Start exploring by skiing down the gentle blue Demoiseaux, to the new, 6 seater high speed Chariande Express chair lift which takes you from 1600m to the top of the "Tete de Saix" ski area. Try some of the gentle blues, and easier reds, have a coffee then decide whether to go further afield for the rest of the day. There is plenty of choice:
Recommended is the wonderful piste des Cascades. It's 14km long, running from the summit of the Grandes Platieres at an altitude of 2,500m. Down to the village of Sixt, 1700 m lower. It's a great run across mountain pastures, national parks and through forests on one of the finest pistes in the Alps. You might even spot a chamois!
If you fancy something less taxing, work your way across the beautiful mountain towards Marvel: an easy, tree-lined run which leads down to Morillon. In an hour or so, you could be enjoying a fantastic lunch at the Igloo restaurant at the end of the run. Then you can choose whether to take the bus back, or ski back, selecting a route to test - or relax - your legs!
New this year, is a wide, long and bump-free run which snakes its way down from the top of the Tete de Saix, avoiding the bottle necks, taking you directly back to 1600. Unless, of course, you decide to have a beer or vin chaud on the new sun-drenched terrace restaurant, half way down the blue Dahu run, while you watch the experts tackle the challenging blacks!
A popular half-day expedition is to go back up to Tete des Saix,and weave your way down the network of blues and reds to Les Carroz. (1140m) The attractive wooded area is a scenic treat, with runs like La Forestiere to enjoy. At the small resort of Les Carroz, there are several good eateries, and you can get back over to Samoens 1600 in time for the last Express back to the village.
The view of the village and mountains from the large comfortable 8-seater cabins is spectacular. You can choose to drive, take a ski-bus or just walk to and from the lift from the village of Samoens, either along the road or by following the trail by the side of the spectacular, fast-flowing Giffre river which is a mecca for water rafters in summer.
The pass prices are well-structured, with access to runs according to your standard, and inclination. You may wish to stay in the main area (Massif) for a few days, then go further afield (Grand Massif) later on. "Seniors", can enjoy a couple of days' ski-ing, for a reasonable 60 Euros, then try some snow-shoeing or just watch the action. Passes are free for under 5s and the over 75s!
Your Massif or Grand Massif pass gives you access to all 80 lifts, including the new 6-seater high speed Chariande Express lift which will take you up to the Tete des Saix(2120m) in just 9 minutes, and open up the whole ski area for you. With over 265k of piste (140 individual pistes) in Samoens alone, that is a lot of ski-ing.
A big advantage for beginners, especially youngsters, is that the Samoens ski schools and nursery slopes are all situated at Samoens 1600 by the top of the main Grand Massif Express lift.
This means that friends and family on foot can easily pad across the main plateau to collect kids, or meet intrepid beginners in one of the cafes or restaurants with access to plenty of outdoor terraces and viewing points to take those all-important photos! Older debutants are likely to start with the gentle Chateau (green), Char and Babuches (short blues) runs, all with efficiently-manned drag lifts. Crowds and shoving are not a problem, as the Ski instructors are very strict and vigilant.
If you really want to learn with no one else around then Sixt is the place for you. With deserted runs all winter, come the busy season this is the place to learn in peace!
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Ski-ers with intermediate skills have a huge choice - just join the ski schools and whizz down the short, wide blue Demoiseaux, to the new Chariande. At the top, head to the Croix lift and check out these: Marmottes(red), which will ease you back to `1600, or follow the signs down Perce Neige,(blue) and pick up a choice of blues and reds.
An absolute "must" is the long green Marvel run, to Morillon, which has some of the best views in the ski area and joins several blues, including Chalet and Sairon, and, if you make a detour at the top of Marvel, you can cruise down Biollaires and Combe to Les Carroz for lunch.
The choice of reds and blacks for advanced skiers is excellent in the Samoens ski area, but, after the first day or so, be prepared to go a little further afield for fresh challenges. Luckly,with the efficient (and now even faster) lift system, and connecting runs, it takes little time to access Flaine, Sixt or Les Carroz.
First, take the Chariande Express to Tete des Saix (2120m) in 9 minutes, and try the Aigle Noire which joins the Dahu, for a well-deserved glide back to Samoens 1600 and a coffee.
Over in Flaine (where they are investing heavily in the lift network), take the Tete des Verds lift and ski down the gentle blue to the Diamant Noir lift, which takes you to the top of les Grandes Platieres (2480m) for an awesome view of Mont Blanc and a coffee or quick lunch at the restaurant with the most beautiful views in the entire region. You can then test your legs on the Diamont Noir black and the Almandine (red) all the way down to Flaine Central. After a brief rest, get back in gear for another two or three runs before you head to Samoens via the long Grands Vans chair lift to Grands Vans (2204m) and a choice of runs back to Tete de Saix, and, finally, down to the Grand Massif Express.
