First there was Covid, then lack of snow, but ski holidays are back and back with a bang.
Hidden beneath the high peaks of the French Alps, close to the Italian border, is the mountain resort of Val-d’Isère. With its breathtaking views and 150 km of marked slopes, it is a skiers dream.
I last visited ‘Val’ was over 15 years ago as a fearless 20 year old. My recollections are a little fuzzy (I blame the apres-ski) but mostly I remember it being a fairly quiet place, with a main road with all the hotels just off the main drag. But that’s different now, Val-d’Isère has evolved into a world-class resort, bustling with life and boasting outstanding bars and restaurants (especially Matsuhisa, which offers Japanese food with a Peruvian twist from celebrity chef Nobu).
But it offers a number of other attractions, including classical music concerts and a major leisure complex which has “5000m2 of enjoyment, rejuvenation and relaxation in a relaxed and friendly environment”.
Christophe Lavaut, managing director of Val d’Isère Tourism, says: “This season is the symbol of a new beginning for the entire ski industry, and Val d’Isère is a priority for all ski enthusiasts. Open until 6 May, is offering the usual snow conditions at high altitudes, and we can sense how happy our visitors are to (re)discover the ski area, its wide slopes and welcoming village spirit.”
Concerns that there would be a lack of snow following reports of a ‘snow drought’ in Europe were quickly allayed. A few days before my arrival, Val-d’Isère received a major dump of white stuff. It was time to lace up my boots, clip on my skis and tackle the iconic face of Bellevarde, which boasts magnificent views of the Alps and the village below.
I holed up at Chalet Jupiter, a luxury rental built in 2013 and located just off the main road. From the outside it is underrated. but step inside and it’s an Aladdin’s alpine cave. It has four bedrooms, all with private bathrooms, although you’ll have to draw straws for the master bedroom because it’s spectacular. With its main salon window framed by the view of the snow capped mountains, it’s worth taking a moment each morning to appreciate the sunrise. The chalet also offers an option of a contactless catering service which includes all food and drink for the week.
The staff visit midweek to fully clean and change towels and sheets, but this is done during the day while you’re on the slopes. If you want a peaceful night in, why not kick off your boots, warm up by the log fire and then dine, before enjoying the moonlight in the outdoor hot tub or relaxing on the huge leather sofas. For five star dining or the best raclette the French Alps have to offer, then that’s a different story.
Restaurant on the slopes
The mountain restaurant Gigi Val d’Isère, located inside the former Solaise cable car station, serves Italian cuisine against the backdrop of the majestic Vanoise National Park. Residing at an elevation of 2,551 meters, you’d be forgiven for taking your time over lunch to enjoy your surroundings, both indoors and out on the veranda.
The menu includes linguine beef (beef linguine), lasagne do Gigi or, if you’re feeling a little more adventurous before your afternoon ski session, there’s always the stew of polpo (stewed octopus in red wine sauce) . You pay a little more for the views, but it’s reasonable and every dish is beautifully presented – you’ll leave satisfied, carb-loaded and ready to go again.
Restaurant in town
If you’re looking for the hottest restaurant in town, look no further than Matsuhisa. The brainchild of chef Nobu himself and the first and only Matsuhisa restaurant in the French Alps. Signature favorites like yellowtail jalapeño, black cod miso, and Suntory whiskey cappuccino dishes all make welcome appearances. Japanese cuisine with Peruvian influences is handcrafted and presented in ways synonymous with Mr Matsuhisa.
The staff go the extra mile to cater for any dietary requirements and make you feel at ease while an ultra-cool DJ quietly adds to this incredible and cathartic dining experience. The restaurant is located within an elegant Japanese-style alpine wonderland featuring a dark color palate, black marble tables and velvet throughout.
After a morning of zipping down the slopes, I decided to try some ‘ice flotation’, jumping up and down a man-made hole in the frozen Lac de l’Oulliette. Apprehensive at first, I figured I’d steel myself and channel my inner Wim Hoff, but it turned out I had nothing to worry about. After a short walk from the instructor’s office – an igloo – I made my way to the three-metre square cut into the middle of the lake.
I pulled on a huge bright orange dry suit and was soon in it, floating in a frozen lake, up a mountain with warm herbal tea in hand. Going around in total silence with my “floating” companions I felt complete serenity. A surreal experience – and not a drop of water from the lake made its way through my suit.
If you want to explore a different side of Val d’Isère, fatbiking is a great way to do it. With fat, oversized tyres, these electric bikes are a great way to relax and require minimal effort. Wattsup Fatbikes in the heart of Val d’Isère is the brainchild of former downhill racer Frederik Van Buynde, together with his parents, who happily guide you every step of the way through the snow and mountains. They also offer bespoke tours with their incredible Wattsup team.
Their knowledge of the local neighborhood and surrounding wildlife is second to none, but be warned – dress warmly so you don’t get caught out when the sun goes down.
A seven-night contactless catered stay at Chalet Jupiter based on eight people costs £800 per person with Ski France; skifrance.co.uk
Ski passes cost €63 per day for adults for the entire Tignes and Val d’Isère area and are free for children under 8. If you buy a six-day ski pass, you get the seventh day for free.