If you’ve ever contemplated a ski trip to the French Alps, you’ve probably heard of resorts such as Chamonix and Courchevel. What you may not be aware of are the 200-plus other French resorts (or stations, as they are referred to in France) that stretch from the Northern to Southern Alps.
Valmorel, a quaint little village where impeccable food, rustic Alpine architecture and fantastic skiing await, epitomizes the best of the region. Here are five things to know about this wonderful Savoyard Alpine hamlet.
Built in 1976, the picturesque, purpose-built station is one of the youngest in the French Alps, where the ski scene flourished in the late 1920s and 1930s following the first Winter Olympics at Chamonix in 1924.
Located in the Tarentaise Valley, Valmorel sits at an elevation of approximately 4,600 feet and is part of an interconnected complex known as Le Grand Domaine.
Like the much larger Les Trois Vallées, in which a combined lift system links eight different resorts across three valleys, Valmorel is tied to the neighboring resort of Saint-François-Longchamp in the Maurienne Valley. The area sits in between the Massif du Cheval Noir and the Massif de la Lauzière mountain peaks. The resort is a little more than an hour’s drive from Chambéry Airport and roughly two and a half hours from Geneva Airport or Lyon-Saint-Exupéry Airport.
Valmorel contains a number of smaller managed apartments that can be booked individually. Located right in the heart of the small town is the 52-room Hôtel du Bourg, a rustic inn with walking access to the slopes.
The most luxurious accommodation in the area belongs to Club Med Valmorel, a family-friendly, all-inclusive ski-in/ski-out resort that is a five-minute bus ride away from the town center. Through a partnership with France’s national ski school, Ecole du Ski Français (ESF), complimentary multi-lingual group ski lessons are part of the all-inclusive offering. Packages include lodging, gourmet dining, drinks, lift tickets, group lessons and children’s activities.
For the luxury traveler, the resort’s Five Trident Suites come with a private lounge and upgraded room amenities as well as key-card access to a ski locker room that puts you conveniently within feet of the slopes.
For families and larger parties, Club Med Valmorel also offers private, luxury-class chalets, an attraction for A-listers such as British male supermodel David Gandy, who vacationed there last year.
Skiing and snow sports
Valmorel may be small compared to massive French resorts like Les Trois Vallées, but when you liken it to U.S.–based resorts, it holds its own. Valmorel itself offers 31 lifts — the same number as in Vail, Colorado. (With combined access to Saint-François-Longchamp, that number jumps to 52.)
Ideal for beginner and intermediate skiers, Valmorel provides 26 green, 39 blue, 19 red (a little more difficult than blue) and eight black runs across 102 miles of terrain. There are ample off-piste (backcountry) skiing areas as well, and the highest lift will take you up to 8,300 feet.
For freestyle skiers and snowboarders, Valmorel has two snow parks. Other snow activities offered include snowshoeing, sliding/sledding on a snake gliss (a serpent-shaped sled), dog sledding and cross-country skiing.
Additionally, private snowboarding and ski lessons can be reserved directly with the ESF.
A distinct advantage of skiing in the French Alps is the food you get to eat afterward. Mountain cuisine in the Savoy region is filled with oodles of locally made cheeses. One prime example is the very popular raclette, a type of cow’s milk cheese that is heated and scraped off of a large cheese block onto your plate; it’s usually served with potatoes or charcuterie.
Fondue, made of a blend of comté, gruyère and beaufort, is also considered one of the region’s specialties.
For pastries, the gateau de Savoie, an almond-dusted rustic sponge cake similar to an angel cake, is a must-try. You can get it at the charming Maryan Patisserie Boulangerie Valmorel, overseen by chef Maryan Krawczak, who trained at the prestigious Ecole Lenôtre in Paris.
Gratin-style casseroles known as tartiflette and croziflette, made with potatoes or a special crozet pasta, respectively, are mixed with onions, ham and reblochon cheese, then baked until a crisp cheese crust forms at the top.
Other local specialties include the Pierre-chaud and braserade, in which raw meats such as beef, duck and chicken (similar to Korean barbecue) are cooked on a tabletop grill. Two standout spots for this are Le Petit Savoyard and Ski Roc, but all of these dishes can be ordered at any number of restaurants inside the town.
And what would a trip to the mountains be without a belly-warming digestif? When in Valmorel, do what the locals do, and follow your cheese- and meat-laden meal with a shot of génépy, a clear herbaceous spirit similar in composition to absinthe made with Alpine-harvested wormwood.
If you’re staying at Club Med Valmorel, there’s a lively bar in the center of the main building with nightly shows and music.
Outside of the resort, head to the hamlet’s Le Bourg Mourel, a main street where patios begin to fill up at spots like Le Petit Savoyard, Le Petit Prince and La Source when the lifts close.
If you need a break from French cuisine, Jimbo Lolo specializes in tapas and, crazily enough, Tex-Mex offerings such as margaritas.
Finally, if you’re in the mood for some nightlife excitement, head to Le Sound Pub & Club. You can dance until you drop every night of the week until 5 a.m.