Val d'Isére, with its vast interlinked ski area known as the Espace Killy, is the place to go for reliable snow, challenging pistes, powder and partying. It's the French resort par excellence…
Val d'Isère, situated in a remote valley on the Col de l'Iseran in the French Alps, is a true tour de force of world skiing. It has linked up with Tignes, itself a major resort, to create a vast interlinked ski area known as the Espace Killy. With more than 300km of challenging pistes, plus unlimited off-piste terrain, "Val" (as it is affectionately known) is one of the most revered of all skiing destinations. Beginners are catered for – but the combination of challenging terrain and powder hounds making good use of it may make timid skiers feel like they belong elsewhere… which in truth they probably do. This is very much the playground of serious skiers and snowboarders who know exactly what they are doing.
Quaint and elegant in the Savoyard style, Val d'Isère has few faults. One in 10 British skiers head there each winter, drawn not only by the quality of the skiing but a modern lift system, great restaurants and plenty of après-ski opportunities, tailored very much to the tastes of UK visitors – who are always made to feel welcome. However, expect to pay top dollar for lift passes, lunch and somewhere to stay, since prices are high. On the skiing front, beginners will find the going difficult with steep runs back into the village, a predominance of difficult intermediate skiing, and red runs that are more challenging than many blacks in some other resorts.
Skiing in Val d'Isère is often uncluttered and very snow-sure, spread over the mountains of Bellevarde, Solaise and the high Col de l'Iseran which are accessed via the main village or the satellite hamlets of La Daille and Le Fornet. The main lift stations are all linked by a free shuttle bus. For Bellevarde, take either the funicular or the new fast gondola from La Daille to runs descending into the valley or accessing Tignes. For Solaise, a fast quad heads from the village up the mountain. Col de L'Iseran is accessed by chair lift from Le Laisinant or cable car from Le Fornet.
Val d'Isère is difficult for beginners. The top of the nursery slope is too high, the slopes back down into the village are too steep, and easy green runs are hard to find since many should be graded blue or even red! The good thing is, there are plenty of ski schools. Try Evolution 2 (0479 41 16 72) or Top Ski (0479 06 14 80) where lessons cost approximately €36 for an hour.
There are endless runs for good intermediates – but beware, many are under-graded. Expect some reds to be like blacks. You'll be able to build confidence in the Solaise and Col de l'Iseran sectors with plentiful blue runs. Your skills will be tested in Bellevarde and on the way back into the village, since the most difficult runs lead back into the centre. This can make it hard for timid intermediates, with even the easiest route heading into La Daille getting crowded and mogulled late on.
There is more for experts than meets the eye, since red and blue runs are difficult and prone to being mogulled. Show off your skills heading back into the village, as no run is easy – especially from the Solaise, as the two options (one red, one black) are both challenging. The red run is in full view of the lift station where intermediates and beginners take the lifts back down the mountain.
Boarding and freestyle
With almost limitless off-piste powder, Val D’Isère is a mecca for freestylers – and there is a great terrain park on Bellevarde, with all the usual ramps and pipes, plus music and deck chairs.
Three favourite runs
The Face – from Bellevarde down into the village – is perfect for experts and confident intermediates, with a snaking run full of moguls and a chance to show off in front of the lifts that follow the run. Intermediates should also try the picturesque run to Le Laisinant, while a beginner's best choice is the green Madeleine run, both from the Solaise sector.
VAL D'ISERE AT A GLANCE
Number of lifts 97
Cable cars 6
High-speed detachable chair lifts 15
Regular chair lifts 31
Ski lifts 41
Lift capacity per hour 64,480
Mountain restaurants 12
Number of runs 140 (22 green, 69 blue, 34 red, 15 black)
Beginners pistes 15%
Intermediate pistes 73%
Expert pistes 12%
Longest run 10km
Linked areas Tignes
Pros and cons
Great for good intermediate and expert skiers, with lots of runs and excellent off-piste.
Superb lift system.
Great for snowboarders.
Lively at night, with a good range of restaurants.
Difficult for new skiers and timid intermediates, with steep runs back into village.
No ideal nursery slopes.
Not enough good mountain restaurants.
If dialling from the UK, prefix all the telephone numbers below with 00 33 and omit the first zero.
La Fruitière (0479 06 07 17) Location: Bellevarde, at La Daille mid-station. Popular self-service restaurant in a restored cheese and cream farm, serving delicious pasta and a good range of wine.
Edelweiss (0610 28 70 74) Location: halfway down Mongard blue run, in Le Fornet. A new restaurant in a rustic setting, with excellent food, service and atmosphere.
Best on Bellevarde
Marmottes (0479 06 05 08) Location: by the Marmottes lift. Good-value self-service restaurant with decent food and generous portions.
Folie Douce (0479 06 01 47) Location: next door to La Fruitière (above), and a nice alternative to it. Folie has good food, pleasant service and live music.
Best on Solaise
Le Bar De L'Oiillette (0479 41 94 74) Location: at the base of the Madeleine chair. Good-value food, popular with locals – and great for the sun.
