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Friday, 26 April 2013


Back in March, I had a lovely weekend entertaining various family members from far and wide. Because there were a lot of us, and we all like food, it did seem that most of the weekend was spent, either preparing meals, eating meals, or clearing up after meals.  And everybody mucked in and helped.

They all got very into my eco-friendly ways - when there is clearly no dustbin in a kitchen you kind of have to.  "What do I do with this?"

One of the things that I love to do is to make up feasts for the birds - my garden is full of birds and birdsong all the time.

Like Louise, who contributed Tip 2 in my book, I scrape up fat from my frying pan to make my bird feasts and then use breadcrumbs, toast crumbs and whatever other bits and pieces seem like they'll make a tasty treat.

This is the bird feeder we made when my family were over in March, when I came back from holiday.

It was full to the brim when I put it out.  Not a lot left in there now, as you can see!

It doesn't cost a penny to make and it takes no more time to scrape the crumbs off the breadboard or the fat out of the frying pan into a container like this, than it takes to scrape it into the bin.  I have no idea if they actually use the little perch I added by poking a skewer through the bottom of the cup, but it looks cute, don't you think?

Saturday, 20 April 2013

Snow Carbon

Can a skiing holiday ever be low carbon?

Skiing and eco-friendly holidays don't really sit naturally together in my mind.  But I was 11 years old when I got the bug for this high adrenalin sport and loved it so much that at 18, I went to work as an au pair near the lovely village of Manigod in the French Alps.

I then did a French degree in London, but chose to go back to the French Alps for my year in a French university and on finishing my degree, I worked as rep in a ski resort for a season.  As you can see, I was well and truly hooked.

Since then I've been skiing a few times with my family, recently travelling by car (not too high carbon with six of us travelling - as my children take a friend each).

We have always been conscious of trying to keep our holidays environmentally friendly as far as we can.  Some of the ways we do this: we support local businesses, avoid waste as far as possible, avoid all-inclusive places.  You know the kind of thing!

This year, in choosing our skiing holiday, we again tried to find lower carbon options  We were only four rather than six, and so we didn't want to drive, but didn't want to fly either. So for the first time, we travelled by train to our holiday destination.

We found a holiday by train through Snow Carbon travelling with Zenith Holidays to the Hameau des Airelles in Montgenèvre which has recently obtained the EU Ecolabel.

View over the village

Some of the lifts have a choice of chair or cable car, which is great
 because yo can choose which to take according to the weather.

I found Zenith Holidays to be super helpful.  Everything was made very easy and I was really made to feel looked after.  Zenith organised our train travel via Eurostar to Paris and then onwards to Oulx in Italy on the TGV.  Prices were comparable to flying, though no cheaper even though we booked as early as it was possible to book the entire trip. Our Eurostar tickets cost us £70.50 each for the way out and £61 pounds for the way back. It takes aound 2 1/2 hours to Paris Gare du Nord and then you have a short 2 stop train journey on the RER to the Gare du Lyon for onward travel to the French alps. On the Eurostar you can buy a book of 10 metro tickets for around 13 euros. The TGV to Oulx  was £64.48 each return and took around five hours, but we were comfortable and the journey passed very quickly.

We'd decided to take rucksacks as we thought that would be the easiest way to deal with luggage, but in fact a wheeled suitcase or sports bag was what most fellow travellers had!

I'd advise taking plenty of food, snacks and drinks with you for the journey as food is expensive on the train and at the stations.  The Eurostar Lounge both at St Pancras and Paris Gare du Nord are comfortable, so if you have a wait you can generally find somewhere to sit and read.  But the Halle des Grande Lignes at Gare du Lyons only has about eight chairs, so it is not the best place to spend any amount of time.

We were met at the station - actually on the platform by our Zenith rep and then whisked by minibus up to the resort of Montgenèvre, which took around half an hour. All very swift, efficient and welcoming.

Onto the accommodation...

The Hameau des Airelles was lovely.  We opted for a two bedroom apartment which is said to sleep six people, as there's a sofa bed in the lounge. For four it felt spacious.  Six would be fine, but cosy.  But there's no way I could see six people fitting in their ski boots into the ski locker without them getting wet from snow dripping off the skis and other  boots - four was a jigsaw, which we failed on the first time and had to dry out our boots the second morning with a hair dryer - not very eco-friendly, I know!  The problem with the ski lockers is simply that there's no use of the wall of the locker to be able to slot boots onto pegs upside down, which is all it would take.

Your bed linen and towels are provided, so you don't need to lug that with you on the train, which is very helpful. Towels for the spa are provided too, but in good eco-friendly style, they invite you to keep them all week.

When you check in you are given a little cardboard box containing 6 dishwasher tablets.  In the apartment, you will find a teeny-tiny bottle of eco washing up liquid, a dish washing sponge, but no tea-towel. They are giving you a clear message that you will use the super efficient dishwasher provided rather than wasting lots of their precious hot water on washing up!

There's a row of recycling bins across the road from the apartments, and instructions about this in their booklet.  Most packaging is recycled, but they don't take yoghurt pots - that's a French thing that I have never understood and must investigate one day!  Surprisingly, for somewhere professing to be eco-friendly, there's nowhere for food waste.  Obviously if you are going eco, you will not be generating a lot of food waste, but we did have a chicken carcass, banana skins and such like to dispose of.  From my research, I have learnt how important it is to keep organic waste out of landfill. So the fact that there's no separate food waste recycling was disappointing, but again that's a France thing (and yes I'll look into it sometime soon) and not really something within the power of the apartment block, though I did think that it was a shame the residents' waste was not used for heating.  Surely that would have been an option these days?

