Skis and tran­quil­lity

Look­ing for a home in a tra­di­tional and tran­quil ski re­sort with an au­then­tic French am­biance? Glide right this way, says Ruth Wood

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Au­then­tic Alpine ski re­sorts far from the madding crowds and com­mer­cial­ism

So you love ski­ing and you love France but don’t want to pay sky-high prices to dance on ta­bles in a soul­less pur­pose-built re­sort spoilt by com­mer­cial glitz and crowds of Brits? Many peo­ple will tell you to head for the Pyrénées, Jura, the Vosges or Mas­sif Cen­tral.

But if you adore the snow-sure Alps – and af­ter all the travel in­dus­try does make it easy to get there – then these tra­di­tional and tran­quil re­sorts may be the place to buy your­self an Alpine re­treat. And the great news is that prop­erty prices are gen­er­ally cheaper than in the trendier, busier re­sorts.

Samoëns A huge lime tree dat­ing back 600 years dom­i­nates the traf­fic-free cen­tre of Samoëns, a re­minder that this Savo­yard vil­lage is about as far as you can get from a pur­pose-built ski re­sort. In fact, you can’t ski in and out of the vil­lage, which is only 720m above sea level, and you could hap­pily spend a hol­i­day here sim­ply wan­der­ing the nar­row streets, sam­pling the cheese, skat­ing on the out­door rink and vis­it­ing the botan­i­cal gar­den, if it’s not un­der snow!

Hop aboard the gon­dola or shut­tle bus that de­parts from the vil­lage, how­ever, and in min­utes you can be on a 1,600m-high plateau at the gate­way to the Grand Mas­sif ski area, with 265km of snow-sure pistes con­nected to Flaine, Les Car­roz and more.

One fan of Samoëns is travel writer and ex­pe­ri­enced skier Mary No­vakovich. “I love the at­mos­phere,” she says, re­call­ing a re­cent visit. “The vil­lage is charm­ing, laid-back and very French. I heard hardly any English voices and it’s not a party place. It’s very down to earth, with lit­tle crêperies and restau­rants, a few bars and those nice lit­tle shops where you buy things to dec­o­rate your home like an Alpine chalet!”

Factfile

Pop­u­la­tion: 2,340 Ski area: Le Grand Mas­sif, Haute-savoie Vil­lage al­ti­tude: 720m Alpine ski­ing: 1,600m-2,500m Runs: 0 into the vil­lage but gon­dola and free shut­tle bus to the Grand Mas­sif Air­port: Geneva 1h10

One of the birth­places of Re­blo­chon cheese, the vil­lage of Le Grand Bor­nand has more cows than in­hab­i­tants

Combloux

Vic­tor Hugo hailed Combloux the “Pearl of the Alps”. That could have been the kiss of death for the Savo­yard vil­lage fac­ing the Mont Blanc mas­sif, and yet to­day’s vis­i­tors will find an un­spoiled French farm­ing com­mu­nity with rus­tic ar­chi­tec­ture and a warm wel­come.

“Combloux has ab­so­lutely fan­tas­tic views of Mont Blanc,” says Howard Watts, di­rec­tor of Alpine Prop­erty World, which will soon be mar­ket­ing new apart­ments in the vil­lage. “All the jetset go to nearby Megève, but Combloux is a very pretty, tra­di­tional area that is par­tic­u­larly good for fam­i­lies and close to Cha­monix.”

Of­fer­ing plenty for ex­pert, in­ter­me­di­ate and be­gin­ner skiers alike, Combloux is part of Les Portes du Mont Blanc ski area and linked to the huge Eva­sion area.the re­sort has the Famille Plus la­bel recog­nis­ing its child­care fa­cil­i­ties and fam­ily-friendly ac­tiv­i­ties in­clud­ing horse-drawn car­riage rides and swim­ming in Europe’s first eco­log­i­cal lake. The vil­lage has a weekly market and a spa, and the up­mar­ket shops of Megève are only a few min­utes’ drive away.

Factfile

Pop­u­la­tion: 2,100 Ski area: Les Portes du Mont Blanc/ Eva­sion, Haute-savoie Vil­lage al­ti­tude: 1,200m Alpine ski­ing: 1,183-1,930m Runs: 18 blue, 14 green, 29 red, 7 black Air­port: Geneva 1h

Serre Che­va­lier

Loved for its di­verse ter­rain, for­est runs and value for money, Serre Che­va­lier is not a fash­ion­able des­ti­na­tion. Its im­age could change when the trendy Folie Douce ho­tel chain opens up in 2020 in Vil­leneuve, one of the 13 com­mu­ni­ties that make up the re­sort on the edge of the Ecrins na­tional park.

How­ever, it is the lack of pre­ten­sion and nightlife that ap­peals to many skiers, who also ap­pre­ci­ate the friendly fam­ily-run busi­nesses and French feel of the vil­lages with their nar­row streets and cosy bars and restau­rants.

