WE are having dinner in the swankiest restaurant in Les Deux Alpes when a strange story comes through on the iPhone. A high-flying Tory MP has been pictured at an outrageous Nazi-themed stag do in nearby ski resort Val Thorens (he is eventually forced to resign as an adviser to David Cameron).
Though just a couple of hours drive away, it’s hard to imagine anything as unpleasant happening here. Les Deux Alpes mightn’t be the most stylish resort in these parts, but it is surely one of the friendliest. Those seeking upmarket cocktail bars full of obnoxious posers and designer-clad Hooray Henrys on their gap year should look elsewhere. If you want good skiing and great food at reasonable prices, then Les Deux Alpes deserves serious consideration.
There is a fair deal of snobbery towards the resort, stemming from the fact that most of it was purpose-built in the 1960s. It certainly isn’t as pretty as some alpine villages, but it is not without its charm – and a thick blanket of snow manages to soften the more utilitarian edges.
But it is the skiing that most will come for and this is where Les Deux Alpes offers something that other resorts can only dream of: Europe’s largest skiable glacier. That means while others are fretting about snow fall – or lack thereof – you can be confident of some decent skiing whatever the forecast.
It also makes Les Deux Alpes an all-year-round place, with loads on offer during the summer months. So the restaurants and shops stay open for a much larger portion of the year than in winter-only resorts, which in turn explains why it is such a friendly destination. Whereas part-time resorts can suffer from a transient, artificial feel, Les Deux Alpes feels more like a “real” place.
It is never going to be the belle at the ski-resort ball, but that means, like all uglier ducklings, it has to try that bit harder – and it shows. The choice of restaurants and accommodation, all at varying price points, is strikingly well thought out. Plain but stylish two-star hotels such as the Côte Brune start from as as little as €52 (£45) per person while a family suite (two adults, two children) at the four-star Chalet Mounier will set you back around €660 (£550). We stay at Le Souleil’Or, a typical three-star chalet-style hotel with pleasantly twee rooms, large balconies and a small spa.
The restaurants are pretty special. For the full-on Michelin starred experience there is the aforementioned Le P’tit Polyte at the Chalet Mounier, where the flavours are bested only by the visual spectacle (my scallops and lobster look like a Miro painting). Less fancy but still impressive is Le Raisin d’Ours. Those on a budget will find plenty in the cheaper restaurants, which offer traditional mountain fare such as tartiflette, fondue and other cheesy-carb combos.
As a resort that might as well have the motto “Affordable and Practical”, it is unsurprisingly popular with families. There are free T-bars to take children from the village to the slopes and a kids’ freestyle area, as well as a large number of off-slope activities for non skiers including an ice rink, swimming pool, quad biking and tobogganing runs. Snow Angel Nannies offers fully-trained and CRB-checked English-speaking nannies, while there is a village nursery and kindergarten and various alternatives run by the tour operators.
For lessons, the best bet is the European Ski & Snowboard School. The instructors’ standard of English is much better than at main rival Ecole du Ski Français while the teaching methods are more modern. My instructor, Alex, made excellent use of videos taken on her iPhone (which we reviewed on the slopes and over lunch) to improve my technique.
If you get bored of of the 90 or so runs or 225km of pistes in the resort, the ski-lift pass (€204/£170 for six days) also gives you two days access to Alpe d’Huez, Oz or Vaujany and one day in Serre Chevalier, Puy St Vincent, Montgenèvre Voie Lactée and Sestriere. Those bored of the white stuff (or just looking for new ways to work off all that cheese) can also use their pass to gain entry to the ice rink or swimming pool.
After a day on the slopes, head for the all important après-ski at the Pano Bar, which boasts spectacular panoramic views over the slopes. For chillier winter days, there is an indoor pub with an open fire that will take the edge off the freezing temperatures. But it is when the climate is slightly warmer that this place really comes into its own; DJs pump out cheesy Euro-pop while everyone dances like idiots in their ski boots.
It’s at the Pano Bar that I decide I’ll return to Les Deux Alpes. I’ve only been to a few ski resorts, but there is something about this place that makes me want come back. Unpretentious, affordable and easy, it mightn’t sound like everyone’s ideal skiing destination, but then I’ve always liked the underdog. Let the snobs snub this place – Les Deux Alpes offers skiing without the stress.
Grenoble airport (120km):
Easyjet (easyjet.com) flies from Gatwick to Grenoble from £35.99 one way. Return transfer €65 (£55) (grenoble-altitude.com).
Lyon airport (160km):
British Airways (britishairways.com) flies from Heathrow to Lyon from £71 one way. Return transfer from Lyon airport to Grenoble bus station is €33 (£27) (www.faurevercors.fr ).
Then a return transfer from Grenoble to Les Deux Alpes is €26 (£22) (www.transaltitude.fr)
Grenoble station (70km)
Paris-Grenoble takes 3 hours.
Open until 28 April 2012
Boasts Europe's largest skiable glacier, so skiing is guaranteed all season. There are 225 km of pistes, 92 runs and 56 lifts.
Children under 13 years old and adults over 65 years old
European Ski & Snowboard School
Adult group lessons:
6 days, 3 hours a day, 9 people max
€160 (£133) per person (€170 per person for a group of beginners)
€40 per hour for 1 person
€50 per hour for 2 people
Minimum 2 hours
2-star hotel Cote Brune (hotel-cotebrune.com)
A pretty hotel on the edge of the ski area. Home to the Umbrella Bar, a popular aprés ski venue. With rooms from €104 for two per night in a double room including breakfast, it is incredibly good value.
3-star hotel Souleil'Or
A typical alpine hotel a stone's throw away from the ski lifts. Rooms are decorated in ski-kitsch style, and boast large balconies. The staff are incredibly friendly and the breakfast buffet is unusually good. Rooms from €130 for 2 per night in a double room with breakfast
4-star hotel Chalet Mounier (www.chalet-mounier.com)
A hotel modelled on luxury chalets, this is the crème de la crème in Les 2 Alpes. The most impressive rooms are the split-level family suites, where the laid-back stripped wood is complemented by hi-tech touches such as a starry-night effect light over the bed and iMacs.
Rooms from €190 for 2 per night in a double room with breakfast.
Le Raisin d'Ours
Le P'Tit Polyte (1 Michelin star)
Après-ski on the slopes:
Pano Bar: there are several options but this is something of a classic and one of the more famous spots.
Spa Cinq Mondes at Chalet Mounier
30 minutes: €49
Snow Angel Nannies:
CRB-checked English-speaking nannies. Also operates in Alpe d’Huez, Meribel, La Tania, Courchevel and Tignes (firstname.lastname@example.org; Phone: 0750 926 55 64)