At the end of February, in scorching hot conditions, I visited the Jura Mountains for a few days of skiing.
This was one of the more interesting and singular skiing trips I’ve undertaken in France, but one that I’d heartily recommend that readers investigate. Here’s why…
WHERE IS THE JURA?
Every time I told friends where I was going skiing this year, there were invariably two questions: where on earth is the Jura, and why on earth are you going skiing there?
The first question is the easy bit. The Jura is a range of hills that starts 20 minutes north of Geneva and pretty much straddles the French-Swiss border as you head northwards. It’s a mini-mountain range in which the hills are up to 1700m.
HOW DO YOU GET TO THE JURA?
It couldn’t be easier. Fly to Geneva and hire a car. The first ski resort in the Jura is 20 minutes’ drive from Geneva Airport. If time is tight but you need your fix of the white stuff, catch the 06.50 Easyjet flight from Edinburgh and you should be on the slopes by 10am, then stay for one night and catch the 20.05 flight back the next evening, which means you can be on the slopes until 4.30 the next afternoon.
WHY WOULD YOU WANT TO VISIT THE JURA?
For me, my interest was piqued years ago when driving south to visit friends in Divonne-Les-Bains. My satnav took me via the long winding valley of the Jura, where I was amazed to see a succession of ski lifts next to the road. This started a fascination with the place that saw me eventually arrange to go there for a whistlestop four-day trip this year.
WHAT’S THE SKIING LIKE?
Keep your expectations in check. With hills that peak at 1700m, this is not like skiing in the Alps. There is, however, much to recommend it if you like variety and authenticity. The Jura is, for instance, the epi-centre of Nordic skiing in France, with 2,500km of trails, including the 170km Grand Traversee de Jura, a trail which covers the length of the valley. There is also lots of walking and mountain biking to be had.
As for the Alpine skiing, there are several stations of various sizes all along the valley. The Monts Jura is a collection of four ski areas, including Lelex-Crozet, which is just 20 minutes from Geneva Airport and the first ski area you come to.
You can get a ski pass that covers all four, as we did (€160 for a week). We skied our first day at the Col de la Faucille and Mijoux area, which has two chairlifts, four button lifts, five blue runs, four reds, a black and a couple of greens, and is enough for a day, two at a push.
We skied our last day at Crozet-Lelex, which has nine button lifts, four chairlifts or gondolas, a ski park, and enough reds to keep a wide range of skiers going for a couple of days. If there’s enough snow, there is a handful of nice blacks, some decent bumps and there is even scope for some nice off-piste tracks.
In between we spent two days at Metabief in the Monts D’Or, which is on the Swiss border and very near Neuchatel. It’s about an hour’s drive up the Jura valley, and is a bigger ski area than either of the other two we tried. Its 37km of pistes include 3 black runs, 11 reds, 12 blues and 9 green, which could be stretched out to cover a week at a push, plus five snowparks and plenty of cross-country skiing.
FOOD & ACCOMMODATION:
This is an area popular with French families so there’s no shortage of places to eat good food for sensible prices, either on or off-piste, although I would single out the wonderful La Fermette in Metabief for special praise. Other places that we enjoyed include Grand Tetras at Col de la Faucille, La Fabrik in Metabief and Le Yeti in Lelex.
We stayed at the two best hotels in the region and would recommend both. The first was Hotel La Mainaz (www.la-mainaz.com), a lovely four star hotel right next to the Col de la Faucille. With its great position, it is a great base to cover the four resorts of the Monts Jura. It also has exceptionally good fine dining cuisine, plus a wonderful terrace with absolutely spectacular views down to Lake Geneva and across to the Alps. Be warned though, it isn’t cheap.
Our other night was spent at Hotel Le Tillau (www.letillau.com) , a beautiful new ten-bedroomed boutique hotel near Verrieres de Joux near the border with Switzerland, where we stayed while skiing Metabief. It’s out in the back of beyond but I can’t recommend this highly enough: the rooms are gorgeous, the food outstanding and the whole place reeks of discreet luxury. If you’re a cross-country skier it’s right next to the Grand Traversee du Jura, and they also have toys like electric mountain bikes for guests. Perhaps just as importantly, because it’s only just opened, it costs around €120 a night, which can’t last.
Other than that, given that the area is popular with French families there are vast numbers of small hotels and self-catering options in the Jura, or if you want to mix sun and snow, you could always stay on Lake Geneva and drive up every day.
Having now been there, there are several reasons to visit the Jura. Curiosity is certainly one. So, too, is time: if you’ve only got a couple of free days, then its proximity to Geneva Airport means you can get there in no time and it’s relatively easy to find somewhere to stay at short notice, even within walking distance of the lifts.
If you’re a cross-country skier, an intermediate who loves cruising along or if you have a young family, this is a great option if you fancy a change. The prices, which are significantly lower than the Alps despite modern lifts and small queues, are also a draw, as is the sheer authenticity of the place – you are very unlikely to hear anyone else speaking English.
There are obvious drawbacks, however: the height means you must check the snow conditions, it’s really not suitable for advanced skiers, apres-ski is very limited, and if you like to ski hard you may need to move around if you stay for more than a couple of days (you can do some of the smaller ski areas in a day, and you can explore even Metabief in three or four days). Also, check you’re not planning to go in a French school holiday – we went in Paris half-term and the lifts still cleared much more quickly than in many Alpine resorts, but ideally you’d avoid the hordes.