Chris Gill, editor of the guide­book Where to Ski and Snow­board, goes so far as to call Serre Che­va­lier “a sort of Provence in the snow” and “one of our favourite places”. He sin­gles out Le Monêtier-les-bains (also known as Serre Che 1500) as the small­est, high­est, qui­etest and least spoiled of the four main re­sort vil­lages.

Rang­ing in al­ti­tude from 1,200m to 2,800m, with the tree line start­ing un­usu­ally high at 2,150m, the re­sort has re­li­able snow­fall and a long sea­son. It of­fers 3,900 hectares of ter­rain with some­thing to suit ev­ery­one, from be­gin­ners and young­sters to off-piste skiers, though some of the lift in­fra­struc­ture is dated.

Factfile

Pop­u­la­tion: (Le Monêtier-les-bains) 1,100 Ski area: Serre Che­va­lier, Haute-alpes Vil­lage al­ti­tude: (Le Monêtier-les-bains) 1,500m Alpine ski­ing: 1,200-2,800m Runs: 25 blue, 13 green, 30 red, 14 black Air­port: Greno­ble or Turin 2h

Thol­lon-les-mémises Praised in the Miche­lin Guide as the most beau­ti­ful van­tage point for Lake Geneva, the vil­lage of Thol­lon-les-mémises sits on a 1,000m-high bal­cony over­look­ing the glit­ter­ing lake to­wards Switzer­land. It’s a drive of less than 20 min­utes down to the lakeside re­sort of Evian-les-bains, which is bustling with sun-wor­ship­pers in the sum­mer.

In win­ter, skiers in Thol­lon have di­rect ac­cess to 50km of down­hill ski­ing, from 1,000 to 2,000m, with 14 north-fac­ing pistes and 18 ski lifts. Be­yond lies the rest of the Portes du Soleil, one of the largest linked ski ar­eas in the world with runs of up to 11km.

Alpine Prop­erty World sells apart­ments at var­i­ous re­sorts across the Portes du Soleil and Thol­lon is by far the most pop­u­lar des­ti­na­tion, says di­rec­tor Howard Watts. “Most of our clients are sea­soned, dis­cern­ing skiers, who are look­ing for a nice tra­di­tional Alpine vil­lage,” he said. “Thol­lon of­fers in­cred­i­bly good value for money and punches above its weight in terms of qual­ity.”

Factfile

Ski area: Portes-du-soleil, Haute-savoie Vil­lage al­ti­tude: 1,000m Alpine ski­ing: 1,000-2,000m Runs: 4 blue, 2 green 9 red, 2 black Air­port: Geneva 1h25

Le Grand-bor­nand

The jagged Pointe Per­cée and neigh­bour­ing peaks of the Aravis moun­tains form the mag­nif­i­cent back­drop of Le Grand-bor­nand, a vil­lage be­tween Mont Blanc and Lake An­nécy.

One of the birth­places of Re­blo­chon cheese, it fa­mously has more cows than in­hab­i­tants and, with its cov­ered market and his­toric chalets (some 300 years old), it has a spe­cial vil­lage at­mos­phere.

“It truly feels like fall­ing into old France,” says Chris Wood­bridge-cox, man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of French Alp spe­cial­ists Peak Re­treats, and the ski­ing is good too, he adds, es­pe­cially for be­gin­ners and in­ter­me­di­ates. “There are lots of blue runs and a big be­gin­ners’ area at the top of the Rosay gon­dola. Our favourite run would be tak­ing the lift up through the trees to the Tête des Annes (1,869m) and ski­ing the gen­tle blue Le Col des Annes back down. It’s a re­ally pretty run, the high­light of which is when you ski past a pic­turesque stone chapel. You can also get the shut­tle bus to La Clusaz if you have the Aravis lift pass.”

Le Grand-bor­nand is a great area to in­vest in, ac­cord­ing to Richard Deans, sales man­ager of MGM French Prop­er­ties, the largest Alpine prop­erty de­vel­oper in Europe. “It’s a re­ally cute lit­tle place, very charm­ing,” he said. “In sum­mer, it’s very pop­u­lar with moun­tain bik­ers and hikers; the Tour de France went through this year.”

Factfile

Ski area: Aravis, Haute-savoie Vil­lage al­ti­tude: 1,300m Alpine ski­ing: 1,000m-2,100m Runs: 13 blue, 16 green, 16 red, 4 black Air­port: Geneva 1h

The Pointe Per­cée is the high­est peak in the Aravis range above Le Grand Bor­nand

Combloux is known as the Pearl of the Alps A cosy chalet in Le Grand Bor­nand

The heart of Samoëns vil­lage

The Ch­ablais Alps above Châ­tel

The tra­di­tional Savo­yard vil­lage of Val­loire

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