Val d'Isere Village

Val d'Isere is a bustling large resort but it has some history behind it, and although its ancient buildings have largely been replaced by ersatz modern ones, their influence remains and it's a pleasant place to spend time in.

Val d'Isere: the old village

Val d'Isere was once a small hunting village owned by the Dukes of Savoie, and the pretty church of Saint Bernard of Menthon, built in 1664 but with some aspects dating back to the 11th century, still stands in the centre of the old quarter. Harsh winters forced villagers to build solid houses with the local wide flat stones or 'Lauzes' as well as wood, setting the style for centuries to come. Although the first hotels started appearing around the turn of the century, it was Jacques Mouflier, a Parisian, who brought Val d'Isere to a much wider audience when he discovered it under mounds of snow in 1929. And the snow, "as light and fluffy as swan's down" convinced him that this was just the spot to create a resort resembling an Austrian ski village. 

But like many French resorts, post-war developments did not enhance the look of the village, and there are still a few eyesores from this period. The resort's rediscovery of its heritage began in the years leading up to the 1992 Albertville Winter Olympics, and has continued ever since. The latest development plan, Le Coin, will last until 2022 and oversee construction of a new underground moving walkway but crucially the new buildings will be constructed in the old style with stone, slate and wood and the pedestrianised area will be further extended.

Val d'Isere's sectors, suburbs and hamlets

To get your bearings around the resort, it's best seen as a large T. The main road, the D 902 still runs through it, although traffic is diverted away from the pedestrianised centre or swept underground. Avenue Olympique is the principle name for the road inside the resort and most of the nightlife is on either side or close by it. Perpendicular to it, is the side road that descends under the Rond Point des Pistes then snakes up the valley between Val d'Isere's two home mountains, Solaise and Bellevarde, to reach its new smart, ski-in/ski-out suburbs, Le Joseray, Le Chatelard and La Legettaz

Approaching Val d'Isere on the D902, you first encounter the hamlet of La Daille which is almost an independent mini-resort. Although it's very well located for skiing with excellent lifts, it's not a pretty sight, unless you're a fan of large apartment block architecture (some of their roofs mimic the surounding cliffs, aparently). Gradually the old eyesores dating back to the 1960s and 1980s are being replaced (a process that was hastened by a fire) and those that remain have been re-clad, and there are some smaller, cosier, chalet-style buildings scattered around, but overall La Daille is for keen skiers who value function above form, or just want to save money (it's one of Val D'Isere's cheaper areas).  

About 1.5km further along the road, you reach the first suburb of Val D'Isere proper, Le Cret. It's easier on the eye than La Daille, but it doesn't have its own lifts or pistes, so you can be a long walk (or short bus ride) away from both the skiing and the bars and restaurants of the centre.

After Le Cret, is Central Val d'Isere, but be warned the central area is now a very big place, and stretches out for nearly a kilometre, so if proximity to the main lifts and pistes is important, check exactly where in the centre you're staying. On the other hand, the bus service is good, and the whole area has a pleasant ambience.

If you turn right and go up the side road (or walk across the Rond Pont des Pistes and its nursery slopes) you will reach Le Joseray, Le Chatelard and La Legettaz, Val D'Isere's latest suburbs, which are all dominated by smart modern, slope-side apartments, plus a smattering of luxury hotels. 

If instead you keep going on D902, you'll emerge from the far end of Val d'Isere and one kilometre up the road is the hamlet of Le Laisinant. This has its own high speed, 6-seater, and usually blissfully uncrowded, chair lift  and its own Nordic ski circuit. As an area it's upmarket, sensitively developed but very quiet at night and a long walk from the buzzy centre.

Even further away, but with much more charm, is Le Fornet. On the right side as you approach it from Val d'Isere, is the old hamlet. Quite how much of it really is genuinely old is a matter of debate, but the new buildings blend in well. And on the North side are some large smart modern chalets, plus a luxury restaurant. On the road itself is the eponymous Cable Car station. The skiing it serves on the Col de l'Iseran, Signal de l'Iseran and Glacier de Pissaillas can often seem quite remote from the central ski area despite all the connecting lifts, but it's definitely higher and arguably more beautiful.

Le Fornet is the last stop on the ski bus, and beyond it the snow makes the D902 impassable in winter, at least in a car (part of the road is converted into a piste). In good weather, however, the footpath stretching to the Pont St Charles is a lovely place to take a stroll, provided you don't mind sharing it with the occasional off-piste or nordic skier. In Spring, if you bring binoculars and point them just below the snowline on the mountains on the North side of the road, you can often see ibex. If you do, the lively nightlife of Val d'Isere's centre might seem a million miles away but the real distance is less than 5kms. 

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