The French Alps A Glam­orous Win­ter Get­away

World Travel Magazine - - Feature French Alps - By Hubb Lak­erveld

The French Alps are home to iconic snow-capped peaks and the high­est moun­tain, Mont Blanc, in west­ern Europe. The com­bi­na­tion of charm­ing old towns and im­pec­ca­ble ski slopes cater to ev­ery trav­eller who wants to spend qual­ity time in this scenic won­der­land. Ex­plore the Roof of Europe from the pic­turesque Cha­monix re­gion, win­ter wal­halla Val d’isère or the un­spoiled Mer­can­tour Na­tional Park. Ex­pect an out­door play­ground with per­fect slopes, thrilling ac­tiv­i­ties and plenty of time for re­lax­ation.


Icy pyra­mids seem to guard Cha­monix, with Mont Blanc be­ing a snow-capped Op­ti­mus Prime. Cable cars glide through the air around the high­est peak in west­ern Europe. On the way to drop peo­ple at one of the splen­did, ra­zor-sharp ridges the cable cars seem to dis­solve into the el­e­ments. Snow, ice, and rocks rule in this des­o­lated king­dom of Natura. There’s no way you’ll visit this snowy re­gion of the French Alps with­out ty­ing on your skis and ex­plor­ing the slopes of France’s ma­jor peaks and their crisp blan­kets of snow. The white hills at­tract a di­verse crowd, rang­ing from the ul­ti­mate ten­der­foot to soar­ing snow mas­ters. Cha­monix re­gion is known for its per­fect slopes and ex­cel­lent snow qual­ity. Hit the hills!

Be­sides ski­ing your­self, watch­ing oth­ers from a pri­vate hot tub might be one of the ul­ti­mate joys in alpine life. Over­look­ing the white world and dra­matic moun­tain­ous back­drops one can dream away in a steam­ing bath in Õ des Lauzes Spa in the vil­lage of La Léchère. This lush well­ness re­treat of­fers de­light­ful mas­sages, sooth­ing pools, and an out­door jacuzzi with Alp views. The wa­ter used is said to have ther­a­peu­tic ef­fects. Most of all, a dip into the balmy swim­ming pools is more than en­joy­able af­ter a day of ski­ing.

In case the legs need some re­lax­ing af­ter wan­der­ing around in ski boots, there’s al­ways shops around to revel in lux­u­ri­ous projects. Make a grand ap­pear­ance on the slope by pur­chas­ing good qual­ity win­ter gear and clothes in the Ogier store. Skilled or not; all eyes on the ski­ing tracks will be on you with pur­chases from the lo­cal Swarovski branch or gor­geous ac­ces­sories from Zanetta.

The in­evitable con­se­quence of a lively time at the moun­tain drops is a belly call­ing for nour­ish­ment. Step in­side the rich es­tab­lish­ment Al­bert 1ER in cen­tral Cha­monix and be­come part of a glo­ri­ous food ex­pe­ri­ence. This culi­nary fairy tale has been re­warded with two Miche­lin stars. Dec­o­rated with classy wooden roof beams and ritzy so­fas, this diner is a ser­e­nade to marvel­lous style. Crab ravi­oli, white truf­fle and aged French wine never tasted bet­ter than af­ter a full-on snowy en­ter­prise.

“Feast on the plate, feast for the eyes” seems to be the for­mula of Restau­rant La Ca­bane. Un­cork­ing your French cham­pagne sur­rounded by snow might be the most en­joy­able win­ter de­light. The restau­rant is en­tirely made of tim­ber com­po­nents and has clas­sic sil­ver chan­de­liers. Stun­ning views of Mont Blanc are on the house.

From a dis­tance Flo­cons de Sel may look like a sim­ple wooden cabin, but truth tells this re­treat has a golf course, an in­door and out­door pool and a ham­mam. Gourmet good­ness is served in an at­trac­tive din­ing area with large win­dows and nat­u­ral light. Authen­tic clocks and un­pol­ished wood­work gives this val­ley res­i­dence a hint of vin­tage.

The alpine scenery never gets old, and there­fore Ho­tel Mont­blanc is po­ten­tially your new get­away of choice. Dream away in the lush suites, while en­joy­ing your favourite playlist with the Bose sound sys­tem or get­ting the pores to work in the pri­vate sauna. From the spa­cious bal­cony, one can gaze upon the white alpine peaks, in­clud­ing Mont Blanc it­self.

Tak­ing a cable car is one way to get close to some of Europe’s high­est moun­tains. For a jaw-drop­ping meet and greet with the gen­tle gi­ants, it’s re­ward­ing to opt for a he­li­copter ride. Tours of­fer bird’s eye views of the tri­an­gu­lar sum­mits, the Mont Blanc Mas­sif and the Roof of Europe it­self: Mont Blanc, stand­ing at 4810 me­ters. Trav­el­ling any closer to the soul of Mother Na­ture is barely pos­si­ble.


