Why Val d’Isere is a French winter wonderland

Pristine pistes, gourmet food and luxury chalets make this an ideal spot for hitting the slopes

Val d’Isere is in the French Alps, near the Italian border. Photo: Balthazar Lelievre
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French ski resort Val d’Isere is a vast, radiant glen encircled by impressive, towering mountains whose snowy hillsides fall gracefully towards the valley below. With its wide variety of slopes covering 300 kilometres and splendid off-piste accessibility, this immense area offers skiers a choice of about 50 peaks, with altitudes between 2,600 and 3,800 metres.

Located in the middle of a valley in France, Val d’Isere village has a cluster of ancient chalets built in traditional style using stone, wood and slate and a fine Baroque church at the centre. The rest of the resort is largely new-build, including a swanky shopping street at the heart.

The skiing

I was told the snow here is guaranteed. The best place to start, after a short warm-up, is to tackle La Face first thing in the morning, to make the most of a freshly corduroyed piste. The ski area is also equipped with high-level snow guns that cover more then 65km of the slopes – assurance of being able to ski from November to May. The diversity of exposures of the slopes, especially in the north, not only helps retain the snow, but also ensures its quality.

The resort offers a wide choice of winter activities, including dog sledding, snowmobile excursions and ice skating. It is also bursting with trails for walking, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.

Electric mountain-biking through the Manchot Valley is the newest trend. It amounts to hitting the slopes on a specially designed bike with fat tyres and electric assistance. Expert guides explain the techniques and show riders the ropes (and the resort’s most stunning vistas) as you cruise across the glittering white landscape.

Requiring rather less adrenaline, ice floating offers a unique way to relax in the frozen lake of Ouillette, with the help of a dry suit. It is a sensory experience in crystal-clear lake water that sends floaters into a contemplative mood as they stare at the mountains in total silence and calm.

The chalet

Tucked away in the trees overlooking Val d'Isere, Chalet Inoko's location is immensely private and yet just a short walk or chauffeured minibus ride from the ski lifts at La Daille, l’Olympique or Solaise Express, and the resort's famous shopping and restaurant scene. Called the Petit Alaska, the area commands splendid views right across the valley floor to the peaks.

The chalet has blended traditional alpine touches with a strong modern design and state-of-the-art wellness area that includes an indoor pool, sauna and massage room – a haven after a long day on the pistes. On the same floor is a television room, unused by us, but ideal for entertaining teenagers or little ones. Outside, on the terrace, a sunken hot tub and seating around the fire pit beckon on clear nights when the stars are in full glorious sparkle.

The chalet's crowning jewel is its magnificent top floor, with double-height ceilings and enormous windows that flood the room with light. The seating around the stone fireplace is a wonderful spot to gather for canapes and drinks before dinner.

Chalet Inoko also has a dedicated team of on-call drivers to get guests to and from the slopes and around the resort.

The ski school

Oxygene’s ski school in Val d’Isere has been offering lessons for more than 20 years. From group ski and snowboard sessions taught in English and French (and other languages besides), to private instruction, high-adrenalin activities and off-piste guiding.

The food

Val d’Isere has a major food scene and offers tempting alternatives to eating in. Purple Ski, the luxury property company behind Chalet Inoko, was the overall winner of The Times Chalet Chef 2010 Award. A freshly prepared breakfast and afternoon tea are served each day and a sumptuous four-course dinner is served six evenings out of seven, prepared by a private chef.

Outside the chalet, La Folie Douce has been the Alps’s hottest mountaintop restaurant and apres-ski club since 1969. It combines the pleasures of generous mountain cuisine with the festive atmosphere of cabaret.

Refuge de Solaise (Gigi’s mountainside outpost), meanwhile, enjoys a prime position at 2,550 metre altitude with a sprawling outdoor terrace and serves a decadent Italian menu with an alpine twist. It's particularly famous for its truffle pasta dish.

Elsewhere, Savoyard specialities and local produce are the favourites at La Luge, the Blizzard Hotel’s traditional wood-panelled fine-dining restaurant. With a dedicated fondue menu offering an array of indulgent cheese feasts, it is the ultimate place in which to celebrate a successful day on the slopes.

A seven-night stay at Chalet Inoko starts from €45,420 ($48,133) on a catered basis; www.purpleski.com

Updated: November 03, 2023, 7:06 AM