Snow-shoeing in the French Pyrenees
The Pyrenees may be less popular than the Alps, but they're no less dramatic and for me they tick all the boxes for a festive green break - fresh mountain air, family-sized crepes and an unassuming atmosphere where no one gives a vin chaude whether your sunglasses match your salopettes. And what they lack in altitude, they make up for in low-impact mountain activities.
Bagnères-de-Luchon is on the French side by the Vénasque and Céciré mountains - reached by a scenic two-hour train journey from Toulouse that whizzes you into the heart of the looming massif. Luchon's main street is lined with ski hire shops, bars, restaurants, a nightclub, and several B&Bs and hotels, but to get away from the crowds, stay at Le Poujastou, a converted 18th-century inn with five rooms in the small village of Juzet-de-Luchon, 3km out of town.
Owner Thierry is a professional mountain guide who organises off-piste trips and led me snowshoeing over the Spanish border. We returned from the day's trek to put our feet up in the cosy log-fired living room before tucking into a home-made stew.
For some bien être, I recommend a visit to Luchon's geothermally heated spa, 150m underground, which the French have been using since Roman times.
Le Poujastou (0033 5 6194 3288, lepoujastou.com) doubles from €47 per night B&B, dinner €16pp; guided snowshoeing €29pp.
An edited version of this article, by Richard Hammond, was first published in the Guardian and for more information about snow shoeing and other holidays in France, follow the links below: