Flaine ski holidays...
The purpose-built ski resort of Flaine, located in the Haute Savoie region of the northern French Alps first opened in 1969 – the somewhat brutalist style of architecture a product of its time.
As the Flaine has developed, the combination of the original buildings, designed to blend into the surrounding cliff faces and subsequent newer builds, offers what many now see as a pleasing mix of styles that is interesting and unique. The resort is one of the closest to Geneva Airport – just over one hour door to door in normal conditions, making it popular for weekenders but also families, who benefit from the faster travel times, and also the friendly set up of the resort and ski area. There are two levels, Flaine Forêt at 1600 metres and Flaine Forum, above at 1700 metres, and they are linked by two free ski lifts. The ski area directly above Flaine is cut like a vast semi-circular bowl and the resort has one of the best snow records in the Alps. It’s also part of the Grand Massif area, linking the resorts of Samoens, Morillon, Les Carroz and Sixt-Fer-à-Cheval.
SKIING IN FLAINE
What to expect…
Flaine is a fantastic resort for intermediate skiers and snowboarders. There are a wide range of slopes available, not only in the immediate area around the resort, the huge bowl that is mostly North and West facing, but also beyond in the network of runs known as the Grand Massif, the 5th largest in France with 265km’s of runs, 146 in total (20 green, 64 blue, 49 red, 13 black) served by 71 lifts in total. Flaine also has excellent beginner’s slopes and some interesting and varied off-piste.
"Flaine offers the vast majority of skiers and snowboarders – intermediates who love to cruise the blues and reds, seemingly endless possibilities".
LOCAL SKI AREA - FLAINE
You’d be forgiven for thinking when looking at the piste map that the bowl shaped ski area directly above the resort, could easily be explored in one morning, but it’s simply not the case, because the sheer vastness of the terrain on offer isn’t apparent until you get up onto the mountain.
Two gondola style cable cars and a chairlift provide the options out of town, the largest of those, constructed in 2010, whisking you up to the Grandes Platières (2480 metres) where, on a clear day, you’ll experience some of the most spectacular views of the Chamonix Valley, with the wall-like face of Mont Blanc directly looking down at you. From here, there’s a choice of mostly red runs that are wide and well-groomed or a long blue that starts with a flat traverse across the ridgeline, before steering round and flowing back to the resort.
The runs are long, mostly wide and ideal for intermediate and advanced skiers and snowboarders, but the Diamond Noir black run shooting directly down the front face is imposing and gnarly and often heavily moguled. The highest point on the Tete du Lindars (2561 metres) is reached by another gondola and then a slower chairlift, opening up some challenging terrain, including some interesting freeride skiing. Across on the far side of the bowl, the Combe des Gers, served by a long drag lift, opens up some excellent off-piste, especially after a heavy snowfall. The off-piste skiing in the bowl is renowned for being fun and varied, although it’s important to take a guide because the area is littered with hidden terrain traps, including large holes and cliffs.
WIDER SKI AREA - GRAND MASSIF
Whilst the immediate area around Flaine itself undoubtedly offers the most snow sure terrain in the Grand Massif – holding its snow depth well into April, it’s more than worth making the effort to explore further afield.
There’s an altogether very different feel to the rest of the Grand Massif resorts compared to Flaine, not only architecturally (they are more traditional in style, especially Samoëns, which is a pretty old village down in the valley) but also in the feel of the skiing itself. Out goes the bowl, and in comes mostly tree-lined blues and reds that spread out in all directions. The high-speed chairlift out of Flaine up the Grands Vans (2204 metres) is the access point, linking up immediately to the Samoëns or Les Carroz area – once up to the Tete des Saix (2118 metres) there’s several choices to descend into either resort area. But the blue run that starts here and ends at the chairlift in Morillon – Les Esserts (1100 metres) is a spectacular, long and winding piste that is joy to ride first thing in the morning when it’s quiet – it seems to go on forever.
The runs down to Samoëns Les Saix (1600 metres) are gentle blues and friendly reds and in good conditions it’s possible to descend further Samoëns Vercland at around 1000 metres, where a new gondola for the 2019-20 winter season replaces what was the oldest gondola in France. It’s not possible to ski down to the main village of Samoëns itself, but you can descend in the Grand Massif Express lift where you can either walk or take a bus into the centre (must take shoes). Another classic run, only open in good snow conditions, is the 14 kilometre blue, Piste de Cascade all the way from the top of Grand Platieres down to the village of Sixt (760 metres), where a nice lunch is followed by a bus ride to the lift at Samoëns.
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Approximate transfer times:
- GENEVA: 1 Hr
- chambery: 2 Hrs
- LYON: 2¾ Hrs
Sitting at an altitude of 1600 metres, the purpose built resort, constructed during the late 1960’s, is built on two main levels – forum and Foret, served by two lifts for easy access.
The architecture is Bauhaus inspired and the resort has been awarded the prestigious 20th Century Heritage label, recognising the unique design and nod to artwork that is free to view, including Picasso’s Tete du Femme. Whist the village isn’t in any way traditional, and not always to everyone’s taste, there’s no arguing that it is a convenient location to be based when it comes to getting on the slopes quickly. The fact is that many people have come to like the look of Flaine, especially the well thought out design that seems to blend into the surrounding cliffs.
Other interesting features include the Ecumenical Chapel which is labelled as a Listed Historic Monument, as well as other numerous pieces of artwork that adorn the resort, all left overs of the original architects of the resort, Eric and Sylvie Boissonnas along with designer Marcel Breuer. A new area, Hameau de Flaine, has been built just outside the main centre with a more traditional look than the original village, but still offering mostly ski-in-ski-out convenience.
