Our guide to Val d'Isere delves into why it has become one of Europe's most popular ski resorts.
History of Val d’Isere
Located at the end of the Tarentaise valley, Val d’Isere is one of the most snow-sure resorts in Europe. Standing at 1,850m, the 300 km of slopes stretch to an altitude of 3,456m at the top of the Grande Motte glacier in Tignes. The resort itself spans 5 km from La Daille to the hamlet of Le Fornet with chalets, apartments, shops and restaurants in between.
The journey of Val d’Isere as an international ski resort began in the 1930s with the first hotels built in 1932. Construction of the Solaise gondola was completed in 1942 and at the start of the 1960s, Val d’Isere had a dozen drag lifts and two cable cars.
The resort was long-admired by champions of the elite skiing world including Jean-Claude Killy who won three gold medals at the 1968 Winter Olympics in Grenoble. In fact, the Val d’Isere - Tignes ski area was renamed ‘Espace Killy’ in his name, although has now reverted back to Val-Tignes.
It was the Albertville Winter Olympics in 1992 that really put Val d’Isere on the map, with the games bringing several developments to the area including the addition of the Funival at La Daille. The town was also given a Savoyard-style facelift to make it more attractive for potential visitors.
Since then, the resort has hosted the 2009 Alpine Skiing World Championships and embarked on a £170 million redevelopment project ‘Le Coin de Val’, which will add 900 extra guest beds, two luxury hotels and a host of chalets, new shops, services and restaurants to the area.
Top Events in Val d’Isere
From festivals to concerts and sporting competitions, Val d’Isere has a series of entertaining events to thrill, delight and amuse visitors throughout the season. Every Thursday, the main street is transformed into an illuminated pedestrian zone for ‘Festi Light’, with live music, street entertainment and an ice carving demonstration.
Classicaval, Val d’Isere’s classical music festival celebrates its 27th anniversary this year and the Gem Altigliss Challenge (Student Ski World Cup) its ninth. There’s also the 40th edition of Scara, an international ski race bringing together top skiers from France and abroad aged between 12 and 15 years old.
April brings the 24th International Adventure and Discovery Film Festival, a four-day festival featuring exhibitions, lectures, book signings and a nightly showing of 11 films which are judged by a professional jury.
The summer months see a series of cycling and mountain biking events take place, including the MTV Enduro series and The Future Tour. Other events include the Electric and Hybrid Motor Show and for trail runners, High Trail Vanoise.
Where to Eat & Drink in Val d’Isere
Whilst not up the same gastronomic standards as Courchevel, Val d’Isere still has some quality restaurants from the two-Michelin starred L’Atelier Edmond to the excellent value self-service restaurant, La Cascade at the foot of the Pissaillas glacier.
On the mountain, we like La Peau de Vache, a welcoming eaterie halfway down La Face black run serving hearty salads, local charcuterie, steak, omelettes and tartiflette. Another recommendation is L’Edelweiss, a chalet-style restaurant with a large outdoor terrace serving exceptional Savoyard cuisine; don’t miss out on the duck burger with foie gras! At the top of the Fornet cable car, Le Signal offers both self-service and dining room options. The restaurant prides itself on its use of fresh local products to create tasty Savoyard dishes. In the La Daille area, Les Tufs serves a wide choice of dishes on its sunny terrace or modern interior.
In the village, La Baraque is a favourite amongst locals. Serving traditional and fusion cuisine, the menu is diverse and the ambience convivial. For a more laid-back experience, Le Lodge Bar & Restaurant serves alpine classics such as fondue as well as pizzas. Later on, the resident DJ takes to the decks.
Val d’Isere takes apres-ski seriously with the action kicking off at La Folie Douce, just above La Daille. At the bottom of Solaise, Cocorico is similarly lively with live music and DJs. From midnight, the basement turns into Doudoune, a dynamic nightclub which takes you into the early hours of the morning. Long-standing bar and restaurant Bananas is also popular at the end of the day.
Late night action takes place at Dick’s Tea Bar and The Fall Line. For a more sophisticated ambience, try La Cave Sur La Comptoir, a cosy little wine bar open daily from 17.00 to 01.00. Many of the upmarket hotels, such as Blizzard, Savoyarde, and La Rosée Blanche, also have comfortable bars where you can enjoy a civilised glass of wine.
Where to Stay in Val d’Isere
Val d’Isere is well-known for its fantastic range of luxury chalets and apartments. For ski-in/ski-out convenience, we recommend Chalet Elephant Blanc, a sought-after five-bedroom property right next to the Solaise piste. For large groups, Domaine Toit du Monde sleeps up to 16 guests and offers ski-in/ski-out access onto a green slope making it ideal for beginners.
For a chalet that has it all, you can’t beat Marco Polo. Situated in the heart of the village, this six-bedroom chalet offers lavish comfort with a bar, opulent spa with indoor swimming pool, games room and entertainment area.
For views check out Orca and Orso; five-bedroom chalets situated at the highest point of Le Fornet with incredible mountain vistas.
The resort also has some excellent self-catered apartments. We recommend the apartments in the Canadienne building for their stylish interiors and convenient location. Apartment Les Sorbiers and Apartment Barmettes are other highlights.
Winter in Val d’Isere
Linked to Tignes, Val d’Isere has a decent-sized ski area with 300 km of pre-prepared pistes as well as magnificent off-piste opportunities. The skiing in Val d’Isere is split into several areas - La Daille, Solaise, Bellevarde and Le Fornet. Solaise is an excellent area for beginners with blue runs nearby to progress to. Bellevarde is great for confident intermediate skiers and is home to La Face, the black run built as the Men’s Downhill for the 1992 Albertville Olympics. Above La Daille are lifts to Col de Fresse and Toviere, linking to Tignes. At the opposite end of the valley, Le Fornet is the access point for the Pissallias Glacier and some exciting off-piste skiing.
Beyond the slopes, Val d’Isere offers a whole host of activities for non-skiers and thrill-seekers alike. Petrolheads will be drawn to the 800m ice driving circuit where you can slide around an icy course in a rear-wheel-drive BMW or astride an E-Motorbike. Right next door is an ice karting circuit, perfect for racing against friends and family.
Another way to discover the valley is with your own team of huskies. Let yourself be driven by an experienced musher or take the reins yourself. For a birds-eye view of the valley, take a scenic flight over the summits, exploring the peaks of Mont Blanc, La Grande Casse and Les Ecrins. You can also experience a tandem paragliding flight from the top of Solaise mountain.
The Aquasportif centre is home to an indoor swimming pool, gym, sports hall, climbing wall and spa. There is also an artificial outdoor ice rink in the centre of the village, open afternoon and evening.
Summer in Val d’Isere
Summer in Val d’Isere is equally busy with mountain biking, cycling and hiking all popular activities. Water sports such as hydro-speeding, canyoning and rafting are ideal for adrenaline-seekers.
Val d’Isere is also a great place for rock climbing for both beginners and experienced climbers. If you fancy scaling a rock in a slightly less daunting way then Via Ferrata is a good alternative.
Summer skiing is possible on the Grande Motte glacier from 8 am to 1 pm. It offers 27 km of slopes for all abilities, plus a snow park with jumps and often a half pipe.