Emmanuel Tresmontant - 2011-01-24
Less ‘bling’ than Courchevel, more animated than Méribel and Les Menuires, Val Thorens is a dynamic resort dedicated entirely to the pleasures of the piste. For 6 months of the year the snow there is exceptional and the skiing area is accessible for all levels. Everything you need to get back to fitness!
ust like Val d’Isère
(in Savoy) and Verbier
(in Switzerland), Val Thorens is one of those resorts where skiing reigns. With its altitude of 2300 metres, the snow is abundant and soft from November to May: an essential asset which today makes it the most visited resort for skiers and snowboarders from all over the world.
Val Thorens is the last born of the large European ski resorts and was created ex nihilo in 1972 shortly after Avoriaz.
Whilst the latter was, architecturally speaking, a real success Val Thorens took some time to find its charm (all of the chalets and apartments are now clad with wood.) The highest ski resort in Europe is nevertheless fascinating for its dream location at the foot of the Péclet glaciers
and the Cime de Caron
which at 3200m offers an immense panorama over no less than 1000 peaks! A new cable car was set up in 2010 to access this legendary peak from which a superb red run (Col de l’Audzin
) and a reputed black run (Combe de Caron)
The recently opened Pointe du Bouchet at 3420m is the new summit of the 3 Valleys. The black run which started at the top has been removed (as it was judged to be too dangerous) but its two red runs (Coraïa and Bouchet) are very beautiful and connect with the sunny area of Orelle (at an altitude of 900m.)
Skiing for Everyone
Val Thorens isn’t only for experienced skiers and snowboarders: its 25 peaks have 72 pistes adapted to every level and you’ll find 10 green, 28 blue, 26 red and 8 black runs. In the heart of the resort itself there are 10 hectares of easy, ski runs with roof-covered magic carpets that are free and accessible for beginners and children. With a wealth of day nurseries and playgrounds, the resort has earned the “Family Plus mountain resort” seal of approval.
In order to distinguish itself from Courchevel and Méribel
known for their “charm” and “art de vivre
”, Val Thorens has invested hugely in the very latest facilities: funitels, cable cars, gondolas, chairlifts (they arrive slowly and don’t push to the ground like they used to!), a covered carpet area... Every comfort and safety condition is met, and the connections are quick even during peak periods. You can reach Courchevel in less than 2 hours.
The biggest toboggan run in Europe
Created approximately ten years ago, this run which is 5 metres wide is 6km long and you can descend it in an average time of 45 minutes (the speed record is 5 minutes!) You can reach it in 8 minutes by taking the funitel up to the Peclet glacier where there is a superb view of the cirque of Val Thorens, la Meije and the Belledonne mountain range. Toboggans and helmets can be rented at the cable car entrance. As a word of advice, don’t take children under 10 years of age and brake as hard as you can with both hands on the turns!
Young Hen with morel mushrooms or Frozen burgers and chips?
Ok, granted Val Thorens is neither Courchevel nor Megève, but the era of frozen chips served on the piste-side has finally come to an end! Val Thorens now finds itself at the forefront of winter sports stations where the standard of cuisine is a lot better.
The new leading figure of Savoyard gastronomy is the young chef Jean Sulpice
, from the restaurant L’Oxalys (see our article)
who in recent years has become one of the resort’s most prominent personalities. His inventive and brilliant cuisine has obtained 2 stars in the Michelin Guide with a 50 € menu served at lunch and in the evening. L’Oxalys has therefore immediately given itself a name as one of the least expensive gastronomic restaurants in France. It’s making a change from the years of omnipresent fondues!
The good news also extends to restaurants at high altitudes accessible via skis or cable cars. Founded by Camille Rey, a high mountain guide, Les Aiguilles de Péclet is a family oriented restaurant where you immediately feel at home. Her own ex-ski champion daughters are very friendly and they offer flavoursome Savoyard cuisine made of fresh produce. The pumpkin soup with morel mushrooms, the poached egg with Puy lentils accompanied by a melba toast and foie gras, and the quick-cooked chocolate coulant are delicious. Reckon 27 € for a main course.