For skiers, the biggy is of course how easy it is to get to the lifts and get home again.  Well, getting to the lifts was a doddle.  Skis out of the locker, cross the very quiet road onto the side of a ski slope , put your skis on and enjoy a gentle green run down to a choice of two chair lifts.  In the evening, you need to be at the Serre Thibaud chair lift by 4.25 pm and there's an easy blue (or hard red / black if you must) which takes you home.  In April, ski-in ski out places are not always that, but this one was.  However, I will say that the bottom of the run got slushy most days which Mr Pitt and I both found hard work on the legs at the end of the day.  Still, you don't go skiing if you don't enjoy a bit of a challenge and it was always a great feeling to get so close to the door on your skis.

The apartment had a well stocked and designed kitchen, so eating in was a pleasure, particularly because next door to the apartment block was a warm and friendly and very inviting little grocery / delicatessen called the Coccimarket.  In fact, it was so inviting that other than the first night when we found take away pizza, chips and salad from 'La Capitaine' as we'd missed the supermarket, we actually chose to eat in every night.

So what did we do to be eco-friendly, food-wise?

  • We took our own reusable shopping bags
  • We shopped daily so that we only bought what we needed and didn't waste anything unnecessarily.
  • We went for fresh seasonal vegetables and avoided packaged food.  The meat was fresh and local, with an adequate variety for the week.  There were different meats available each evening. 
  • We bought some cheese, sauscisson sec and honey from a local producer who had a stall in the foyer of the apartment block on the second evening.
  • We brought fresh bread daily from the bakery and toasted what was left in the morning for breakfast.  We saved up the bread crumbs from the chopping board and used them to make some breaded pork escalopes one night and other days we put the bread crumbs on the balcony for the birds - and they cleaned up in no time!
  • We used up leftovers, when we had them, the next evening by adding them to what we were eating, or having them as a starter and yes, I confess, I ate chilli for breakfast on the last morning - but you know, I had a long train journey and there was just no point in wasting it.   
  • The supermarket was a great help as there was plenty of fresh unpackaged food, and they sold things singly - including eggs! You could also buy home-made jam which you could buy a small quantity of in your own pot.  They did this at the bakery too.
  • We made baguette sandwiches for the train journey home which finished up our jar of mustard and we took the remaining lettuce in a bag to eat like crisps on the train.  We kept the paper from our daily purchases of baguette to wrap our sandwiches in for the train.

Any eco-disasters? Yes!

We spotted a lovely looking mountain hut advertising lasagne and paninis, so we went there for lunch one day.  Never again.  The lasagne was only pasta and bechamel sauce and was so awful it was inedible and you can probably imagine how much that pained us to leave food uneaten.  The etiquette at the place was to put stuff into a bin, but we decided to leave the uneaten lasagne on the table, so that they would see that it was inedible.  The waitress had made a face at it when she collected it from the chef, so we were pretty sure they'd get the message, but unfortunately my Italian was not up to an explanation.  The place was lovely but they need to change their lasagne supplier!

So, now for the big question.  Can any skiing holiday be eco-friendly?  All that energy required for the lifts!  I'm sure it can't be.  So all you can do is think about making up for it in other ways as much as you can.

These days the ski-passes are reusable, so don't forget to give yours back at the end of your stay - and get back your 3 euro deposit.

Don't buy skis (yes I did all those years ago when I lived in a ski resort and was using them every day - but they are now languishing in my garage).  As well as the added carbon footprint (and effort) of transporting your skis to the resort, the technology has changed over the years.  Skis get out of date.  It is best to hire and get the latest technology while the skis get good use made of them.  As I was skiing on my hire skis and wondering what it would be like to ski on my old skis I wondered what happened to all those old style skis.  As we left the resort, however, I did find out what had happened to a number of them as I noticed that the fences to the fields were made up of tall, slim old style skis!

Next year, though, I'm thinking about getting even more eco-friendly with my skiing and going entirely for cross country skiing and snow-shoe walking. The only energy used then (other than the embodied energy of the equipment of course) is my own. A great advantage of choosing cross country skiing is that a ski pass for the week cost 43 euros as compared to the 199.50 euros of a downhill ski pass. And if you think that the adrenalin rush won't be the same - just you try it...  I remember it well from my mountain-dwelling days.  You can't beat the feeling of getting to the summit entirely under your own steam! 

Zenith were great.  They explained the train travel and organised to book the Paris to Oulx bit on the first day the tickets went on sale, which is three months prior to the travel date. They got us discounts on ski hire and ski passes as well as providing the taxi to and from the station, and getting in some provisions for the first evening/ morning.  I'm not a package holiday kind of girl, but sometimes it just makes sense.

If I book again, which I quite likely will, I'd be tempted to book the Eurostar tickets actually with Eurostar the first day possible which is 4 months prior to travel.  Our tickets this time were through Rail Europe.  There was no problem at all with them, but we did arrive back at the Eurostar in good time for an earlier train, and there was very much a 'don't give a damn attitude' from the lady at the Eurostar reception when I asked if we could be allowed on the earlier train.  She said there was nothing she could do because it was booked through an agent and we'd have to contact the agent.

I've travelled with Eurostar before when speaking at conferences in Paris and remember once being put on the earlier train even though I'd actually paid less for my ticket then than I did this time.

Oh yes,  next time I'll pack a tea towel too!