Les Deux Alpes is a vibrant party town, enticing experts with its limitless steep off-piste and flattering beginners and early intermediates with tame terrain – all skiable for nine months of the year
Les Deux Alpes is a lively, purpose built ski village situated in the Isère region of the French Alps. Developed from humble beginnings in the 1920s, its major construction period "blossomed" in the late 1960s and 1970s when several large, modern apartment blocks sprang up to challenge the beauty of the natural surroundings. It is especially popular with groups of young British and European skiers and snowboarders, attracted by its renowned nightlife and affordable accommodation.
With terrain stretching as high as 3,600m on the Mont de Lans glacier, it is open for snow sports nine months of the year. On paper, the 220km of pistes, almost limitless off-piste and a vertical drop of 2,300m may sound ideal for everyone – but due to the nature of the terrain, the slopes are particularly suited to certain types of skier and snowboarder, which I have detailed in The Context, below.
Les Deux Alpes has been likened to the Las Vegas "strip" as it has a profusion of bars and restaurants that spill out along a narrow 2km stretch adjacent to the Ecrins National Park between the two mountain pastures, or "les deux alpages", of the hamlets Mont de Lans and Venosc. The village itself is a mixed bag of traditional chalets, 1970s apartment buildings and recent sympathetically designed architecture that is more pleasing on the eye. Many people would be forgiven for not knowing that Les Deux Alpes, with its purpose-built feel and modern apartments, is in fact France's second-oldest ski resort after Chamonix.
For several years now, a determined effort has been made to build new but traditional chalet-style buildings which complement the consistent architectural improvements being made to the original unsightly apartments. It has to be said that, if you have not returned to this resort for a few years, you will be pleasantly surprised at the town's makeover. The offending apartments have now been "spruced up" and the bare concrete exteriors have been thoughtfully clad with timber in a traditional style.
Unusually, the mountain terrain suits the extremes of either beginners or experts. A vast number of wide gentle greens and blues are perfect for beginners high on the Mont de Lans glacier, and with plenty of vertiginous blacks and an abundant playground of steep powder, there is much to keep the experts amused.
Despite a healthy 220km of pistes, there are surprisingly few wide reds for average intermediates, who will be rather unchallenged by the profusion of easy greens and blues and, conversely, perhaps a little uncomfortable at some of the under-graded blues, steep reds and mogulled black terrain. The runs lower down can be particularly tricky and, for many people, the last run of the day will – disappointingly – mean taking the gondola back to town.
Though not linked by lifts, the sunny and extensive slopes of neighbouring Alpe d’Huez and the tree-lined Serre Chevalier areas are both well worth a visit and included on a six-day Les Deux Alpes lift pass. This allows two days skiing at Alpe d'Huez and one day in Serre Chevalier, which is about one hour's drive away. Helicopter transfers to Alpe d'Huez cost just €65 return, booked through the tourist office (details at the end of this guide).
For more on Alpe d'Huez, see my Simonseeks guide at
The access to the majority of the skiing is accessed via the 20-person "Jandri Express" cable car (the world's fastest). It's a two-stage journey, whisking you up 7km and 1,500m in just 24 minutes, though peak-time queues at the base station can hold up proceedings somewhat around 9am. Once you reach the glacier, there is an underground funicular and, at 3,400m, a grotto with spectacular ice sculptures which are expertly carved to depict different themes each year (see my picture slide show, top right).
This is a superb place for beginners to learn and progress. There are 24 green slopes and more than 43 wide, relaxed blue pistes to satisfy beginners plus early intermediate skiers and snowboarders. The nursery slopes next to the village are excellent wide, gentle greens – and conspicuously well-groomed. Before they know it, most beginners are heading a little nervously high up to the glacier on Mont de Lans before discovering a vast, confidence-building sea of easy green and blue runs. In Les Deux Alpes, the slopes are the reverse of most other ski resorts: the higher up you go here, the easier they become.
Of the ski schools, try ESF (00 33 476 792121), International (00 33 476 797455), Primitive (00 33 607 907135) and Ski Privilege (00 33 476 792344)
Timid intermediates will enjoy the bountiful blue cruises high on the glacier and the bowls below in the Gours valley. However, average intermediates will perhaps feel a little short-changed, as many of the faster, more challenging blue and red runs converge into a bottleneck on the mountain mid-section from 3,600m down to 2,600m. The mid-mountain traffic jam is compounded by the steep and awkward slopes running down from 2,600m back to town, which many skiers of average ability baulk at, especially in icy conditions. A good idea is to take up the inclusive lift pass option to explore the vast intermediate terrain in Alpe d'Huez and Serre Chevalier.
