Pastoral prettiness and good skiing in tiny La Clusaz.
Few French villages are more picturesque, and the traditional village square and Savoyard church revel in their own prettiness. Busy streets fan out from the square, each boasting excellent shops, bars and hotels – all with a calmly Gallic feel.
There are plenty of people here, soaking up the ambience. There are cleared walks, opportunities for snowshoeing and sledging, an ice-skating rink, and an aqua-centre with indoor and outdoor heated pools. Or, if you are feeling daring, you can take a bungee jump with a difference – plunging into a chasm on a bike, toboggan or even a shopping trolley.
A good selection of stores sells local produce and the outdoor market – held every Monday in La Place de l'Eglise – is a must-visit.
Most of the accommodation – chalets, apartments and two- or three- star hotels – sits in the mid-range bracket. But there is one exception - the striking five-star Au Coeur du Village hotel, which perches beside the Beauregard and Patinoire telecabines.
Here is unabashed luxury, with a spa and a gastronomic restaurant. Rooms have a refined high-end feel to them, all parquet flooring and aged-wood panelling. Some of the suites feature a living room, a whirlpool bath and a balcony with mountain views.
La Clusaz is not the most boisterous of ski resorts, but there are bars for every mood – and you can even find watering holes that may tempt you to stay out and risk a late start on the slopes.
Le Salto does nicely for après-ski drinks, while Les Caves du Paccaly and Le Grenier are good for live music. For insomniacs, meanwhile, the Club 18 discotheque and nightclub L’Ecluse – with its glass dance floor over the river – may beckon.
More information on La Clusaz at www.laclusaz.com
Val d'Isère, France
More Britons get their wintersports fix in Val d'Isère every year than anywhere else in the world – and with good reason. Both terrain and town add up to what is essentially the ideal ski resort.
Linked to neighbouring Tignes to form the Espace Killy ski area of 300km of pistes and 94 lifts, the French resort offers high quality, snow-sure slopes for everyone from complete beginner to veteran powderhound. Its long season stretches from the end of November into the first week of May.
Plus countless fun activities all day long. Thousands of people come to Val d’Isere to celebrate a New Year Eve on the highest outdoor dance floor in Europe with DJ stars and unbelievable fireworks.
Found at the end of the Tarentaise valley, Val d'Isère is two and a quarter hours from Geneva airport and one and half from Chambéry. The village stands at a respectable 1,850m, with top slopes at an altitude of nearly 3,400m, beneath the summit of the Pointe du Montet. The top lift in Tignes is on the Grande Motte and reaches 3,456m.
Unlike so many resorts that claim a giant ski area, the pistes of Val and Tignes are naturally linked without the need for long and boring connecting trails or lifts. On top of that, the Espace Killy's standard of piste grooming is extremely high and the lift system is constantly being upgraded.
The domain covers an area of 10,000 hectares which includes 250km of linked pistes extending over an altitude range of 2,200m. The top station, Pic Blanc (3330m) in the Alpe d'Huez area, offers breathtaking views of the Alps including Mont Blanc, Mont Cervin and the Meije. On a clear day a fifth of France can be seen from this point.
Alpe d'Huez is known as "L'ile au Soleil" (Island of the Sun) as most slopes face south.
The national meteorological office supports this claim with an average of 300 sunshine days a year consisting of up to 7 1/2 per day in December and 11 in April.
More info: http://www.alpedhueznet.com