French Alps – Chalet Chic
Chamonix, Courchevel, Val D’Isère….
To some of us the distinctions between the glamorous-sounding towns of the French Alps are merely academic.
The words “French Alps” alone are enough to sell us, content with the promise of world-class skiing and the myriad pleasures of a wintry French Alpine village.
Look a little closer, however, and each one turns out to have a character of its own. Here we present our primer on the resort towns of the French Alps, along with some favorite ski hotels to match.
French Alps – Hotels & Chalets
Chamonix — Classic
This is where it all began. Ever since hosting the first Winter Olympics in 1924, Chamonix has been the standard against which all other French skiing is judged. The famous ten-mile Vallée Blanche has a spot on every serious skier’s bucket list, and at over 15,000 feet, Mont Blanc’s peak is the highest in Western Europe. Some of the newer French resorts make it easier to get on the slopes and away from the crowds, but Chamonix’s infrastructure continues to improve, and for history it can’t be beat. Also perfectly classic is Les Granges d’en Haut. Though the twelve-room hotel’s suites are loaded with all the modern luxuries, the aesthetics (think wood-paneled walls and timbered ceilings) ensure the archetypal Alpine lodge experience is never far from your mind.
Megève — Old Money
Megève is in many ways the most old-fashioned of the major French ski towns. The focal point of the village is a 17th-century church, and the turreted houses, carless cobblestone streets and horse-drawn carriages rumbling around town make for a timelessly atmospheric Alpine backdrop. And yet somehow it has never quite become a parody of itself. To this day its name is associated with high-altitude glamour. That reputation is helped in no small part by a collection of deeply pleasurable high-end hotels run by the Sibuet family of hoteliers, among them Le Lodge Park. Underlying the hotel’s charmingly woodsy surfaces are all the right things: luxurious bedding, indulgent modern bathrooms, and a high-end bar and restaurant that are among the town’s hottest tickets.
Courchevel — Nouveau Riche
For over-the-top Alpine luxury, there’s nowhere quite like Courchevel. If you’re an in-the-know oligarch or free-spending financier looking to play in the snow, this is your little French mountain town. Or your three little French mountain towns, each named for its altitude — Courchevel 1550, Courchevel 1650, Courchevel 1850 — as well as its relative status. (The higher you go, the fancier things get.) Naturally our hotel of choice, Les Suites de la Potinière in Courchevel 1850, is tops. Gone is any trace of rusticity in the bright, richly furnished interiors, and of course it wouldn’t be complete without an urbane après-ski lounge in which to do some conspicuously big spending.
Check rates →
Val d’Isère — Crowd Pleaser
At just 6,000 feet or so, Val d’Isère is one of the Alps’ relatively low-lying ski resorts — and the atmosphere is rather more down-to-earth as well. Its small crowds and relatively modest reputation certainly aren’t for a lack of outstanding skiing. The runs here are among the best in the region, and the scenery — with those rows of steep, snow-covered slopes rising from the long, narrow valley — is spectacular. Hôtel Oremlune is as fine an example as any of Val d’Isère’s playful, funky style. It’s more bohemian than luxe, with unfussy rooms that substitute the character of bright orange walls and quirky pieces of art for furs and fancy linens. Still, they’re splashy where it counts, as in the sleek polished concrete bathrooms fitted with deep soaking tubs.
Val Thorens — The Underdog
With more skiable terrain than any of the other French resorts, Val Thorens has historically failed to measure up to the nearby competition only in terms of style. That’s a problem that the ever-on-point Sibuet family of hoteliers (remember them?) is happy to help resolve. At Altapura, they’ve taken the materials of a classic ski chalet — wooden beams, animal furs, even taxidermy — and refashioned it all into a decidedly contemporary design hotel. Some fine restaurants — including the black-and-white-tiled La Laiterie and the sexy, low-lit Enfants Terribles — only reinforce the casually sophisticated mood.
Villaroger — Villaroger?
You can be forgiven if you haven’t heard of it. Admittedly, this one’s a bit off-piste — a little-known, little-developed mountain resort practically within snowball-throwing distance of the Italian border. We bring Villaroger to your attention for one reason: Mineral Lodge. Conceived by architect-philosopher Christian Girard, the five-room hotel needs no brand-name hometown to merit a visit. Though the setting is spectacular, it’s a destination unto itself, a sustainably built, tech-forward hotel constructed on the ruins of an old chalet-style farmhouse. The interiors are open and airy, with soaring ceilings, huge skylights and gigantic glass panes for gaping at the slopes of Les Arcs Paradise just outside — here it’s about the scenery, not the scene.