We just returned home from such a fun winter vacation in France’s Vosges Mountains in the Alsace region. Three days was perfect! The area is beautiful and central to Strasbourg and Colmar.

A little background: I’ve researched ski trips in the Alps for two straight years (especially since most people book their chalets at least six months in advance). The quotes I received from resorts for our family of six started around 8,000Euro, and I just couldn’t wrap my head around a family vacation where our youngest family member couldn’t participate. Plus, I’m haunted by my dear friend Mary’s experience — trapped in the resort change-over traffic for 16 hours, they had to turn off their car to to conserve gas and sit under blankets, feeding their three young girls uncooked pasta. So, at this point in our family life, we decided to choose something closer to home and a lot more affordable while the kids learn to ski. It couldn’t have been more perfect.

For the first half of the kid’s February Carnaval Vacation, we rented a quirky cabin in the charming French village of Belmont, population 176, with chickens across the street and only five minutes’ drive from Le Champ du Feu (Fields of Fire) ski area. Ascending the mountainside, we looked over the red roofs and sweet chapel of our tiny village; the sweeping views of the wooded Vosges valley was beautiful, brilliant in the sun and mysterious in morning fog. It was unseasonably warm; our fingers were crossed that there would be snow when we arrived. And there was!

We got right to it. An hour after we dropped our bags, the kids had a private ski lesson with Lon, whose Slovenian parents work for the EU in Strasbourg. The next morning, they took another two-hour lesson, splitting the time according to the kid’s ability; while Lon taught Madeline and Charlie, Rob skied with John, then vice versa. They’ve all had a little experience skiing at an indoor hill in France not far from our house in Luxembourg, but this was their first time “hitting the slopes” with trees and sun and the elements, and they LOVED it. Their stamina shouldn’t have surprised me — they never wanted to come in!

 

Meanwhile, Bitsy and I snowshoed through the forest. A large sign at the entrance deemed it a Silent Area, and just a few steps into the thick woods, I felt transported — not just into the unplugged peace that washes over me in nature, but back to the Adventure Girl who used to jump into waterfalls, portage canoes and sleep under the stars of the Minnesota North Woods. I haven’t felt like her in awhile, but now that the kids are getting older, it’s more and more important to me that I introduce them to my love of the outdoors and help them develop their own. Snowshoeing — my first time ever — was heavenly, quite literally. In those towering trees and majestic quiet, felt like God was listening. All I could hear was birds, wind, crunching snow and my thoughts.

After all that activity, we were ravenous (some of us were flat our hangry) and met back up in the lodge for lunch — Bouche a la Reine and wild boar (which we only realized when the woman in line before us pantomimed “pork with tusks”). Since becoming expats, it amazes me how often we don’t know exactly what we’re eating. We taught the kids what an Aprés Ski is, though John didn’t quite get it and asked if we could “go to the Aprés Ski” every time he wanted hot chocolate. That night the kids all slept in the bed-lined attic like little squirrels, despite renting a five-bedroom house.

Our final day was windy and raining, so we holed up with a fire, colored pencils and hot cocoa. It was the break we all really needed. In the afternoon, the kids and I geared up for a wet walk in the rain, wandering the steep hills (tire chains required) and into Belmont’s center. Madeline, Charlie, and John jumped in every puddle and scrambled up and down hills like my own little herd of wild goats. Bitsy happily sat in the hiking carrier with her rain cover drawn. I trudged up a steep hill in the downpour beside a lovely French woman and her grandson. She became so excited when she found out we were Americans, telling me about her grandfather, who lived in the doorstep of the very house we were chatting in front of, where her daughter live now. He left France with many others in 1920 to look for work, ending up in Utah. Though I didn’t have a chance to ask, I imagine he was a miner (the Alsace area has been mined for centuries).

   

The next day, we headed onto the second half of the kids’ vacation….with a beautiful stop in Colmar en route to to the Bernese Oberland region of the Swiss Alps!

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