Posted: 12th July 2016
With so many ski resorts to choose from in France, making a decision on which one is right for you can be an overwhelming task. Everyone has different ideas about which one is best, and this can depend on so many factors, from the range of the ski school facilities to the variety of nightlife options. We have put together a list of 8 French ski resorts which we feel are best for different groups, based on the qualities you might look for in a skiing holiday destination.
Where the rich and stylish go to play in the snow, Courchevel occupies one end of the world’s largest ski lift-linked areas, Le Trois Vallées, which boasts 600km of pistes and more than 180 lifts. The positioning of the slopes at Courchevel means that the area offers some of the best snow in the area, with a broad range of runs to suit every ability. Courchevel is made up of four different villages; Courchevel 1850 (Courchevel), Courchevel 1650 (Moriond), Courchevel 1550 (Village) and Courchevel 1300 (Le Praz). These are all linked by lifts, pistes and roads.
Courchevel Village is the highest, largest and most luxurious of the four, hence why the rich Russians and Parisiens choose to stay there and splash their cash. The appeal for some lies in the abundance of luxury chalets and opulent hotels. Another reason for the high population of wealthy tourists is the sheer price of a skiing holiday in Courchevel, where a week’s accommodation will you back a not-so-small fortune, and for dinner you will have to choose from 5 restaurants with 2 Michelin stars. If you’re looking for somewhere where you can spend your money on having a great day skiing, and an evening in a top quality restaurant being served the best French food and wine, before spending the night surrounded by 5 star feather pillows, this is the resort for you.
Nearest main airport: Chambery. Transfer time: 1hr 10mins.
Chamonix is arguably one of the world’s best ski resorts; offering luxury, excellent amenities, beautiful scenery and excellent skiing throughout the season. Some of the area’s terrain lends itself to the more experienced skier, with sections of the Mont Blanc zone famed for its steep slopes and challenging off piste routes, meaning that those skiers looking for a challenge have the opportunity to navigate down the numerous black runs and veer off the beaten track. However, there are also plenty of intermediate runs and beginners slopes, meaning that its the perfect resort for both more advanced skiers and groups of mixed ability.
From the extreme glaciers and peaks of the Aiguille du Midi and Grand Montets, to the gentler slopes of the Domaine de Balme, each unique skiing area in Chamonix has something different to offer skiers and boarders. One thing we can say for sure is that skiing at Chamonix is unlike skiing at any other French resort. It’s variety on and off the slopes is unrivalled and guaranteed to keep any group entertained. Chamonix’s accommodation options are plentiful, and although it might not have the flashy luxury to the extent of Courchevel, there is a classier outlook throughout Chamonix with some wonderful chic chalets and first class hotels which in reality provides a real pleasure for skiers looking for something special.
Nearest main airport: Geneva. Transfer time: 1hr
Purpose-built Val Thorens is known for being the highest resort in Europe at 2,300m, and its lofty altitude means that decent snow is guaranteed from November to May most years. The resort’s position at the head of the Belleville Valley provides excellent views, as well as ski runs for all abilities, albeit slightly leaning towards being more suited to the experienced skier in harsher conditions. The buildings were once considered to be harsh and ugly, suffering from the disaster that was 1970s architecture; but have since been updated and improved to give the resort a much more attractive overall appearance.
The resort is linked to both the vast network that is Le Trois Vallées, and the neighbouring fourth valley: the Maurienne. Val Thorens is therefore a great base from which to explore as much as you can of the ski area’s 600km of linked pistes.Val Thorens has landed itself a reputation as being a haven for alcohol-fuelled university trips, and the nightlife options have expanded and improved accordingly. If you are lucky enough to avoid the hoards of skiers from Bristol or Nottingham universities, you have the potential for a highly enjoyable ski-hard play-hard holiday on your hands. So if you and some friends are looking for aw few days of excellent skiing, followed by nights which start at Folie Douce at 3pm and end with dancing in Le Saloon or Le Malaysia until 5am, then Val Thorens is the resort for you.
Nearest main airport: Chambéry. Transfer time: 2hrs 20mins
Avoriaz is widely considered to be the most effective purpose-built ski resort in France. The peace and quiet provided by the lack of cars and other vehicles is shattered by the excited shrieks of children who are able to do the croissant run without supervision. The safe, motor-free environment is also home to the ‘Village des enfants’, which is an unusual ski school for children of all ages, which also serves as a blizzard shelter, childminding centre and Leisure Park. Lesson and session times are also scheduled to allow parents time to get to their lessons after dropping off the kids.