Intrepid intermediates who enjoy a challenge should head to the fast runs on the north-facing slopes of Tête Moute at 2,800m. There, they can warm up with some fast blue and red runs, building up the courage to tackle the steep blacks from Le Diable (2,400m) back down to town.
Experts are in their element here, and have almost limitless off-piste powder. The best of this is prevalent on the notoriously demanding slopes of La Grave. For a thrilling pisted run, try the heavily mogulled black at the top of the Super Diable chairlift, which is not to be missed.
Pied Moutet is a great quiet area to head to, especially in heavy snow conditions, as it has one of only two tree-lined runs on the mountain, accessed via lifts from the western side of the village. You can follow the steep runs back into town, or take a north-facing, woodland red run winding further down into the little village of Bons at 1,300m.
Snowboarders are extremely well catered for in Les Deux Alpes, with the the largest snowpark in Europe situated on La Toura. There is something here to suit everyone from total beginners to the best pro free-stylers on the planet. Designated mountain areas include the boarder-cross "Slide Zone" and the skier-cross free-ride "Fun Zone". For perfecting difficult tricks, there is the reassuring "jump training system" which is a huge air mattress for safe landings; and for well-earned breaks, there's a great "chillax" area with DJs, deck chairs and a barbecue.
The snowpark is open throughout winter, and even through the summer until late August. It frequently hosts International pro events.
Three favourite runs
Chalace to Gours (black) This rigorous run starts just below the glacier and powder hounds won't be able to resist the deep bowls that beckon off-piste.
Bellecombe (red) Both good intermediates and experts can try some off-piste skiing here. Experts will enjoy the challenging powdered couloirs.
Pied Moutet to Bons (red) From Pied Moutet, take the red run down into the little hamlet of Bons at 1,300m. This a welcome opportunity to enjoy some rare tree-lined runs and a great option in flat light conditions.
LES DEUX ALPES AT A GLANCE
Total number of Lifts 51
(one funicular, three cable cars, three gondolas, 23 chairs, 21 drags)
Lift Capacity 66,000 per hour
Snow cannon 214
Mountain restaurants Nine
Resort altitude 1,650m
Terrain altitude 1,300m-3,600m
Total piste length 220km
Longest run 16km
(24 greens, 43 blues, 16 reds, 11 blacks)
Linked areas La Grave (Alpe d'Huez and Serre Chevalier included in lift pass, but not by lift system)
Pros and cons
High glacial and snow-sure
Excellent slopes for beginners
Huge amount of off-piste runs
Plenty of expert terrain
Lively and varied nightlife
Piste area is too small for the majority of intermediate skiers
Lift queues are prone to build up at the peak hours
Piste congestion; runs back into town are usually too crowded or too steep
Town not compact
Not enough good mountain restaurants
If dialling from outside France or roaming, prefix all numbers below with +33 and omit the initial zero.
Les Deux Alpes has predominantly self-service restaurants which are all located close to lift stations. Unfortunately, this is not a place where you are likely to discover a little gem tucked away somewhere remote, though there are still a few full-service options serving tasty, homely food at decent prices. Here are my best picks. The most recommended restaurants are indicated by an asterisk*.
Chalet de la Toura* (04 76 79 20 96) Just below the Jandri Express mid-station, this is a welcoming, large rustic cabin with a popular sun terrace. In addition to really tasty regional raclettes and fondues, it does great pizzas. Most main courses cost €15-€25. Like many restaurants here, Chalet de la Toura is conveniently close to a lift station, so it does get very busy (tip: eat around 12-12.30pm to avoid peak-time crowds; most French skiers lunch at 1pm).
Le Panoramic* (04 76 79 06 75) At 2,600m (Jandri Express mid-station), this restaurant – as the name suggests – has wonderful terrace views over to the Bellecombes area, towards the summit of Tête Moute. Inside there is a cosy atmosphere with a blazing open fire place. Choose from the Pano-bar (serving drinks and snacks, and with DJs pumping music out to the terrace), a self-service bar which has become a popular meeting place, and an à la carte restaurant upstairs where most mains cost €15-€25.
Diable au Coeur * (04 76 79 99 50) At the top of the Diable gondola (mid-station – 2,400m), this is a really good bet – and my favourite. It's warm and cosy, with a roaring open fireplace, and dependable for quality service and appetising food. There is home-made confit de canard and fresh seafood on the menu, as well as regional dishes, grilled meats, pasta and nourishing soups. A plat du jour special of two to three courses costs €19-€31; the most expensive main course is rib-eye steak in red wine sauce, with pieces of morel and potato wedges at €19.40.
Chalet la Fee (04 76 80 24 13), in La Fee valley at 2,200m, is an unusually quiet restaurant for les Deux Alpes. That's what makes the peaceful terrace so appealing, with its sublime south-facing views of the Romanche and Ferrand valleys. Inside there is a warm and welcoming atmosphere with good home-cooked food, such as raclette or fondue and pasta dishes at just €10-€15.
