Val d'Isère is a world-class winter sports resort located high up in the Tarentaise Valley, with a huge ski area linked to neighbouring Tignes. Its reputation as a playground for expert skiers and snowboarders is justified, although beginners are well looked after and intermediates have more than enough choice to keep them happy for weeks. But it's the tough black runs and off-piste terrain that gives Val d'Isère its reputation as a true 'skiers (and snowboarders) ski resort'.
The town itself spreads along a narrow valley at around 1800 metres, low enough to provide some fantastic tree skiing but high enough (3300 metres at the top) to guarantee snow throughout the winter. In fact, Val d'Isère regularly gets more snow than other resorts due to its proximity to the divide between France and Italy. The sheer size of the ski area combined with a modern and efficient lift system makes Val d’Isère a 'must do', bucket list resort for all ski and snowboard enthusiasts.
The lively town also makes it popular with fans of après ski and late night partying too, although the majority of visitors are tucked up in bed early – the skiing is just too good to miss.
Approximate Transfer Times
Skiing in Val d'Isere
Val d’Isère has several different sectors to choose from starting from the town and its surrounding satellite villages (La Daille and Le Fornet), all with their own personality. But it’s easy enough to link them all together without the need for buses, although when needed, the efficient and regular service whisks you up and down the valley to the different sectors.
The whole area is known as the Val d'Isere - Tignes area (previously Espace Killy) and includes 300kms of marked ski runs, when Tignes is included. The Val d’Isère sector claims roughly half of that and has enough to keep most people happy for weeks.
You can roughly split Val d’Isère’s skiing area into three sectors – Bellevarde (including Le Daille), Solaise and Fornet. All of them feel quite separate from the others, but there’s multiple access points into each.
The purpose built accommodation at La Daille provides fast access to Bellevarde via an underground funicular railway that whisks skiers and snowboarders up to 2827 metres in minutes. Alternatively, a slower gondola style cable car and a series of chairlifts performs the same role. It’s an ideal area for intermediates with plenty of reds (one of them the World Cup Downhill run, the OK) and some blues and greens. From the Val d’Isère side, a cable car rides over the Face de Bellevarde and its steep black run that dominates that side of the mountain and was built for the Olympic Games in 1992 for the men’s downhill event. For expert skiers, it’s the most challenging way to descend back into Val d’Isère from the Bellevarde, but it’s a proper black run that is long and often hard-packed to say the least.
Most people arrive back in La Daille and take the bus, although there’s a blue alternative back to Val via Le Chatelard. There’s also some classic off-piste routes such as the Charvet and Vallee de Perdue. The Solaise sector has a new beginner’s area at the top of the cable car and then some great intermediate runs above, but it gets steeper again back towards the town, with a demanding red and a black to choose from. Le Forney right up at the end of the area, offers some lovely high-altitude runs at the top and some fantastic off-piste tree skiing below when there’s deep powder snow around.
Officially, Val d’Isère - Tignes area is ranked as the world’s third largest, but because of the quality of the terrain and the fact it’s so well connected, arguably puts it even further up the list of what might be considered the world’s best ski resorts.
The sheer choice of ski runs that include the Grande Motte Glacier – open from September to May every year and with the top elevation of 3456 metres – down to the tree lined slopes of Brévières at 1550 metres, means that even the very best skiers and snowboarders will find challenges equal to any other resort based area in the world. It’s even possible for relatively novice skiers to get some mileage under their belts, with blue run options across and back to Tignes with a good choice of easier slopes once you’re there. But keep an eye on the piste map because it’s easy to stray onto the myriad amount of reds and blacks that dominate the area – and by reputation, the grading here doesn’t always verge on the side of caution. Some of the reds are pretty tough and the black runs are notoriously difficult.
This all adds up to the appeal for experienced skiers and snowboarders looking for a challenge, but again it’s worth remembering that with a resort of this size, there’s more than enough terrain for beginners and the less gung-ho. The off-piste possibilities across the whole area seem to be limitless. Furthest away from the Val d’Isère sector, the classic Vallon de la Sache, starting over the back of the Aiguille Percee (eye of the needle) and descending all the way down to Brévières, is glorious in the right conditions, whether that’s powder or spring snow.
The steepness of some of the off-piste terrain can make it susceptible to avalanches, so it’s always worth taking a qualified mountain guide if you’re considering leaving the marked runs. Overall the Val d'Isere - Tignes offers something for everyone and it’s hard to go wrong in such a quality ski area such as this one.
Val d'Isere Resort Overview
Val d’Isère has grown from what was once the hunting territory for the Dukes of Savoy into a modern ski resort that started to welcome skiers as early as the 1930’s. The town transformed its architecture somewhat during the late 1990’s a to give it a more traditional mountain feel, to keep in line with some older buildings like the church that dates back to 1664.
Most of the accommodation is located in and around the main town of ‘Val’ (as it’s often referred to), including a spur jutting southwards to Le Chatelard. The more modern, purpose built La Daille (1785m) is well located at the bottom of the World Cup Downhill run and is the first part of Val d’Isère you get to when driving in from the one entry point during winter (in summer it’s possible to go further up the valley and over the Col de L’Iseran, but it’s closed during the winter). On that road to the col, lies the hamlet of Le Fornet, a quiet are with chalet style accommodation.
The main action takes place in the town centre and shops, bars and restaurants line the main street and roads jutting from it towards the skiing side of the valley. From one side of town to the other, it’s about a 1 mile stretch and it takes a good twenty minutes to walk it, but during winter the town is busy and lively with a good atmosphere and a true international feel with visitors from around the world.
