Font Romeu claims to be one of the sunniest towns in all of France, with around 300 days of sunshine a year. So sunny, in fact, that, in the 1960s, the government built an enormous solar furnace which still operates as a research facility to this day. Perfect if you love skiing beneath bright blue skies in your coolest sunglasses. And who doesn’t?
This part of the Pyrénées-Orientales is stunningly beautiful. Font Romeu sits right in the middle of the Parc Naturel Regional des Pyrénées Catalanes, just north of the Spanish border and east of Andorra. It doesn’t have the enormous peaks you see in the Alps, although the nearby Pic Carlit (2921m) and Pic Peric (2810m) are punchy enough. Then again, neither does it have the motorway ski slopes or thronging crowds of the Alps.
There are 41 pistes in all (nine black, seven red, 10 blues and 15 green) and 23 lifts across 43 kms. Other facilities include a snowpark, a freestyle airbag and an enormous 111kms of cross-country skiing tracks. Biathlon legend Martin Fourcade was brought up in a nearby village so skinny skis are very popular.
Fourcade has two Olympic gold medals in biathlon and a staggering 10 gold medals in the world championships. Right now he’s one of France’s greatest sportsmen. So don’t be surprised if you spot his picture pinned up all over town.
You’ll spot many top-level athletes in Font Romeu. This town is a mecca for high-performance sport, and home to the Centre National d’Entraînement en Altitude, or CNEA, a government multi-sport facility that was built to prepare French athletes for the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City. (It’s not much below the altitude of the Mexican capital.) Athletes train for all sports here, both snow and non-snow. Needless to say, you’ll spot lots of very accomplished skiers as you negotiate the slopes. With any luck some of their magic will rub off on you.
If all this expertise makes you feel inadequate, there is always the local Ecole du Ski Français. For family groups, perhaps best of all is Club Piou Piou which takes kids as young as three: all day long if you fancy getting some serious skiing in yourself. There’s a nursery slope and an indoor play area with qualified nannies. Prices start at 63 Euros for half a day.
It’s all highly organised here. And so it should be. They’ve had long enough to get it right. Originally a mountain resort for well-heeled French who wanted to breathe the clean air, Font Romeu first opened in the early 20th Century. It claims to be the oldest ski resort in the Pyrénées, and the second oldest in all of France.
Need to know in the snow:
41 pistes over 43kms
Ski pass: from 38 Euros a day
Nearest airports: Perpignan (57 miles), Toulouse (126 miles), Girona (110 miles), Barcelona (114 miles). There is a bus from Perpignan town centre for just 1 Euro (yes, really). But there are few winter flights from the UK to Perpignan. Public transport from the other airports is complicated. Private transfers are recommended.
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