Val d'Isère, the eternal village
On one side, the jagged mountain crests are silhouetted against the sky. On the other, the hardy pines cover even the most rugged slopes in a coat of evergreen. Sandwiched between the two, the bells of Val d'Isère bravely attempt to impose the hours of men on this timeless landscape. The clock tower has stood here for centuries, surrounded by giants, a comforting sight in this wild, untamed landscape. Its octagonal form and Romanesque stone have stood firm against all comers: avalanches, wars, migrations, and tourism. It is living proof that, although the village may no longer be the isolated mountain hamlet it once was, Val d’Isère has retained its authentic soul. And when the first notes of a classical concert fill the nave of the church, this history comes to life.
Huddled around the historic church, the village’s traditional chalets are a big part of its inimitable charm. Their solid stone façades tower over the lower floors, with their wide wooden balconies. And of course the roofs are topped with lauze stone tiles, in keeping with Savoyard tradition. In winter the rooftops are coated with a thick layer of snow, and when the lights come on Val d’Isère takes on the fairytale air of a Christmas village. Down in the streets, stroll through the arcades and peer into the windows of the enticing boutiques. It’s hard not to get sucked in by the window display at Maison Chevallot, where spectacular patisseries and pastries jostle for your attention. Amid shelves crumbling under the weight of artisanal jams and other sweet treats, find yourself a table and get stuck into a huge ‘bear paw’ cake and a homemade hot chocolate.
Then strap on your skis and test your nerve against the colossal Face de Bellevarde, peaking at over 2800 metres above sea level. The dizzying view from the summit plunges all the way down to the clock tower, a speck far off in the distance. From the top, follow in the ski trails of the champions who have shaped the legend of this incredible black run, with its 1000 metre drop in altitude. The run takes you right back to the village. From there it’s time to switch lifts and head back up the mountain to the pristine slopes of the Killy zone. This section of the mountain is named for French skiing legend and local hero Jean-Claude Killy. No cables, no pylons, just unspoilt glaciers, peaks and endless expanses of white.
In the mountains around Val d’Isère, some trails demand a little more work than others. The Couloir des Pisteurs is one such route. At the top of the Grand Pré lift, strap your skis to your back and set off on foot towards the summit of Mont Charvet. After a half-hour of solid trekking, you’ll find yourself faced with some of the most challenging off-piste descents in the whole station. From here, the view of Pointe de la Sana and Pointe de Méan Martin is all-enveloping. Here, more than anywhere else, you can feel the force of the mountain in full effect. Afterwards, flushed with the warm glow of satisfaction, head towards the familiar clock tower of Val d’Isère and return to civilisation and the comforting warmth of the village.
When to go?
Whatever the season, you’ll find the village and the mountains as majestic and serene as ever. A seemingly infinite playground in winter, and a celebration of nature’s riches in summer, Val d’Isère is a spinning vortex of energy all year round. The best option is to visit outside of school holiday times, to really make the most of the valley and its many treasures. April generally offers the magical combination of fine weather and skiable slopes, as well as the International Adventure Film Festival, one of the highlights of the cultural year.
How to get there?
Car, train, bus, plane… there are many ways to get to Val d'Isère, but don’t forget that some of the mountain roads in the upper Alps are closed in winter. However picturesque those high mountain passes may be, you’ll find yourself confined to the motorway. Avoid wasting a single second of your holiday by taking the night train, which drops you off at Bourg-Saint-Maurice early in the morning. From the station, buses and taxis run regular services up to the village.
Beneath the ice
Kitted out in a dry-suit, make your way to a hole carved into the frozen surface of the lake, and plunge into the icy waters. Beneath the surface, led by our expert guides, discover a world of eerie, perfect silence. An incredible experience by day, when the sun’s rays form radiant patterns in the frozen depths, and by night, when the most intrepid adventurers explore the ice by the light of their head torches.
A gastronomic yurt
Hop aboard a snowmobile and follow the secret trail to discover a lonely yurt, lost amid the silence of the summits. Once there, warm up from the journey next to the campfire and prepare for a dinner you’ll never forget. On the menu: local charcuterie and a gastronomic take on the classic fondue, an authentic celebration of the spirit of Savoy.