Located at Les Cascades chairlift, Le Chalet de la Marine is another high altitude restaurant that I recommend. The two brothers Arnaud and Cédric Gorini have transformed this chalet into a welcoming place where good cooking is served between two red runs. Recommended by Romuald Fassenet, a Meilleur Ouvrier de France, they have developed a tasteful menu which highlights fresh produce (transported every day on a snowcat!): Soft boiled egg on a bed of fresh spinach and mushrooms, foie gras stew, honey roast duck fillet with spices. For the dessert you can choose from a self-service buffet created by Xavier Brignon, the illustrious pastry chef who was runner up in the 2009 French Desserts Championships. The wine list is also very appealing with Patrimonio d’Antoine Arena, Arbois de Jacques Puffeney and Saint-joseph de Chave. Menu at 29 €.
However the most famous gourmet establishment in Val Thorens is the Belle en Cuisse! This legendary shop situated in the resorts main shopping street, just a stone’s throw from the pistes is a place we already paid a visit to 10 years ago when its owner was Anne Daupeyroux. These days the baton has been handed on to Pierre Bosseboeuf who runs it with the very same passion. You will find all the same local Savoyard produce which gave it its reputation, and in particular “la belle en cuisse”, the most famous ham in the whole Savoy region! Matured in the open air and aged at least 25 months it melts in the mouth and depending on where you cut a slice in relation to the bone, it has four different flavours. At 150 Euros for a 7kg ham of this quality it’s a real giveaway! Cumin Saucisson, Beaufort cheese from the mountain pastures, Farmhouse Reblochon and distilled white Genepi are all marvellous.
A human resort and engaging personalities
Another great aspect of Val Thorens is the people which bring the life to the resort and give it its human touch. Firstly there is the young skiing champion Adrien Théaux who apparently “ knew how to ski before he was born.” He’s an exceptional sportsman and one of the great hopes of the world skiing scene (second place in the super-G Beaver Creek (Colorado) behind Austrian Georg Streitberger and ahead of Switzerland's Didier Cuche in December 2010). However Val Thorens is also the place of Lode Nolf, the new (and also the youngest) director of the French national ski school. Born in Bruges, Belgium 28 years ago Lode learnt to speak French at the same time as he learnt to ski. “I was conceived in Val Thorens!” he likes to joke “and I can’t imagine living anywhere else”. His love for the resort is palpable and as the head of 150 instructors, he aspires towards creating a ski school of international repute.
With instructors such as Jean-Paul Pellissier, learning the intricacies of off-piste and telemark is a joy that opens you to beauties of the local landscape. Or if you want to go snowshoeing on the peaks of Péclet, there is no better expert than Philip Callede who knows every nook and cranny of it.
Places to stay
As far as charming hotels are concerned Val Thorens is way behind Courchevel and Mérible and it’s almost impossible to make last minute reservations. However the Michelin Guide recommends a few modern establishments with direct access to the pistes such as Le Sherpa (52 rooms from 87 € to 190 € half board) and Val Thorens (80 rooms from 94 to 176 €). The resort is especially famous for its luxury rented apartments with fully equipped kitchens, balconies, fireplaces, satellite TVs, DVD players, spa and swimming pools. The residence L’Oxalys has apartments on offer for 4, 6 or 8 people from 1050 € per week. Luxury breakfasts prepared by chef Jean-Sulpice and served in the L’Oxalys restaurant must be booked the day before (18 €).
Val Thorens Tourist Office
Tel : +33 (0)4 79 00 08 08
Adult daily pass: 39 €
Adult weekly pass: 178 €
First Ski Tarif: 19.50 € per day for adults (50 % reduction)
Family Pass: for 4 people (2 adults and 2 children up to 20 years old): 569.50 € for 6 days.
ESF de Val Thorens (Ski School)
Les Aiguilles de Péclet
Sommet du Funitel de Péclet
73440 Val Thorens
Tel: +33 (0)4 79 00 03 76
Chalet de la Marine
73 440 Val Thorens
Tel: +33 (0)4 79 00 01 86
La Belle en Cuisse
73 440 Val Thorens
Tel: +33 (0)4 79 00 04 30