Val d'Isère in spring: a white paradise and retreat for happy souls - TRAVEL STORY
Updated: Nov 30, 2019
| I was dreaming of a white paradise in the French Alps. In one of the three most luxurious and legendary ski resorts in France, I discovered a retreat for happy souls. |
Megève, Courchevel, Val d'Isère... The three most luxurious and legendary ski resorts in France hold the promise of an exclusive and unforgettable winter sports holiday. But how do you know which is the best ski resort for you? By comparing their souls.
Today, I invite you to discover Val d'Isère, an authentic mountain village located in the French Alps.
You might think that for this famous destination, pleasing me was a game won in advance. Far from it! Getting me to enjoy skiing in April is indeed a significant obstacle: usually, snow in spring is really not my cup of tea. Moreover, the ski resort is reputed to be very sporty and I am a poor skier.
So it was not so obvious. Yet I returned home, totally conquered.
Here is my story.
Dreaming of a white paradise
I have always dreamed, like you perhaps, of discovering MY white paradise, this immaculate and promised piece of land that would suit me so well that I would no longer want to explore the snow and ice world any further. I would establish my winter retreat there for several days or weeks a year and would spend happy days there.
Until now, I have always looked for this magical place in France, with my family, and went from one crush to another. As the French Alps have always surprised me, I have continued my quest, again and again, relentlessly.
This white paradise, I imagine it in my dreams every autumn, refining my criteria and my ideal model. But the ultimate requirement remains that of intense emotion, which in my opinion only a right combination between a generous nature, an elegant, authentic and warm setting can produce.
That's why I accepted the invitation of Val d'Isère Tourism Board and the owners of the 5-star hotel Avenue Lodge: last April, I set off for the Alps to discover the famous winter sports resort, together with top-of-the-range representatives of the French, Swiss and Belgian media.
On the train to Bourg-Saint-Maurice
The train and I have never had a good relationship. Wrongly, no doubt. Because it's obviously very practical, fast and relaxing when travelling alone or at least not with your usual travelling companions.
In addition, the experience is informative and fun. Indeed, a wagon represents a world apart, where each traveller lives his journey according to his own codes. Exchanging a few words with the neighbouring passenger, observing faces, comparing the attitudes of all these strangers and imagining their lives quickly becomes a particularly delightful occupation that only public transport allows.
Freed from the stress of driving a car or rather from that of a co-pilot, I am therefore beginning to see more than one advantage to this type of transport, which is also less polluting.
Through the window, I see the mountains coming closer and closer. The clear waters of Lac du Bourget and the snow-covered peaks of the Alps tell me that I will soon be arriving in Bourg-Saint-Maurice.
Val d'Isère, a mythical ski resort in the French Alps (Savoie)
- First impressions -
In the taxi that takes me to the ski resort, I come across some familiar villages: Villaroger, Sainte-Foy,... To my great surprise when we reach the entrance of Val d'Isère, the journey did not seem longer than to reach La Rosière a few years ago.
At the entrance of the town, the Hameau de la Daille does not leave me with an unforgettable impression. The buildings, which reflect the style of the 60s and 70s, will appeal to lovers of this architectural trend. Not to me. I am therefore looking forward to discovering the centre.
A little further to the right, I discover the Val d'Isère Ice driving, where BMW offers a car circuit on ice. Unfortunately, at this time of year, it is already closed. Well, we'll have to do it again sometime!
Finally, here is the heart of the mountain village. I recognize the pretty low-rise buildings, their stone and dark wood walls, their lauze roofs, which I saw on the internet and which are typical of the region.
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Our taxi parks on the side of Olympic Avenue, in front of Avenue Lodge, a superb 5-star hotel chalet with a black and bright red sign. From the entrance, the tone is set: the welcome is warm and personalized; inside, the chocolate walls echo the dark wooden facade.
Michel would perhaps have told me that they have the color of coffee, delightfully enjoying my amazement at his nuanced comment - Usually, he would have told me the walls were dark brown -. But no matter the gourmet reference or the analogy with black gold, this colour gives an immediate impression of luxury, comfort, well-being and safety; in other words, an exclusive and protective cocoon.
The lobby and the fabulous red bar present a design that is both very contemporary and particularly welcoming, judiciously combining custom-made furniture, designer chairs, sheepskins and soft cushions.
My stay looks promising.
Sublime ski resort and permission to thrill for all
- Espace Killy in spring, experienced and beginner skiers -
I wasn't born with a pair of skis on and didn't have the chance, when I was younger, to go down the slopes of the French Alps every year. I took my first course in Méribel, only 13 years ago, at a not so young age.
So when, after two years without skiing, with no private lessons, I am at the top of the slopes with a group of good ski journalists, needless to say that I am a little stressed.
But beyond fear - of falling, disaster and ridicule - I know the effect of a downhill ride. I can already feel the adrenaline rush of the peaks, the feeling of absolute freedom that gives me a delicious dizziness and has brought me here. I wouldn't trade my place for anything in the world.
Under the kind gaze of our guide from the Oxygène agency, I go for it. The movements are awkward but the happiness is there. Raw, simple, infinite.
By discovering the slopes and ski lifts, I can only see how much Val d'Isère deserves its international reputation. The ski resort, which together with that of Tignes forms Espace Killy, is vast, sublime and offers ultra-modern infrastructures. It also allows all levels, from beginner to champion, to experience real adventures. I love it.
When Michel joins me two days later, we both enjoy a soft and still very abundant snow under the sun.
