Marketa and Florian offer a wide range of flexible options. You can book a room or two and share with other guests in the true spirit of an alpine chalet holiday, or book the entire house for exclusive use by your party.
Food wise, you can opt for complete self catering, bed and breakfast, or bed, breakfast and evening meal. Our stay was on a bed and breakfast basis, and what a breakfast it was! Marketa is originally from the Czech Republic and has obviously grown up with a love of good quality food as she comes to the house and prepares an absolute feast of home made and locally sourced produce.
Warm baguettes, delicious croissant, home made jams and cereals, cheeses from the local market, apple juice from a nearby farm, yoghurt from locally grazed cows with freshly brewed coffee and a wide selection of teas on hand. There was only one thing not local. Back in the Czech Republic, Marketa's father and brother keep bees, so she's the lucky recipient of some of the finest honey I've ever tasted, it forming part of the breakfast she made for us. What a way to start the morning and fuel up for a day of family cycling!
Marketa and Florian are keen to ensure that their guests make the most of their time in the Montgenèvre area. They offer their clients a wide range of services, from simply handling your booking and leaving you alone, through to organising all your activities and guiding you on them if required. Florian has lived in in the area all his life, so is an immense source of local information.
He's a ski instructor in the winter and a mountain bike and hiking leader during the summer - what a life!! Before opening Maison Amalka (and becoming a mum), Marketa had a career in the hospitality industry, which really shows in her attention to detail in the quality, cleanliness and presentation of the house. She is also a keen skier and horse rider. There are several stables in Les Alberts if you prefer to spend some time on four legs rather than two wheels.
Obviously we were keen to experience as much cycling as possible during our three night stay, so asked for help with booking the bikes for ourselves and our boys, as well as Florian to guide us during a couple of rides.
We really appreciated not having the hassle of organising these things ourselves, and it meant we could arrive and get out on the bikes straight away. We'd already sent our measurements by email, and the rental bikes had been delivered to Maison Amalka ready for us to start riding as soon as we arrived. Florian accompanied us on the first two days of cycling - from Les Alberts to Briançon on day one, and from Les Alberts along the Vallée de la Clarée on day two.
For our final day of family cycling he recommended a route from the Col du Lautaret back to the bike rental shop in Briançon, based on his knowledge of our boys cycling experience. He helped us map it on our Garmin, took us and our bikes in his van up the mountain to the start of the route, and met us back in Briançon when we'd handed our bike in, to bring us back to the house.
Similar services are offered for skiers and snowboarders in the winter months, helping to organise transport to the slopes as well as ski / board hire and lift passes. Florian can arrange ski instruction or off piste adventures or night time fat bike rides if required. Please note that it's not possible to ski from the door at Maison Amalka, but you are away from the hustle and bustle of a busy ski resort which can be more relaxing.
As parents themselves, Florian and Marketa understand it's the little things that matter, and I was very impressed with the way they have catered for families with children of different ages. Starting with babies, there is space in the family bathroom for nappy changing and baby bathing, and the changing mat and bath are supplied (as is a toilet seat for those slightly older children). A high chair is also on hand to make mealtimes easier.
In terms of entertainment, there's several boxes of books and toys and a rocking horse to keep toddlers and pre-schoolers entertained, along with a selection of bath toys (always useful to encourage cleanliness!)
For older children, there's some very exciting entertainment options in the ground floor games room after a day outside in the alpine fresh air. The table football was an immediate draw for our two boys. We also had fun teaching them how to play pool (and I confess to several rather competitive games once they were safely tucked up in bed!).
Even in the ground floor area for storing all your ski-ing / cycling equipment, there are hooks designed for children as well as adults - a very nice touch.
Outside there is a small garden which guests may use. In the summer months a picnic table and slide are the main attractions, whilst in the cold winter months the hot tub must be the highlight of many an post-ski evening.
There's a downstairs laundry with washer and drier, which is invaluable for those with kids who attract the dirt.
One aspect of the property that parents with young children need to be aware of is the two sets of steep open sided stairs, which could prove a real headache if you have an inquisitive crawler or new toddler in your party. A gate is being built to try and minimise some of the risk this currently presents, but my advice would be that this is a property designed for non-moving babies, or children old enough to stay away from the stairs when they're not safely using them.
The kitchen at Maison Amalka is one of the things that makes it so family friendly, especially if you're opting to go self-catering rather than having Marketa cater for you. Going out night after night with children can be exhausting and expensive, so being able to cook at home for me is always a bonus. We enjoyed being able to cook for the boys, put them to bed and then enjoy some locally sourced bread and cheese. Obviously the red wine was also compulsory!!!
It's obvious Marketa has a love of cuisine, as the kitchen is incredibly well stocked, with lots of pans big enough to cater for parties of ten. There's plenty of crockery, cutlery and glasses so you're not having to constantly wash up, plus the dishwasher, coffee maker and microwave come in handy too. A nice touch is the provision of the extras that can make a meal perfect - the seasonings, oils, and a selection of teas and coffee.
Maison Amalka would be perfectly suited for a large family holiday, or two or more active families holidaying together. Our boys kept saying "Wouldn't it be great if Granny and Grandpa, Aunty, Uncle and our cousins were here with us?". The house just begs to be full of fun and laughter and there is plenty of space so that people won't be under each others feet the entire time, especially if the weather closes in and you can't get outside. Please be aware that if you don't book the entire property you may be sharing with other guests.
During the summer months it's ideal for families that enjoy mountain biking and road cycling, and would be great as a base for watching the Briançon stage of Le Tour de France (each year the route visits somewhere close by). I'd also love to return with a group of cycling friends, for some child-free cycling, but I'm guessing that's a decade or more away.... Obviously, during the winter months Maison Amalka would be more suited as a base for a family skiing holiday - I'd love to spend a big family Christmas or New Year there.
The Montgenèvre area is great for older kids who can get out and enjoy the great outdoors and then relax in the games room. The house is also well equipped for babies. Due to the unprotected nature of the stairs, I wouldn't recommend it for families with children of crawling or toddling age, unless you want to spend the entire time supervising them.
For more information on the availability of Maison Amalka for the forthcoming holiday season please visit their website.
You can also book via Booking.com
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Disclosure: Cycle Sprog were guests of Florian and Marketa for three nights during May 2017 - we paid our own flights, car hire and bike rental, but received free bed and breakfast accommodation and guided cycling tours in return for writing this review about their family friendly accommodation in the French Alps. This in no way affects our honesty in writing our opinions of the area or accommodation / services offered.
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