There are more Britons go skiing in Val d'Isère every year than any other ski resort in the world, which makes it an attractive prospect for a property purchase. But its reputation for all things ‘ski’ is not without good reason. The skiable terrain and town itself add up to what is essentially the ideal ski resort. It has 300km of pistes, 94 lifts, it offers high quality, snow-sure slopes for completes beginner to veteran powderhounds. It’s long season stretches from the end of November into the first week of May and it is also linked to neighboring Tignes to form the world renowned Espace Killy ski area.
The long history of Val d’Isère is surprising and has shaped the personality of the local community. The area was first populated before the birth of Christianity with many travellers passing through this mountain region, exposing the locals to many different cultures and nationalities. Many say this is the reason Val d’Isere is so hospitable because it has always played host to visitors. The region was heavily impacted by the 18th century French Revolution, much of the area, certainly many of the churches, destroyed by French revolutionaries. The local parish, named after Saint Bernard of Menthon (the patron saint of mountain dwellers, built in 1664) and was one of the few not destroyed. It still stands in the heart of the Val d’Isère old town and is seen as a symbol of the strength and soul of the community. Val d’Isere also once existed as an Italian community adding yet another layer to the lineage of the people.
As a ski resort, Val d’Isere’s development was initially restricted by access problems due to the rocky mountainous terrain. As more usable roads and paths were constructed people began to see its potential and in the 1930’s Parisien Jacques Moufflier set about trying to create the Val d’Isère we know and love today. 1940 saw the construction of the first cable car, the Téléphérique de Solaise, and further construction continued after the Second World War. Farmers changed trades and became the local hotelkeepers and shop owners and so Val d’Isere was born. By the 1990’s this once isolated village was so established that it part-hosted the 1992 Winter Olympic Games in Albertville and was the venue for the Men’s Downhill. After nearly 80 years in operation, this remote village has become one of the world’s best renowned ski resorts and rightly deserves its title as a ski great.
Espace Killy is the name given to the combined ski area of Val d’Isère and Tignes after triple-Olympic-gold medalist Jean-Claude Killy. It has 300km of pistes, and 10,000 hectares of off-piste, which to put it in perspective is three times more than Whistler, the biggest ski area in North America. Tignes and Val d’Isere are separated by a high mountain ridge have very different characters. In fact the only feature they really have in common is that together they provide snow-sure skiing from late November until May and immediate access to one of the greatest playgrounds in the Alps.
The ski area here is large and complicated so visitors should always take time to study the map before setting out. The skiing is split into five different areas and there are eight different ways of feeding into the lift system. Accommodation is spread along the narrow valley and the free train rouge is the ski bus that runs every few minutes during ski hours and at less frequent intervals late into the evening.
The mountains here are for the most part high and steep. Val d’Isere itself is situated at 1850m and the skiing goes up 3400m in Val d’Isere and 3456m at the top of the Grande Motte in Tignes. They’re the setting for some thrilling descents. Not all the terrain is like that – but enough of it is to set the precedent. To get the best from this resort its been said that you need to ski well, but intermediates and beginners are equally well catered for.
The main nursery slope with a free chair-lift is on the front de neige in the village centre and there is another beginner area at La Daille as well as one on Solaise, where the Madeleine Express lift serves a gentle slope for those who have progressed beyond first turns. The quality of the ski schools is incredibly high, there are over 18 different schools and several are staffed by British instructors. Intermediate skiers have numerous long, wide trails heading off in all directions through the Espace Killy. And for advanced and expert skier Val d’Isere really comes into its own. It is after all the venue chosen by the International Ski Federation to stage the first European downhill race in the annual World Cup each December, using the OK trail. Alternatively you can test yourself on the Solaise bumps run above the resort, or the Olympic Men's Downhill from Bellevarde and that’s before venturing into the vast and impressive powder fields. In fact its said that you could easily spend a month here and still have things to discover.
For Freestylers Val d’Isere’s Snowpark is one of the world's largest at 35,000 square metres and includes two boardercross courses, a half pipe, quarter pipes, bumps, big air, tables and all with music. There's even a chalet for repairs.
The Pissaillas and Grande Motte glaciers ensure good ski conditions throughout the winter and then again for their summer season.
All in all there is nothing that Val D’Isere can’t offer.
Val d'Isère is service by several airports and there are regular transfers up to resort throughout the season (although they become slightly more expensive out of season).
Geneva Airport is about 2.5 hrs, Chambéry Airport is about 1.45hrs, Lyon Airport is about 3hrs, Grenoble Airport is 2.30hrs
You can also arrive by train. Bourg St. Maurice train station is 30km from Val d'Isere and Eurostar ski train runs direct from London St Pancras. Alternatively you can travel on the Eurostar and change in Paris. A regular bus service runs from the station to resort and takes about 45 minutes.
If you drive there is parking in various different car parks but its advisable to book parking in advance. Once in resort Val d'Isere operates a bus service that is free of charge and runs from Le Fornet to La Daille (red line), from Legettaz to Rond Point des Pistes (blue line) and Vallee du Manchet/Clochetons to Rond Point des Pistes (green line). The timetable is shown at every bus stop in resort.
The town itself was developed around a fine 17th century church and a handful of stone farmhouses. However when development began it was not beautiful and well-considered. In the 1930s the accommodation was limited to a few unremarkable hotels and chalets but more recently construction has embraced traditional Savoie traditions of using local materials of wood and stone and creating low rise picture perfect chalets. The prettiest districts are thought to be Le Cret, Le Joseray, La Legettaz, Le Chatelard, and of course millionaire’s row under the Bellevarde cliffs. At the far end of the valley is the pretty farming hamlet of Le Fornet. It has an ancient stone bridge over the river and lots of traditional stone chalets. It also has direct access to the skiing and is only 10 minutes by bus to town (buses run until after 1am) so is well worth considering as a destination.
The local amenities are impressive and comprehensive providing everything you could need during your stay. For example, three supermarkets in resort deliver free of charge (just notify the person at the till once you have done your shopping and within 2 hours the shopping bags will arrive!) For healthcare there is an English Medical Centre. There are also ski shops, post office, banks, cash points, café, restaurants, cinema, bowling. Every Monday there is a market in the center of town where you can buy local produce. There are also tradesmen, contractors, insurance companies, and anything one could need while living in resort. It also offers a lively après scene, and has an abundance of restaurants and eateries. There are several large supermarkets down in Bourg St Maurice where self-catering holiday makers tend to buy supplies before the final drive up the mountains.
Children are well catered for and you can arrange lessons in almost any sport, from rugby, football, roller skating, tennis, archery, riding, mountain biking, climbing, circus, acrobatic, mono cycling. There is a “Centre Aqua Sportif” which has a large swimming pool, gym, fitness room, squash, a sauna, a hammam, and a climbing wall.
There is a cinema that also shows films in English (look for the VO sign, it means it is showing in the original version (VO) subtitled in French). Many hotels have spas with massage rooms, facial treatments and pools that non-residents can use. There are patisserie classes
every Thursday at the boulangerie on the main street, there are yoga and pilates classes, in the centre-aquasportif there is indoor golf and ‘beach world’ with a leisure pool, river currents, water cannons, massaging stream jets, bubble baths, aqua gym and aqua bike. There is even ice-driving available at the Circuit de Glace where you can learn how to control a spin on an icy mountain road at 40mph, which of course, we all need to know how to do.
Val d’Isere really does offer everything which in some ways makes it impossible to sum up. In short it has all of what you could possibly want, need, and many things you haven’t even thought of yet.