There are plenty of restaurant and accommodation options, and its reputation as a resort for families means that there is an abundance of friendly gap-year childminders to keep the children safe and happy whilst parents can go off and actually enjoy their skiing holiday. The resort is part of the main lift circuit of the Portes du Soleil, and therefore skiers can buy a pass which covers Morzine, Chatel and Champery (Switzerland) and Les Gets as well as the Avoriaz slopes.
Nearest main airport: Geneva. Transfer time: 1hr 20mins
Family and budget-friendly, with a range of mixed ability terrain, this resort is one of the oldest in France. Its charm and tranquility makes it ideal if you’re looking to avoid the main slog. Thanks to the new road tunnel built in 2013 diverting traffic, Montegenvre has been able to regain its peaceful Alpine setting, as prior to this development the town had problems with traffic and pollution. This being only a recent development has meant that the crowds haven’t quite caught on, so the resort is still maintaining an element of peace and quiet which few French resorts are privy to.
Montegenvre has also become notably more stylish in recent years, increasing its appeal even further, possibly as a result of its proximity to the Italian border and connection to ViaLattea circuit. The village itself is therefore simultaneously traditional and modern, with centrally located accommodation to suit every skier, from charming boutique hotels to both functional and upmarket self-catering apartments, many with ski-in-ski-out facilities to help those with little skiers.
Nearest main airport: Chambery. Transfer time: 1hr 30mins
Alpe d’Huez offers a basin of reasonable green runs, providing the perfect environment for first-time skiers to learn in, with a wide nursery slope leading to the lift base, and green runs long enough to properly practice on, rather than short greens which barely let beginners get a good run going. It’s reputation as a great place to learn to ski means it’s well-equipped in terms of lessons and instructors; ensuring that there are a variety of classes at different levels to suit both adults and children.
The pistes surrounding the resort are safe and well managed too, and the fact that the beginner slopes lead into the main lift area means that no beginner is left having to navigate a long way back to any lift or their instructors. The town itself is a manageable size with a good selection of restaurants, amenities and accommodation options, most of which are reasonably priced compared to many other French resorts, which is also a bonus if you are having to fork out for lessons.
Nearest main airport: Grenoble. Transfer time: 1hr
The altitude of the slopes at Les Deux Alpes provides a perfectly extreme environment for those who enjoy a challenge, with many of the runs lying between 2300m and a glacier at 3400m, which also means that there will still be snow here when many of the lower resorts are suffering in layers of slush. This combined with its 3,600m glacier, as well as the extensive terrain park and the friendly boarder-suited village, Les Duex Alpes becomes the perfect destinations for tricksters and snowboarders.
The park has everything from rails and ramps for newbies to slopestyle lines for ambitious advanced riders, and is maintained by a highly regarded crew who’ve been shaping the slopes for more than 13 years. Not only this, but in the summer, the park moves up to the wide Soreiller green run with massive pro jumps, smaller kickers, rails and plenty of freestyle training camps. So if you’re looking for something more than the usual skiing experience, or to hone your latest tricks, then this is the resort for you.
Nearest main airport: Grenoble. Transfer time: 1hr 10mins
Cauterets is privy to one of the best snow records in the Pyrenees, but due to its smaller size as a resort and location away from the highly popular Alps skiing reason, it remains relatively unknown. This makes it the place to be, as not only does it provide a tranquil setting for a ski break, but everything comes at a price which is much less likely to break the bank. The skiing here is best suited to beginners and intermediates, as the majority of the pistes lie within a sheltered treeless ‘bowl’ area of the terrain. There are also good opportunities for cross-country skiers.
Cauterets is also a spa town, so it’s the perfect place to combine a skiing break with a spa trip, which is great if the whole party aren’t keen skiers as there is the option of relaxing treatments and therapies as an alternative way to pass the day. With the lovely character of a south-western French old town, and pistes sheltered from more extreme conditions, Cauterets is a great option for those looking to book a ski break without having to splash the cash.
Nearest main airport: Lourdes. Transfer time: 50 mins
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