Alpe d'Huez in the French Alps has a long season with snow-sure slopes to suit every level of skier, and a super-sunny track record plus lots of affordable ski-to-door accommodation
Situated high above the Romanche valley, just an hour east of Grenoble, Alpe d'Huez is one of the largest and oldest French ski resorts. It is fondly known as ‘l'île au soleil’ (the island in the sun), thanks to the fact that it boasts 300 days of sunshine a year, and with most of the resort's slopes being south-facing, skiers can take full advantage of this glorious weather. Add in stunning scenery and a vast and varied terrain, and its no surprise Alpe d’Huez is such a popular international ski and boarding destination.
Although Alpe d'Huez is one of France's oldest ski resorts developed since 1936, it grew substantially in the 1970s which was unfortunately a time when French resorts made function a priority over form, so it has a purpose-built utilitarian look rather than a traditional farming village ambience. Thankfully a concerted effort has been made over several years now to rectify this, and many of the hotels and older buildings have been thoughtfully clad in timber in traditional alpine style.
The town itself sits at a healthy 1,860m and the terrain stretches all the way up to 3,330m, providing some of the most snow-sure conditions in the French Alps and proudly possessing Europe’s longest downhill black run, the 16km Sarenne. There are 238km of pistes leading up to the 3,330m height of Pic Blanc and the surrounding areas of Vaujany, Oz and Signal de l'Homme.
On the slopes of Pic Blanc, the large Grandes Rousses gondola can be found from the top of the village. Above it you can take a cable car to Pic Blanc or the Marmottes III, which serves a slightly lower area at Clocher de Macle, making the Sarenne run more accessible for intermediates. Cross the Sarenne gorge via chair lifts from Les Berges to access north-facing slopes back down, or southern slopes to Auris. From Signal de l'Homme, accessible from drag-lifts near the main gondola, you can take runs down into the village of Villard-Reculas or an easy blue run (floodlit twice a week) back into Alpe d'Huez.
Although the town is large by ski resort standards, a free bus allows for good access to all areas with a resort lift pass, and, due to the altitude and location, many hotels are ski to door. Lift passes cover linked areas with an additional allowance of one day's skiing at each of Les Deux Alpes, Serre Chevalier and Puy St Vincent The lift infrastructure is now in need of further investment to service the large numbers of visitors and is a mix of too much old and not enough new.
There is some stunning mountain scenery over on the Pic Blanc side down to the satellite village of Vaujany, which offers an alternative base. The village became prosperous as a result of a dam project and bought itself a state-of-the-art 160-person cable car, giving it access to the sking area of Alpe d’Huez. The cable car whisks you up from the resort at 1150m to 2590m in just a couple of minutes, then up on to the Pic Blanc.
There is an abundance of pistes for all levels of skier, with some tough blacks and a variety of off-piste options as well as a fine selection of good, long intermediate runs and excellent nursery skiing.
Lots of green runs directly above the village offer some of the best (if not the best) nursery skiing in Europe. ESF (00 33 (0)4 76 80 94 23) is probably the best ski school in town, offering excellent English-speaking tuition. Expect to pay around €170 for six days of tuition. Other options include ESI (00 33 (0)4 76 80 42 77), and guiding is available from Bureau des Guides (00 33 (0)4 76 80 42 55).
Alpe d'Huez is perfect for intermediates, with challenging red runs and gentler blue runs.
You'll find a good choice of challenging blacks and steep, mogulled reds. There are also excellent off-piste opportunities off Pic Blanc.
Three favourite runs
At 16km, the glacier de Sarenne from the Pic Blanc is the longest black run in the Alps, and challenging for both experts and good intermediates. Great off-piste variations can be taken from here, like the Combe du Loup with beautiful views over the Meije.
Lac Blanc to L'Alpette, down into Vaujany, is another demanding run for both experts and confident intermediates.
The green runs from Signal de l'Homme back down into Alpe d'Huez are great for early intermediates and beginners.
ALPE D'HUEZ AT A GLANCE
Number of lifts 84
Cable cars/gondolas 6
Lift capacity per hour 101,500
Mountain restaurants 15
Resort altitude 1,860m
Slopes 1,130m - 3,330m
Number of pistes 101
(38 green, 32 blue, 34 red, 17 black)
Beginners pistes 32 per cent
Intermediate pistes 56 per cent
Expert pistes 12 per cent
Linked areas Auris, Oz, Vaujany, Villard-Reculas (Les Deux Alpes and Serre Chevalier linked by shuttle busses and helicopter. The towns have a reciprocal lift pass deal. Contact tourist board for more info - details at the bottom of this guide)
Pros and cons
Great place for all levels of skier
Quality snow-making installation
Extensive ski terrain
Good mountain restaurants
Bad weather can cause ice and make some runs inaccessible, with little woodland cover
Can get overcrowded in high season
Lifts need improving to service the visitor numbers
Too many drag lifts
Town is too spread out and retains ugly architecture.
If dialling from the UK, prefix all numbers below with 00 33 and omit the first zero from the bracketed numbers provided
Chalet du Lac Besson (04 76 80 65 37) Location: near Les Chamois red run and Le Boulevard des Lacs blue run, on the cross-country loop north of the Grandes Rousses gondola mid-station. This is the best choice in the area, serving good local cuisine at reasonable prices. It's very popular, cosy and friendly, with a roaring open fire and lovely sun terrace. Book ahead.
La Cabane du Poutat (04 76 80 42 88) Location: beneath the Marmottes Gondola. This has a fabulous sun terrace and is the place to go for haute cuisine.
