Guess the ski resort…no prizes for the correct answer.

  • Just over an hour’s drive from Geneva airport so perfect for weekends but with more than enough skiing to keep you busy for a week
  • Part of the 5th biggest ski area in France with 70 lifts and 148 pistes catering for all abilities
  • A village at 1600m with lifts that whisk you up to 2500m for stunning views of Mont Blanc
  • An off-piste mecca

I wonder how many of you would have guessed ‘Flaine’ if the title hadn’t given the game away?

Totem Hotel, Flaine, brutalist architecture, France

© Hotel le Flaine

Flaine seems to be the original marmite resort – either you love it or you hate it. On my trip, I met some people with an apartment in Flaine, and they begged me to keep quiet about ‘their’ resort. Yet others I spoke to before my trip were not so keen and some (including a French friend) hadn’t even heard of it.

And the point of controversy is not the skiing (which is undeniably both excellent and varied) but the architecture. Those familiar with the Barbican or South Bank in London might experience a touch of déjà vu.  Flaine was conceived and built in the 1960s – the vision of Eric and Sylvie Boissonas . To realise their vision, they brought together an expert team (including some of those responsible for developing Courchevel). Ultimately however, Flaine is the ‘baby’ of Marcel Breuer, the innovative and uncompromising Bauhaus architect who, above all, believed that “architecture must be based on utility…the builder should feel free to reject tradition, free to be scientific, human, non-traditional”. Whilst deference was paid to the environment in terms of topography and physical constraints, Flaine was to be a showcase of “urban planning in the mountains”.

The result is a concrete brutalist village which works extremely well as a ski resort.

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The distinctive streetlights

Importantly, whilst we can all name a number of less picturesque resorts, Flaine should not be counted in that group. It is both beautifully designed and executed and the only question should be not whether it works as a ski resort but whether or not you admire the style of architecture.  The purity of the design developed by Eric and Sylvie Boissonas together with Marcel Breuer is still intact today. For example, the distinctive glass streetlights were specifically designed to animate the facades of the buildings. The use of local limestone and wood blends harmoniously with the prefabricated concrete.  Each element of design and planning is deliberate and the result of deep thinking.

The pistes are all close to the buildings so whilst not strictly ski in, ski out, it’s easy to get to the slopes and home again at the end of the day. The pistes were designed by Emile Allais, the ski champion from nearby Megeve and as well as the plentiful off-piste less experienced skiers can explore the entire ski area on blue runs.

Les Trois Hexagones de Vasarely

The three hexagons, by Vasarely. © Photozoom

And it’s not all cultural. Whilst the resort boasts sculptures and art by Picasso, Dubuffet, Vasarely, in 1973, it became the first ski resort in France to install snow cannons. This is a resort which takes skiing seriously.

UNESCO has recognised Flaine with a ‘Heritage of the 20th century’ classification for its architecture. MadDogSki also recognise it as a great ski destination – go on, find out for yourself…

Notes

If you’d like to read more about the history of Flaine, you can download a full guide on the resort’s official website.

Kate stayed at the Terminal Neige Totem in Flaine Forum.

With special thanks to Alexandra Savary from Flaine’s tourist office and Lucie from the ESF in Flaine Forum.

Vier of Flaine ski resort

Snowy Flaine © Photozoom