Skiing in France
Part 2 of 2
Read Part 1 of 2 here
The highest altitude in Europe, this ski hub used to be a hip, youngster’s only, the coolest one—the real stuff, with the entire ski area above 2000 meters, open from November to May. My son and I went ecstatic on one of its six enormous glaciers where we would hang on 1 edge of one ski, because you can’t plant another on a vertically steep ice wave and you can make a turn only by jumping. 10 years past, climate warmed up and Val Thorens turns out a bourgeoisie family resort, in high demand for its guaranteed early and late snow. A host for endless world-class competitions, which you can watch from a main-street green run or from any of a street of “beach” restaurants or a hotel room. The ski area is so hefty—no competition is capable of causing a destruction to your day. Don’t forget to have look at Italian and Swiss peaks from Glacier de Péclet from the Cime de Caron or “the most beautiful view in the Alps” of a 100 summits, according to the Michelin Green Guide.
This year’s Val Thorens’ restaurants left me feeling I’m in Courchevel. Ikea-style minimalism that we were used to in Val Thorens yielded to exquisite chefs and designs and elaborate après-ski.
Stay: Hotel Hameau Du Kashmir (www.le-hameau-du-kashmir.com)
Dine: Jean Sulpice (www.jeansulpice.com). Chef Jean tells his life’s stories with his dishes, exploring mountain herbs and takes an old sweet ‘rissole’ recipe from Savoy, re-imagined as a salted aperitif with cream of vacherin cheese… Enjoy mountain herbs with quail eggs, cucumber jelly, smoked fera and oxalis. Try pigeon cooked in a salt crust and verbena and Beaufort mousse with seasonal flavors from the plants around the area.
Travel here from Val Thorens by ski, with luggage and beginner skiers by taxi. Les Menuires is a family ski-in resort, probably the most affordable ski area in Les Trois Vallées. It’s right in the middle of the area, so you can easily ski or ride ski lifts to every other resort—Meribel, Courchevel and seven others. It’s special treat—enormously wide groomed runs and fresh powder bowls. Try those and you may never want to leave Les Menuires for any other place.
Stay: Résidence Les Clarines (www.cgh-residences.com/ hiver/residence/residence-lesclarines. html)
Lunch mid-slope at Le Grande Lac at the foot of the Great Lake chairlift.
Dine: Restaurant le Chalet de la Masse near the lifts.
Read: Luxury Flight
A 1992 Olympic venue, Tignes together with Val d’Iser is a part of Espace Killy ski area named after the legendary skier Jean-Claude Killy, and is the host to French ski team at summer, when it stays open on its Grande Motte glacier. Espace Killy is just another enormous resort with 300km of downhill ski runs and 44 km of cross country skiing.
If you are reading this article, it might be you are a hopeless ski addict and suffer through the summer when the sight of green on a hill hurts—Tignes guarantees snow at any time of the year. And the much lower summer prices will look shiny too.
Relax in fur-covered chairs for a lunch on the slopes at Le Panoramic at altitude 3,032 meters where Chef Jean-Michel Bouvier takes inspiration from his Savoyard culinary roots, using local ingredients filled with the aroma of spit-roasted meats cooked in their juices.
Unglove hands to warm them in the furry coat of the frothy dignified mountain rescue St. Bernard, how so very different from our plastic lives of Beverly Hills.
Skip ski lifts and travel to the summit inside the mountain on the 4th longest funicular in the world.
Stay: Hotel Les Campanules (www.campanules. com) in the center of town near the slopes and lift. Dine at the hotel on succulent duck breast with salad; monkfish fillet roasted with herbs; roasted rack of lamb with thyme gratin Savoyard in Beaufort.
The building of the road to Italy via the Iseran Pass in 1937 changed the life of Val d’Isere forever as did its slopes, which have gone on to produce many legendary skiers, among them Henri Oreiller, the Goitchel sisters and Jean- Claude Killy.
A modern regular World Cup venue, cool and high altitude, Val d’Isere has it all—sporty-groomed slopes, wild off-piste, crazy snowpark, virgin powder or wide greens.
Here is how to rip the true Val d’Isere spirit: after you caught the last lift of the day, land in one of the open-air clubs right on the lower slopes—at La Folie Douce restaurant (www. lafoliedouce.com/en ) and dance in your ski boots on tables and benches with crazy Brits masquerading as costumed forest animals, see yourself projected on the walls and immerse in the young crowd like nowhere else—from every corner of the world; don’t get too… mmm… excited, as you still have to ski down afterwards.
Dine: l’Arolay above the river that ran through the town of Val d’Isere and had its own mountain trout. Try gusto entrée after another of mountain specialties: l’Arolay’s raclette, fondue Bourguigonne, charcuterie, braserade and then the fondue Savoyare au Beaufort with tartiflette made with potatoes, reblochon cheese, flavored with lardoons and onions (it’s based on the traditional péla gratin of potatoes and onions without cheese called péla).
Visit: the old stone church built in 1664 in the center of the village and with two sets of doors, one set street level and one high above for those winters that we might never know in our lifetime, then during the little ice age that affected France back in the 17th Century when snow piled so high on the streets everyone built doors on two levels.