La Grande Ourse (www.grande-ourse.com) (0479 06 00 19) Location: by the nursery slopes in the old village, in front of the village church. Gourmet food and a beautiful setting. The best restaurant in town. The cuisine is French-International fusion.
Chez Paolo (0479 06 28 05) Location: Rond Point. For the best pizzas in town, look no further! Great for families – and they also do takeaway.
The Lodge (0479 06 02 01) Location: in the centre of the village, by Dick's Tea Bar. Great for its lively atmosphere and good food. Groups and families will enjoy it here.
Nightlife in Val d'Isère is lively, with lots of British and Scandinavian visitors descending on the many drinking spots and partying until late. The French add balance to the mix, frequenting the more sophisticated and chilled-out bars and restaurants. It all adds to the cosmopolitan atmosphere and choice.
You will find quieter piano bars and cocktail lounges around town – but most places in Val d'Isère are loud, funky and crowded with partygoers.
Bananas (0479 06 04 23) Location: at the bottom of the slopes. An extremely popular fun bar inside a wooden chalet, in prime position as you exit the slopes into the village. Try the green Kamikaze cocktail if you dare!
Folie Douce (0479 06 01 47) Location: the top of La Daille gondola. This place gets lively from lunchtime onwards, with music and dancing.
Café Face (0479 06 29 80) Location: the centre of town (Hotel Christiana). Perfectly situated for a pre-club warm-up, as it's directly opposite the renowned Dick's Tea Bar. Café Face is suave and sophisticated, with comfy couches and low lighting.
M Bar (0479 06 12 13) Location: again, the centre of town – this time in the Hotel Tsanteleina. Very comfortable with a good selection of wines and spirits.
Pacific Bar (0479 06 29 19) Location: central again. There are widescreen TVs right next to the tables, so this is a good place to catch up on live sports events.
Best for cocktails
Victor's (0479 06 67 00) Location: the centre of town, near Dick's Tea Bar. A little quieter than most bars, with a great range of cocktails.
La Saloon Bar (04 79 06 13 51) Location: at the foot of the slopes in La Daille. Great terrace view of the famous World Cup Downhill ski slope. Inside, there is a blazing log fire… a great place to enjoy Happy Hour as the days skiing ends.
Best British-style pub
Moris Pub (0479 06 22 11) Location: the edge of the town centre. A huge pub with live music and themed nights.
Dick's Tea Bar (0479 06 14 87) Location: the centre of town. The famous Dick's Tea Bar is dubbed the "Original and best" – and also crowned the best place to pull in town. It's the perfect place to spend most of the night, with happy hours earlier on, live jazz, then DJs and dancing.
Le Graal (0479 09 64 82) Location: the centre of town again. Has a more French feel than Dick's Tea Bar, and is a little more sophisticated. A great place if you want to sample a different crowd.
All those listed below cost €125+ per person per night, unless otherwise stated.
Best for luxury
Barmes De L'ours 4* Location: Chemin des Carats, in the village centre. The best hotel in town: spacious rooms with all the amenities, plus three restaurants (one with a Michelin star), one of the largest spas in the French Alps, pool, sauna, hammam and fitness centre.
Hotel Christiania 4* Location: the centre of the village. Luxurious, well-located (almost on the slopes) with good amenities, bar and restaurant. Very helpful and friendly staff.
Hotel Le Grand Paradis 3* Location: next to the Brussels hotel. Beautifully decorated with traditional furnishings, this hotel is perfect for novices as it's right on the nursery slopes – but also great for more advanced skiers, as it's next to the main lifts. La Schuss restaurant on-site serves delicious five-course meals.
Hotel Brussels 3* Location: again, right by the nursery slopes – next to Hotel Grand Paradis. Small but sufficient rooms in this newly-refurbished hotel. Great for ski in/ski out, with its quick access to the main lifts; and perfect for après-ski, as the saloon bar is downstairs.
Best budget choice
Club Med La Legettaz 3* About €100 per person, per night. Location: La Legettaz area in the centre. Perfectly located for ski in/ski out and just five minutes from the centre of the village. Excellent choice of food from three different restaurants, plus a good range of drinks at the bar, a sauna and good-sized, comfortable rooms.
Le Chalet du Lac 2* Less than €75 per person, per night. Location: outside town, a few miles from La Daille in between Tignes and Val d'Isère. A good budget alternative for those with a car who don't mind driving into town. Excellent restaurant.
Fly to either Geneva (112 miles from the resort) or Lyon (137 miles).
Transport is frequent. From Paris, the TGV heads to Bourg St Maurice and from there a bus service takes you to the resort.
From Geneva, take the A41 to Annecy, then the N90 to Albertville and follow the signs for Bourg St Maurice and on to the resort. From Lyon, take the A43 to Albertville. If hiring a car, try Alamo (0870 400 4562, www.Alamo.co.uk); Avis (0844 581 0147, www.avis.co.uk); Budget (0844 581 2231, www.budget.com); and Easycar (08710 500 444, www.easyCar.com).
Ski buses are free with a valid lift pass.
Tourist office (0479 06 06 60, www.valdisere.com). Open 8.30 am-7.30pm Mon to Fri, and Sun; 8.30am-8pm Sat.