La Patache (04 76 80 13 61) at Les Crêtes. Most people go for the excellent soup to warm themselves up. The soups and starters cost just €5, while dishes such as lamb curry, chicken stew in the pot, selected grills, pastas and the house speciality – tartiflette – all start at about €9.50, making this really good value.
The village "strip" is a fun-filled night-time spectacle, teeming with 40 bars and pubs and more than 60 restaurants. Most of the action is to be found at the southern end in the Alpe de Venosc area, with something here for everyone – ranging from lively bar-restaurants serving good-quality, good-value Tex-Mex to traditional places serving fondues and raclettes, pizzerias and a couple of noteworthy haute cuisine restaurants.
Prices average out at around €25 for three courses, while pizzas start at about €8 and fondues generally at €15 – so in these recessionary times, it is good to know that Les Deux Alpes is a good-value ski and snowboard destination.
Best gourmet restaurants
Le P'tit Polyte* (04 76 80 56 90), Chalet Maunier, 2 rue de la Chapelle. Book at the start of the week and be prepared for a feast! This is a special hotel restaurant that prepares beautiful regional cooking. Served as set menus featuring five, seven or even nine courses (€40, €55, €65), typical specialities include fillet of beef with truffle juice on a bed of boletus mushrooms, garnished with morsels of dauphine-style potato with reblochon and Parmentier gratin... (see my picture slide-show, top right)
Bel’Auberge (04 76 79 57 90), 1 rue Chapelle. Located in the hotel Bel'Auberge, this place serves delicious, classic French cuisine – all tastefully presented in an aspirational, contemporary style. For three courses and wine, expect to pay €35-€40.
Chardon de Bois (04 76 80 57 42), 8 rue du Grand Plan. Book here for very tasty regional cooking with lots to choose from - fondues, raclettes and grilled meats cooked on an open charcoal fire… Fondues and most main courses are good value at around €15.
Best informal restaurants
Restaurant Le TriBeCa* (04 76 80 58 53), 9 route de Champamé (near the tourist office). Tribeca is a warm, cosy bar and restaurant that provides a novel, free black cab taxi service with pick-up and drop-off. They serve delicious wood-fired pizzas and have a keenly priced, tempting menu. All starters cost just €6-€10, and mains (such as succulent roasted lamb shank or grilled beef) are great value at €15. Mountain favourites – tartiflette, raclette and fondue – cost about €13. Besides the excellent food, this is a great "grown-ups" après ski venue, with live sports on the plasma screen and an enjoyable relaxed vibe. Highly recommended.
Smokey Joe's (04 76 79 28 97), 9 rue des Sagnes – by the Jandri Express station. This is one of the town's most lively and popular bars and restaurants, with regular guest DJs. It is a lively spot to eat, especially at happy hour (6-8pm). Full English breakfast is served until 2pm but, in the evening, the Tex-Mex finger-licking ribs and wings is really good. €10-€25.
Crêperie Crêpes à Go Go (04 76 79 29 61), 118 avenue de la Muzelle. Very popular with both the locals and visitors, this place serves excellent crèpes – as its name suggests – and raclette. The tartiflette is superb and, with a Leffe beer, costs just €12. Book ahead.
La Spaghetteria* (04 76 79 05 77), 109 avenue de la Muzelle. Owned by the same people as Crèpes à Go Go, this is another great-value choice. A quaint little place popular with the seasonaires, it specialises (unsurprisingly) in pasta. There are some really good set-menu deals: eg, eat what you like from the buffet for your starter, then choose a main such as tagliatelle and pesto, a dessert and a carafe of wine – all for €14.50.
L'Etable (04 76 80 50 30), 1 rue Saint Claude. This friendly little pizzeria serves grills as well as pizzas, which are truly excellent – starting at about €8. A take-out service is also available.
Blue Salmon (0476 79 29 56), 98 avenue de la Muzelle. Known for its very nice decor and ambience, this restaurant is a little pricier than the other informal venues. As you might expect from the name, seafood is the speciality. You can eat three courses of skillful and inventive cooking here for €25-€30.
Les Deux Alpes is a party town and renowned for its nightlife. The 40 bars and pubs strung out along the narrow main street – all within staggering distance of each other – are kept very busy with a mixed, young and energetic crowd. It is a regular sight to see groups dressed in bizarre outfits enjoying themed nights accompanied by holiday reps.
Smokey Joe's (04 76 79 28 97), 9 rue des Sagnes – Galerie le Meijotel. Smokey's is the main après-ski venue in the town, best for live plasma sports events or for sampling the excellent Tex-Mex menu, with spicy ribs, wings, burgers and steaks. There is nightly live music and a happy hour from 6-8pm. Guinness is on tap and the shooters selection is immense; they also mix some mean cocktails.
