The forthcoming winter season finds diehard skiers aching to attack some of the most challenging slopes in France. If not the ultimate Grande Dame of the French Alps, Val d’Isere certainly deserves a royal nod. Ideally located in the Rhône-Alpes region of southeastern France, the immensely popular ski area is just 5 kilometers (3 miles) from the Italian border among the most dramatic of all Alpine scenery.
Just 15 kilometers (9 miles) from the peak of the Iseran pass, Val d’Isere is a mix of traditional Savoy architecture, modern neo-Chalet and high-rise apartments. Buildings of wood, stone, metal and local stone reflect the natural landscape. Some of the local, preserved homes combine weathered wood and slate roofs, while the past whispers through the 15th-center bell tower of St. Bernard de Menthon. The church is the visual icon of the village, in distinct contrast to the high-tech ski shops that supply enthusiastic ski vacationers.
Be sure to take in the Monday marketplace to discover Savoie cheeses, sugared strawberries and other regional fare. As you would expect in a traditionally cold mountain climate, the Savoyard cuisine is hearty enough to steel you against the elements. The tartiflette and raclette make tasty potato and cheese dishes often accented by thick country ham slices or charcoal-roasted beef.
Though a prolonged autumn season has pushed the opening of ski season to December, international skiers will soon enter “Killy’s World,” the down-to-earth magnet for serious Alpine skiers. As the birthplace of three-time Olympics winner Jean-Claude Killy, it hardly surprises you to discover a mecca of ski worship. The area is simultaneously dubbed “l’Espace Killy” and the “Most Beautiful Ski Area in the World.”
Winter certainly isn’t the only season for enjoying the area. Combine the “Grandes Alpes” Route with the inviting Vanoise National Park, and you understand the lure of the land in spring and summer. Stretching from Menton in the south to Thonon Les Bains, the route spreads a kaleidoscope of scenes – vivid green valleys and flower-filled villages, steep hills sprinkled with bell-adorned cows, raw stone peaks and frigid glacial fields.
The magnificent Vanoise National Park Vanoise National Parc is a magnet for serious hikers, linking the Maurienne and Tarentaise valley. The Maurienne and Isere rivers wind through the Park, and the terrain runs from rugged and harsh to quaint, undramatic valley villages around the region.
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