Neither exceptionally big nor small, the Villars ski area's bonus for keen skiers is its link to the Diablerets glacier, where modern uplift and extensive (and naturally snow-sure skiing) can be found. On the Villars slopes, once you're on the mountain, either by cog railway from the centre of Villars or gondola from above the village, the lift system offers sufficient variety and options across four 2,000m hills, one of which can be reached directly by gondola from Gryon, the neighbouring village to Villars. Total piste length, including Les Diablerets, but not the glacier, is 100km.
Petit Chamossaire, at 2,037 metres, offers stirring views across the valley towards Leysin and Chateau d'Oex, and some good pisted descents for strong skiers with a variety of permutations featuring a choice of bumps or interesting, steep tree lined cut-throughs - and all are generally uncrowded. In fact for many of Villars' regulars, Petit Camossaire is their favourite peak.
Above Villars and to the west is Roc d'Orsay, reached by gondola from one end of town. Much of the skiing lies in the bowl to the east and north of this point, with draglifts and chairlifts rising from the centre to the 2,120m high point - Grand Chamossaire - and east to 1,987m Chaux Ronde. A chairlift and a draglift heads north-east from here, below the ridge to Meilleret and beyond to Les Mazots and then the village of Les Diablerets and access to the glacier; to the south is the final mountain in the Villars ski area, Les Chaux, above Gryon, with an entertaining mix of reds, blacks and blues served by a long chair and a draglift.
Off-piste routes abound in Villars without going far afield: much of the skiing is below the tree line and some of the forest is open to skiers, while the bowls are broken up with unpisted steeper areas interspersed with minor cliffs, leaving a significant portion of the terrain untamed but available for skiing off-piste.
Possibly the most family-friendly aspect of the skiing in Villars is the return to base with all routes taking gentle, meandering forest paths right back into the village. These runs between cosy chalets give a sense of skiing as it used to be, and the main path into the village now has snowmaking over its full eight-kilometre length. The piste grooming regime covers blue runs each night, reds every other, and blacks not at all.
The choice of train or gondola from Villars to the pistes is your first decision of the day. The trains leave every 30 minutes from the centre of the village and take about 15 minutes to meander up the mountain. With a number of stops at hotels and mountain restaurants on the way, this choice is nothing if not convenient.
The gondola is easily accessed from the village centre by means of the excellent and frequent free bus service and is a seven-minute ride to the top. The first run down from the top station is a red, so beginners are better off taking the train.
Once you've arrived at the Bretaye hub, the region is opened up by chairlifts linking the four main peaks interspersed with draglifts. However, throughout the main Villars-Barboleuse-Gryon ski sector, there is not a single ski run which necessitates use of a drag lift: every descent can be reached by using the train, two gondolas or a choice of two, four and six-person chairlifts.
Les Diablerets ski lift system, on the other hand, is almost all draglifts, while the glacier is reached either by two long cable cars or a shorter one followed by a chairlift. Right up top on the constantly shifting ice-field, draglifts are more prominent since these work best on glacier terrain.
Although the Roc d'Orsay gondola from the village is the most obvious route to the glacier, you can also take the train from the village to the main skiing hub of Bretaye and start from there. This involves slightly less skiing but given that the gondola is faster than the train, it amounts to roughly the same journey time to the glacier.
Any all-areas Villars ski pass, for three or more consecutive days includes access to both glacier cable cars and lifts as well as an extra 100 kilometres of ski slopes at the neighbouring ski areas of Leysin and Les Mosses, which are easily reached by car or public transport.
For more information about the ski lifts at Villars and Les Diablerets (Glacier 3000):
Tele-Villars-Gryon Ski Lift Company
Tel: +41 (0) 24 495 8113
Glacier3000 Ski Lift Company
Tel: +41 (0) 84 800 3000
With the beginner-friendly train providing easy access to the upper mountain and the gentle return routes to the village, Villars is an excellent place to learn to ski or snowboard, though less so when busy at weekends or peak season. But the views and winter-holiday ambience of the area (not a given in many resorts with otherwise good novice terrain) should conspire to leave you wanting more.
The beginner terrain on the edges of Villars is ideal when there's decent snow; higher up at Bretaye, there's a nursery slope with a magic carpet. And once you've mastered the basics, a network of blue runs lies between two of the four peaks, making the main bowl a good place to graduate from the nursery slopes. For 2011-12, two specially designated "Ski Slow" pistes were introduced to help those progressing from novice to intermediate slopes. One is on the blue Chaux Ronde slope and the other on the Gryon side below the restaurant at Les Chaux.
For absolute beginners, there are two free beginners areas with a magic carpet and mini-ski lift in the heart of Villars (behind the railway station) and another one in Gryon at Frience, with a "sledge" lift and mini-ski lift. Both are free and avoid the cost of a ski pass or train or gondola ticket.
