From the ice cool classics to the up-and-coming – here’s our top ten ski resorts in France.
…part of the world’s biggest linked ski area. Courchevel ski resort is by far the pick of the resorts making up the Three Valleys, the world’s biggest linked ski area. It does have an image of being ‘Paris in the Snow’, with manicured pistes, hedonistic hotels and back-to-back Michelin-star restaurants (splash out on meals at Le Chabichou and Le Bateau Ivre). However, this shouldn’t obscure the fact it also has some of the most fabulous, serious skiing of all the ski resorts in France. If you do your research, affordable accommodation is available too. And it doesn’t have to cost the earth – simply enjoying the Savoyard smells of the farmers’ street markets is free. You can pick up local cheeses such as reblochon, tomme and beaufort, sausage, smoked ham and honey, and fill a baguette or two for lunch.
Val d’Isere (& Tignes)
…one of the true greats when it comes to ski resorts in France. Many ski resorts have the pre-fix Val – but Val d’Isere is the only one instantly identified by that single word, showing its pre-eminence as a mountain resort. The mere mention of it sends a tingle down the spine of all skiers and boarders, recreational and racing. The huge extent of lift-served off-piste attracts experts, but there are myriad runs for intermediates and good nursery slopes too. Its huge area links with Tignes, which has all-year glacier skiing. The town is attractive, if rather strung out, with a lively nightlife and wonderful range of accommodation – self-catering, catered chalets and fine hotels.
…a cult destination for skiers. Sometimes inspiring, sometimes intimidating but always inimitable – some would say Chamonix is the world’s top mountain resort. Dominated by Mont Blanc, it’s too towering in scale to be termed simply a ski resort. It speaks volumes for the quality of its slopes that it has become a cult ski and snowboard destination without skiing actually being its main attraction. For Chamonix is a mountaineers’ town par excellence and is probably, astonishingly, an even bigger summer destination than winter resort. It throws down the gauntlet. For those prepared to accept the challenge, the rewards in terms of thrill and achievement are enormous.
…gaining a reputation for great ski holidays. You might not have heard too much about Valloire, because until recently not many British tour operators went there. But it’s a lovely, lively village with a remote and rustic feel. You’ll find it at the southern end of the Mont Blanc region, surrounded by surprisingly extensive slopes. Coming here is a good way to avoid bumping into too many Brits, while still enjoying one of France’s most appealing ski areas. Valloire shares its skiing with the village of Valmeinier, a modern ski-in, ski-out complex – the combined area is called Galibier-Thabor for some reason. Expect to spend about a third overall here than at some big-name resorts – and beer at the same price as in your local.
…a glam image and popular with families too. A well-heeled and fur-coated clientele is drawn to Megeve ski resort, which has had a glam image since the Roaring Twenties. The huge amount of cruising boasted by this traditional winter resort suits many of them down to the ground. It’s also very popular with families because of the super nursery slopes, both in the valley and at altitude. But all this can disguise the fact that some wonderful off-piste is available over the three mountains on its doorstep, as well as 325kms of piste skiing. Add to this a Medieval village of great charm and some of the best mountain restaurants anywhere and you have a resort of world class status.
…a huge ski-in ski-out area. La Plagne is really a huge ski complex made up of ten villages, some purpose-built, some rustic – all ski-in, ski-out. What the modern ones lack in charm they make up for in convenience and accommodation is chiefly in self-catering apartments. Belle Plagne is one of the more attractive villages, with the hotels and apartments boasting lots of wood and stone. La Plagne has a reputation for easy cruising – and indeed it’s a good place to learn with free beginner lifts at each village. But at altitude there are plenty of challenges, with some very serious off-piste. For an extra thrill you can ride the bobsleigh run, created for the 1992 Olympics.
…endless runs and a great ski-lift system. The spectacular Vanoise Express cable-car links Les Arcs to La Plagne and the two resorts are marketed together as Paradiski. They are in fact very separate entities. Les Arcs comprises a number of high altitude purpose-built villages. The best-looking of the bunch is Arcs 1950, with a hint of Disney and apartments built in traditional style. Les Arcs has endless, well-integrated intermediate terrain with a well-planned and extensive lift system. This is the place for classic, sweeping runs and glorious carving turns on high-altitude slopes where the snow usually stays in good shape throughout a long season. One of the classic ski resorts in France.
…voted one of the most popular ski resorts in France. The vast ski area of Alpe d’Huez embraces a number of villages, ancient and modern. Constant development, since the mid-Thirties when Poma installed France’s first surface lift here, has made it one of the world’s largest resorts. In polls of French skiers and boarders it is regularly voted among the country’s top destinations. It has always been known for excellent intermediate and beginner slopes, but it has also become a magnet for expert skiers. Free-riders are drawn to the wealth of high altitude steep terrain. And the sun is rarely absent. The locals say: ‘When it’s not sunny in Alpe d’Huez, it must be night time.’
…a village with which Brits fall in love. A charming, quintessentially French village, La Clusaz has successfully refused to have its character and atmosphere ravaged by the march of time. It’s quite simply a resort with which most visitors fall in love. This explains the massive loyalty shown to it by generations of British skiers and boarders. Its five interlinked sectors, though compact, give an impressive range of skiing, including some great off-piste. The unusual rock formations in the area contribute to its remarkable terrain. The quality of its mountain restaurants is another good reason to ski here. As is the striking five-star Au Couer du Village hotel, right beside the Beauregard and Patinoire telecabines.
…part of the massive Portes du Soleil region. Not overtly one of the most fashionable and chic ski resorts in France, and all the more attractive for that, Les Gets is still a working valley of farms and timber yards. But hidden away discreetly are some of the most desirable chalets in the Alps. Les Gets has managed the trick of getting the balance spot on between tourist resort and authenticity. There are wonderful slopes on the doorstep, and the possibility for excellent off-piste. But it also keys neatly into the vast Portes du Soleil area – Morzine and Avoriaz are near neighbours. The area comprises 650-kilometres of pistes, encompassing 13 major ski villages and umpteen lifts straddling the France-Switzerland border.