With no less than six valleys and 23 resorts and villages (including 2 classified) in the heart of the French Alps, the Massif de l’Oisans clearly surprises nature lovers. Not enough to display a friendly alpine area of 490km of runs and a northern area of 92km, the massif has accumulated villages marked by history, curiously jewels left intact and simply with calm and peacefulness so coveted by city people in search of serenity. So what is there to do in Oisans? One tastes the great virgin area of off-piste domain La Grave, dashes on the longest European runway at the start of the Alpe d’Huez; one discovers the joy of snow with the family at the resorts of Oz-en-Oisans, Vaujany, Villard-Reculas or Auris-en-Oisans. In short, one savours the charm and sunny family resorts! Other local activities? Activities outside skiing with a choice of ‘ice-climbing, skijoring’ igloo building, sprees in huskies sleigh, snowkitting, snowshoeing or discovery of the winter wildlife in the Park National des Ecrins. For the family there are two choices: The Vénéon, a craft village nettled in the Vénéon Valley at 900 meters, connected in 8 minutes to the two Alpes, perfect to unwind; or Oz-en-Oisans, the quintessential family resort, 100% pedestrian perched at 1350m of altitude, displaying infrastructure of quality, children’s entertainment and mild sun, connected to the Alpe d’Huez and its 250km of runs.
Halfway between Mont Blanc and Lake Leman next to Geneva and Evian, connected to Avoriaz with the tele-cabin of Super Morzine, Morzine plays on the authentic village, cultivating gracefully its Savoyard charm all around its 650km of pistes. Becoming THE ski resorts in the 30’s, Morzine continues its merry way, refocussing its offer on the rise (47 establishments of which 7 4*hotels) especially towards children. Labelled Family Plus, the Savoyard resort deploys a host of infrastructure suitable for all ages. Snow garden, toboggan runs, ice rink, water park, children’s shows, torchlight descent, free entertainment, carpentry workshop, baby snow, etc…: it is generally unknown to sink into boredom!
This is THE paradise for lovers of skiing and the great outdoors. Perched on a South facing plateau at some 1860m the Alpe d’Huez displays valiantly its peak Pic Blanc, culminating at 3330 meters and offering a panorama covering 1/5th of the French landscape. A natural topography in the shape of a triangle which makes it a highly progressive domain: the higher in altitude, the slopes becomes more technical. At the foot, the green and blue run, above, the mythical black run of Sarenne located on the eponymous glacier. Not to miss: the X-Fly, the multi-space leisure outdoor infatuated with a 9 meter high tower from which gravitate two giant zip lines. Amazing too, the eco ice rink of 1500m2 perched at 1800 meters south facing altitude. Last but not least, Alpe d’Huez now displays the Family Plus label and naturally all that goes with it, nursery, children cottage, and family packages are therefore on the card.
The highest of Europe (2300 meters of altitude) and culmination of the largest ski area in the world (the 3 Valleys), Val Thorens combines skiing at the top with an 100% cosmopolitan atmosphere festive and warm at the foot. Because there, one thing is certain, though the resorts is crowned with 4 and 5 stars hotels blooming at the summit alongside titillating gourmet spots, one does not fuss!
As for the accommodation, followers of upscale addresses will not be left out with Koh-I Nor 5* Europe’s tallest hotel clinging to the mountainside above 2300m and a fifth star for the Fitz Roy; the two hotels come as complement to the first ‘ski palace’ choice in Val Thorens, the Altapura, one of the finest hotels in the world.
The activities that are the delight of local skiers, from tobogganing over no less than 6km (or 45 minutes downhill), the ice circuit Alain Prost, mountain biking on snow at the top of the Péchet glacier at 3000m altitude.
