Most skiers have heard of the French resort of Alpe d’Huez, but what about its smaller neighbours which have all the charm of village life but with access to one of Europe’s most snow-sure areas? Catherine Scott pays a flying visit.
Alpe d’Huez has grown spectacularly in stature since Polish engineer Jean Pomagalski installed the first drag lift in France there in the 1930s.
Pomagalski went on to found the international Poma lift company, while Alpe d’Huez now has the fifth largest ski area in France with 250km of slopes encompassing the slopes of the outlying villages of Auris, Villard Reculas, Oz en Oisans and Vaujany.
Few Brits seem to know about these smaller villages which have the traditional quaint feel many struggle to find in many French purpose-built resorts.
But don’t make the mistake of thinking that what these villages have in charm they lack in ski convenience, they have access to one of the biggest ski areas in Europe.
Alpe d’Huez has great pistes for all standards, a huge ski area, reliable snow cover, and is easy to get to, a 90-minute drive south-east of Grenoble, the nearest airport. The village is located at 1,860m on a sunny plateau above the valley town of Bourg d’Oisans, and over the decades it has developed at random, resulting in an architectural hotchpotch split into eight small districts, or quartiers.
We were staying in both Vaujany and Villard Reculas, skiing between the two and calling in for lunch and an incredible state of the art toboggan-run in their big, better- known sister Alpe d’Huez.
For those who want to avoid the crowds of the busy mega-resort but still want access to a vast ski area, Vaujany and its neighbour Villard-Reculas offer a cost-effective alternative.
We started our trip in Villard-Reculas a small unspoilt hamlet connected to Alpe d’Huez by just one lift.
Villard-Reculas was once a small agricultural mountain village connected to its neighbours by one small road – that was only accessible in the best weather conditions – but it is now a charming, traditional ski resort in Alpe d’Huez grand domaine Ski.
We were staying at the chilled out 4* Résidence Regain in the heart of the hamlet just a short, if rather steep, walk down to a small parade of shops and restaurants and the home of the ESF ski school.
On our arrival we immediately tried our hands, and feet, at snowshoeing, not something I have tried before. I have to admit that I thought snowshoeing was predominantly something for non-skiers to do while their buddies are shredding the powder on and off the piste. How wrong I was.
Our snowshoeing experience was at night. So armed with head-torches and special snowshoes – nothing like the tennis racket things from the past – we set off with our guide walking up a blue run which we were to ski down the following day,
The ski conditions were incredible, with drifts up to our waists which made the whole experience hilarious, exhausting and at times a bit hairy. Once up the ungroomed piste we headed into the trees, climbing higher and higher with difficulty.
But if we thought going up was hard, then coming down was equally difficult. Loved it, but still think I would have preferred a pair of skis for the descent.
The following day we were on more familiar territory with skis firmly on our feet – and boards of course in some cases. We were to ski to our next destination, Vaujany, so all our bags were transported for us.
Vaujany seamlessly combines the rustic charm and authenticity of a mountain village with modern facilities and offers superfast links to the heart of Alpe d’Huez grand domaine Ski and its 250 km of slopes.
The resort is an excellent choice for keen skiers with the swift modern lift system ensuring they can make the most of long days on the mountain.
The natural village environment provides an ideal platform to discover and enjoy the mountains by snowshoeing, hiking and skiing.
In addition it has a state-of-the-art leisure centre, perfect for people with young families who may not want to spend the entire time on the slopes.
As well as an indoor pool, there is bowling alley, fitness centre, ice rink and hamman and an excellent restaurant.
If that isn’t enough then nearby Alpe d’Huez boasts the recently opened Luge des Begers – an alpine roller coaster on the slope – all with virtual reality goggles if you want them and definitely worth a go no matter what your age..
Apres ski may not be massive in Vaujany as it is clearly a family resort, but there are a few excellent restaurants and bars to ensure your hunger and thirst is quenched at the end of full ski day.
We stayed in the La Perle De L’Oisans 4* chalet apartments which has a picture-postcard location on the sun-drenched south-facing slopes in the centre of the village.
For those used to French apartments, these will come as a welcome surprise as La Perle’s rooms are spacious and beautifully furnished.
Villard-Reclus and Vaujany offer more than just skiing. It’s an authentic French Alps food experience.
The whole resort offers an abundance of food and drink experiences year-round and, for those who want to experience some Alpine charm while enjoying some of the best skiing in Europe, they are definitely worth adding to your list.
A seven-night self-catered stay at 4* Chalet Le Regain, Villard Reculas, costs from £867 for a three-bedroom apartment sleeping up to six people and at 4* La Perle de L’Oisans, Vaujany, from £1,000 for a two-bedroom apartment for up to six people.
Direct return flights from Leeds Bradford to Grenoble cost from £82 per person with Jet2.
A six-day adult lift pass for Alpe d’Huez grand domaine Ski is priced from €267 / £234
Snow-shoeing in Villard Reculas from £18 per person,. www.villard-reculas.com