I’m sitting outside a restaurant in Les Angles ski resort, surrounded by snow, 7,000 feet up a mountain and the sun is boiling hot. Not so strange really when you consider that this particular region of the French Pyrenees, gets over 300 days of sunshine every year, but it’s a region that’s remained undercover for years, enjoyed in the main by French and Spanish locals.
Font-Romeu and its sister resort Les Angles provide some spectacular winter sports activities at prices well below those of their more illustrious neighbours. But these family friendly resorts also provide specialist snow activities for non skiers, and that made me really interested. For someone like me, who has avoided skiing at all costs, the opportunity to indulge in some risk-free snow walking and cross country skiing was an opportunity not to be missed and I have to say I enjoyed every moment of it.
The two resorts are perched just on the French side of The Pyrenees, only a 90 minute drive from Perpignan, although Catalan is spoken widely here, and Font-Romeu, the largest of the two, was my first base. With its assortment of homely restaurants, shops, equipment hire and hotels, it’s an ideal place to stay with everything you’ll need including lift access directly onto the slopes. The town actually has quite a reputation as the go-to place for high altitude training for Winter Olympic teams and long distance runners including Paula Radcliffe who lives here for many months each year.
My introduction to cross country skiing was swift. After getting kitted out with equipment and under the watchful eye of a qualified instructor, I was straight onto the skis and quickly learning the basics. Cross country has none of the perils of alpine skiing, forsaking the steep slopes for flatter, gentler forest terrain. It does however still give you an excellent introduction to using skis and learning how to glide along the snow and getting to grips with stopping when you need to. You even get that mild rush of adrenaline when you do find a gentle slope and realise that you are actually skiing down it! Font Remeu has a number of well marked dedicated cross country routes and you can pick courses with varying degrees of difficulty according to your growing confidence and skill.
After all that, there is something quite special about basking in the glow of a job well done with a glorious French/Catalan style lunch on the slopes, which of course involves a heady choice of both food and drink. Taking a break from the snow, I spent an afternoon with locals relaxing in hot natural thermal baths and visited the amazing Solar Furnace at Odello. Built in 1968 to capture energy from the hours of intense sunlight, the centre provides advice worldwide on heat management and is a consultant to NASA.
Les Angles and snowshoeing was next, going off piste with an experienced guide to witness some true Pyrenean majesty. Snow shoes were hired and with no training needed, except plenty of energy to negotiate up steep slopes of impossibly white virgin snow, you’ll be rewarded with some breathtaking views of the Pyrenees landscape.
Les Angles is a compact resort yet provides some high quality food and lodgings and plenty of après ski diversions including ice climbing, dog sledging, a wild life park right on the slopes, and my particular favourite, a ‘Go Ape’ style adventure park with four tree top courses called Angles Adventures.
All in all, there are eight resorts here, and you can buy a weekly or season long ski pass that will give you access to all of them for as little as €200.
Pyrenean food is a mix of French and Catalan culture. Cassoulet, a delicious meat and white-bean stew and duck liver foie gras are popular dishes. Roquefort cheese is in plentiful supply and you must try the custardy desert crema catalana.
Getting to Les Angles and Font-Romeu
RyanAir runs regular flights to Perpignan from €97 return. Perpignan is just 90k from Les Angles and there is regular shuttle transport. You can also use Girona and Barcelona airports too but it is a longer drive.