My favourite place in the world is Risoul, France, in the middle of winter. It is a skiing resort 1850metres up into the French Alps. Snow-white mountains and picturesque alpine villages surround it.
You’re at the foot of the mountain, driving toward the hectic resort above you. The setting sun has turned the peaks into shimmering silhouettes. You look up at your peril, twenty-seven winding hairpin bends to whet your appetite. As the road becomes ever steeper, the glinting jewel that is Risoul comes into focus. You see the wooden apartment blocks, the pointed roofs of the dozen or so chalets, and rows upon rows of coaches, unconvincingly concealed by an array of brightly coloured snow blowers and piste bashers.
You’re in Risoul now; you can feel the fresh mountain air upon your cheeks. The same mountain air which gives a chilly night a crispness to take your breath away. You look down to the high street, lit up with too many orange streetlights. There are hoards of boardies hanging around ‘Le Discotheque’, never actually entering. Looking up the mountainside you see how clear the night sky is, the stars illuminate the trees in a mysterious yet alluring way.
It’s morning and the first things to wake you from your dreams are the comforting scents of freshly baked bread and croissants in the Spar. Then, as if he’s desperate to rouse you ‘Jean’ or ‘Franï¿½ois’ will come out and attempt to shatter your eardrums with roars of ‘baguettes’ and ‘croissants’.
Next, after generous helpings of croissants it’s off to the hire shop to get your gear. You walk in and the warm aroma of melted snow engulfs you. There’s a queue half a mile long but no-one’s bothered, they’ve all got an alarmingly common zest for the sport. Your turn comes and then you can hit the slopes.
The familiar faces of ancient looking lift operators, puffing absent-mindedly on cigars, greet you as you enter Risoul Station. Wriggle aboard the first chairlift you see, pull down the bar and relax, you’ve got five minutes before the hard graft begins. Up and up you go, the dulcet whirr of the lift in the background. Take a look around at the spectacular views; it’s like sitting in an exclusive picture frame. Looking at the mountain on one side you can see the thick pine forests. On the mountain the other side you see a beautiful off-piste stretch, spoilt only by one board trail, zigzagging it’s way down the middle.
Look down, the snow puts everything out of perspective, the run crosses underneath you and the shrieks of the first early morning skiers fill you with a sense of anticipation. Looking behind you towards Risoul station you can just make out the first time skiers on the beginner slopes. It reminds you of your first time ski-ing, constantly toppling over then getting up again.
There’s no more time to sit and gaze though, you’re at the end of the lift. Which piste is going to tickle your fancy today? There’s that powdery blue to the left, the newly piste-bashed red in front of you. Or, do you dare? The untouched black run to your right. Here goes, down, down, down, weaving left and right across the piste. Wind is whistling past your ears, you can hear it through your woolly headgear. Take a pause, inhale some sweet mountain air. Off you go again. The adrenalin is really pumping, you can feel the thrill. Now you’re at the bottom, it’s over almost as soon as it’s begun, you need that sensation again, it’s spine tingling, and, like all enthusiasts, you’ve succumbed to the awesome power of a whiz down the mountainside.
After the exhilarating last run of the day, it’s back to the apartment, quick change of clothes, then down to the high street. The first shops are the gift shops, overflowing with too many itsy-bitsy presents. Then it’s on to the kebab shop. You can taste the succulent, meaty whiffs on the air, but before you get too used to that tang, you pass the sweet shop. The sugary smells evoking long-forgotten memories of self-indulgence.
The first reason why Risoul is my favourite place is because it has so many different points. The high street is always so busy, whilst some of the pistes are so peaceful that you can hardly believe it is the same place. The other reason I love Risoul so much is because of its versatility. You can ski, board, snow-bike or simply walk. There is something for everyone. I have been there ten times and I cannot think of any reasons why I would want to go anywhere else.