A guide to skiing's big three: Les Arcs, Avoriaz & Val Thorens
France's enduring popularity as one of the world's top ski destinations shows no sign of slowing down - especially among British skiers. With three of the world's biggest ski domains all clustering around the French Alps - namely Paradiski, Portes du Soleil, and the Three Valleys - the choice of resorts can easily boggle the mind. In this whistlestop guide to these leading ski destinations, we hope to shine a light on the best bits of each resort, letting you narrow down the options and choose the right resort for you and your party.
Les Arcs - Paradiski
Four resorts make up this corner of the huge Paradiski domain, and three of them are typically modernist 1960s purpose-built resorts. If you want cosy Alpine charm, opt for snug little Arc 1950, whose buildings have been designed in traditional Savoyard style. Its pretty traffic-free centre makes it a hit with families, as all cars have been banished to underground car parks and you can enjoy unfettered views of Mont Blanc.
Ski from your door straight to the lifts, where you'll have 200 km of pistes to explore for every level of skier. There's a lot of variety, from sheltered wooded slopes to the seriously challenging black runs clinging to the towering Aiguille Rouge peak at 3225m. Intermediates and confident beginners have plenty of cruising terrain, and novices can learn safely in the 'ski tranquille' areas.
"If you want cosy Alpine charm, opt for snug little Arc 1950"
If Les Arcs' 200 km of pistes aren't enough, just ski to the southern edge of the domain Peisey-Vallandry and take the cable car to La Plagne - opening up another 225 km of Paradiski's pistes.
Once the lifts close, the fun continues into the evening at Mille 8 at Arc 1800, especially for kids. This sprawling complex includes an indoor pool, a funpark for boarders, and a swirling toboggan run. If you're in need of pampering, head to the Deep Nature Spa. Soothe your muscles in the heated cave-like pools and soak up the views of Mont Blanc from the treatment rooms. In the centre of Arc 1950 - just seconds away from the ski lifts - is Le Village Arc 1950, a five star self catering residence owned by Pierre & Vacances. Choose from stylish studios to four-bedroom apartments, and take advantage of the spa facilities that include a half indoor, half outdoor pool.
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Avoriaz - Portes du Soleil
For ski-in-ski-out convenience, it's hard to beat Avoriaz in the Portes du Soleil domain, whose 12 linked resorts straddle the French-Swiss border. Although it too was built during the 1960s French ski boom, the village stands apart from its modernist counterparts. The high rise architecture is more futuristic than brutalist and easier on the eye, and the car-free snowy streets filled with horse-drawn sleighs add even more charm.
High altitude Avoriaz is in an excellent position within the Portes du Soleil. Its 75 km pistes spill out in all directions and make it straightforward to reach the other resorts in the domain and clock up the kilometres. As there are 650 km throughout the Portes du Soleil, this could take some time. Expert skiers will want to tackle the infamous Swiss Wall in the Chavanette sector on the Swiss border. Ski through the woods of Lindarets and you reach the very French resort of Châtel. Take the cable car to British favourite Morzine, which is linked to even more slopes at Les Gets.
"For ski-in-ski-out convenience, it's hard to beat Avoriaz"
If you're looking for distractions off the slopes, try the enormous Aquariaz water park complex filled with jungle-like vegetation. Whizz down the slidewinder (rather like a watery half pipe) or relax in the gently bubbling pools. The views from the outdoor hot tubs are fantastic. For non-ski fun, you can have a go at dog-sledding and night time tobogganing. Like many large resorts in France, the choice of après ski activities is huge, everything from electric fat bikes and snowscoots to caving.
Pierre & Vacances runs the majority of self catering residences in Avoriaz, including the five star L'Amara residence. It has wonderful views of the Morzine Valley as well as a very welcome spa and indoor pool.
Val Thorens - Three Valleys
It's Europe's highest ski resort and the place everyone flocks to when there's little snow elsewhere. Built high above the treeline at 2300m, Val Thorens is becoming one of the most popular resorts in the Three Valleys (Trois Vallées) ski domain. It's also getting smarter and more upmarket, with new five star hotels cropping up.
The compact centre is mainly car free and full of ski-in-ski-out accommodation, including Pierre & Vacances' three star Residence Le Tikal near the middle of the village. It's a short walk from the heart of the resort, Place de Caron, which is where you'll find most of the restaurants and shops.
It's the 150 km of snow-sure north facing slopes that everyone is here for - along with some of the best off-piste terrain in the Three Valleys. Take the gondola up to Cime de Caron at 3200m, where the spectacular views extend to the neighbouring Maurienne Valley. Get there early in the day if you want to avoid the queues.
"It's the 150 km of snow-sure north facing slopes that everyone is here for"
While the pistes are good for skiers of all levels, intermediates in particular will jump at the chance to cover a huge amount of terrain within the Three Valleys. Les Menuires next door is one of the more underrated resorts in the Three Valleys but has superb skiing. Méribel too is just over the Col de la Chambre. If you're really keen, you can even ski right across to Courchevel 1650, if you don't mind a bit of a thigh-burning return.
For après ski relaxation, dip into the warm waters of the hot tubs, swimming pools and balneotherapy bath at the Val Thorens' Sports Centre and Aqua-Spa. Children have their own play areas, with paddling pools and waterfalls, along with water-based organised activities.
If that's all too staid, join the daily après ski party on the mountain at the Val Thorens outpost of La Folie Douce, France's most raucous collection of mountainside outdoor clubs and restaurants. People come from all over the Three Valleys to dance on the terrace against the enchanting backdrop of snow-covered mountains.
Les Arcs, Avoriaz and Val Thorens are just three exciting ski resorts which pepper France, and throb with life during the ski season. Whether you're a pro on two skis or a complete newbie, there's a ski holiday for you. Check out the likes of Pierre & Vacances, a well established name on the slopes, so to speak. Browse the latest Pierre & Vacances ski deals right here.
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