Skiing in the French resort of Val d’Isere
After trying several ski destinations in America, LAURA TOOGOOD returns to the Alps to explore Val d’Isere…
In recent years I have ventured to America for my annual skiing trip. My first experience of taking to the slopes stateside was at Killington in Vermont, before heading to Vail in Colorado and finally Lake Tahoe in California. Although there is much to love about the American ski experience, it is also very different in many ways to the European equivalent. After missing out on the latter in recent years, I was excited to refresh my experience of the French Alps with a visit the resort of Val d’Isere.
Val d’Isere is nestled in the mountains and only a few miles from the border into Italy. It has a reputation for hosting chic guests from the UK and the rest of Europe. However, during my visit I also noticed a significant increase in the amount of Americans admiring the delights of the resort.
Val d’Isere’s biggest selling points include the vast skiing, excellent French cuisine, a lively atmosphere and also the beautiful village. It is the type of destination that springs to mind when you imagine a magical, wintery mountain experience. The streets are lined with traditional wooden chalets and even if you arrive during daylight, you will notice that most of the fir trees and shops (as well as the bus stops) are decorated with pretty fairy lights. There is a festive feel throughout the season with bars offering busy après ski entertainment as the sun sets.
Depending on whether you wish to stay in a chalet or a hotel, a plethora of different luxury accommodation options are available. For those wanting to enjoy all the conveniences of the latter, Hotel Le Blizzard is arguably the most well-known five star in the resort. Two glowing fires line the grand entrance and help beckon visitors through the door. The rest of the hotel has an undeniably plush aura but avoids any sense of ostentation. Rather, it focuses on maintaining a cosy and intimate feel, which is reflected in the alpine décor and much appreciated by guests.
Hotel Le Blizzard has been privately owned for over 50 years and the owners make a concerted effort to get to know their regular guests, which adds to the welcoming atmosphere. It offers all of the luxury facilities you would expect from top tier accommodation and boasts the area’s only Clarins Spa. There is an outdoor pool for those brave enough to try (a bobble hat is recommended) and the large indoor Jacuzzi is popular after a day of skiing.
Most people choose not to ski on the first day and it is largely prohibited by the transfer times. Instead, the initial evening provides the perfect opportunity to embrace the holiday cheer and enjoy some wining and dining. Among the many après ski bars, I would recommend Le XV, which is lively and embraces the alpine theme. Le Tsanteleina is perfect for those who want to enjoy a sophisticated drink and it boasts a fabulous glass fire place and extensive wine list. The bar is popular with French guests and a real competitor to Le Blizzard.
Among the highlights for dining include Raclette restaurants, delicious pizzerias and fine dining options at many of the hotels. However, those enjoying chalet accommodation will no doubt make the most of cooking in. One place I would avoid is the restaurant at La Ferme; although it seemed an interesting novelty concept to try, a hostile waiter and overpriced food meant it was a surprisingly disappointing experience.
The central part of any ski holiday is the time you spend on the slopes. Those visiting Val d’Isere will not be disappointed with the skiing on offer. Aside from a number of challenging runs that include the Olympic-standard La Face, you can also cover significant distance. Ski passes can be used to connect with nearby resorts, allowing you to visit Tignes and other popular destinations.
Heli-skiing is not possible in France; however, the off-piste is considered some of the best in the world, weather depending. It is well worth hiring a guide if you want to embark on your own adventure and the experts at Val d’Isere are very knowledgeable.
Although I love the skiing part of a ski holiday (who doesn’t?!) I must admit to enjoying the mountain restaurants just as much. Whether it is stopping at one of the many lodges for a glass of mulled wine whilst relaxing in a sun lounger, or enjoying a delicious lunch at altitude restaurant Edelweiss, the relaxation and social aspects are well catered for in Val d’Isere.
One of the most famous highlights of the European Apres-Ski scene is La Folie Douce. Situated half way down the mountain, this venue is the ultimate party on the piste. It caters for those looking to enjoy a beer in an outdoor club atmosphere and has an exclusive VIP balcony for revelers wanting to splash out on a magnum of champagne. The outdoor party at Folie Douce is ideal if you are travelling with a group of friends and want to enjoy some of Europe’s energetic clubbing atmosphere, with a unique and spectacular backdrop. With a live saxophonist and singer dancing on the roof and cabaret teams encouraging party-goers to let loose, it is common to see members of the crowd joining in the fun by dancing on tables in their ski boots.
Although, La Folie Douce is the known for its wild and fun ways, there is also a superb restaurant inside for those wanting to escape the buzz. The vast majority of the menu is locally sourced and La Fruiterie also showcases original interior design. For those less inclined to hide away in the fine dining area, the self catered part of La Folie Douce enables you to pick up a hearty snack while you take a break from dancing. As the venue is located half way up the mountains, it is possible to ski down after your après-ski; however, I recommend even competent skiers opt to return using the lift after a tipple or two!
Despite enduring a couple of near white-out days on my trip, I was also fortunate to enjoy a morning where many in the resort cited the conditions as the best of the season. Wall-to-wall sunshine and powder snow meant that it was possible to experience Val d’Isere at its very best. With beautiful views, masterful food and the unrivalled European après vibe, this resort certainly matches up to its American equivalents. It was good to be back in the Alps.
Enjoy a stress free transfer…
If you are travelling with skis, boots and helmets on top of your usual luggage, then valet parking could be just up your street. Transporting all of the equipment for a skiing holiday to the airport has never been easier with Stress Free Airport Parking. The Meet and Greet Airport Parking service means you can simply turn up at the short stay parking in Heathrow, unload your car and head straight to check in while one of the Stress Free team whisks your vehicle away to a safe spot for the week. I tried this service for the skiing trip and was really impressed by the efficient and friendly staff – it is definitely worth booking again next time!
Booking details and further information can be found at the following websites: La Folie Douce www.lafoliedouce.com; Hotel Le Blizzard www.hotelblizzard.com; Val d’Isere www.valdisere.com; Stress Free Parking www.stressfreeairportparking.com