It was time to move on from Samoens and from France, heading East to Italy where we expect to spend the remainder of our skiing time.
First, a shopping trip to stock up our cupboards. I’m usually a fan of French supermarkets (patisserie is the key factor), but the Carrefour in Cluses had a disappointing selection of baked goods. We ended up wishing we had just stopped off at Lidl. At least it would have been cheaper.
Second, the Mont Blanc tunnel. It’s not a cheap option for crossing the Alps to Italy, but the most direct. There was a minor heart-in-the-mouth moment when I saw a sign banning vehicles of Euro Class 4 or lower (Bertie displays Crit’Air and Umweltplakkete stickers proclaiming a dirty engine). I spent a frantic moment investigating before realising that it was not applicable to private passenger vehicles. Phew! Bertie was still allowed through.
On the other side of the tunnel we were in the Val d’Aosta. It’s somewhere we have visited many times and has many beautiful valleys and mountains. This time we were heading straight up to the ski resort at La Thuile. It’s somewhere we have been before, but only on the way over the Petit Saint Bernard pass; we have never skied here.
From the tunnel it’s a short journey before the turn off to the switch-backs up the valley. Helpfully they are counted down from bottom to top so we knew how much encouragement to give Bertie. The drive through the town itself was a bit confusing for the poor old sat nav, something we remembered from last time but it still took us a couple of wrong turns before we recalled that we had to turn across the river into what looked like a car park in order to avoid the weight limits and access the road that would take us to the Sosta.
Sosta Azzurra Camper was quiet. One other British van was parked up but otherwise it was an empty expanse under the shadow of the mountains. Needless to say we parked up close to the other van. Not that close, but unnecessary given all of the spaces we could have chosen from. We found out that our neighbour was a ski instructor with the British company Interski who specialise in School ski trips.
That was us settled in for the next six nights, a period of rain, snow, wind and most importantly skiing. La Thuile is prone to avalanches and every morning we woke to the sound of snow cannons booming. Every evening as the sun left the valley there was a wild whoosh of wind that blew through the sosta and caught open doors and any stray articles left outside.
The area around La Thuile was just a collection of small hamlets before the local Anthracite started to be exploited on a more commercial scale in the 20th century. Mining for coal didn’t last very long, about 40 years, but it did create the village, increasing the population and providing more buildings and services. Once the mine closed in 1966 things became quieter until skiing and outdoor activities took over as a source of income. There are still a number of slowly decaying mining buildings in evidence including ‘La Laveria’ opposite the sosta (I assume it was to do with washing out the anthracite from the ore but I forgot to take a picture of the noticeboard). When we were on one of our walks we found the top of the bridge, just up the road from the sosta, and could see that it was part of the mining transport system.
When skiing across the border to La Rosiere we found the Fort de la Redoute at the top of the Fort ski lift. This is a remnant of the defences created after the Savoy region was finally divided between France and Italy. The history of Savoy is long and complicated but by 1892 when this fort was created, the current borders were pretty much in place, although Italy was not yet unified so the Aosta Valley was part of the Kingdom of Sardinia.
Windy skiing in La Thuile
La Thuile makes up one half of the Espace San Barnardo with La Rosiere over the border in France making up the other half.
We were warned of high winds shutting the lifts, and in fact there was only one day when we were able to get over to La Rosiere, otherwise we were restricted to the La Thuile side. I have never experienced winds like it, my ski poles were flailing in the strong gusts and at times it was almost impossible to advance as it pushed against me. It blew the new snow across the pistes in drifts, making enjoyable powder ski conditions but also creating unexpected clouds of snow to obstruct visibility.
It might sound like it was unpleasant, but mostly it was just something different to contend with, the main issue was getting cold sitting on the lifts. We covered as much of our faces as possible, pulling our buffs up to our noses and making sure there were no gaps between helmet and goggles.
We had quite a lot of snow while we were in La Thuile which meant that the slope conditions were pretty good until it warmed up on our last day. We even managed to ski down to resort without encountering too much slush. And although we were restricted mostly to the La Thuile side we found some nice short but steep pistes to test our nerve.
We also loved the lack of queues. The only time we had to wait to get on a lift was in La Rosiere when we had a queue about three deep, otherwise we could ski into the lifts (some of which were a little old on the La Thuile side) and get straight on, meaning we managed lots of skiing.
We enjoyed skiing over to La Rosiere and trying out their slopes including the lift up to the highest point at Mont Valaisan. Getting back to La Thuile involves either a couple of long drag lifts, or one long drag lift followed by a long ski down run 7 which follows the road across the Petit San Bernardo pass for part of the way. Paul hated the drag lift which left him with knee pain and sealed the decision to follow run 7.
La Thuile is a favourite of school trips (there were four coach loads while we were there) but it was really easy to avoid them on the quiet slopes.
It’s a shame that they don’t do a La Thuile only ticket. Given how many times the link was shut a discount would have been appreciated. However, to make up for that, there were options for 2,3 and 4 hour tickets and afternoons only making it very flexible.
Staying in La Thuile
We stayed in the Azzurra Camper area. A large flat parking area that takes over 80 vans. It had four vans maximum while we were there which seems a bit of a waste.
It is 20 euros per night which can be paid by card. Tourist Tax is 0.40 pppn but can only be paid in cash. A couple of forms need to be filled out (including taking a passport number) in typical Italian bureaucratic style and the receipt needs to be displayed in your window.
The area has 6 AMP electricity connections for a large number of vans, it also has two toilets (including a disabled access toilet) and two showers. The showers are coin operated and take a 1 euro coin for 4 minutes of hot water (which can take 30 seconds to warm up if no one else has used it). The shower floors were freezing so some kind of shower footwear would make things a lot more comfortable.
Behind the sosta is Camping Rutor which does take winter travellers although we didn’t see any evidence that anyone was staying while we were there. Also a number of carparks tolerate overnight stays for 5 euros per 24 hours. We met another British motorhomer who was using the carparks and just popping into the sosta for refilling/emptying (which cost 5 euros).
Other things to do in La Thuile
There are walks around the area with marked snowshoe routes. There are other paths and trails but its worth noting that the area is very prone to avalanche due to the steep slopes so be careful where you venture. One of the snowshoe trails that starts near the sosta loops around a number of old mining buildings.