Val d’Isere: The Top France Winter Destination
As tempting as it was to stay indoors with the endless array of entertainment options, Val d’lsere’s inviting mountain runs and lively apres scene beckoned. Once you grab your warm boots from their heated rack, it’s an eight- to 10-minute walk to the lifts and telepheriques that take skiers and snowboarders to the Solaise (2,560m) and Rocher de Bellevarde (2,827m) areas. Val d’lsere and neighbouring Tignes make up Espace Killy 0www.espacekilly.com) – named for the French World Cup alpine ski racer and triple Olympic champion, Jean-Claude Killy – one of Europe’s largest ski areas, with 300 kilometres of marked trails and no shortage of pristine off-piste opportunities.
It’s also one of the highest – Le Grande Motte reaches a quite literally breathtaking 3,456 metres – with a majority of the action taking place above 2,000 metres, a chilling height that allows Espace Killy to enjoy one of Europe’s longest ski seasons. It’s worth bearing in mind that the high altitude is easier on those more experienced with such oxygen-deprived heights, so it’s wise to pay careful attention to how your body is responding, particularly during the first day or two as you acclimatise.
Pit stops are part of the charm of these slopes. Tete de Solaise, perched at the edge of the Solaise area and accessible by piste or telepherique, is a tented gourmet restaurant with a bubbly bar and a sun terrace boasting panoramic views of the surrounding peaks. Order fresh seafood, like sesame-crusted seared tuna, raw marinated scallops and mussels, amid recently refurbished, retro-chic interiors that include cowhide table settings, tree root tables and shiny new electric fireplaces to warm up at. With plans for a hotel in the future, it’s a spot for dedicated skiers to keep an eye on.
Once you’ve got your ski legs back, take a ride on the Olympique telepherique and keep your eyes on the steep face below to plan your route back down on the black run, Face de Bellevarde. Originally created as a downhill course for the 1992 Winter Olympics, today the adrenaline-pumping trail is one of the resort’s showpiece pistes, putting those conquering it – or being conquered by it -plainly on display for anyone in the village to see. If you can make it down with finesse – and perhaps especially if you don’t – it conveniently ends near a cache of apres-ski bars in the heart of the village, the newest of which is Cocorico (0033-4-7924 6004, doudoimeclub.com) at Doudoune.