This article was produced by National Geographic Traveller (UK)
By far the favourite European ski destination, France consistently welcomes around a third of British skiers who are drawn by the convenience of a winter sports break in our near-neighbour country. Along with offering good no-fly travel options, skiers have a huge choice of wide-open slopes, lifts zigzagging across dramatic mountains and modern accommodation.
France is also home to the world’s largest ski area, Les Trois Vallees. Encompassing a magnificent 370 miles of runs, Les Trois Vallees stretches across seven resorts, including lofty Val Thorens (at 2,300m), stylish Courchevel and Meribel with its wealth of catered chalets — traditionally the favoured accommodation for British skiers.
Other splendid, linked areas include Paradiski, where 140 miles of runs unite the purpose-built, slope-side resorts of La Plagne and Les Arcs. The latter’s modernistic architecture is actually mostly from the 1960s; however, the last major Les Arcs development, Arc 1950, has its 20th birthday this season and is celebrating with weekly resort parties.
And there are border-hopping options, too. Les Portes du Soleil reaches from Les Gets down to the valley town of Morzine and back up to angular, arty Avoriaz, before heading into Switzerland and the resorts of Les Crosets, Champoussin and more — 400 miles in total.Similarly, the 250-mile Milky Way area starts in Montgenevre, then enters Italy, taking in resorts including Sauze d’Oulx and Sestriere.Cost and crowds can be an issue in France. Lift passes and eating out are notoriously pricey in many resorts and in peak season (notably February school holidays), France’s slopes can get very busy. A good trick to avoid the crush and prices of the biggest resorts is to stick to satellite villages, which can offer great value for money. For example, down the mountain from Tignes, long seen as the moderately priced option to trendy Val-d’Isère, are even more reasonable Tignes 1800 and, a decade old, Les Brévières. The centre of Courchevel 1850 is forever hip but drop down to La Praz and La Tania and while the altitude may not be as high, nor are the prices.
Catered chalet holidays are still all the rage with British skiers, but apartments have managed to build on the popularity they garnered during Covid. And some of them come with decidedly hotel-like trimmings. Val-d’Isère’s new luxury property, Silverstone Lodge, for example, sits above the Solaise lift with seven chalet-like apartments including a seven-bedroom penthouse sharing a spa. Also new, Residence Manaka in La Plagne is a stylish complex with an indoor pool, while Snoroc offers contemporary ski in, ski out apartments with a pool, areas for teens and youngsters, a steam room and hot tub. L’Altima, on the outskirts of Megève, has an indoor/outdoor pool, spa, tapas bar and shuttles to the slopes and into town.
Apartment giant Pierre & Vacances trialled Sunday-to-Sunday packages last season. This enables Brits to take advantage of cheaper flights, and it was so successful that it’s expanded Avoriaz, La Plagne and Méribel options and added Flaine and Les Arcs. Grocery services have grown to meet demand, too, with more opportunities to order online for delivery or collection. In Saint-Martin-de-Belleville, Val Thorens’ pretty neighbour, this now includes new microbrewery, Brâva Vela where beer is made with 97% local ingredients, and bottles come with a glass-shaped gondola logo. Purchase online or in local markets, with click and collect options in resorts.
Three French ski resorts to try
Best for: food
Megève is skiing with old-school class — and a love of dining. The Rothschilds lent it that class in the 1920s and it’s still here in both timbered La Ferme du Golf hotel and modern chalet Four Seasons Megève with its Michelin-starred restaurant La Dame de Pic — Le 1920, creation of chef Anne-Sophie Pic. La Table de l’Alpaga and Flocons de Sel both have Michelin stars (the latter, three of them) and a rustic feel. The skiing is excellent, too: 250 miles of runs across seven connected resorts. Peak Retreats has seven nights self-catering in chalet-style Portes de Megève apartments, one bedroom, sleeping four, from £1,032 including Eurotunnel crossing.
Best for: experts
Chamonix is still unbeatable for challenging skiing. Vallée Blanche, an 11-mile off-piste glacier tour with guide is an unforgettable experience — a lengthy crossing of a ridge holding skis and supporting rope just to get to the start. If you do it at night under a full moon, it’s even more of an adventure. And the runs above neighbouring Argentière, on piste and off, are steep and deep. Oxford Ski Company has a week at Chalet Rytola, a short stroll from the lifts, sleeping eight in four bedrooms plus three in the TV room, from €17,100 (£14,775), chalet board, excluding flights.
3. Les Menuires
Best for: intermediates
Les Menuires, in the middle of the Trois Vallées, was once was viewed as bleakly modern, but newer architecture — not least the grand chalet-style Higalik, which opened this summer — is cosier. This season, the resort turns 60, now a stylish, high-altitude spot allowing skiers to explore the miles of undemanding pistes, Val Thorens in one direction, Courchevel in the other. New this season, Jacks is a bar, restaurant and live music terrace, brother of a long-time hotspot in neighbouring Méribel. Neilson has seven nights at the timbered Hotel Le Menuire & Spa from £1,299pp, two sharing, including flights and transfers.
Published in the Winter Sports guide, distributed with the December 2023 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK).
To subscribe to National Geographic Traveller (UK) magazine click here. (Available in select countries only).