I spent a week in the charming ski village of Val d’Isere to discover the highlights of the French Alps.
The French Alps are home to some of the biggest resorts in the world. You’ll ski vast, extreme and rugged terrain while taking in snow-covered mountain views that stretch to Switzerland and Italy. Val d’Isère has a whopping 300 kilometres of skiable terrain with a wide variety of runs across two mountains and numerous peaks.
The altitude experience starts at the 1850-metre village and rises to 3,656 metres on the Grand Motte glacier. An average snowfall of seven to 10 metres per winter and the high altitude guarantees a snow-sure resort. The longest run is a thigh-burning 10 kilometres long and there are four different upload points in the ski-in, ski-out village to get you up the mountain as quickly as possible.
Adventures all round
For an extra adrenaline rush, try paragliding from the top of Solaise Mountain, learn a new skill by signing up to biathlon lessons, tackle an illuminated night ropes course, snowmobiling above the Chevril dam, swimming at the indoor leisure complex and electric mountain bike tours. A private electric mountain bike tour with Oxygène took me along a snowy trail to abandoned stone homes and a frozen waterfall. The thrill-seeking guide loves teaching me how to drift along the snowy trails. It’s easy to pick up and a lot of fun.
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Downhill skiing was invited in Europe in the 18th century, Val d’Isère opened its first ski lift in 1931 and the first ever Winter Olympics were held in Chamonix in 1924. So it’s not surprising the French Alps are the epicentre of mountain culture. You’ll get a heavy dose of unique apres-ski, cheese and chocolate shops, charming villages and harmonious French accents.
La Folie Douce
Love live entertainment? La Folie Douce is a famous apres bar with several ski resort locations across the French Alps. Daily DJ sets, dance performances and live music are staged in front of a dramatic mountain backdrop. Dedicated fans will only ski at resorts with La Folie Douce present, it has a cult-like following with its own podcast and merchandise line. The house pour is G.H Mumm with glamorous partygoes ordering by the bottle.
Cheese is synonymous with France and winter is the best time to eat copious amounts of melted cheesy dishes like raclette, fondue, and tartiflette. You generally can’t buy the type of cheese used in these dishes in Australia so I make sure I consume as much as possible. Val d’Isère’s village even has its own dairy farm which offers tours of its cheese-making room and tastings.
Unlike other countries, France allows numerous independent ski schools to operate on the mountain and instructors are required to teach both skiing and snowboarding. Val d’Isère has 18 ski schools as well as a handful of freelance instructors to choose from, however, Oxygène and ESF offer the best English-speaking instructors.
Eclairs, sledding and chocolat chaud, kids love the French Alps and many ski resorts cater well for families. At Val d’Isère, children under eight ski free and can take part in a range of free daily afternoon activities, plus there are hidden playgrounds and kids’ zones on the slopes.
Val d’Isere is a four-hour bus ride from Geneva and six hours by train then bus from Paris. We booked a bus from Geneva to Les 3 Vallées through Altibus and stayed in Courchevel for five nights then found a private transfer with findtransfers.com from Les 3 Vallées to Val d’Isere.
When to go to the French Alps
January is the perfect time to visit for big dumps and to avoid the February school holiday rush.