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Val d’Isère: serious fun

8th February 2011, by Chris Gill

Village and Bellevarde (with the World Cup Face run)

Village and Bellevarde (with the World Cup Face run)

There’s a tingle of excitement – or could that be fear – when anyone says Val d’Isère. The skiing talk gets serious, very serious among experts. The resort is one of the world’s classics, and with an attractive centre, vibrant atmosphere and energetic nightlife often compared with St Anton. The slopes are extensive, challenging and rarely short of snow; the off-piste unparalleled.

It’s not the obvious choice for a short visit given the transfer time, but what you get with Val is a wide range of just about everything; a solid French resort loved by the British who want to ski or board hard but relax in comfort. Novices will be less at ease, but not excluded.

Among the top ten most expensive places to eat and drink in the Alps, Val d’Isère is a pricey choice for a short break but you do get quality and quantity at the heart of the impressive Espace Killy region – shared with Tignes. More establishments are embracing the short stay concept now too, so there is a choice of hotel and chalet lodging.

Getting there

If you’re determined to travel there for a short break, allow 2-3 hours transfer time from the main airports. The nearest arrival points are Chambéry (145km) and Grenoble (210km), from where you can pick up a shuttle or private transfer. Try Alp-line (www.alp-line.com). Flexiski will normally arrange transfers for their clients. TGV rail services operate from Paris to Bourg-St-Maurice (about 5 hours), with an onward bus up to the resort.

Staying there

As with Méribel, Val d’Isère is chalet heaven – in all forms and price tags. Chalet Balias is managed by Flexiski (www.flexiski.com) and comfortably positioned in the village centre, a short stroll from the lifts – which is very practical for a three or four-night stay. It’s small, sleeping 12 with a shared wellness area, open plan living room and contemporary style; great for groups. As with Flexiski’s other properties, guests receive the 4-star treatment including canapés, cakes and 4-course dinners. Prices start at £380pp (Wed-Sun in March) and from £680pp (Sun-Wed). Flexiski also works with several hotels in Val, and can arrange short stays on request.

Alternatives: Simply Val d’Isère (www.simplyvaldisere.com) now offers the hotel Aigle de Neiges on a short stay basis. Hundred Hills (www.hundredhills.com) is a small operator with two smart chalets in Val. A four-night stay at the end of March costs £450pp.

A three-day lift pass (via Flexiski) costs from £100 (whole Espace Killy).

Skiing there

The possibilities are endless, and include two glaciers. And with 60% of the pistes above 2000m the resort is sturdy early or late season. An Olympic racing history attracts advanced piste skiers to Bellevarde’s serious black runs, OK and Face. But the mountain also opens up easier routes towards La Daille and Tignes. Across the valley is similarly steep-faced Solaise. Get beyond the summit for broad cruising and long runs to outlying villages. For a thigh burning descent we love to start on the glacier and get right down among open and wooded slopes to the hamlet of Le Fornet in the valley, a vertical of 1370m. Stop on the way at the lovely Edelweiss hut for a well-deserved (and very good) lunch.

Après-skiing there

Unusually for France, après-ski starts up the mountain at the Folie Douce (above La Daille) – free-flowing booze and bopping before moving down valley to the bars, such as Bananas or the Moris pub. The famous Dick’s Tea Bar or newer La Doudoune club rounds off the nightlife for many visitors. Or wind down in the newish leisure centre. A gourmet festival in March should tell you that Val d’Isère is also fine for eating out, with something to suit most tastes and prices ranges. Take your pick from a handy copy of the dining guide. Clochetons, up the Manchet valley, served us with delicious meals. Taverne d’Alasce is a good mid-range choice.

Links: Flexiski – Chalet Balias



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