While I've shared quite a few aspects of our recent family skiing trip with Mark Warner to Chalet Hotel L'Ecrin in Tignes Val Claret, I wanted to write a full review post to give you a complete overview of our experience. I know that holidays can be expensive, especially skiing trips, so you want to be really confident that the travel company and resort is right for you. We had an amazing time with Mark Warner and would definitely return but here's the lowdown to help you make your own decision.
GETTING THERE - the flight
Mark Warner uses Jet2.com on its Manchester flights to Grenoble. While maybe not the most luxurious of airlines, it has its own dedicated check in area at Terminal 1 which is brilliant to avoid the hustle and bustle and crowds, especially when you have two excitable toddlers to get on a very early morning flight. Yes, it's a relatively no-frills airline and yes, you have to pay for absolutely everything on board but the staff are lovely, the seats are comfortable and the flight time is a mere two hours. And, above all else, it seems to be an airline that makes dreams come true as my unruly two behaved the entire time bribed only with sticker book, iPads, and a sip of my lemonade. Result!
At Grenoble, once we'd passed through customs, we were greeted by friendly Mark Warner staff in bright red t-shirts and pointed in the direction of the bus that was to take us to Tignes.
GETTING THERE - the transfer
The transfer time to Tignes is roughly three to three and a half hours. We stopped once for the passengers staying at another Mark Warner hotel to take a transfer to their resort and once at a service station en route. I'd worried about the boys being able to sit still for such a length of time but they were really well behaved and with lots of films pre-loaded on to their iPads, were content to sit and watch them while munching on Haribo.
A Mark Warner representative was onboard to hand out welcome packs and lift passes (if you had pre-ordered them) and answer any questions. They are so patient and so knowledgeable so do take advantage of them if there's anything that you're concerned about. I took the opportunity to ask lots of questions about the childcare and getting my eldest ready for ski school and it was hugely helpful to put my mind at rest before we'd even arrived at the hotel.
THE HOTEL - the rooms
Upon arrival at the Chalet Hotel L'Ecrin, the Mark Warner staff whisked our bags up to our room and we were able to have a quick look around the hotel before heading up. We were incredibly lucky to be given adjoining rooms. The larger one, at a push, would have actually worked for the four us but it was so much nicer to have a separate space so that we could stay up while the boys slept.
The rooms are newly renovated and done up in the Savoie style of the region which basically means lots of wood. They're cosy, comfortable and everything you'd imagine a chalet hotel to be. The beds were perfect for resting ski-weary legs and the bathrooms great for an après-ski soak. Towels and towels for the spa are provided, and replaced mid-week or upon request. The shampoo and shower gel provided weren't particularly to my liking but that's a minor thing because I'm fussy and I tend to travel with my own anyway.
Most rooms have balconies and while the temperatures mean that you're unlikely to want sit out on them in your shorts enjoying a glass of Pimms, you could most definitely wrap up and admire the views while sipping on a glass of wine. It's actually really lovely at night while the snow is falling.
THE HOTEL - the facilities
One of the nicest places in the hotel is the bar area. Not just for the cocktails but because it's so, so charming. It simply encourages you to sit and relax and spend an hour or two curled up with a book and a large glass of red. It's super quiet during the day when most guests are out on the slopes. The littlest and I ended up lounging and watching a film on the iPad one afternoon and it was so peaceful that I almost fell asleep. By night, the atmosphere is slightly different ... livelier, louder and a lot more fun!
I'd also recommend that you spend an hour or two in the hotel spa. It's amazing. If you head there before 3pm, you're pretty much guaranteed to have the place to yourself (great if you want to take your kids). A little later and it gets busier. There are four therapy rooms if you'd like to treat yourself to a massage or a facial but the swimming pool, Turkish bath, jacuzzi and sauna are relaxing enough to recharge your batteries. There's also an amazing view of the mountains from the pool. It's just wonderful!
THE HOTEL - the food
The food! Oh, the food! Breakfast, afternoon tea and dinner are included in the cost of your holiday and they are all LOVELY!
Breakfast is a selection of breads, cereals, pastries and fruit with different daily specials that you can request from the kitchen. It tends to be quite a busy affair with guests turning up in various states of dress ready to head off to ski school or the slopes. For those with children, it kind of puts you at ease because there's absolutely no pressure to have perfectly behaved, quieter than quiet children. There's an extremely friendly vibe with everyone discussing their skiing plans for the day or the predicted snowfall.
Afternoon tea is heaven for a cake-lover like me. Yes, the soups are nice but the cake? Oh my goodness, the cake! Even on the days where I wasn't particularly hungry, I still couldn't stay away. The cake!!
The dinner menus were fantastic. You're given a choice of three starters, three main courses and three puddings (and wine). Some of our favourites included merlot poached chorizo and red pepper bruschetta; honey glazed goats cheese with a rocket, poached pear and walnut salad; herb crusted loin of cod with a fondant potato and herb mussel broth; confit of duck with garlic and rosemary mash, duo of celeriac and raspberry vinegarette; warm chocolate brownie with chocolate sauce and vanilla ice cream; and vanilla creme brûlée with shortbread. Good, huh?
You can find a comprehensive review of the Mark Warner childcare here - Cool for Kids.
Tignes is one of France's highest and therefore most respected ski resorts. Snow is as close to guaranteed as possible and there are slopes suited to all level of winter sports enthusiasts. Because I didn't get much chance to ski, I was able to spend a fair amount of time getting to know Tignes Val Claret and its many pancake-serving cafes (and still head back to the hotel for afternoon tea ... greedy, I know). There are bars and restaurants to suit everyone, from those looking for a quiet coffee to the night owls wanting to party until the early hours. The shops are great, both for souvenirs and for sports equipment, and there's a couple of supermarkets if the pancakes and cakes are not enough to keep your blood sugar levels high enough.
You can read a little more about things to do in Tignes in this post - Can You Go On A Ski Holiday And Not Ski - and in this review from Travel Club Elite.
We thoroughly enjoyed our first family skiing trip with Mark Warner and I really can't see it being our last. We loved the Chalet Hotel L'Ecrin and thought that Tignes Val Claret was just lovely. Skiing holidays are not inexpensive but they are certainly fun. Mark Warner have just released their 2015/2016 schedule and have many early booking offers. It's also well worth following the Mark Warner Facebook page as they tend to post last minute offers too.
We visited Tignes and Chalet Hotel L'Ecrin as guests of Mark Warner but all opinions are honest.