Wel­come to the off the record win­ter cap­i­tal of France: the Val d’isère re­gion with its same-named town and Courchevel. Ev­ery­thing in this vil­lages re­volves around the great sports ac­tiv­i­ties. Res­tau­rants re­warded with Miche­lin stars, art gal­leries, bou­tique shops and

Courchevel’s own air­port make for an even greater ap­peal. Thanks to the air con­nec­tion, one can ex­change the jam-packed al­leys of Lyon for a win­ter won­der­land in the Alps within the blink of an eye. Down­town Val d’isère is dif­fer­ent from Courchevel but equally di­vine and pre­cious to win­ter sports lovers.

An open buf­fet for ski en­thu­si­asts might be the most ac­cu­rate de­scrip­tion for this flaw­less area, for there are over 300 kilo­me­tres of ski slopes sur­round­ing the French town. Val d’isère is part of grand Tarentaise Val­ley, a mon­strous ski uni­verse. Thanks to its end­less well-pre­pared ramps this low­land is known as one of the best ski­ing hotspots around the globe. All slope cat­e­gories can be found in this win­ter par­adise; ski­ing dum­mies can kick their ex­pe­ri­ences off on easy green hills and dare­dev­ils can feast on nearly tox­i­cant black drops. Pack­ing your bags for a win­ter hol­i­day in Val d’isère is a no-brainer. With sum­mits up to 3500 me­tres, you won’t ever be dis­ap­pointed by grassy slopes dur­ing win­ter.

Fancy a lus­trous après-ski party? The M-bar, in the heart of Val d’isère, man­ages to mix the joy­ous vibe of af­ter-sports en­ter­tain­ment with a classy open fire and an end­less cham­pagne card. Spend some pri­vate qual­ity time with loved ones in M’s in­ti­mate room, and get the hang of the alpine life­style.

Buzzing Val d’isère is an authen­tic moun­tain town dot­ted with many old churches and charm­ing stone houses with wooden win­dows. You’ll find splen­did eater­ies, where you can re­gain en­ergy af­ter an ac­tive day in the open air. Din­ing at L’ Ate­lier d’ed­mond isn’t just about grab­bing a meal. It’s a sen­sa­tion, a cap­ti­vat­ing ex­pe­ri­ence that re­fuses to un­tie its grip on the senses. The at­mos­phere is as mag­i­cal as the menu. L’ Ate­lier d’ed­mond breaths the air of an authen­tic work­shop. Wood, ham­mers and chis­els on the walls are il­lu­mi­nated by in­dus­trial lights. The bun­dle of light re­veals the wiz­ardry on your plate at the same time. It ap­pears there are ma­gi­cians in the kitchen of this culi­nary en­ter­prise, crowned with two Miche­lin stars. Among other things, lovely game and re­fined fish come out the chef’s high hat.

Val d’isère stands out for its stores with lux­u­ri­ous win­ter sports gear. Planks Cloth­ing is a lo­cal man­u­fac­turer of comfy win­ter clothes that make you look fash­ion­able on the ski tracks.

The cosy streets in the town of Courchevel of­fer more than classy jack­ets and snow boots. Fash­ion brands like Her­mes and Chanel com­fort all vogue crav­ings dur­ing the hol­i­day. At­tire store Blu&berry is a warm bath for fash­ion lovers, and has a wide se­lec­tion of cre­ative pat­terns.

Win­ter walk­ing is an ex­cel­lent way of ex­plor­ing the vast white scenery in the Val d’isère re­gion. It may sound like a point­less ex­er­cise for those who don’t dare to tie on their skis, but words can be de­ceiv­ing. What to bring? Shoes with metal pins, and a healthy por­tion of vi­tal­ity. Wan­der­ing around en­chant­ing land­scapes not only is a grand sight­see­ing tour, it’s also a great way to lose some re­dun­dant après-ski pounds.

Courchevel, with its charm­ing chalets and el­e­gant moun­tain houses is the re­gion’s best bet for overnight com­fort. Praised for the lo­ca­tion, Le Strato blows ev­ery­one who wit­nesses its grandeur away. Plush so­fas, silky soft car­pets, and mag­nif­i­cent wood­work make the guest feel like they rented their own bil­lion­aire’s man­sion. When en­ter­ing this ac­com­mo­da­tion you set foot into a well­ness heaven with its very own sauna, fit­ness room, and a large pool. The menu of the one Miche­lin star restau­rant will make ev­ery­one’s mouth wa­ter.

Some­how the grand Hô­tel Le K2 Palace looks like a cave house carved out of the moun­tains. Stylish black and grey are the dom­i­nant colours in the spa­cious suites, with strik­ing red ac­cents in the fur­ni­ture. The herbal tea room and large pool are some of the lux­u­ri­ous fa­cil­i­ties on Hô­tel Le K2 Palace’s menu. Fine din­ing is guar­an­teed in the lus­cious restau­rant, awarded with two Miche­lin stars. Wel­come to the Euro­pean Hi­malayas!