It is worth booking an instructor for a day to take you on some of the further afield advanced runs, and essential if you fancy an off-piste experience. Make sure you discuss it with the office the day before, and be prepared for weather changes - sounds obvious, but the ski area is so vast that the elements can produce the unexpected!
There are really five distinct parts of Samoens where you can stay.
Samoens 1600 Les Saix is a purpose-built, convenient (most of the accommodation is ski-in, ski-out) and snowsure satellite resort built up the mountain on the North facing slopes below the 2118m Tete des Saix from where you can ski over to Flaine and Les Carroz, or down to Morillon. It's not ugly, especially when compared to its neighbour Flaine, but it is a bit bland and dominated by a large Club Med complex. It also feels more like a self contained mini-resort, rather than part of Samoens. Whilst the Massif Express lift is running, it's not hard to get into the main village and back again, but once this closes Samoens 1600 is rather cut-off.
Vercland is also on the same North Facing mountainside as Samoens 1600, but about 500m below it. In theory Vercland also has ski-in, ski-out accommodation but in reality this depends on good snow conditions. The hamlet has some ancient roots - it was the historical home of the stonemasons - and it has some nice buildings, but it slightly resembles a random collection of chalets, rather than a proper village. It's also not high enough to be snowsure. On the plus side it is on the main bus circuit so is much better connected to the centre of Samoens.
In the village itself, a new area is emerging close to the Grand Massif Express. The new developments being built here have sloping chalet-style roofs and wood in all the right places, and their apartments inside are well appointed with all mod cons, and they make a handy accommodation choice for skiers, being so close to a very efficient lift. But it's a long walk (nearly a kilometre) from the Massif Express to the historic centre of the village which is what makes Samoens special. The bus service is reasonably frequent though.
The village centre of Samoens and the streets that surround it, are where you want to be to really appreciate Samoens' ambience. But parking around here can be problematic, and it's a long walk to the lift, so you will rely on buses, which are generally good.
The main thing to do in the centre of Samoens is just wander around. There are nice shops especially the food shops, selling local hams, cheeses, preserves and wines. There are also Salons-de-the and lots of bars and restaurants as well, but they don't get very rowdy and they don't stay open till the small hours. The centre also gets noticeably livelier when it's market day (currently Wednesdays).
For the more cultured, there are organised tours of the village and the surrounding area. The Tourist Office will put you in touch with an English-speaking guide. The first stop after the church and the old fountain is usually the Jaysinia Botanical Garden, with an ever-changing display of mountain plants, carved out of the south-facing mountains overlooking the village, with waterfalls. Pause to take some great snaps of the town and surrounding mountains. For the kids, there is a fun train service, which leaves from the village square at regular times for a short tour of the village and surrounding area. There is also a good ice rink - which is a useful option when the weather is foul and skiing won't be fun.
Lastly there are the northern suburbs, going up the south-facing mountain on the far side of the valley from the skiing. These are mostly composed of stylish chalets, but they go up the mountain a long way, and the highest ones are summer-only residences. Morzine's slopes are just over the top of this ridge, but the D354 road going up and over the pass is blocked off by snow in winter, so they are inaccessible to all but the hardiest of ski-tourers and snowshoers. The bus service running from the Northern Suburbs and into the centre and onto the Massif Express is good, but it's worth checking where the nearest bus stop is.
Six kilometres to the east of Samoens, and literally at the end of the road, is the pretty, unspoilt and very quiet village of Sixt-Fer-à-Cheval. You can ski down to Sixt from Flaine on the long, scenic Cascades blue run, and it has a tiny ski area of its own. But Sixt has no lifts linking it to the rest of the Grand Massif, so each morning you have to take the bus journey from Sixt to the Grand Massif lift at Samoens (about a 10 to 15 minute bus journey).
To the west of Samoens is Morillon. Like Samoens it has an old village with a lift but no piste back to it, and a modern purpose built ski station above it - Morillon 1100 - with ski in, ski out accommodation (provided the snow cover extends down to 1100m). Both the old village and the modern ski station are pleasant quiet places to stay in and to wander around, but both lack the ambience and beautiful buidings that Samoens has.
Samoens is foodie heaven! Some of the best restaurants are listed below. However, in true French style, please remeber that most of the restaurants in Samoens are closed on Monday nights except Bois de Lune and the pizza take away restaurants.
La Louisiane - 0033 4 50 34 42 83
A great value all round restaurant with a very extensive menu. Best known for its fantastic wood -fired pizzas, but also serves fondues, steaks and salads. Informal atmosphere, so good for families and groups. They also offer take away pizzas and have a small bar where you can have a drink while waiting. The restaurant is located just off the main square. Take the narrow lane leaving the square past 'Bar de Savoie' and the restaurant is about 100m on your left hand side.
