Looking for a ski resort that works for non-skiers as well? Try Morzine, a sophisticated French town that has authentic charm, year-round bustle and great restaurants as well as winter sports action
A small and picturesque village in the Haute Savoie, Morzine is a bustling and vibrant place all year round. Despite the loyal throngs of Brits who head here year in year out, it has fortunately managed to retain its authentic French charm
Part of the reason for the repeat visitors and year-round success lies, paradoxically, in the fact that, at only 1,000m, Morzine is a low-altitude resort. It is often the case with lower altitude ski destinations that the towns themselves need to be more alluring in order to attract a wider clientele than just winter sports enthusiasts. Like Megève, Cortina d’Ampezzo and Kitzbühel, all at a similar altitude, Morzine can often see rain falling instead of snow at resort level (especially in early and late season) - but something else these resorts have in common is the fact that they are all very prosperous places with a widespread upmarket appeal and devoted admirers who are attracted by the towns themselves, and not just the snow and skiing available.
This isn’t to say that Morzine isn’t a creditable ski resort - it most certainly is. Situated only an hour away from Geneva, it makes a highly convenient and appealing weekend ski bolthole. It also links (albeit less practically than neighbouring Avoriaz) to the vast Portes du Soleil ski area, which encompasses two countries (France and Switzerland), 14 resorts and 650km of skiing heaven.
The charming, chalet-style buildings and friendly people make the resort perfect for families, and it's very popular with British skiers, some of whom own chalets here. Après-ski is relaxed and sophisticated and there is a good bus service. I recommend taking a car, as it makes it easy to get to the main Portes du Soleil circuit, but this isn't essential.
The ski area of Morzine is split into three areas. Pleney, located above and to the west of the town, is the main area and where the ski schools meet up. There are some lovely tree-lined cruisy blues winding down to the village (ideal territory for beginners and early intermediates), and because the terrain is grassy pastureland, there really only needs to be 20-30cm of snow coverage to facilitate skiing on these slopes.
Super Morzine is the wide, open area linking to Avoriaz higher up the mountain to the east. This is another perfect place for early skiers to gain a lot of confidence.
The third area is Nyon-Chamossière, to the south - head to Pointe de Nyon and towards Les Gets, and the slopes start to offer more serious challenges, with steep reds and bumpy blacks for the more adventurous and advanced.
From the village centre a téléphérique and télécabine rise to Pleney. Here, you can take the Les Fys run, which has chairlift access to Pointe de Nyon, or head down to Les Gets on the opposite side.
You can also get to the Nyon sector via a bus from Morzine access the cable car. From Nyon you have two peaks (the Pointe de Nyon and Chamossière); beyond Chamossière you have Le Ranfolly and La Rosta.
To get to the main Portes du Soleil circuit via lifts or skiing, take the petit train to the Pleney sector and a télécabine to Avoriaz; alternatively, drive or take a bus to Les Prodains and from there the télécabine up to Avoriaz. It can get rather bottlenecked at peak times as everyone tries to access the same area. To avoid the crowds, drive or take the bus to Ardent, where a télécabine leads to Les Lindarets for lifts to Chatel, Avoriaz and Champéry - not many people think of taking this route, and in no time at all you will be up on the mountain, stress-free, with the whole of the Portes du Soleil at your disposal.
Morzine shares good links with Les Gets and is excellent for beginners and new intermediates, so it makes a good choice of resort for first-timers. A shuttle bus connects you to the main Portes du Soleil ski circuit but getting back to the resort can be tricky in busy periods.
The nursery slopes around the village are convenient but can get crowded. There are excellent, wide, progressive, sunny runs on the Super Morzine slopes between Avoriaz and Morzine. Progressing beginners can use the easy runs at Le Pleney to get to Les Gets (where there is also great beginner terrain) and back via Le Ranfolly. If looking for a ski school, try ESF (00 33 (0)4 50 79 13 13); group tuition costs around €115 for six days of two-and-a-half-hour lessons.
New intermediates and progressing beginners can enjoy the short but gentle runs around Le Pleney, with a nice blue run from Le Ranfolly to Le Grand Pré. They'll also find the slopes down to Les Gets fairly easy. Most intermediates of any standard will pretty much have the run of the place. Good intermediates can head over to Les Gets to try the steeper slopes on the Point de Nyon, Mont Chéry or the challenging red and black from Chamossière.
Most off-piste is to be found around Avoriaz but there are some challenging runs from Pointe de Nyon and Chamossière, and steep and quiet black runs on the back of Mont Chéry.
Three favourite runs
For experts, try the off-piste action from the Chamossière chair lift, on the northeast slope, for some great views of Mont Blanc in the Vallée de la Manche.
For lovely tree-lined terrain, head down the Chamois red run from Mont Chéry into Les Gets.
Another picturesque tree-lined run is the challenging red from Pointe de Nyon to Les Fys.