As a Promised Land for out­door lovers Mer­can­tour Na­tional Park is blessed with rag­ing rapids, pointed sum­mits and an over­dose of moun­tain bike tracks. Climb ar­du­ous rock walls, test your guts while raft­ing through turquoise gorges and gaze upon the eter­nal galaxy dur­ing deep dark nights.

As the tip of the Alps’ tail, the Na­tional Park stretches al­most as far as the Mediter­ranean Sea, with the city of Nice be­ing an ur­banised gate­way. Colour­ful plas­tered houses, tim­ber huts, and clock tow­ers dom­i­nate the sky­line of set­tle­ments cramped be­tween nar­row val­leys.

De­spite its lower alti­tude com­pared to Val d’isère, dur­ing win­ter Mer­can­tour Na­tional Park is al­ways vis­ited by snow clouds. Isola has about 120 kilo­me­tres of slopes and is the un­crowned win­ter sports king in this re­gion. Twenty lifts cater ski and snow­board en­thu­si­asts from all lev­els.

More trails are wait­ing to be dis­cov­ered. Travel along rag­ing rivers, snow-cov­ered trees and fairy-tale vil­lages. Pois­ing on horse­back, one can en­deav­our a jour­ney into the in­nards of this French won­der­land. This Fel­low­ship of the Alps can last up to five days, dis­play­ing the glis­ten­ing beauty of Mer­can­tour Na­tional Park.

Rid­ing horses def­i­nitely awakes the snooz­ing ap­petite. Se­cluded be­hind a heavy wooden door and aqua­ma­rine win­dows sets down Au­berge Lo Robur Restau­rant. The beau­ti­fully mortared build­ing in the tiny al­ley­ways of Roure mu­nic­i­pal­ity is just a sneak peek of what’s be­hind the tim­ber gate. Turn­ing the pages of the menu is an ap­peal­ing jour­ney across con­ti­nents, time zones, and cul­tures. The ex­hil­a­ra­tion view from the out­door din­ing area is – if pos­si­ble – even more im­pres­sive than the ex­ten­sive wine and seafood menu.

In the wildlife refuge, one can seek for en­coun­ters with the most iconic in­hab­i­tant of the French Alps. Drift through the woods to­gether with a ranger dur­ing a breath-tak­ing wolf track­ing ses­sion. Find foot­steps and per­haps a pair of pointy ears as well. If the wolfs fail to ap­pear there’s a thrilling al­ter­na­tive; try to spot them from the sky. Paraglid­ing is no­to­ri­ously re­ward­ing in this re­gion, bathing in creamy sun­light for 300 days per year.

Hot, cold, cov­ered in snow, or tanned by the Mediter­ranean sun; re­gard­less of your phys­i­cal con­di­tion af­ter an an­i­mat­ing day in the fresh air, an in­ti­mate home is what ev­ery­one craves for. Le Lodge Isola 2000 is the per­fect get­away to rest the weary legs. Start your af­ter-ski re­cov­ery in the lounge where you can dream away in the li­brary and the danc­ing sparks of the fire­place.

At the foot of im­pres­sive rock for­ma­tions Chalet Marano Ho­tel Restau­rant & Spa stands out with its sauna and a full-ser­vice spa.

The classy suites dis­play an alpine at­mos­phere thanks to tim­ber fur­ni­ture and win­ter-themed art­works. Af­ter the com­pli­men­tary break­fast and grab­bing a cup of cof­fee from your per­sonal espresso ma­chine it’s time to hit the snow. An ad­di­tional rea­son to stay here is the fab­u­lous ski-in and ski-out ac­cess, for easy win­ter sports fun.

Have you ever dreamed about hav­ing a pri­vate villa with a large pool and a rooftop ter­race with for­est views? Pick Les Horten­sias in Lan­tosque as a tem­po­rary home and wake up re­al­is­ing this place ac­tu­ally ex­ists. An ex­ten­sive se­lec­tion of books, board games and dvd’s will make ev­ery win­ter evening a cosy af­fair.


From the French cap­i­tal, it takes about 6 hours to reach both Cha­monix and Val d’isère by TGV train, although the clos­est sta­tion to Val d’isère is Landry at 29 kilo­me­tres. For Mer­can­tour Na­tional Park a trans­fer in Nice is re­quired. Fancy driv­ing the scenic route on your own? There are sev­eral rental car op­tions and sev­eral ac­com­mo­da­tions of­fer shut­tle ser­vice.


This sunny coastal city is an im­por­tant gate­way to the French Alps. Take a TGV or SNCF train in Nice and hop off 10 hours later in Cha­monix or Val d’isère. Go­ing to Isola in Mer­can­tour Na­tional Park only takes 55 min­utes by SNCF train.

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