La Bergerie (04 76 80 36 83) Location: on the way down to Villard-Reculas. Serves simple French dishes but has beautiful views.
Le Signal (04 76 80 39 54) Location: on the Sarenne run. Lovely views and good, traditional French food.
Plage des Neiges (04 76 11 39 50) Location: at the top of nursery slopes. Decent basic food and fast service - the best choice on the nursery slopes.
Restaurants in Alpe d'Huez are clustered close together in various places around the resort, and there are some decent ones among them. Some of the better ones are found near the tourist office in the old village of Vieil Alpe.
Au P'tit Creux (04 76 80 62 83) Location: Chemin Bergers, on the slope below the tourist office. The best in town, this is a bit pricey but very popular, and serves traditional French cooking.
Le Génépi (04 76 80 36 22) Location: Route Romain, just below the tourist office. Serves nice steaks in a converted farmhouse setting.
L’Edelweiss (04 76 80 65 64) Location: behind the tourist office. Great for tartiflette, fondues and raclettes.
La Crémaillère (04 76 80 60 38) Location: route d'huez, viel alpe. This is one of the best pizza/pasta spots in town, and very popular. The steaks are worth a try, too.
Pizzeria le Roy Ladre (04 86 80 68 34) Location: on route d'huez, viel alpe. Usually busy, with a friendly atmosphere, this is another good place for pizzas and pasta.
The town doesn’t have a great reputation for après-ski. The problem is that the bars are widely dispersed, so there's never a real buzz going on here, and it is not a pleasant option to have to walk from one end of town to the other in search of the nearest lively bar. That said, there is some fairly lively and generally friendly nightlife to be found, from quieter wine bars through to busy British-style pubs and clubs, with a mainly British and Scandinavian crowd. One sobering thought to bear in mind: with beer at over €6 a pint (which, given that Alpe d'Huez doesn't have the upmarket feel of St Moritz or Courchevel, is the equivalent of KFC charging haute cuisine prices), it's not going to be cheap to drown your sorrows/celebrate at the end of a day on the slopes.
L’Etalon (04 76 80 41 76) on Avenue des Jeux. This sports cafe is usually busy straight after skiing.
Le Sporting (04 76 80 33 45) Right next to the skating rink, this is a popular place for a meal and a boogie! It starts by playing good live music, then turns into a late-night club. My top recommendation.
The Freeride Cafe (04 76 11 34 20) in Quartier de Jeux. This lively, fun place (with fire-breathing bar staff) is renowned for its slide to the toilets.
Etoile des Neiges (04 76 80 34 08) in the old part of town on Route d'Huez. Cosy and quiet.
Smithy’s (04 76 11 32 29) Near the skating rink, close to the Igloo nightclub and popular Zoo bar, Smithy's attracts a very British crowd and is great for cocktails.
Crowded House (04 76 80 44 41) In Crystal's Club Hotel L'Hermitage on Rue du Vieil Alpe, this is a great place for a quiet drink and a game of pool.
Les Caves (04 76 11 20 30) Located on Route du Coyulet. This gets going around midnight. Drinks are like most places in town - trop cher!
Igloo (04 76 80 94 98) The club of choice for many local students on weekends, Igloo is within walking distance of Zoo Bar, Tropicana and Smithy's, making it a good choice.
The Underground (04 76 80 31 19) In the hotel Le Chamois, on Chemin de la Chapelle, the Underground Bar is renowned as one of the best places for a night out and attracts a good mixed crowd.
O’Sharkeys (04 76 11 36 39) on Rue de la Grenouillère. A typical Irish pub with banter and beer.
Starting with the most expensive...
Chamois d'Or 4* Best in town, with an indoor pool, good restaurant, and location right by the main lifts.
Hotel Le Pic Blanc 4* Majestic cliff-edge location, with slopes just 200m away and a free shuttle bus into town. Comfortable south-facing rooms have wonderful views.
Hotel Spa Le Royal Ours Blanc 4* Centrally located, with indoor pool, fitness centre, and free shuttle bus to lifts. Nice food.
Hotel Le Petit Prince 3* Overlooking the Romanche valley, with beautiful sunny views. Basic clean rooms and friendly staff. Regular shuttle bus from resort to main ski area.
Les Alpages 2* B&B close to the slopes, with a good bar within the building.
For accommodation in the pretty little hamlet of Vaujany, try Skipeak (www.skipeak.com), a company specialising in this resort.
Geneva airport is 80km from Alpe d'Huez and Grenoble airport is 63km away.
From the UK, there are flights to Geneva with BA, bmibaby, flybe, easyJet and Swiss, and to Grenoble with BA, easyJet and Ryanair.
From Grenoble a rail service runs to the resort.
Bensbus (www.bensbus.co.uk) offers return airport transfers from £46 (Grenoble) or £64.50 (Geneva).
Head to Grenoble, then follow the motorway A480 until exit N8 Vizille - Stations de l'Oisans, and then the N91 until Bourg d'Oisans. For car hire, try Alamo (0870 400 4562, www.alamo.co.uk); Avis (0844 581 0147, www.avis.co.uk); Budget (0844 581 2231, www.budget.com); easyCar (08710 500 444, www.easycar.com).
Alpe d'Huez Tourism: Maison de l'Alpe, Place Paganon (00 33 (0)4 76 11 44 44, www.alpedhuez.com). Open daily 8.45am-7pm.
Agence de Taxi (00 33 (0)4 76 80 38 38)
F Dulcot (00 33 (0)4 76 11 02 90)