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Without the almost endless mileage associated with the biggest piste-bashing resorts, Villars' terrain delivers good skiing for intermediates with variety and good scenery in a mixture of forested skiing and sheltered, friendly bowls. Families and mixed groups can try tours that take in the skiing above Les Diablerets, both on the small ski domain above the village to north and south and on the glacier, though it makes quite a big day out.
Less far afield, the majority of the skiing is easily accessed from the Roc d'Orsay gondola; it's almost all red or blue from here over to Chaux Ronde and the couple of black runs have easier alternatives to choose if it all looks too much; it's a similar story on Les Chaux. Most of the red runs are slightly over-graded, so the entire area is within the grasp of most skiers.
On the glacier, everyone should try the Combe d'Audon, a long descent running from the high glacier and well away from the lifts, with striking views and a big mountain feel.
And at the end of the day, after a quick espresso at the reggae bar at the top of Chaux Ronde, a non-stop run through Bretaye and onwards down to the village on the path with the new snow-making is a glorious way to finish.
Villars is not traditionally where you come for serious skiing. But a day or two exploring the tougher pistes and the Diablerets glacier, followed by some guided off-piste works well, particularly if you are holidaying with a mixed-ability group. The main restriction is the limited vertical, with the village at 1,300m and the high point at 2,120m; it's no wonder people are drawn to the 3,000m glacier, for both snow conditions and a couple of runs of substantial length.
Of Villars' black runs, the most sustained is from Les Chaux, through the trees below the Sodoleuvre chair; better still are the (unpisted) trees to the far side of the lift. From the Croix des Chaux are a black and red down to Alpes des Chaux and the other peaks - Chaux Rondes and Chamossaire - have modest black runs.
The glacier pistes (but not the cost of the cable cars) are automatically included on any ski pass for three or more consecutive days - this also includes the neighbouring resorts of Les Mosses and Leysin, which between them offer an extra 100km of runs. On a one or two-day ski pass, designed for week-enders who rarely have time for a glacier excursion, the glacier ski pass price has been deleted to achieve a more attractive tariff.
It takes about an hour and three quarter to reach the glacier from Villars. You get there by taking the Roc D'Orsay gondola, the Chaux Ronde chairlift, and then the long, flat chairlift to Les Diablerets (a 14-minutes ride which allows you to sit back and enjoy the view!). Next comes the Laouissalet draglift to the Meilleret slopes from where you can ski down to Les Diablerets Village. From here you need to take the shuttle bus to the Col du Pillon (every half hour, and included in your ski pass). From the Col du Pillon, it's a 20-minute ride by two cable cars to the top of the glacier. But don't leave it too late to get back - the resorts suggests no later than the 2.30 bus back to Les Diablerets from the Pillon cable car base station.
A greater percentage of Les Diablerets' holidaymakers head over to the Villars-Gryon sectors of the ski area because they get many more lifts and pistes for their money than Villars' visitors heading in the opposite direction and because skiers from Villars to Les Diablerets using the long chairlift have to walk to get to the main Les Diablerets' slopes.
There are snowparks beneath the Croix des Chaux and Chaux Ronde in Villars; Les Diablerets has a halfpipe and a funpark but nothing on the glacier. The number of draglifts rather than awkward flats in the terrain is the main problem for boarders.
The quality of the mountain restaurants above Villars is good news, but they're often very well subscribed and in high season need to be booked. A great lunch can be had at the Golf, where there's just one sitting so you can time lunch to suit your ski plans. The chef picks up the day's ingredients down in the valley each morning, so the day's special is always good. Most of the other (non self-service) restaurants have two sittings and at set times.
A recent addition to the on-mountain dining possibilities is L'Etable. The restaurant has been built into a converted stable and people are travelling from near and far to eat here. Located just above the Sodoleuvre lift station on the way up to Les Chaux, L'Etable is easiest to reach on skis. But it's also accessible to non-skiers and the effort is well worthwhile.
More functional and with higher capacity, the restaurant and self-service at Les Chaux is in a big well appointed timber building which even has facilities for disabled skiers. The self-service has a raised enclosed fire round which you can sit on high stools to eat.
There are plenty more options at Bretaye - L'Hotel du Lac with a south facing terrace and the recently opened Cookie Cafe for instance.
