La Clusaz is the Alps ski holiday resort most Brits haven’t found out about yet. Adam Bloodoworth on why it’s worth booking a chalet there this year
Lean in closely and I’ll tell you a secret: as lovely as the posh ski resorts are (you know the ones I mean), they aren’t real. I visited one Alps resort last year where only 60 permanent residents live all year round. Come spring the ski towns high up in the mountains become wastelands. Alps communities describe them as like ‘the surface of the moon’ because without snow they become landscapes of bouldery rock where no one would dare venture.
It won’t be surprising to say that these pretend Alps towns lack culture. Real culture, the type that comes with places where actual people live.
La Clusaz is not one of these towns. La Clusaz is the type of resort where tourists are a lovely addition each winter but actually the town runs just fine on its own, thank you very much. It is, for want of a better term, a real town. The pubs and restaurants aren’t full of Hooray Henrys from the King’s Road standing on tables and sinking shots, they’re full of (get this) French locals, and Swiss people who travel the 50 minute journey over from Geneva. (Combine the trip with a visit to the beautiful Lake Annecy, which you drive close to on the way from the Swiss city.)
One of the closest resorts to Geneva, and with a population of 1,700, many of whom live here year-round, the resort of La Clusaz has a humble vibe that most ski resorts couldn’t dream of touting, making it a properly relaxing place to go for a week’s skiing.
To the powdery stuff: La Clusaz has a competing selection of runs for all skiing and snowboarding levels, and an efficient set of lifts and bubbles to get up to the good stuff. There are ski parks for show-offs, unpretentious places with show stopping views for lunch, some challenging blacks, and forested patches for lazy days where sightseeing is favoured to high intensity shape-cutting.
Peaks reach 2,500 metres above sea level, with lifts to 2,470 metres, and the town itself is set at 1,100 metres altitude. We mainly stuck to the handsome runs on the Massif de Beauregard, but Massif de Balme, a mountain to the west, provided perfect pistes. Lifts from the centre of La Clusaz take you a little way up and connect you to the Le Plan and Le Var blues that cut across the resort over to Balme. Take the Bergerie blue all the way down for a pristine few hours of gentle slopes with incredible views; for something more challenging head for the blacks where you can cascade down from the very top.
The pistes are generously sized enough that you won’t get bored (unless you’re wanting the seriously pro stuff) but small enough that you’ll start recognising your waiter at your favourite restaurant by the time your holiday is halfway through. For ski-side food high on the slopes, book tables at Le 1647, Relais de l’Aiguille, the Telemark Cafe and Le Bercail.
We had checked into Chalet Tinatha, a contemporary chalet with ski in, ski out access a short walk from the town centre. It is owned by a local family with something like royal status, and over a drink with them I got to understand why they had chosen La Clusaz over a life in Paris.
With the charming but ordinary town centre, this Alps town few Brits have heard of is something like the Cotswolds of the Alps: crowdless, with gorgeous nature, but with the proximity to bigger cities so you can escape the peace and quiet if you need to.
With some fabulous faux fur throws to hide underneath, I spent a few afternoons gazing out of the chalet’s aquarium sized windows; were we the Kardashians of La Clusaz? It felt like it. We had an outdoor jacuzzi where we drank wine at sunset and a BBQ, and one night enjoyed local rabbit stew during a cosy night in thanks to Huski who deliver incredibly hearty meals direct to your door made by restaurant chefs. They feature only local and seasonal produce. (I managed to harangue our lovely delivery lady for local advice on ski runs and attractions, which was an added bonus they didn’t advertise.)
For a closer understanding of the D.N.A of the town I went to the rooftop outdoor swimming pool where I swam laps with the Beauregard mountain as a backdrop. I took more than a few breaks, laying with my back to the edge of the pool and just staring upwards. How could you not when the Alps are peering down at you from every direction as you practise your butterfly? The locals seemed ambivalent to the view, but swimming up and down in front of me, they became the foreground to mine. Upstairs, the spa had loungers and a sauna with mountain views for the price of a handful of change. (Not everyone’s well off here, remember, this is an ordinary town.)
Don’t miss the steak at Les 2 Mules, the poshest restaurant in town, and La Ferme for traditional dishes like tartiflette and raclette so strong-smelling of cheese that you’ll want to book a table outdoors if you’re on a hangover. (A couple of bars, and one surprisingly swanky club, bring the Après ski vibe until late at night in high season, bringing a shade of the British binge drinking ski culture, if you want a taste of that, but they can be quieter out of high season. Oh, and if you’re wanting taxis down the slope into town, remember this is France, so it’s probably easier to build your own car from scratch than it is to hail one, so order super early, a day in advance.)
Back on the slopes, I bumped into one Brit who goes out to La Clusaz every week during the ski season. “I finish work on Friday and just get on a plane,” she said, showing me her particular favourite spot where a ‘La Clusaz’ sign sits on the fringe of a blue run. That night, after dinner at the chalet, she took us to her favourite spots for final drinks in town. I don’t think I heard another English voice all night.
Visit La Clusaz yourself
OVO Network, chalet rental specialists in the Alps, offer 7 nights at the ski-in ski-out Chalet Tinatha in La Clusaz in the Aravis region from €2290 per week, sleeps up to eight guests. Adam used Intersport for ski rentals www.intersport.fr/en and had hu.ski meals delivered to the chalet