Restaurants & bars
Val d’Isère’s reputation for eating and drinking is right up there with the very best resorts in the French Alps. There’s a lot to choose from and plenty of options to suit different tastes and budgets – both in terms of the restaurants and the bars.
If you’re heading out for dinner then the choice extends well beyond the ‘meat and cheese’ dishes you might expect in the Alps. Grand Ourse is Classic French whilst 1789 is very good if you like Cotes du Bouef on the fire. Baraque serves more modern French food and is good for people watching. For authentic and friendly Italian food, try Casa Scara. The Grand Cocor is a classic French brasserie, whilst La Mourra serves up expensive, but top quality Asian Fusion food. Of course you can still find typical fondue, raclette and other local specialities in quite a few restaurants including Le Lodge. If you’re after more traditional family value then Bar Jacques is a good bet. Tsantaleina does a Friday seafood buffet, and Altitude for refined hotel food. In general prices are similar or lower than suburban London.
The bars all depend on what you might be looking for. The Blizzard is perfect for Posh Cocktails, Tsantaleina for a quiet chat, Coin des Amis is frequented by instructors and good to watch rugby in, as is the Pacific, in fact it is for watching other sport too. The Alex Bar seems to attract an unusual mix of British regulars and French staff and has a few pool tables. Blue Note is popular with Seasonaire’s, as is the Moris and Petit Danois, which also good for live Music. For a relaxed conversation try Bar XV. La Baraque is the place for the stylish people with an upmarket atmosphere and top quality live music.
There’s no shortage of mountain restaurants to choose from in Val d’Isère, from self-catering options to a la carte dining. Prices can reflect the position of Val d’Isère as a premium resort at time, but there are budget options available too and it’s possible to find good food at reasonable prices.
Premium end places include the Edelweiss on the Mangard Piste, Tete du Solaise and Lo Soli at the top of Chaudannes, and the Panoramic at the top of the Funicular. Mid-range options are Tufs in La Daille, Trifollet on the OK piste and then Cascade and Marmottes are good for food versus best value.
A big attraction of Val d’Isère is its après ski and one of the main starting points – and often ending points too – is La Folie Douce located above La Daille and open from 1pm, with the main party starting at 3pm for two hours. It’s a bit like a nightclub on the snow, with Ibiza style partying on the piste. After that, back in town there’s plenty of bars to choose from – Cororico is similar to La Folie Douce in regards to the fact it’s still on the snow and has a real après party atmosphere. It’s located close to town on the Solaise side. But perhaps one of the most famous late night party destinations in the Alps is still the legendary Dick’s Tea Bar that opens at 10pm and closes at 5am. The Petit Danois is also a good fun late night après spot for live music.
Winter snow shoe walking is popular in the area and there’s plenty of trails and some nice walks around Le Fornet and beyond, where you’ll often catch the sight of local wildlife such as Chamois and Ibex. If you’re into off-piste skiing then it’s worth getting some training in avalanche safety, and Henry’s Avalanche Talks has its Alpine base in the area and runs courses on the mountain during the winter.
Whilst the heartbeat of Val d’Isère is the mountain and the skiing and snowboarding on offer, there’s also plenty to do off the slopes too and non-skiers will keep themselves occupied during a week’s holiday, although once you’re in Val d’Isère for the week, you’re unlikely to leave because it is fairly isolated as a resort. But that’s not a bad thing and you’re likely to want to stay anyway. There’s some really good winter walking trails around including up the Manchet Valley, but wrap up warm because it can be shady. Snowshoeing trails are also marked on a special map or guides are available for the day too.
The more adventurous could try ice climbing or driving on ice with the BMW track in La Daille and if you’re not afraid of cold water, there’s ice diving in nearby Tignes. The ice rink is outdoors and open throughout the winter and like many mountain resorts, paragliding is available as a tandem with several different companies providing the service. There’s definitely a pattern of adventure here though, with the resort activities reflecting the mountain terrain, but for a calmer experience, just hang out in some of the great cafes and restaurants in town and up the mountain (via the cable cars) and for a real treat, try the Michelin Starred L’Atelier d’Edmond in Le Fornet.
Who is Val d'Isere Suitable for?
Experts and off-piste
Val d’Isère is renowned for its challenging ski terrain – from steep black runs, long mogul fields and extensive off-piste opportunities, there’s so much choice for good skiers and snowboarders that many return year after year without bothering to go anywhere else. One of the earliest competitions on the Alpine Skiing race calendar takes place in Val d’Isère during December with men’s and women’s events drawing in the world’s top athletes. This always kick-starts the season and creates a buzz in the town pre-Christmas before the holiday period. It’s a good time for experts to visit, as the slopes are quieter and the chance to see the competitions add an extra element to the holiday.
High Altitude and Snow Sure
Val d’Isère has a snow guarantee during the season and is always one of the first ski resorts in Europe to open up. The link over to neighbouring Tignes is snow dependent but often it’s running from early December onwards. Even in the driest of years, Val d’Isère manages to open up extensive terrain and it lasts well into spring, with lifts only closing down at the end of April. In 2018 the resort is opening up non-glaciated ski terrain in June on the La Daille sector due to the huge amount of snow that’s available. But the glacier is open into July. The off-piste terrain, especially on the higher north facing slopes, often holds light powder snow several days and longer following snowfalls.
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