RESTAURANTS & BARS
Compared to some of the larger ski resort in the French Alps, the choice of restaurants and bars in Flaine might at first appear to be limited. But what it might lack in quantity, is made up with quality.
Le Michet is one of the most popular on the higher end side and serves a mix traditional Savoyard fare and gourmet cuisine in cosy, rustic surroundings. Chez Daniel is another option for a good mix of Fondue and steaks with the Brasserie des Cimes good for families with a wide choice including pasta and pizza and Le Grain de Sel in the Forum area a great value option with excellent burgers and daily specials. The White Pub is a very popular venue for drinking and eating too, with a wide range of beers including Guinness on tap. The Diamant Noir is another good option for drinks if you enjoy darts and pool, whilst Le Lapiaz is good for drinking immediately after skiing or for watching sport.
Dig a little under the surface and you’ll soon discover plenty of opportunities for eating on all budgets, with a few gems thrown in too.
On the face of it, there doesn’t appear to be an abundance of mountain restaurants in Flaine, or even the wider Grand Massif area but there is something to suit every budget. Because most runs in Flaine itself lead down to the village there’s a collection of restaurants just above or in the centre itself that are accessible on skis. The simple, yet well placed Le Desert Blanc at the top of Le Grand Platieres has a wide ranging menu and on a clear day, fantastic views. Further afield, Try Chalet de Claire on the Morillon side with its large terrace, and for a higher end gourmet experience try Les Servages d’Armelle in Les Carroz.
La Cascade is a pleasant stop off point at the end of the day, with a short ski back down to the village.
The après ski scene in Flaine isn’t particularly raucous – the resort essentially has a family feel and whilst there’s plenty of drinking to be had, there’s no huge focus on big après ski partying in the afternoons. 1967, named after the resorts conception year, is family friendly and down in the village area close to the Telebenne lift. Another piste side option is the La Pente à Jules – with DJ’s helping to get the party moving from around 3pm onwards.
Flaine offers a wide range of mountain based activities including a zone dedicated to tobogganing.
There’s plenty of active things to get on with in Flaine, with a Nordic ski area offering cross country skiing with 2.5 KM marked blue trail for beginners. Walking paths are marked and suitable for snowshoeing, whilst a dedicated toboggan zone is available for anyone who likes whizzing down the snow on a wooden sleigh.
Despite the fact that Flaine was designed for ski convenience, there’s a surprising amount on offer away from the slopes too.
Non-skiers might find the village a little bit limiting after a few days, but the Aqua Area, with a 25 metre pool and spa is open every day of the week and most of the weekend. But perhaps experiencing the longest ice driving circuit in France (1.1km) with a choice of vehicles is something that shouldn’t be missed – and the centre offers both short beginners’ sessions to multi day courses running through the winter. There’s also a natural open air ice rink open during the day and into the evening that hosts not only skating sessions but also quad biking experiences for children from age 7 upwards.
For a more sedate adventure, try the dog sledding up to the Col de Pierre Carrée mountain pass where adults and children over the age of 5 can learn more about the way of life for a mountain husky dog. For keen runners there’s a number of marked trails through the snow of varying difficulty, including options through the forest or for the more advanced, up higher into the mountains. But should you crave for a more relaxing time on holiday, then the three resort spas (Ô des Cimes spa, Pure Altitude spa and Deep Nature spa) offer massages, steam rooms, saunas, whirlpool baths and beauty treatments. Non skiers can also ride the cable car up to Grandes Platières to experience the stunning views across to Western Europe’s highest peak, Mont Blanc.
WHO IS FLAINE SUITABLE FOR?
Here are the highlights...
Flaine has one of the shortest transfer times of any French ski resort from Geneva Airport (approximately 1 hour 15 minutes), making it ideal for shorter breaks.
The drive is a simply one too, along the motorway to Cluses, with just a relatively short mountain road up the resort from there (30 minutes). The downside to this is the fact the resort attracts larger numbers over the weekends, but during the week, Flaine is actually much quieter than some of the other major French resorts – at least it feels that way, but perhaps it’s because everyone gets nicely spread out across the wide area.
The Grand Massif is arguably one of the best interconnected ski areas for intermediate skiers and snowboarders in France.
Blue and red graded slopes dominate the piste map – and many of them are long, varied and interesting, with options both below and above the treeline. The area above Flaine itself is a playground made up of wide, well-groomed runs that all lead back to the centre. Exploring further afield is easy too, there’s really no tricky connection points to get over when linking between the various villages in the area. If you’re confident on any blue and can tackle most red runs, then you can really get some mileage under your belt here. The reliable snow record belies the areas relatively low altitude and this is mainly due to the proximity of Flaine to the North Western edge of the Alps – they can get some great snowfalls here and the mostly north and west facing slopes keep the snow well, even after weeks of sunny weather.
EXPERTS & OFF-PISTE
There’s some really interesting and varied off-piste terrain, especially in the Flaine sector.
The Flaine ski area is not one that often comes up as a classic off-piste or freeride resort and certainly it doesn’t have the kind of notorious black runs that some of its rivals, such as nearby Portes du Soleil or Chamonix has. This is still an enjoying area for those who are perhaps travelling as part of a mixed ability group or a family, giving you the freedom to ski the pistes you enjoy as well as hitting some more gentle blues and reds with your friends.
Keep an eye on the weather conditions...
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MAP OF flaine
Find your way…
Here's our map of Flaine showing you the key hotels and apartments as well as some of the main points of interest.