With three new ski routes added from the UK to Grenoble Airport and 23 resorts within easy reach in the Isère region, there’s rarely been a better time to visit.
The pretty, traditional village resort of Vaujany is less than 1.5 hour’s drive from the airport. Ideal for families and those who would normally rather have a good meal and an early night after a day’s skiing rather than hitting the bars, the resort’s buildings are all tastefully chalet-style, with some dating back as far as 1663.
With its first lift opening in 1989 it’s relatively new as a ski resort, though it has welcomed summer tourists for much longer – its longest-standing hotel, Hotel Les Cimes, opening in 1928. Today it has excellent facilities including a sports centre with swimming pool and ice rink. Compact and with very little traffic, a series of escalators link the various levels and make getting around the resort a breeze.
The Oz-Vaujany ski area offers slopes for all abilities and includes a newly revamped area for beginners, away from the general thoroughfare where they don’t need to worry about being mown down by speed demons. It’s also linked to the Alpe d’Huez ski area, offering a total of 250km of runs between the two. A sunset ski experience offered by the ESF where you enjoy champagne and charcuterie on the slopes, watch the sun set and then ski down empty pistes once the lifts have closed was particularly special.
We stayed at La Perle des Oisans which is a good cut above a typical ski residence offering apartments which come with properly-equipped kitchens (there’s even a raclette kit), cosy fake-fur throws on the beds and real fireplaces with a basket of logs included. Balconies are large with excellent views and there even a small spa with hammam and sauna for guests’ use. In March the residence’s owner will be opening a new four-star hotel in the village, Le V de Vaujany, which, judging its sumptuous bar and gourmet Ida Restaurant which are already open and booked up most nights, is likely to be an excellent place to stay too. On the slopes Les Airelles Restaurant, close to the beginners’ area, has a cosy interior, great terrace and serves excellent burgers, mountain classics such as onion soup and also offers home-made foie gras.
Les 2 Alpes, around one hour’s drive away, could barely be more different. Similar in size in terms of pistes, this resort boasts the highest skiable peak in France at 3600 metres – from here you can ski all the way down to 1300 metres on 16km of slope with no need to take any lifts. Even non-skiers can get up to 3,400 metres to enjoy a seven-metre walkway offering a (slightly scary) panoramic view over the Ecrins Massif, with 1,500 metres of emptiness below you.
There are a few restaurants which deserve a special mention – Le Diable au Coeur is a mountainside restaurant at 2400 metres with a cosy central fireplace and basket of slippers for cold days and a huge terrace with fabulous views for warmer ones. However, what really sets it apart is its excellent menu which is about as far from the cheese-based dishes you’d expect in an altitude restaurant – I tried one of the specials of the day, grilled octopus, with other options including lamb shank cooked for 16 hours or platters of oysters. Back down in town, Le Rouge et Le Noir (named after the Stendhal novel of the same name – he was born in Grenoble) offers traditional mountain fare in a cosy environment, and at Chamois Lodge you can order from a ‘bistronomique’ menu which ranges from French classics such as escargots or roasted scallops with pigs trotters to Japanese-inspired tataki (briefly flambéed fish or meat).
The town centre is basically one long road lined with bars, shops and restaurants and while it’s perhaps not the most attractive-looking resort, it’s certainly got everything you could want for an excellent day’s skiing followed by a good night out and it’s easy to find your way home.
I stayed at the friendly Le Souliel’Or which you can ski back to and is close to a chair lift for the morning. The rooms are simple but comfortable and there’s a large bar/lounge area with an on-site restaurant, as well as a hammam and jacuzzi.