Follow the dog
What better way to discover the unspoilt peaks than to lead a pack of mountain dogs through the fir forests and over the vast frozen landscapes? All the while, our experienced guides will share inside info and anecdotes to give you a whole new perspective on life in the High Alps and these magnificent dogs.
Our address book
Food and festivities
La Baraque is a restaurant and wine bar which takes evident pleasure in combining culinary excellence with the effervescent atmosphere of a trendy night spot. The wood-panelled dining room is warm and inviting, with its striking lights. The menu is as elegant as it is diverse, with the irresistible shoulder of milk-fed lamb a particular highlight. After dinner, there’s live music to get you dancing.
137 Avenue Olympique
L’Avancher is a Val d'Isère classic. Built here in 1949, this chalet is a haven of authenticity and culinary classics. This is the only place in the village where you can still get “Raclette à l'Ancienne” served in the old Savoyard style: the cheese is warmed in the oven and served directly to your plate. Special mention also goes to the Saint-Bernard snails and fresh trout with Apremont.
Avenue du Prariond
Down on the farm
At L'Étable d'Alain the farmyard décor is as real as it gets, right down to the view of the cows in their barn. But don’t be fooled: the atmosphere may be rustic, but the cuisine is all about precision and style. All of the dishes are prepared right here, mostly with products directly from the farm. And don’t forget to taste their signature dish: La Pella de l'Adroit, a tartiflette made with fresh mountain tomme cheese.
Rue des Barmettes
At the foot of the slopes, with your cheeks still pink from the cold and the hard work, round off the day at one of the most popular après-ski locations in the whole resort: Cocorico. The music changes from night to night, but the atmosphere is always festive: there’s every chance you’ll end up dancing on the tables to the sounds of DJ Phil Garner or a live band. After 8, those who want to dance on through the night can take the short walk over to the Doudoune Club.
Place du Rond Point des Pistes
Le Bar de L'Ouillette
BBQ by the lake
After a long day on the slopes, there’s nowhere more relaxing than this brightly-coloured terrace. Sip on a glass of mulled wine while resting your legs on one of the loungers, as the irresistible aromas of the barbecue work their magic. Outside, the frozen surface of the Lac de l'Ouillette shimmers in the sun.
Immeuble Téléphérique Solaise
La Folie Douce
Perched 2400 metres above sea level, La Folie Douce is an astonishing slice of Balearic nightlife transplanted to the Alps. From 1:30pm onwards, the bass lines ring out over the pure white slopes. The snow-lined stage hosts a full programme of DJs, vocalists and performers with a quirky, old-school cabaret vibe. And the cherry on the cake: the food is great and the portions are generous.
La Fermette de Claudine
A taste of the terroir
Avalin made with unpasteurised milk, Tomme de Savoie, yoghurts... at La Fermette, all of the cheeses and dairy products come from the Adroit family farm. All of the other local treasures on the menu - charcuterie, honey, fruit preserves and more – are delivered in person by the finest producers in the region, all personal friends of the owner.
Mens sana in corpore sano
Standing out amid the rows of ski rental firms and restaurants, Le Bouquiniste is an independent book shop where every last tome is chosen with care by owner Jean-Paul Shafran. As he proudly declares, this is “the only bookshop in the French mountains.” Jean-Paul is passionate about literature, and organises regular meetings with authors. His readers’ choice award, the “Vivre Livre” trophy, is one of the highlights of the cultural calendar in Val d’Isère.
Rue du Parc des Sports
A pastry-lover’s paradise since 1965, Maison Chevallot is a family affair. These days Patrick is at the helm of this local institution. A passionate pastry chef who has already been crowned French champion, he is also an accomplished baker, chocolate-maker and chef. The boutique on Avenue Olympique also doubles as a tea room, with a handsome terrace where you can tuck into one of Patrick’s famous blueberry tarts. On Thursday evenings, the chef gives lessons in the art of patisserie.