In the Tarentaise Valley in the Rhône-Alpes region of south-eastern France, you’ll find the greatest concentration of world-class ski resorts in the world. One of these, Val-d’Isère, hosts the Alpine Ski World Cup every year, and in 1992 the town hosted several downhill events of the Albertville Winter Olympics on the Face de Bellevarde.
Most of the visitors who flock to Val-d’Isère come to try their hand (and foot) at these Olympian slopes. But if your family members aren’t all equally keen on skiing, there are plenty of other activities in both summer and winter that are fun for everyone.
Try out another classic frosty sport at Val-d’Isère’s outdoor ice skating rink. The rink, or patinoire, is located in the centre of the village and opens for the winter season in December. A fun activity for families or groups of friends: take in the mountain views while gliding over the ice. Afterwards, warm up with a hot drink or go window-shopping around town.
In summer, try canoe rafting down a mountain river. Unlike those wobbly aluminium crafts you’re used to tipping over on the lake, canoe rafts are unsinkable, inflatable crafts that will allow you to make the white-water river descent with little technique or experience necessary! All excursions are led by a qualified guide, and all boaters are supplied with neoprene suits, a life jacket and a helmet. With two people per canoe and four to five boats per trip, this is a perfect activity for families or groups of friends.
Available in both summer and winter, helicopter tours are an exhilarating way to view the region. Many local flight companies in Val-d’Isère offer daily flights, weather permitting. Some helicopters can fit up to seven people, so bring the whole family and enjoy the breathtaking views of snow-capped summits, forests, valleys and glaciers.
Vanoise National Park
Val-d’Isère lies on the border of France’s first National Park. Established in 1963, Vanoise National Park, together with its adjacent Italian neighbour, forms a protected area of 1,250 square kilometres. The park is famous for its large population of Alpine ibex, along with other fauna including alpine chamois, golden eagles, wolves, lynxes, hares and badgers. The park offers several guided excursions, or alternatively you can explore the park on your own. Mountaineering, snow-shoeing and horseback riding are all popular activities.
How to Get to Val-d’Isère
If you’re loaded down with skiing gear and other equipment, driving might be the only option for you and your family. You’ll need to book your crossing via the Eurotunnel well ahead of time, with fares starting at £23 per car each way. The 750-mile drive to Val-d’Isère will take you through such enchanting French cities as Reims, Dijon and Lyon, all of which are well worth a look! Make sure you’re prepared for the drive with snow chains for your tyres (if driving in winter) and a sat-nav device. You must be especially careful on the many hairpin bends in alpine roads, especially when a tour bus is coming in the opposite direction! Also remember that drivers in France must have a breathalyser, high-visibility jacket, reflective warning triangle and headlamp beam reflectors (British cars only) in their vehicles at all times, or face a fine.
You can also get to Val-d’Isère via public transport. From London St. Pancras International and Ashford International, you can catch a direct Eurostar train to the French Alps on Friday and Saturday mornings between 19 December 2015 and 9 April 2016. The closest Eurostar station to Val-d’Isère is Bourg St. Maurice. From the train station, you can book a local bus or taxi to your final destination in Val-d’Isère.
If you’d prefer to travel by air, a ninety-minute flight can get you to Geneva International Airport. From the airport, Shuttle Direct provides the best ski transfers Geneva can offer. The three-hour drive takes you through amazing Alpine scenery, so sit back and enjoy the ride!
Where to Stay
Le Kern – Located in the heart of Val-d’Isère, this clean and comfortable two-star hotel is only 200 yards from the Bellevarde ski lift. Fuel up for an adventure-filled day with the hotel’s ample breakfast buffet, or relax with snacks and drinks at Le Kern’s bar.
La Tovière – Perfectly positioned at the foot of the ski slopes and only 150 yards from two of the ski lifts, La Tovière is perfect for ski enthusiasts. Its wide variety of rooms includes a ‘family room’, a two-room suite that sleeps four. The restaurant serves up traditional French and Savoyard specialties, and the bar, Le Blyss, is the perfect place for mum and dad to unwind at the end of a jam-packed day.
Hôtel Les Barmes De l’Ours – Looking for the celebrity treatment? Then the Hôtel Les Barmes De l’Ours is for you! With an indoor swimming pool, spa, three restaurants (one with a Michelin star), a beauty shop and evening entertainment you might just content yourself with staying inside for the whole of your vacation! But if you can tear yourself away from the massage table, the Hôtel Les Barmes De l’Ours has ski-to-door access, so you can get to the slopes with no buses and no fuss.