La Bois Du Lune - 0033 4 50 34 18 02
A slightly more upmarket, yet still informal restaurant, with a great cocktail bar and friendly owner, Patrick. The food includes steaks, duck, fish and lamb, cooked in "French Bistro" style, with a good wine list. Nice for romantic couples! Located about a 5 minute walk from centre. Leave the square heading past the Petit Casino, continuing straight on past the Boulangerie Tiffanies and the Aspen Bar. Continue for about 200m past the end of the shops and the restaurant is on your right next to a mini golf course.
Le Monde a L'Envers - 0033 4 50 34 19 36
An excellent French restaurant with a fantastic experimental chef. Unusual combinations of great food, served in style. Not a good choice for fussy eaters, but don't miss it if you love trying new dishes, or are a keen chef at home. Moderately priced, but still good value, it has an excellent choice of wines, lovely atmosphere and open fire. Located about 50m from the main square,direction Sixt. Take the exit between Bar de Savoie and the bank.
La Tornalta - 0033 4 50 34 98 68
Cosy French Savoyard restaurant located in an historic building in the corner of the square, facing the church. . Good value set menus and a la carte choices. The Savoyard regional food is mostly cheesed-based so expect Fondues, Raclettes, and Tartiflettes but they also serve a range of meat dishes.
La Table De Fifine - 0033 4 50 34 10 29
Probably Samoens' finest restaurant with beautiful Alpine decor, and delicious choice of freshly prepared dishes: Savoyard and traditional French meat and fish dishes. This restaurant is on the road leading towards the Grand Massif Express lift, leaving the village from the cinema and Sherpa roundabout. Its an easy walk in snow boots. The building is a modern wooden chalet with red awnings on the right hand side.
Muscade et Basilic - 0033 4 50 53 65 22
Charming restaurant with an excellent selection of traditional French and International dishes. Handily located in the centre of the village, just off the main pedestrian section, on the opposite side of the road to the Petit Casino. A new tapas-style menu is served at lunchtimes only (is this right, Ali). Closed on Monday and Tuesdays.
Bar Le Savoie
A rustic French bar/restaurant which serves snacks all day. Well-priced for a quick and informal bite and drink. The food ranges from sandwiches, chips and burgers to lasagne, omelettes and crepes. Lovely salades composees, too. In the main square on the opposite corner to the church.
Take Away Pizza and Burger Restaurant - 0033 4 50 53 38 92
A good choice of take away pizzas, burgers and chips, conveniently situated just off the square next to the Post Office. Leave the square to the left of the bank heading to the second car park and they are on right hand side.
Cafe de La Poste - 0033 450 34 41 02
Hearty home cooked brasserie type food, open all day. Ask for the friendly owner 'No No' ! and mention us! Reasonable prices, especially the Plat de jour.
Don't expect big, beery, noisy pubs in Samoens. The ones below are convivial, fun and great for mingling with residents and visitors.
Covey's Irish Pub
An Irish run small cosy bar, serving excellent, creamy Guinness and Stella Artois open from 4pm. Bustling atmosphere with a late licence. They have Sky Sports and usually show the major sports games. A good selection of music with occasional DJ's. Between 8-9pm each night, Alps Accommodation guests will receive" happy hour "prices on presentation of one of their business cards. On the ground floor under a large apartment block situated behind the Sherpa supermarket - look for the Guinness sign!
A friendly French run bar with an international clientele. Great atmosphere, sometimes with live music and with a late licence. Next to La Louisiane restaurant on the narrow lane which leaves the square to the right of Bar le Savoie.
Smallish, quite popular for après ski, non-smoking. They offer a good selection of lager and Scotch and have a large plasma screen often showing sports and extreme sports.
Cross Country ski-ing in the Col de Joux Plane is guaranteed from November to April, providing beautiful views at an altitude of 1700 (shuttle bus runs from town centre). Additional skiing also in the area, and the passes are purchased in the Tourist Office in the Centre of the village.
There is a 600m2 rink in the centre of Samoens opposite the Tourist Office which is open from Autumn to April each year. Fun, but not quite up to Torville and Dean standards. Popular with kids.
Raquettes Snow Shoeing
This is a popular activity in Samoens because of its close proximity some of the most beautiful scenery in the Alps, including Mont Blanc, with awesome views. Not to be missed. There are guides for all levels of fitness, from kids to "seniors", specially prepared tracks and you can also walk under the stars to a meal stop with an organised group.
Avalanche Rescue Introductory Course
Designed for those who like to go off piste now and again. .The Tourist Office in the centre of town, opposite the ice rink, has the booking information.
Organised evening sessions ending with a fondue. No experience required. Details from the Tourist Office.
There are two new Luge runs on the plateau at the top of the Grand Massif Express, for children of all ages. From 16m long for the youngsters, to 60m for the older children, and dads!
and there's more...
Tobogganing, dog sledding, indoor climbing, igloo building, iceclimbing on waterfalls, heli-skiing, ice diving, winter archery and caving.
There are public indoor swimming pools in Cluses and Flaine, open all year.
All year round, weather permitting. Take a trip with an instructor, or even a five day initiation course. Details from the Tourist Office.