The white stuff is already sprinkling its way across the Alps and it’s not long until ski season starts – from the end of November onwards, the number of resorts opening will start to snowball.
Late last spring I visited France’s Val d’Isere, where you can enjoy the snow longer than almost anywhere – from 25th November until 1st May this season. Choosing somewhere with a great snow record is important if looking for an early or late season break – otherwise there’s every chance of turning up to conditions more suitable for mountain biking. Or sunbathing. If, by some fluke, Jack Frost decides not to play ball, the resort has the largest snow making facilities in Europe. So you’re basically covered!
I’ve skied a fair amount over the years but somehow had never managed to reach Val d’Isere, a real favourite for us Brits… we make up a whopping 40% of its tourist population.
I was pleasantly surprised. Val has a reputation as a bit of a party place – just check out my images below of La Folie Douce, après ski at its most noisy, where skiiers and boarders (many way old enough to know better) drink champagne, watch live bands and jump on the tables for a dance.
So, if you want to drink and be merry there are certainly lots of places to do it. Yet it’s also great for families and has quite the glamorous feel. The resort is not as large as I imagined it would be but manages to cram in some lovely restaurants and bars, with more on the way when the new Coin de Val project transforms the resort centre over the next few years.
We particularly enjoyed La Baraque on the main drag – it’s got a lively atmosphere, live bands and divine food. Also recommended, and a great lunch stop on the slopes, is Atelier d’Edmond. The restaurant has two Michelin stars and prices are punchy but the brasserie’s set lunch menu is a bargain at 25 euros for two courses, 29 for three.
There are also some top hotels. We were lucky enough to stay in the gorgeous five star Hotel Le Blizzard – a place that manages cool yet cosy Alpine chic. It’s bang on the high street and close to the ski lifts (although they’ll also lay on a shuttle if you are feeling lazy) . The bar definitely feels like the place to be. They mix a mean cocktail and it’s popular with non-guests too – always a good sign. It felt like a treat to stay there and, by my reckoning, you need a treat after a day on the slopes, when you’re feeling cold, tired and, possibly, a little battered! Best place to head, as soon as you get those wretched ski boots off (why do they have to be sooo uncomfortable?), is to the outdoor pool and hot tub – bliss!
Did I mention the skiing? Oh yes, it’s rather good. Val d’Isere is linked to Tignes, and the resorts combined offer a generous 300km of ski runs so you can bet that within that you’ll find lots to suit. The vastly improved Solaise area means that beginners are now very happy (snow) bunnies. Facilities include innovative covered ‘magic carpet’ lifts so that nobody has to suffer face or hair freeze and a tres chic 10 seater gondola with heated seats and Wi-Fi. Val d’Isere is also renowned for its excellent intermediate and advanced skiing. The 3km La Face de Bellevarde black run is legendary – it gets harder as you go down = serious thigh wobble if you are not up to it!
I can highly recommend the new ski school Maison Sport. Rather than employing instructors, they match clients up with freelance instructors who they think will suit them. You can exchange emails before your visit, explaining what level you’re at and what you’re after – in my case ‘eternal intermediate, need someone to give me a good talking to’. Our instructor (and co-owner of the company) Aaron did an admirable job!
Chambery and Grenoble are the closest airports to Val d’Isere (around a 2 hour drive). Geneva is around 2 hours, 45 mins, Lyons about 3 hours.
Snowdrone offer affordable airport transfers (from €70.12 euros per person based on 4 sharing). Visit www.snow-drone.com
Hotel le Blizzard has double rooms from £407 per night, including breakfast. Visit www.hotelblizzard.com/en
Sort out lessons with Aaron and other instructors at www.maisonsport.com
We found Snowberry helpful for ski hire, with high standard equipment. Visit www.snowberry-valdisere.com
For more information on Val d’Isere, visit www.valdisere.com