By Amaris Cole
Extreme sport holidays cannot usually boast of sending relaxed and refreshed guests home at the end of the week, but you will soon discover a Richmond Holiday is full of such surprises. Set on a mountain above the clouds in the midst of the French Alps, it’s easy to forget real life is still going on down there. The hardest decision I had to make while staying in L’Alps d’Huez, one of three Richmond chalets in the area, was whether to jump straight into the hot tub after a long day skiing or grab a piece of homemade cake first. Very quickly, it became clear that food was going to be a big part of the trip. All that skiing means the breakfast croissants, eggs and porridge, the lunchtime baguette and the three-course dinner each night are completely acceptable – some would go so far as to say necessary. At least, that was my excuse. Perhaps the afternoon tea and the pre-dinner canapés were a little greedy, but I was on holiday, after all. When I needed a little lie down, more from the exertions of eating such feasts than a hard day on the pistes, I retreated to my room. As views go, this one fell in the ‘breathtaking’ category, just above ‘beautiful’ and next to ‘unbeatable’. My balcony led straight to the mountains, where skiers could be seen dancing down the slopes by day and an unbelievably bright display of stars by night. But you can expect a lot more than just a cosy chalet and an appetising menu on this trip. “When we started, we tried to work out whether we were a business or a ministry. Well, of course, we’re both,” Richmond’s CEO explained to me in the chairlift while we travelled to the top of the first mountain of the day. For the last five years, Ben Turner has worked on changing the face of Christian holidays, ensuring guests are treated to the same high standards expected in the secular travel industry, while offering daily fellowship, worship and prayer led by a resident Pastor Teacher. A meeting before the canapés each night gives guests the chance to reflect on the wonders around them and engage in a time of dedication – sparking discussions that often went on to dinner, the evening entertainment and indeed the star-lit hot tub sessions.
For an action holiday, the peace found here, both in the surroundings and the ministry, is staggering. During the school holidays there is a children’s ministry, too. Then, of course, there’s the skiing itself. The resort boasts Europe’s longest black run: La Sarenne. At 16 kilometres, this is definitely a challenge all accomplished skiers and boarders need to try. The first 500 metres look near-vertical. Locals prefer the neighbouring Le Tunnel though, a breathtakingly steep and bumpy ‘hard black run’. It is easy to see why this is one of France’s Top Five ski areas. If you are more comfortable on a blue or green run, fear not, for there are plenty to keep even the most eager beginner satisfied with 250 kilometres of piste in the resort. Richmond has dedicated staff running ski tours each day for varying abilities to keep you on your toes, or rather, skis, with their expertise of the local area. For those who think a snow plough is something used to clear the roads after a storm, lessons can be arranged to have you parallel skiing before you can say vin chaud (which I can tell you does seem to help with the skiing!). Surprisingly the chalet wasn’t just full of die-hard ski and snowboard fans. I came across a few visitors in the lounge who don’t/won’t ski. ‘Are you jealous of the others heading out on a new, snowy adventure each day?’ I asked. The ‘no’ I received was pretty swift, and definitely decided. L’Alp d’Huez is favoured by many families because of just that: it’s a ski resort that caters for non-skiers almost as much as those who love the slopes. A (heated) outdoor pool, a rock-climbing wall, an ice rink, shops, cafes, bars and even lift passes for our friends who prefer to explore the mountains in the safety of their boots means there really is something for everyone.
If that’s not enough, the resort claims to have 300 days of sunshine a year. From what I saw, they aren’t lying – and I have the tell-tale goggle-tan lines to prove it. One guest who visited the sun room at the local pool said it was hotter there than on her summer holiday to Majorca. It’s not just the guests who enjoy everything a Richmond Holiday has to offer, though. Speaking to the staff you get a real insight into what this company is all about. Interns unsure of what the next step in their life should be, members of the team who have dreamed of being a ski guide forever and others who are using this season to gain the skills needed for the various adventures they have planned next; whatever your story, you’re welcome here. Richmond’s tagline, promising a ‘quality Christian holiday’, truly was delivered during my visit. If I didn’t have to hand this review in, I might still be there now. The season runs until 20 April, 2013. For more information on L’Alp d’Huez and the other holidays Richmond runs, visit . www.richmond-holidays.com.