Samoëns ski resort
Expertly mixing traditional French charm with exciting, challenging terrain, whatever your preference when it comes to ski resorts, it's hard not to fall in love with Samoëns.
Nestled in a wide, sunny valley encircled by seven dramatic mountain peaks, Samoëns is an authentic and largely unspoiled mountain village with fine 17th-century architecture and roots that date back as far as the Middle Ages. Traditional pâtisseries line the streets that weave towards the village square, itself centred around a landmark 900-year-old lime tree.
Then there's the skiing: France's fourth largest ski area, the Grand Massif, links directly to the village by a modern gondola lift, transferring skiers from 720m to 2,120m (2,362ft to 6,955ft) in just 15 minutes, and opening up some 260km (160 miles) of skiable terrain.
For those looking for an easy journey to the slopes, it's also worth noting that Samoëns is one of the easiest resorts to reach by road, with no steep winding roads, hairpin bends or high mountain passes to negotiate. It's also relatively easily accessible by rail or air with Geneva just 60km (37 miles) away.
Samoëns is located in the Haute-Savoie region, between Lake Geneva and Mont Blanc. The village lies in the heart of the Upper Giffre Valley, not far from the Dents Blanches mountain range in the Alps.
SamoënsResort Elevation: 720m
Top Elevation: 2480m
Base Elevation: 1600m
On the slopes
At just 700m (2,297ft) in altitude, Samoëns' base is low for a French Alps resort. While this allows easy access, its location is not as ideal for snow cover. Fortunately, however, that's not the case for the ski area above, which has one of the region's best snow records, with the season invariably ending in early May. This is due, in part, to the proximity to the imposing Mont Blanc, extensive snowmaking on key lower runs, and mainly north-facing slopes.
The Grand Massif Express gondola and the Chariande Express chairlift transfer skiers from 720m to 2,120m (2,362ft to 6,955ft) in just 15 minutes. But beginners only need to take the gondola from the village to the beginners' slopes (1,600m/5,250ft) at the bottom of the pistes – a swift eight-minute journey.
More experienced skiers can take the chairlift to Tête des Saix, from which the vast snow bowl of the Grand Massif – shared with neighbours Flaine, Morillon and Les Carroz d'Arâches – can be enjoyed by all levels of ability.
Among the toughest trails in the freeride area is the Gers piste, while La Combe de Vernant provides some excellent runs through the forest. This corrie leads skiers to excellent powder snow stashes, while another good sector for expert skiers is the Espace de Vérêt, which is accessed by the Tête de Vérêt drag lift.
There are also extensive cross-country trails, while freestyle skiers and boarders will savour the boardercross course created by local champion Nicolas Marduel and the Jampark in Aujon.