MORZINE AT A GLANCE
Number of lifts 56
Plate lifts 22
Chair lifts 31
Lift capacity per hour 47,000
Mountain restaurants 10
Number of pistes 81
(nine greens, 35 blue, 29 red, eight black)
Beginners pistes 54 per cent
Intermediate pistes 37 per cent
Expert pistes 10 per cent
Linked areas Avoriaz, Les Gets, Chatel, Abondance, La Chapelle d'Abondance, St Jean d'Aulps
Pros and cons
Good family resort
Local ski area better than some other Portes du Soleil resorts
Few local queues
Attractive village with good shopping and weekly market
Travelling required to access main Portes du Soleil ski circuit
Bus or car ride to lifts from most accommodation
Not snowsure at low altitude
No snow cannons
Expert skiers need to travel to find the more challenging terrain and off-piste.
If dialling from the UK, prefix all numbers below with 00 33 and omit the first zero.
Morzine is justly proud of its reputation as a top destination for eating out. Whether on the mountain or down in the town, there are lots of fine dining experiences to be had, and you can eat surprisingly well without breaking the bank.
Chez Nannon (04 50 79 24 73) On the blue piste beneath the Pointe de Nyon. Try this intimate old-style restaurant for hearty local food. Recommended.
La Pointe de Nyon (04 50 79 11 74) The restaurant can be accessed via the Nyon télécabine and is just a stone's throw from the top station (there is car parking at the bottom station) so it's also accessible to non-skiers. This is a recommended piste stop that will almost certainly prolong your lunch with its stunning views over Morzine. Well worth a visit.
Les Mines d’Or (04 50 79 81 52) In the Vallée de la Manche. Great local cuisine.
Le Vaffieu (04 50 79 09 43) At the top of the Folliets chair. Excellent service, friendly staff and good traditional food.
La Grande Ourse (06 79 42 58 86) Location: Mont Chéry. Take the Mont Chéry cabin lift, then the two-person chair lift. La Grande Ourse is right near the top. This absolute gem of a mountain restaurant (the best in the area) is owned and run by the Cornish family Venning and has spectacular views of Mont Blanc. Phone ahead early to book.
Belvedere (04 50 79 81 52) Top of Mont Chéry. A good mountain hut serving local food and hearty portions.
Les Cretes de Zorre (04 50 79 24 73) Between Avoriaz and Morzine. This comfortable restaurant serves big portions of reasonably priced traditional local food.
Head to the area around the tourist office for a good selection of fine places to dine.
Chalet Philbert (04 50 79 25 18) At Le Puthey. One of the best gourmet restraints in town, serving great French cuisine from head chef Olivier Charlet. Not cheap, but worth every penny.
L'Atelier (04 50 79 00 79) In Hotel La Samoyède. Internationally renowned chef Alexandre Baud-Pachon presides. Try the rack of lamb - and try to leave some room for the desserts. Recommended.
La Chamade (04 50 79 13 91) Behind the tourist office. Very popular choice for gourmet French fine dining. They also do good pizzas. Reservations recommended.
Le Grillon (04 50 79 09 41) Near the tourist office. Sample some great Savoyard food and excellent fondues.
L’Etale (04 50 79 09 29) Near the Pleney cable car on rue du Téléphérique du Pleney. Friendly atmosphere, good for families, and the best place for pizza.
Morzine is a sophisticated night out but probably a bit livelier than nearby Les Gets, with a young crowd populating the various bars around the village. There is pretty much something to suit whatever mood you are in, from live music and a good range of pubs with Premiership football on big screens to more chilled-out wine and cocktail bars. Late bars are more the order of things in Morzine than night clubs.
Cavern Bar (04 50 74 22 79) The young skiers and boarders head here as night falls, for DJs every night, Guinness on tap and a lively atmosphere.
The Boudha Café (04 50 75 90 84) Next door to the Cavern. Head here for a more relaxing drink, with a comfortable, chilled-out, chic Persian interior and table service. Open until late.
Dixie Bar (04 50 79 27 83) Rue du Bourg. Choose from bière pression (on tap) or lots of bottled beers. Usually a young crowd - mostly Brits - heads here, and it's a great place to catch up with British sports on the big screens and watch regular live bands. Probably the most popular hang-out in town - unless you happen to dislike live footie.
Le Crepuscule (04 50 79 16 94) A good place to start the night if the weather is good - it has a relaxed outdoor deck and attracts a laid-back crowd.
Bar Robinson (04 50 79 09 78) Very popular after 5pm, this is the place to try the infamous 7.2 per cent Mutzig beer - it's commonly known as 'the Mutzig bar'.
Rhodos (04 50 79 20 65) Come here for a very chilled, upmarket crowd, free newspapers and relaxing music.
