Although well-known for its dynamic capital city and stunning southern beaches, the mountainous regions of France offer some of the best skiing opportunities in Europe.
It’s amazing how effectively gorgeous views, fresh mountain air, and après-ski entertainment can dull the pain of bruises and sore muscles after a hard day on the slopes. If you’re curious about a ski holiday getaway, here’s a quick rundown of the alpine resorts I’ve visited so far:
My work ski trip brought me to Villars-sur-Ollon. In my experience, Swiss ski resorts are convenient for weekend trips. They’re well-equipped for large groups, but are not as picturesque as their French and Italian counterparts. However, the mountain views are still breathtaking from the top.
We stayed in the Eurotel Victoria, a functional hotel with decent food. Its best quality was its location. Right next door to a ski rental shop, just a few minutes down the road from the gondola up to the pistes, and directly opposite of the long blue runs. The hotel also has a pool, steam room, and a sauna.
While there aren’t many après-ski options on the mountain, there are some cozy bars and restaurants in town. We enjoyed a fantastic dinner at Restaurant Vieux-Villars. The set menu included raclette and beef fondue.
After dinner, we went to the Moon Boot bar which served fun cocktails, but the techno music soon drove us into the arms of the one cheesy night club in town – El Gringo.
Piste: Too many steep drag lifts including the dreaded double T-bar. Otherwise a good variety of pistes for all levels. Brave and patient skiers can take a bus and many lifts up to the Glacier 3000 ski area at the top of the mountain.
Après ski: My favorite après-ski location was a log cabin bar across from the Eurotel. It is warm inside with picnic tables outside if you want fresh air.
Charm: Not the most charming ski town I’ve been to but very functional. Everything you need for a fun ski weekend at your fingertips.
The catered ski chalet is the way forward. After spending a week in a lovely, eight-person, half-board, ski-in-ski-out chalet in Mirabel, I was utterly spoiled. We were taken care of by a lovely ski hostess who made us breakfast every morning (fresh French bread and croissants, hot porridge, eggs and bacon), left tea and cakes waiting for us in the afternoon and then made us a home-cooked three-course dinner every night.
We hardly went out to the bars in town at all. Staying in our lovely chalet by the roaring fire and playing a few rounds of cards after dinner was much more appealing after a long day (or a short one) out on the slopes.
I’m afraid the Trois Valleys pass (which gives you access to eight resorts in the area, including Courchevel and Val Thorens) was a waste on me. There were plenty of pistes in Mirabel to keep a beginner busy for a week.
On days when I was especially sore, I found that napping, hiking the switchback roads, and looking around in the shops in town was all the activity I needed.
Piste: Hardly a drag lift to be found but lots of long, flat, and narrow traverses. For a cautious snowboarder, those are kisses of death.
Après ski: Lots of casual bars and restaurants in town (although we hardly left the chalet). In town, go to La Galette, which offers a large variety of crêpes and tempting raclette and fondue.
Charm: High marks for charm. Meribel is beautiful and big enough to be interesting for an entire week.
Courmayeur is a quaint and tiny Italian ski town at the foot of Mont Blanc. We were staying in a hotel a short walk from the large gondola which takes you from the town up to the start of the ski area. The resort was good for beginners with lots of wide blue runs and manageable reds.
My friends and I took on various blue and red runs over the course of two days. By the end, I was able to turn even on steeper parts of the course. I still was mostly getting down the slopes via falling leaf and of course still fell frequently when getting off chairlifts or on tricky bits of the piste when my legs were tired.
We enjoyed a big group dinner one night at a charming restaurant in the pedestrian-only part of town. There was lots of wine, toasts with grappa, and a four-course Italian feast. It was the perfect way to celebrate and top off a successful and fun ski weekend.
Piste: Lots of good beginner slopes, not as many pesky drag lifts.
Après ski: Excellent. Lots of opportunities for sunning and hot chocolate on the slopes and places for mischief and mingling in town. The food is Italian so, obviously, delicious.
Charm: Extremely charming and picturesque in that very posh ski town kind of way.
My first snowboarding trip was to the charming alpine town of Lenzerheide, two hours outside Zurich. It had been six years since my last attempt at snowboarding, so I was a bit nervous. Yet I had a patient instructor who taught me the basics, and then shouted encouragement as I gingerly picked my way down the mountain.
Snowboarding and skiing really wear you out as a beginner. After a few hours, I was ready for the après-board portion of the day. There were cute bars and restaurants scattered across the slopes serving standard Swiss-German dishes like wurst and rosti.
For an après-ski pick-me-up there was gluhwein and jagertee (tea with rum in it). Wearing lots of ski gear plus vigorous exercise actually made for rather warm conditions, so a cold beer was in order.
After dinner, we walked from the hotel into town to assess nightlife options. We hit up Nino’s bar and then went dancing at Cinema Club until three in the morning.
On Sunday, a friend and I took a break from the slopes altogether and headed to the spa. One of the nicest hotels in town had a Hamam and we spent a couple of hours there alternating between steam rooms, hot baths, and the full-body application of mud masks and scented oils. Perfect for aching muscles.
Piste: Not a bad resort overall but a few too many button and drag lifts for a boarder’s taste. And we had to take a bus from the hotel to the lifts.
Après ski: Good selection of bars and a fun night club. The restaurants serve Swiss-German fare for the most part.
Charm: A very sweet town with little wooden churches. Starting to become more built up with condos and large hotels.