Auberge du Col de Soud Tel : +41 24 495 26 40
L'Etable Tel : +41 24 498 40 06
Hotel du Lac de Bretaye Tel : +41 24 495 21 92
Hotel Restaurant des Chaux Tel : +41 24 498 11 87
Refuge de Frience Tel : +41 24 498 14 26
Refuge de Solalex Tel : +41 24 498 27 09
Refuge de Taveyanne Tel : +41 24 498 19 47
Refuge de la Tour Tel : +41 24 498 11 47
Refuge Giacomini Tel : +41 24 498 22 95
Restaurant du Club House du Golf du Villars Tel : +41 24 495 78 37
Restaurant du Col de Bretaye Tel : +41 24 495 21 94
Restaurant du Lac des Chavonnes Tel : +41 24 495 21 31
Restaurant du Roc d'Orsay Tel : +41 24 495 28 14
Restaurant-Fromagerie Les Mazots Tel : +41 24 492 10 23
Though it has grown over the years into rather more than a quaint, traditional Swiss mountain village, the still-small town of Villars has charm in plenty. The wooden chalets set between trees, a sunny, south facing aspect and the dominating but magnificent Club Med all hark back to the turn of the century. The gondola above the village to the west is still within easy reach of the village centre and everything else, including the local nursery slopes and the mountain railway, is unlikely to be more than a 10-minute walk from wherever you are.
The centre has a street lined with shops, bars and restaurants; though there's no pedestrianised zone (much as the village would like one), the town is pleasant to stroll through in the evenings. There are terraced and indoor cafes, bars and restaurants but much of the dining in Villars takes place in-hotel.
The sense of security in Villars is palpable. There is no hint of graffiti, there's a friendly "bonjour" from everyone you pass and the police knock off at 7pm. Even the village fox feels safe enough to sit in the middle of the road of an evening.
Don't go looking for action up on the mountain in Villars - it's just not that kind of place, but in town there are several bars and a handful of nightclubs. The first refreshment after the pistes should be taken at L'Arrivee bar in the road behind the Eurotel. Run for many years by the distinguished ice hockey player of yore Roger Chappot and his wife serve a fine selection of wines. Rumour has it that they haven't put their prices up in ten years as it would be too complicated. Sadly, L'Arrivee is not always open on Mondays and Tuesdays.
For drinks try Charlie's Bar, in the centre of town, which has pool tables and a trendy vibe; Le Blues Bar at Rotisserie des Alpes next to the train station, Le Green at Hotel Golf for a pleasant in-hotel bar or Murphy's Bar which is a bit further up the road near the Hotel Bristol. Murphys is distinguished by its panoramic views over the valley. A fusion of ancient and modern design, the Moon Boot is ideal for the more mature tippler.
The best Villars hotels have restaurants of appropriate quality; try the 4-star Hotel La Renardiere's restaurant for an exceptional meal though naturally not cheap. At the other end of the scale, for pizza, Le Francis in the centre of town is good.
Outside the main hotel restaurants La Cantina del Toro, La Pizzeria and La Toscana restaurants are recommended and all three are conveniently situated in the centre of Villars, adjacent to Charlie's Bar and the El Gringo disco - a few drinks in Charlie's, then choose any of these restaurants for good Mexican or Italian food before dancing the night away at El Gringo.
The Vieux Villars is an interesting mix of excellent traditional Swiss cuisine, take your fondue here perhaps, and Chinese cooking if you have a taste for the more exotic. Another option in the centre of Villars next to the railway station is the La Rotisserie des Alpes with two restaurants - Le Petit Chalet and Le Bistrot Cafe Bar - and Le Blues Bar. Sit outside if the weather is good or you're particularly hardy.
L'Arrivee Tel: +41 (0) 79 402 35 71
Le Blues Bar / Rotisserie des Alpes Tel: +41 (0) 24 495 21 26
Bowling Snack-Bar Tel: +41 (0) 24 495 20 30
Charlie's Bar Tel: +41 (0)24 495 75 95
Le Central Cafe Tel: +41 (0) 24 495 24 51
Le Green / Hotel Golf Tel: +41 (0) 24 496 38 38
Le Horizon / Hotel Le Bristol Tel: +41 (0) 24 496 36 36
The Moon Boot Tel: +41 (0) 24 495 19 63
Murphy's Bar Tel: +41 (0) 24 495 69 71
La Cantina del Toro
Tel: +41 (0) 24 495 24 25
Email: [email protected]
Tel: +41 (0) 24 495 79 19
Email: [email protected]
La Rotisserie des Alpes
Tel: +41 (0) 24 495 21 26
Email: [email protected]
Tel: +41 (0) 24 495 79 21
Email: [email protected]
Tel: +41 (0) 24 495 25 25
In keeping with its family-friendly status, there are good alternatives to skiing. Walking paths and extensive cross-country skiing through wooded valleys are the highlights.
Tel: +41 (0) 24 495 20 30
Tel: +41 (0) 24 495 30 30
Tel: +41 (0) 24 495 41 41
Tel: +41 (0) 24 495 76 55
Tel: +41 (0) 24 495 12 21
E-mail: [email protected]
For more information contact the Tourist Office in Villars:
Villars Tourist Office
Phone: +41 (0) 24 495 32 32
E-mail: [email protected]