We discovered the largest and highest ski area of the canton of Vaud! Villars-Gryon-Diablerets is a first-rate destination for your winter family holiday in Switzerland.
Despite it only being about 1.5 hours from our house, we had never visited Villars before so we jumped at the chance when we were invited to try The Loft Balthazar and discover the area for a weekend.
Once we had dates set, Fiona from The Loft put us in touch with Dominique from the tourism office to organise some activities for the weekend. She suggested that Jude and Alba might like to try a skiing lesson together and Elio could try the handi-ski which is specially adapted for those with disabilities.
When we woke up on our first day, Jean decided to take Alba and Jude to try some sledging in Frience. It’s about 15 minutes in the car from the apartment with parking nearby so it was easy with the children. The luge piste is well organised, wide and well maintained which made it easy to navigate. Jude went down on his own while Alba went with Jean and spent a good hour enjoying the snow. There is a practical moving carpet which made it easier for them to reach the top of the piste before sledging down again. Needless to say that Jude and Alba loved it as much as Jean did! For the "Frience" car park, try to arrive before 9.15 in the morning as it filled up quickly. Olivier from The Loft Balthazar had kindly left us two sledges to use, but you can also hire them on site for CHF6 each.
Later the same afternoon we went for a walk around Villars which is within easy walking distance of The Loft Balthazar apartment. It was a nice way for us to get our bearings as we discovered the tourist office, the bakery and local supermarket. There are plenty of playgrounds for the children dotted around the village plus a sports centre and fun park which is paradise for children with climbing walls and sledging as well as a host of other activities for the summer. There is so much to do in the area aside from skiing including mountain biking, nordic activities, swimming, hiking, golf and you can also visit the Glacier 3000 and salt mines in Bex if you feel like further adventure.
The next day was a big day with skiing on the agenda for all the children so Jean took Alba and Jude to Daetwyler sports to collect their skiing equipment. The shop is directly opposite the apartment making it extremely convenient for guests at The Loft, the service was extremely efficient and they were both kitted out in 15 minutes!
Left to our own devices, we never would have thought of trying skiing with Elio but thanks to the excellent suggestion from Fiona (The Loft Balthazar) and organisational help from Dominique (Villars Tourisme) we were able to get Elio on the slopes. The Handi-ski at Villars is funded by an association called Go Tandem which makes a range of wonderful outdoor activities accessible to those with restricted ability. During winter time, they work with ESS Villars. All the accompanying skiers undergo a special formation to adapt to all the needs that the disabled person might have. We were a bit nervous about how Elio would react as he has been a bit unsettled lately and rather irritable, but we decided we’d give it a try.
We took the train from Villars (literally just opposite the apartment) and made the short journey up to Bretaye where we quickly found the handi-ski station right next to the exit of the train.
Elio was still screaming at this point and we were really in two minds about whether we should proceed, but once he was settled in his specially adapted seat, he calmed down. We often find with this kind of situation that if the person we are talking to panics, it rather exacerbates the situation for all of us, but Gaëlle and Sébastien who were looking after Elio and Jean were unflappable and completely calm which made the whole thing much easier. Since Jean and I aren’t very good skiers, Jean was also installed in a special chair and would have exactly the same experience as Elio. I set off to find Jude and Alba at the ski school as Jean and Elio set off and I had a nerve-wracking wait until they got back to find out how it went.
Jude and Alba were having la great time with their instructor Nico who was great fun and brilliant with the children. I joined them at the jardin des neiges where Nico was checking what Jude already knew before they began. The jardin des neiges is a nice colourful, fun and safe place for the children to learn and they started by trying to go down the beginners slope. There is a moving carpet to make getting to the top more efficient and Nico held on to them the first few times they came down to help them get their bearings. Alba had never skied before and did a brilliant job - she was so confident and so happy, it was lovely to watch. Jude could remember a few of the basics from his lesson last year so was happy to get more practice. Alba started to get tired after about an hour and a half but Jude managed the full two hours and his progress in that time was clearly visible. We really liked Nico's style, he was relaxed and friendly and managed to explain where the children were going wrong in a gentle and helpful way without denting their confidence. We would have no hesitation in recommending him to others looking for a multi-lingual ski teacher for their children.
Jean called me to say that he and Elio were back so I headed back to get them while Jude and Alba were having a snack...and the verdict was that Elio seemed to really enjoy it! He didn’t scream or cry once and in fact he only got upset when they came to a stop! This was such a relief and seeing the videos of our boy swishing through the snow bathed in sunlight brought a tear to my eye. We never in our wildest dreams imagined that Elio would be able to enjoy the snow in this way and it was just magical to think he had had a fun experience all of his own.
Jean loved it too and said the sensation was like nothing else and that Sébastien adapted his speed to his wishes as they sped through the snowy scenery. The expertise and professionalism of the team and the equipment they use is incredible and even allows for these specially adapted sledges to go on the chair lifts! The handi-ski sessions include all the equipment necessary and an experienced skier to get the passenger safely down the piste. It’s also an option for able-bodied non-skiers so it really opens up the possibility of enjoying the mountains for everyone. The association also organise activities in the summer time including specially adapted boat trips and very cool looking vehicles to enjoy walking paths. It’s hard to explain how emotional this experience made us feel and we were so happy to share the videos Jean took with our family who echoed our thoughts that we are so fortunate to have been able to offer our little boy the chance to enjoy this fantastic experience. Our sincere and heartfelt thanks to ESS Villars & Villars Tourisme for making this possible.
The journey back down to Villars was very straightforward and we went to drop off the children's ski equipment before heading back to the apartment for a well earned late lunch.
Dominique had told us that if we had time, we should take a little trip to Gryon which we did the following morning. Its a beautifully authentic village with plenty of charm and a wonderful bakery which you should definitely add to your itinerary if you are in the area.
We are hoping we’ll be able to come back in the summer to enjoy some of the fantastic activities we heard about for warmer days.