We left at the right time: the snow is sticking; the mild temperatures have softened it. Skiing in the middle of the morning and at lunchtime allows us to avoid the ice skating effect that the slopes sometimes have in the early morning, as well as the so-called "soup" in the afternoon - Michel doesn't care but I hate ice; and too soft snow isn't for me either -.
On some slopes, we ski alone or almost alone. The large crowd has deserted the winter sports resort. The atmosphere is relaxed. Both on the lifts and on the slopes, everyone seems courteous, happy to disconnect.
For us, Val d'Isère in spring is a very beautiful discovery, a real treat!
Val d'Isère, winter wonderland and breathtaking landscapes
- Snowshoeing experience and rare moments in the Vanoise National Park -
If Val d'Isère is still a mecca for alpine skiing today, the winter sports resort offers a wide range of sporting activities other than skiing. So here I am, behind the hamlet of Le Fornet, adjusting my snowshoes, preparing my sticks.
Today, the sky is grey and it is a little cooler. But, wrapped up in my down jacket, I'm frankly hot. The activity is physical, much more than I remember. The technique is not complicated but you need to pay attention to the instructions and adapt your posture according to the ground. I must admit that sometimes the sticks are a great help to me.
While concentrating on my steps, I scan the surroundings, hoping to see some animal that is a little more curious or a little less shy than the others. It's not my lucky day, but everything comes at the right time to whoever waits, right?
A few days later, Michel and I decided to walk towards the Charles Bridge, on the road to the Col de l'Iseran, beyond the hamlet of Le Fornet. This road usually leads to Bonneval-sur-Arc, one of the most beautiful villages in France, but at this time of the year it is closed, for the pleasure of the few rare hikers who venture into it.
Our footsteps screech in the deep snow; below, the crystalline waters of the Isère whisper their joyful notes. On either side of the road, thousands of crocuses form beautiful blue and white carpets. For a little while, I'd sing the Sound of Music.
The hills are alive with the sound of music With songs they have sung for a thousand years The hills fill my heart with the sound of music My heart wants to sing every song it hears
Source : LyricFind , Paroliers : Oscar II Hammerstein / Richard Rodgers Paroles de Prelude / The Sound of Music © Concord Music Publishing LLC
We go deeper into the mountains of the Vanoise National Park. The wind is a little stinging. The scenery is breathtaking and we feel infinitely small in this area at the end of the world.
Suddenly, in the sky, two shadows, two birds with an huge wingspan. Their silhouette is massive, their wings dark; their body, on the contrary, seems a little lighter to us. They glide along the sides of the massif and then glide above us; they seem so close to us that it is absolutely magical, almost surreal.
My enthusiasm is overwhelming; I feel that this moment is offered to us as a privilege. Indeed, seeing two bearded vultures flying synchronously is rare and fascinating.
My instinctive reaction is to open my camera and zoom in. My fingers are frozen, my gestures feverish, messy. I'm shooting. Missed. I'm shooting again. (The birds have time to leave ten times.) The picture is blurry.
Where are they now? Ah, they're coming back. It looks like they're dancing. It's beautiful. It's magnificent. I observe them and then try to capture the image once again. Unsuccessfully. Michel is not much luckier than I am.
For a moment, I feel a little frustrated -but this emotion does not last. Because the joy and awe I felt before are far more valuable. Reality prevails over virtuality, as always. And that's a good thing.
( I was Lucky enough to get thèse above. Not exceptional, but less frustrating for me ;-) )
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The International Film Festival Adventure and Discovery
- Event in Val d'Isère -
Michel and I had the opportunity to attend the remarkable and very inspiring International Adventure and Discovery Film Festival, presented since 2005, by the famous and no less inspiring French travel writer Sylvain Tesson.
Beyond the invitation to travel, this festival offers both a rejuvenation and a real slap in the face. Thus, through the films and interventions of adventurous travellers, each more exciting than the next, this festival shakes up beliefs and upsets.
It places us in front of our dreams as children, our dream adventures tinged with non-conformism, our thirst to greet the world and the absolute necessity to preserve it rather than try to control it. In my opinion, this festival is a real breath of fresh air for our modern ankylosed minds.
Val d'Isère, an authentic destination
Before being a world-renowned ski resort, Val d’Isère is a typical mountain village, with its charming alleys, its baroque church, its past, its old stones and its inhabitants - A little more than 1500 Avalins officially there.
Over time, the village has become an exclusive and mythical ski resort; however, it has preserved its fundamental characteristics, particularly in the field of real estate development. A perfect example is the hamlet of Le Fornet, where modern luxury chalets coexist in perfect harmony with old chalets and a charming vintage cable car.
Secondly, Val d'Isère cultivates an elegance and refinement that seems to be free of superficiality: luxury is not exposed as a trophy that is exhibited in front of the world; luxury is simply lived, with discretion. I have to tell you, it's all resting!
Val d'Isère is also not afraid to offer an offbeat, humorous, extravagant, totally refreshing image. For example, La Folie douce, whose concept was born in Val d'Isère, is the incomparable restaurant, club and cabaret on the slopes and the meeting place for partygoers of all generations.
Val d'Isère, exclusive retreat for happy souls
By combining a generous nature, an elegant and authentic setting, as well as a warm, joyful and inspiring atmosphere, Val d'Isère has fulfilled my ultimate requirement.
As a true retreat for happy souls, the mythical ski resort is actually a small white and exclusive paradise in the French Alps. Feel free to enjoy it without restriction, especially in spring!
In conformity with the editorial line of The traveling Lions, all the comments made in this article reflect our own experience and the opinions we express are totally free.