Other après-ski events
On Tuesday evenings there's a ‘Ski Retrospective' on the Le Pleney slopes, while on Thursdays there's a torchlight descent and floodlit skiing.
There are two clubs in Morzine. Both are open until the early hours (usually 5am) but are expensive - expect to pay €10 for a pint.
Opera (04 50 79 16 65) Near the Pleney cable car, Opera attracts a lot of young locals as well as British visitors.
Paradis (No phone) Also popular, Paradis is very lively, with DJs every night.
Morzine is much like its neighbours Avoriaz and Les Gets in that it has some very nice, affordable three-star hotels with some great places for couples, families and those on a budget. There is no four-star accommodation here.
Hotel Airelles 3* Centrally located next to the Pleney lifts and the Prodains and Nyon bus routes, this is one of the most modern, comfortable hotels in Morzine, and one of the best. Great amenities, fitness centre and large swimming pool.
Hotel La Chaumière 2* Close to the centre of Morzine and located just at the foot of the slopes, this cosy, family-run hotel has a swimming pool, excellent bar and food, and very friendly staff. Best for families.
Au Coin Du Feu 3* Great for families, with on-site creche, split room with ensuite, and a lovely bar for après ski. Ski-to-door location opposite the cable car at Les Prodains between Morzine and Avoriaz. Recommended.
Hotel Dahu 3* A well-appointed large chalet-hotel, only 400m from the village centre and télécabine. Large rooms, many with balconies. Great restaurant.
Les Rhodos Bar Restaurant & Hotel 2* Located right by the town hall in the centre (the free shuttle bus stops right outside), this is a cracking little hotel with 17 very modern smart rooms (doubles, twins, triples and a five-bed suite), all situated above a tremendous bar and restaurant. The hotel offers half-board stays during the ski season, with a minimum stay at weekends of four nights with flexible arrival days - so you can take advantage of cheap midweek flights.
Chalet-Hotel Fleur des Neiges A truly warm and friendly little chalet-hotel, only 300m from the Pleney du Morzine lift station. This is a superb value choice, with excellent food and comfortable rooms.
Chalet Eira Just 20m from the village centre, this chalet has lovely rooms (a mix of twins, doubles and family), which have south-facing balconies with views. Marvellous food. Recommended.
Hotel Le Tremplin 3* Friendly atmosphere, good for families and centrally located. Good restaurant.
Club Hotel Le Viking 3* This Crystal club hotel is ideal for families, with evening entertainment, good food and a swimming pool. It's located on the Pleney slopes at the top of the télécabine from Morzine - so perfect for ski to door and being first on the slopes in the morning.
Hotel Champs Fleuris 3* Features include an indoor pool, tennis, fitness centre and sauna. Good food. Ideal location next to the Pleney lifts and ski school meeting point at the foot of the slopes.
Hotel La Bergerie 3* Chalet-style hotel with comfortable rooms with kitchenette and an outdoor pool. Good value.
Hotel Equipe 2* One of the best two stars in town, this good budget option has a great location next to the Pleney lift.
Les Cotes 2* Another good budget option, with simple rooms, swimming pool and a location on the edge of town.
Geneva airport is 45 miles from the resort, Chambéry 78 miles, Lyon 127 miles and Grenoble 133 miles.
* BA flies to Geneva and Lyon from Gatwick and Heathrow.
* BMI baby flies to Geneva from Birmingham, Cardiff, East Midlands and Manchester.
* easyJet flies to Geneva from Belfast, Birmingham, Bournemouth, Bristol, East Midlands, Edinburgh, Gatwick, Glasgow, Liverpool, Luton, Newcastle and Stansted. They also fly to Lyon from Stansted and to Grenoble from Birmingham, Bournemouth, Bristol, Gatwick and Luton.
* flybe flies to Chambéry from Birmingham, Exeter, Norwich and Southampton, and to Geneva from Newquay, Isle of Man, Jersey, Exeter, Norwich and Southampton.
* Ryanair flies to Grenoble from Bournemouth, Dublin, East Midlands, Glasgow, Liverpool and Stansted.
* Snowjet flies to Chambéry from Manchester, Bristol and Gatwick.
* SWISS flies to Geneva from Heathrow and London City.
Buses operate from all the airports to Morzine (www.altibus.com).
Trains run to Thonon-les-Bains (15 miles from Morzine) from Geneva Central and Grenoble. For more info, visit Rail Europe (www.raileurope.co.uk).
Head to Grenoble, then follow motorway A480 until exit N8 Vizille - Stations de l'Oisans, and 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); and SIXT (0844 248 6620, www.sixt.com).
Morzine Tourist Office (04 50 74 72 72, www.morzine-avoriaz.com). Open 8.30am-7.30pm Monday-Friday and Sunday; 8am-8pm on Saturdays.
Buses and taxis
Shuttle buses are free with a valid lift pass. Taxis are available on 04 50 79 25 25.