Val d’Isère is the most popular ski resort in the world for the British for good reason. The resort itself is an attractive, sophisticated winter town that has everything you could need and linked with neighbouring Tignes, it forms half of the huge and incredibly snow-sure Espace Killy ski area (now officially… and inventively… named the Val d’Isere-Tignes area).
La Daille is the first village you reach as you come up the 32km climb from Bourg-St-Maurice and the ski area stretches up the valley from here. A couple of kilometres down the road and you reach Val d’Isère before the hamlets of Le Laisinant and Le Fornet. When booking accommodation in Val d’Isere be sure to check which village you are in as La Daille and Le Fornet aren’t really walkable to Val d’Isere although the incredibly reliable free bus service does run from 7:35am until 2:40am.
Val d’Isère itself dates back to 1664, giving it much more character than most high-altitude resorts. However, it was not always the picturesque resort that it is today and the beautification truly began in 1992 for the Albertville Winter Olympics when the La Face black run hosted the men’s downhill, Super G and giant slalom. It can now claim a luxury offering to compete with the world’s best while balancing this with a more down to earth feel than the likes of Courchevel or Mégève.
The ski area, covering Val d’Isère and Tignes, is enormous and exciting. It has over 300km of pistes, more than 90 lifts and heights of up to 3,456m. It also has a whopping 24,710 acres of off-piste fun, or three times more than Whistler, the biggest area in North America. The mountains here are, for the most part, high and steep; epitomised by the famous La Face (pro tip: if you are going to brave this long and near vertical run, do it in the morning when the snow is groomed and you are fresh. It becomes heavily moguled by the end of the day).
The main nursery slope with a free chair-lift is on the front de neige in the village centre, there is a beginner area in La Daille and there’s now one at the top of Solaise too, where the mountain has been regraded to produce some gentle and safe slopes. When returning to Val d’Isère village at day’s end, beginners and intermediates should consider taking a gondola down. The runs home from the Solaise, Bellevarde and Fornet areas are all challenging, especially after a hard day of skiing.
For the more experienced, the Oakley sponsored snow park is among Europe’s best and a day spent with an off-piste guide will be some of the best money you ever spend.
Val d’Isère has an incredible lift system, with lifts like the new Solaise Gondola capable of carrying 3,600 passengers per hour (with heated seats and wifi!), the largest snow-making capability in Europe and more space than you can ski in a week.
Val d’Isere has a huge variety of nightlife to rival any resort in the world. On the mountain, you have the original La Folie Douce - predictable perhaps, but no apres-ski round-up would be complete without this curated show of technobeats, flouro suits and dancing on tables. Our preference for outdoor-après falls closer to home though, at Cocorico, back in the village at the bottom of the Solaise run. It has live music every day with more of an indie-rock vibe than DJ beats, as well as pyrotechnics and dancing on tables, stages and anything else that you can find. But it does it without that scripted feel of the Folie Douce.
The Morris pub, as the name suggests, is a very British venue, with live sport and loud bands in the evenings. Meanwhile, yet another option for live music comes from Le Petit Danois, which not only serves an exceptional full English (Danish?) but also has live bands from 5pm and pints of red beer that flow until the early hours. Seriously, order a pint of Red Erik. But be warned, it’s potent!
And the party doesn’t stop when the bars shut, it simply moves to one of the several nightclubs – the famous Dicks Tea Bar being the popular choice that always delivers, while Doudoune is definitely worth a visit - it features surreal décor from the team behind Tomorrowland, supposedly the largest sound system in the Alps, and has played host to the likes of David Guetta, Pete Tong and Roger Sanchez.
Val d’Isère has an excellent and growing culinary reputation, complete with its own two-Michelin star L’Atelier Edmond in La Fornet and one-Michelin star La Table de l’Ours. However, we prefer La Grande Ourse if you are looking for a luxury meal. It first opened in 1936 when there was just one lift on the mountain – just outside the restaurant's door - and it has been a Val d’Isère institution ever since.
If out-and-out decadence isn’t your thing though but you still want to eat well, check out Restaurant Le 1789. It may not look as impressive, but the 1kg ‘cote de boeuf’, cooked on an open fire in the middle of the restaurant for you to share with a lucky partner, is sure to live long in the memory. Sur La Montagne in the high-street is also worth checking out but it’s a favourite with the locals so it’s worth booking in advance.
Up the mountain, Le Signal at the top of the La Fornet cable car is hard to beat or L’Armailly, in the charming village of Tignes Le Brevières, is a great option if you want a long ski to build the appetite.
Resort altitude: 1850m
Highest point: 3456m
Area: Espace Killy, combining Tignes and Val d’Isère
Best spot for…
Après-après: Le Petit Danois
A lavish meal: Le 1789
A rave: Dick’s Tea Bar or Doudoune
Casual meal: Sur La Montagne
Posh coffee: Arctic Cafe
Airport transfers: Chambéry 2 hours, Geneva 2hr30 – 3 hours
Eurostar transfers: Bourg-St-Maurice 40 minutes