In The Spotlight: Val d'Isère

Quick facts on Val d'Isère

Val d'Isère may just be the perfect ski domain, especially for intermediates. Blessed with an incredibly picturesque location at the head of the Tarentaise valley, it offers an unbeatable combination of charm, convenience and world-class terrain. Snow conditions here are amongst the most reliable in Europe, and thanks to its links with Tignes – with which it constitutes the legendary Espace Killy – it boasts access to one of the largest interlinked ski areas on the planet. Add to that Europe’s largest snowmaking facility and France’s liveliest après ski, and it’s clear what makes a Val d'Isère skiing adventure such a tempting prospect.

Val d'Isère Fast Facts

Domain altitude: 1,850m
Lowest slope: 1,550m
Highest lift: 3456m
Total pistes: 300km
Lifts: 76
Runs: 154

  • Green: 21 (14%)
  • Blue: 67 (43%)
  • Red: 42 (27%)
  • Black: 24 (16%)

Getting There

The nearest airports are

  • Chambéry (144km / 2hrs)
  • Grenoble (216km / 2.5hrs)
  • Lyon (221km / 2.5hrs)
  • Geneva (226km / 2.5hrs).

Such is its popularity that Val d’Isère is very well connected by various private transfer services.

Thanks to the Eurostar, train travel is also a viable option. There’s a weekly service linking St Pancras International and Bourg-Saint-Maurice, with departures from London on Friday evenings and Saturday mornings, and return leg departures on Saturday mornings and Saturday nights. From Bourg-Saint-Maurice it’s an easy 40-minutes (30km) journey by taxi, or you can opt for the public bus service.

We Love

  • Long winter season, running from late November to early May
  • In terms of sheer size and variety of terrain, the ski area is practically unbeatable
  • Modern and efficient lift system that effectively handles the crowds

The Downsides

  • Prices can be very much like the resort’s most challenging black runs: steep!
  • The prevalence of Brits can make it easy to forget you’re in France
  • Incredible popularity means it can get very busy during peak season

The Domain

Val d’Isère is without doubt one of France’s prettiest domains. Originally dating from the 17th century, it has successfully retained much of its traditional charm, with attractive stone and wood buildings supplying character in abundance. Now partially car-free, it’s a thoroughly pleasant place to walk around, with a wealth of excellent shopping and dining options on offer.

A couple of kilometres towards the head of the valley lies Le Fornet, a sleepy and picturesque hamlet with some truly stunning Savoyard style chalets. Meanwhile, back down towards the lake at the mouth of the valley is La Daille, where the majority of the domain’s less expensive accommodation is to be found. Both are linked to Val d’Isère itself by a regular free bus service.

The Ski Area

Even as a standalone entity, Val d’Isère would be a strong contender amongst global ski domains. Factor in the links with Tignes and the wider Espace Killy area, and its presence in the top echelons becomes abundantly clear.

Not all interlinked ski areas were created equal. While some tend to suffer from slow lift connections and lengthy piste links, the Espace Killy is the real deal: a cohesive, genuinely functional domain. With over 300km of trails and some of the very best off-piste in Europe – all seamlessly integrated by a modern, efficient lift system – it’s genuinely one of the best places in the world to go skiing or snowboarding.

Aside from its sheer size, the area’s strength lies in its diversity. Thanks to the broad variety of terrain, there really is something for all comers. Experts will love the selection of long, challenging blacks, including the legendary La Face de Bellevarde, known simply as ‘La Face’. At 3km in length and with a vertical drop of 959m, it’s steep, highly demanding and practically a local rite of passage.

With a combined total of 109 red and blue runs, Val d’Isère is a paradise for intermediates. There are plenty of well-groomed, undulating slopes that lend themselves perfectly to fast, easy cruising, while an excellent halfpipe and multiple terrain parks offer potential airtime for skiers and snowboarders of all ability levels.

Meanwhile, newbies and children are well served by the newly revamped Solaise sector, which offers three covered magic carpets and an abundance of easily accessible beginner runs. There are also two nursery areas: one in La Daille, and one in the centre of Val d’Isère.

Another benefit of Val d’Isère’s enduring popularity is that it enjoys a strong and consistent influx of money, much of which gets continually reinvested in infrastructure. As such, the lift system is being constantly modernised, and the standard of piste grooming is amongst the best in France. Recent developments include replacing the old Solaise lift with a modern 10-person gondola, increasing capacity by 40% and eliminating some of the domain’s most notorious bottlenecks.

As you’d expect from a domain of such stature, Val d’Isère restaurants range from the relatively affordable to the hair-raisingly expensive. Naturally, traditional Savoyarde cuisine is readily available, but there are plenty of international options and even a couple of Michelin-starred eateries that will satisfy even the most demanding of gastronomes.

La Peau de Vache, Bellevarde
Famed equally for its hearty portions and the stunning views from its outdoor terrace, La Peau de Vache is a true stalwart amongst Val d’Isère’s mountain restaurants. All the traditional Savoyard favourites are on offer, along with a surprisingly inventive gourmet burger selection. You’ll find it halfway down notorious local black run La Face, but it can also be easily accessed from the Bellevarde Express chair.

L'Atelier d'Edmond, Le Fornet
Replete with two Michelin stars, L'Atelier d'Edmond represents the pinnacle of local gastronomy. Under the canny auspices of Chef Benoît Vidal, this gourmet restaurant provides a truly memorable fine dining experience, with standouts including crawfish and pike mousseline with candied lemon, and scallops with flavoured fir butter. If you’re feeling a little less flush, the adjoining bistro serves a fantastic lunch at slightly friendlier prices.

La Table de l’Ours, Val d'Isère
Val d'Isère’s 5-star Hotel les Barmes de l’Ours offers several excellent eateries, but Michelin-starred La Table de l’Ours is the pick of the bunch. All wood beamed ceilings and rustic-yet-chic décor, it exudes a wonderful ambience, with Chef Antoine Gras dishing up an imaginative menu that effortlessly lives up to the hype. Specialties include gratin of crozets with winter truffle, and braised turbot with Oscietre caviar.

Val d’Isère’s nightlife is the stuff of legend, with a standard of après-ski that most French domains can only dream of. From sophisticated cocktail bars to live music venues and heaving late night dancefloors, you’ll find it all here! Read on for our top pick of the Val d'Isère bars.

La Folie Douce
A Val d’Isère institution, La Folie Douce is the de rigueur spot for a bit of on-hill après action. Offering live music, a large terrace and a famously lively vibe, it’s the quintessential launch pad for an evening’s revelry, and its partner restaurant, La Fruitière, serves an excellent lunch. It’s located at the top of the La Daille gondola, so you can always opt to ride the lift down afterwards.

M Bar
Located in the 4-star Hotel Tsanteleina, the M Bar offers an extensive range of beers, wines and cocktails in a pleasantly refined setting. With an open fireplace, comfy sofas and free WIFI, it’s a great choice for pre-dinner drinks, a late night tipple or simply warming up with a hot beverage after a long day on the slopes.

La Cave… sur le Comptoir
Val d’Isère has no shortage of bars serving cheap happy hour drinks, but if you’re looking for something a little more refined than this small, cosy wine bar is definitely worth a visit. Expect an excellent selection of wines along with some particularly mouthwatering fromage and charcuterie plates.

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