26th January 2023
Last modified on January 31st, 2023
It is a range just north of the Alps that we have always wanted to visit but never have. Now snow has fallen and temperatures remain low.
We have headed to the Pays de Gex region in the French Jura – just north of Geneva.
So many times we have flown over the Jura on the way to and from Geneva airport, peered out of a window seat, looked at the snow and promised a visit is in order.
Time and snow constraints have got in the way – but not now, given the current conditions.
Due to the recent snow and cold temperatures the PlanetSKI editor, James Cove, who is currently on a month-long road trip in the Alps has delayed a visit to Chamonix and headed to the Jura instead – the ski resorts of Mijoux and Lelex to be precise.
The whole point of a road trip is to have a plan, and then bin it if circumstances change.
The Jura here we come.
The signs looked good as we twisted our way up the mountain road after a visit to La Clusaz.
It was a stop off on our way from Verbier as this alpine road trip now gets fully underway.
Chamonix, Les Arcs and Les3Vallees are to come.
Then we might be going into central Switzerland.
In the Jura the snow was piled up by the side of the road and dripping off the trees as we headed up the hill as dusk fell.
It felt like an adventure as we drove deep into the unknown Jura.
The next morning in the village of Mijoux it looked even better.
This is a ski resort backwater, and all the better for it.
Mijoux does not have extensive skiing, with just a handful of lifts but what it does have is right up there, especially with all the fresh snow.
I was smitten after one of my best ski mornings of the season so far.
It was a revelation.
Then a surprise – some English voices as we stopped for a hot chocolate (€4 – £3.50).
Helen Thomas and Kyra Wilder live nearby and this is their local ski hill.
Their smiles say it all.
“We go to the likes of Verbier, Megeve, Flaine, Avoriaz and others but Mijoux is special,” they told me as I asked about the place.
“It is a great beginner area but there are also some fabulous red and blue runs through the trees.
“It is popular with the French and the Swiss, but few Brits come here.
“The views are also spectacular.”
It was hard to disagree as I looked down on the cloud covering Lac Leman (more commonly known as Lake Geneva to the Brits) and across to the Alps.
Its lift system is basic.
There are other, off snow, attractions.
A zip-line down to the village.
It is 1km long, was installed 2-years ago and is the steepest in France.
And there’s a mountain coaster too.
At midday we sadly left Mijoux and headed to Lelex, about a 15-minute drive away.
They are on the same lift pass, but not linked by lift.
Pays de Gex is an area containing 27 local communities and is spread over 44,000 hectares in the Auvergne-Rhone-Alpes.
11,000 hectares are in the National Nature Reserve of the High Jura.
Its altitude ranges from 580m to 1,720m.
Lelex is a bigger affair than Mijoux with more slopes and wider pistes.
For a moment or two I thought I was in a small backcountry resort in Canada with its snow ghosts and architecture.
Like Mijoux it comes in at great value – €5 (£4.40) for soup of the day (potato and carrot).
A coffee is €1.50 (£1.30).
And those views again with Lake Geneva under the clouds and the Alps in the distance.
But what the whole area has in spades is old-school mountain charm. I stepped back and relished simpler, and less hectic ski times.
This area is not for people that want to hit the pistes and clock up piste distances – there aren’t any.
17kms in Mijoux and 21kms in Lelex.
But this area is about more than skiing – it is about living and breathing the mountains, and it doesn’t get much more authentic.
As well as alpine skiing there is snow shoeing (including doing it at night), nordic skiing and husky dog rides.
For cross-country skiing head to the internationally acclaimed La Vattay-Valserine with its 130 km of trails and a superb ski school to get beginners fit to slide.
There are cheese factories to visit and local breweries to tour.
“Here we don’t offer you overcrowded slopes, exorbitant prices or endless queues,” said Alice Baronnet from the local tourist office as we met up over a coffee.
“It is a natural break from the daily routine that awaits people here in Pays de Gex.”
For me it is the genuine mountain experience and all the better as it is sandwiches between my trips to the big beasts of Verbier and Chamonix.
There are multiple examples of its charm.
The lift to get up the mountain in Mijoux doesn’t run all day here as there isn’t enough demand at lunchtime on most weekdays.
All the lifts up in the ski area do work throughout the day.
Tickets can be bought by the hour.
The shops are only open at certain times of the day.
Some hotels look good.
But they have undergone hard times recently, though there is hope for the future.
We are staying at the La Michaille bed & breakfast in Mijoux.
We eat dinner with the other guests, the owners and their kids.
The others speak a bit of English and I turn, without much success, to Franglais and my ‘O’ Level French from many, many moons ago.
We probably understand less than half of what we say to each other, but the wine flows and the laughter gets louder and louder.
Next door is the church, with the village a 1-minute stroll to its centre.
It is the real deal – a proper, unspoilt French mountain village – warts and all.
Regular readers will know that PlanetSKI passed through the Jura a couple of weeks ago as we were heading to Switzerland.
See here for more on the Jura, where we had an overnight stop in Poligny.
Some of my friends can’t quite believe I have delayed and cut short a visit to Chamonix given the current snow conditions.
More fool them – I have just experienced the real deal in Pays de Gex in the Jura with its ski resorts of Mijoux and Lelex.
There is another resort in the area that sadly I didn’t have time to ski – Menthieres.
I’ll be back.
It is always nice to get feedback from PlanetSKI readers and old friends who I haven’t seen for a while.
I have just received this message from Bénédicte Lapeyrère, who is both.
Our paths crossed when she worked in the French ski tourist industry for France Montagnes a few years back.
She is now a paramedic in Brighton.
“I just wanted to thank you for your excellent article about Mijoux and Lelex.
You might recall this is my village and where I grew up.
You have passed our house few times, we are just opposite the church.
I am glad you enjoyed your stay there, you describe it exactly the right way: a really special place, off the beaten tracks.
This where I spent my youth.
I never skied anywhere else than Mijoux until I was 17-years-old.
I skied there every weekend and every holidays and never got bored.
I am actually going back end of February for 3- days to see my mother.
Enjoy the rest of your road trip and well done James.”
I feel a spring beer (or two) in Brighton is in order.
This article was originally published by Planetski.eu. Read the original article here.