Smithy’s Tavern (04 76 11 36 79), 7 rue du Cairou. This is the biggest bar in town, with room for 500 spread over two floors – and a worthy rival to Smokey's. The 60-cover Tex-Mex restaurant serves fabulous fajitas and the bar is kept extremely busy serving double shots and a wide range of British ales. Smithy's rocks until 2am and, on Wednesdays from 10pm, live bands mix up the entertainment with DJs playing drum & bass, RnB and dance. Group bookings essential.
Bar The Secret (04 76 79 24 33), 95 avenue de la Muzelle. A great place to head to early doors, between 4am and 6pm, when live bands are playing and the very competitive happy hours are in full flow ("Jug-hour" at 4-5pm: two- to three-litre beer jugs, €15). They do some great cocktails (two-for-one from 7-9pm) and the shooters menu is comprehensive.
Bar Rhumerie (no telephone number), 89 avenue de la Muzelle. Famous for its rum shots, Bar Rhumerie does a roaring trade in popular flavoured bottles of rum (€15) which they serve with glasses and ice so groups can toast away in rapid style.
O'Brian's Pub (04 76 79 55 94), 21 rue des Vikings. No party town is complete without its own lively Irish pub, and O'Brians is a popular place to share the craic. Disco from 10pm. Open every day, 2pm -2am
La Grotte du Yeti (06 23 34 39 20), att the Venosc end of the main street. This is part of a rapidly expanding bar chain already established in eight French resorts. Head here to see how the Dutch like to party. It has a good range of beers and cocktails, lots of different types of music, and regular themed nights.
Pub le Windsor (04 76 79 22 95), opposite the supermarket on the main street. This small bar with a big reputation has a huge selection of beers and whiskeys – more than 100 varieties of each! Despite its English-sounding name, the Windsor has a cosy Gallic charm and is a friendly place, popular with locals and definitely worth a regular visit. Open until late.
Le K ré shooterloungebar (04 76 79 23 28), 21 rue des Vikings. A refined, contemporary cocktail bar, Le K has illuminated bar areas and atmospheric corners with low tables and sofas. It serves up an acid-jazz musical background and more than 150 original shooters and cocktails. Makes a cool night-time alternative venue.
L'Avalanche (04 76 80 52 44), 5 rue du Cairou – next to Smithy's. Catering to a cosmopolitan European crowd, with a suitable amount of "cheesey" beats, this place is a lot of fun nevertheless. Free taxi service home; open until 4am.
L'Opéra (04 76 80 09 21), 20 La Meije. L'Opéra has three floors, and guest DJs playing good varied sets more in tune with British tastes.
Hotel La Farandole 4* A stone's throw from the centre and 300m from lifts, this attractive traditional chalet-hotel is south facing with panoramic views and a terrace overlooking the glaciers of the Ecrins National Park. The staff, service and food (five-course dinners) are all to be commended, while the rooms are spacious, modern, clean and well-appointed. The indoor pool is a good size and even has mountain views!
Hotel Chalet Mounier 3* A mountain refuge and alpine farm since 1879, this authentic family-run mountain chalet, transformed from generation to generation, is a fantastic place to stay. The decor and ambience throughout the public areas, the pool and spa are stylish, with comfortable leather sofas and open fires in the lounge. The rooms themselves are also snazzy and contemporary. The restaurant is a gourmet's paradise, and the menu is helpfully posted up in reception in the mornings. Chefs will happily accommodate changes for children. My top choice.
Hotel Le Souleil'Or 3* This warm, chalet-style hotel has an exceptional location at the bottom of the slopes. The interior is light and modern, while the restaurant serves superb four- and five-course dinners. Once a week, it lays on a buffet starter – a banquet in itself, with lobster, oysters and salmon. The rooms are spacious, clean and comfortable with separate toilet and bathrooms. Facilities include personal ski lockers with boot warmers – a neat touch.
Airport(s): Grenoble (110km), Lyon (160km), Chambery (135km), Turin (175km). NB: The route from Turin can at times be closed due to bad weather.
TGV Grenoble, then regular buses run to Les Deux Alpes.
Grenoble has become a useful point of entry, as it is now only an hour's drive from the resort and the budget airlines fly to it, extending the possibilities for people who like to hire a car and book everything independently. Regular buses run from Grenoble, and there is a twice-weekly service from Alpe d'Huez.
Road directions: Grenoble A480 – Exit 8 Briançon – N85 – N91 – Chambon Dam – D220. Note that snow-chains are compulsory during the winter months.
Les Deux Alpes Tourism (04 76 79 22 00, www.les2alpes.com)