It is the most Italian of the Savoy resorts: perched at 1850 meters in the valley of the Haute-Tarentaise, close to Italy, Rosière has all of a charming cocoon mixing cleverly the best of Savoyard and Val Aosta traditions. Barely 11,000 beds and the only one four-star hotel; a pleasure to be in a place designed for the family without being stormed by hordes of tourists in moon-boots.
A good idea to ski in peace is to rally during the week with Espace Saint Bernado, Italian neighbour of Rosière with a 160km of quiet trails, serene, for skiing in freedom. For anything else, the labelled resort Family Plus offers a string of activities for all ages: from paragliding to freestyle, a dinner in a yurt to speed-riding without omitting the essential outings in snow-shoe or huskies, nothing has been left out!
Close to Rosière, impeccably located opposite Mont Blanc, Courmayeur is one of the hype Italian resort where flows the fine Turin and Milan tourists without veering to ‘a sky mass-market’. And for good reason, this town-spa (one has to delve into the naturally 37 degree warm water) cultivates jealously its lifestyle, its enchanting scenery and its sense of welcoming. Between 100 kilometers of trails spread over 2238 meters in altitude, one takes the time to stroll through one of the loveliest pedestrian streets of the Alps, Via Roma, with its architecture so typical of the Aosta Valley which offers a selection of chic boutiques the Italian way. For dining, local wonders are a hit without melting the plastic card. What’s more? The off-run thanks to 24 kilometers downhill in a proper astonishing landscape. The only requirements: to follow a high mountain guide, crevices are numerous and fearful.
Whether one is an adept of tranquillity in charming and isolated villages or of highly thrilling sensations in renowned resorts, the Aosta Valley offers a bundle of possibilities. Surrounded by the four highest peaks in Europe, its exceptional geographic position allows notably taking breakfast in Italy, skiing in Switzerland and dinning in France within the same ski-pass. To do: to rally the seventy kilometers of ski slopes of Pila resort, between vestiges of the megalithic area, Roman walls, medieval churches and neoclassical buildings for skiing in another dimension. For the fans of free-ride, the valley declines plethora of sensational slopes, steep corridors and breath-taking scenery, the more adventurous will climb 4,000 meters to try the heli-skiing experience over thrillingly beautiful itineraries offering uneven heights of over 2,000 meters. To recover from one’s emotions, as many as five starred restaurant make the Aosta Valley an epicurean paradise. Finally to perfect everything one will go to the Springs of Pre-Saint-Didier fully restored in 2005, with a large offer of care and three large outdoor thermal pools with incomparable views of Mont Blanc; for diversity try also the Baths of St Vincent and the latest generation spa.
Unwinding more than 300 kilometres of runs during over than 150 frenzied days, Val d’Isère combines the label ‘Family Plus’ that reassures, tables and hotels increasingly starred and an eternal charm of village mountain. The appreciation of the resort continues to climb, year after year. Behind this, the resort continued efforts to welcome the youngest people, to offer hotel deals for every budget (including the most demanding, with no less than 5* hotels) innovating in its offer. Hotel Grand Paradise ****offers a saving refreshment, Hotel Ormelune won its Fourth Michelin Star, restaurant La Table des Neiges displays now its two Rosettes in the Michelin Guide and Chef Alain Lamaison has taken over the reins of the restaurant’s kitchens La Table de l’Ours at hotel ***** Les Barnes de l’Ours. For everyone else, one heads towards the completely redesigned ice-circuit with drive on ice on the latest life-size BMW models, karting and driving on snow groomer before perfecting one’s swing in a professional golf simulator.
A strong and rugged land, rich in colors and ancient traditions, a surprisingly mild winter, a lunar landscape to schuss in a clever contrast of black lava rock, immaculate snow and fire… there are decidedly thousand and one reasons to go skiing on Mount Etna in Sicily! Renting a house on the side of the volcano slope, in the heart of the orange grove, dining in the evening in a small fishing port, walking the next day to Taormina before visiting the Benedictine monastery and hanging up at Duomo square, all within a breathtaking backdrop.