A sunny blue sky probably isn’t your family ski holiday deal breaker, but you have to admit it’s a pretty sweet extra combined with snow-sure slopes from mid-December through to April on the second largest mountain range in France.
If that description rings a bell, you might already be familiar with the joys of skiing in the Southern French Alps. If not, this is definitely the winter to discover this remarkable region and the truth behind the local saying, ‘nothing is more beautiful than the simple things’. By that they mean 12,000km² of sheer scenic grandeur; 68 authentically Alpine resorts; the fastest ski slope in the world at Vars La Forêt Blanche; rare ‘big mountain’ terrain at La Grave La Mieje; skiing on Mont Sistron with views of the Mediterranean; some of the loveliest heritage villages in France connected by snowshoe trails; seven natural and national parks; along with a traditional Southern French Alps passion for great cooking, good wine and excellent company: if only everything in life was that simple.
But don’t for a second imagine enjoying the simple pleasure of pure mountain air or the Southern French Alps’ painterly light precludes the bright, shiny fun kids love on a family ski holiday. If anything this is the region where you’ll be turning down adventures rather than searching for them.
Where to find the perfect Southern French Alps family resorts
There’s a strong sense of community in Southern French Alps and while every resort obviously wants you to come stay and love them best of all, working together to make sure you fall head over heels for the entire region is just as important. On a practical level that means superb transport to and from resorts, a great choice of affordable ski passes and an extensive network of fast, accessible lifts across the region. Which gives you a lot of options when it comes to choosing the right resort; whether you’re all seasoned downhillers with dozens of slope-hours under your belt or total newbies who don’t know one end of a ski from the other.
If you fall into the latter category, turns out Southern French Alps does first time ski holidays with as much care and attention as everything else. In fact Orcières Merlette 1850 is so keen to get you skiing, it offers free ‘1st Time on Skis’ lessons for adults, and also has an unbelievably cute Ski Baby programme designed to introduce kids as young as 18 months to the fun of snow.
Le Sauze is one of the region’s many great all-rounders and justifiably described as ‘kid heaven’ for its balance of ski-time and playtime for families. With over 65km of pistes, there’s no chance of disappointment here, whatever your level. Le Sauze also offers Ski for Free intro session for complete beginners. And it’s a Famille Plus resort too, so you can look forward to exceptional as standard on everything from ski schools to childcare, activities and events.
Delightfully traditional Puy-Saint-Vincent is the archetypal Alpine village from historic churches to sweet chalets, it even promises the occasional glimpse of shy Chamois: one of the benefits of nestling under the soaring Écrin glaciers. But since authentic charm alone doesn’t win kids’ hearts, the resort also comes good on several toboggan runs, snow gardens and snow playparks, kids clubs, two fun ski schools and a fresh-every-week family entertainment programme all winter long.
If you’re thinking of the Southern French Alps for Christmas, pretty Risoul celebrates like almost no other resort in the region, right through to New Year. And the season of enchantment is an ideal time to try out the fairy tale appeal of Champsaur: five delightful Alpine villages connected by captivating forest trails. Or you could immerse in the intimate family atmosphere of La Colmiane or Pelvoux-Vallouise. Or go for full mountain magic at tiny, thoroughly authentic and wonderfully welcoming Crévoux.
From exceptional childcare, ski schools and children’s clubs to child-size cultural experiences, well organised events and heaps of activities, Famille Plus resorts are reason alone to take kids skiing in the Southern French Alps.
High altitude Valberg is Famille Plus with fabulous skiing on over 90km of pistes, a gorgeously lush forest setting; up to 50% off under-12s’ ski passes all season this year, along with good value group passes for larger families. And the 2000 hectare ski area at Superdévoluy is a big incentive for serious skiers, especially as it’s in tandem with the amazing Famille Plus package of morning ski schools and afternoon childcare.
Famille Plus or not, almost every Southern French Alps’ resort is blessed with École du Ski Français (ESF) ski schools, which aren’t just European gold standard in terms of friendly, multi-lingual instruction, they also start kids out on the snow with laid-back and fun lessons from age three.
The mesmerising combo of snow drenched mountains, huge forests and sunny skies is usually enough to captivate under 12s completely. Teens and older kids can be a bit more demanding, but resorts like Isola 2000 are as good as designed to delight even the toughest to please. The 2000 refers to Isola’s altitude: high enough to give skiers clear views of the Med. The ski area is just as impressive, covers three sectors and every possible skill level. DJs, concerts, kids shows, snow sculpting competitions and luge runs pack the winter season from end to end. And if that isn’t enough excitement, everything from snowboardcross to ski paragliding , snow-kiting and skidoo action are available to fill in the gaps.
Take a look at Les Terrasses de Isola one bedroom apartment for seven nights from 22 December 2018 for £757, based on a family of four.
The Southern French Alps are just over an hour from the Côte d’Azur and encompass the Alpes-Maritimes, Alpes-de-Haute-Provence and the Hautes-Alpes.
How to get there
The region is easily accessible from Marseille, Grenoble and Turin airports.
Direct flights from London to Marseille: 2h 5m.
Direct flights from London to Nice Côte d’Azur: 2h.
Direct flights from London to Grenoble: 1h 45m.
Direct flights from London to Turin: 1h 50m.
Shuttle services from local train stations to resorts run throughout the winter season.