Family ski holidays

Vaujany: the little French ski village that really does have it all

Last updated 27th January 2024

If this is the first time you’ve heard of Vaujany, it’s a name worth remembering as Katja Gaskell and her eight year old son, Sam, recently discovered on a ski break in the Isère department of south-eastern France.

“Are you ready to fly?” asked Guillaume as he adjusted the straps of my eight-year-old son’s harness. Sam gave an enthusiastic nod and, moments later, Guillaume and my youngest child pointed their skis downhill, gathered speed and took off into the skies on a tandem paraglide flight.

I watched, heart in mouth, as the pale blue and lime green parachute sailed across a cloudless bluebird sky, swooping and soaring in front of the magnificent snow-capped Grandes Rousses Massif, before dipping beneath a ridge and landing safely on the snowy piste below. Shortly afterwards Sam reappeared, having taken the high-speed Signal ski lift back up to where I was waiting.

“I want to do it again!”, he cried, his face beaming with excitement.

Unfortunately for Sam (and rather fortuitously for me) Guillaume had other clients waiting, so we clicked in our skis and set off to discover Marcel’s Farm; a fun family-friendly themed run with banked corners, tunnels and a cow slalom course to manoeuvre through. A cowbell dangles at the end of the run, willing skiers to whack it with their ski pole when they pass underneath.

Welcome to the ‘Island in the Sunshine’

We were in the Alpe d’Huez Grand Domaine, a popular ski resort in the Isère department of south-eastern France.

Nicknamed the “Island in the Sunshine” owing to a record 300 sunny days a year, this ski resort also boasts 250 km of pistes with runs to suit all ski abilities. For families it’s ideal, 60 percent of the ski area is made up of green and blue runs.

There are five ski resorts and two traditional mountain villages within the Grand Domaine. At 1869m the south facing purpose-built Alpe d’Huez is the main resort, bustling with hotels, restaurants and hundreds of skiers and snowboarders. We weren’t staying here, however. Instead, we were based in nearby Vaujany, a petit, rural village packed with everything you need for a fun family ski holiday.

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Vaujany Village, south eastern France

Now meet Vaujany and prepare to be charmed

Until relatively recently, Vaujany was a simple farming community; a jumble of slate-covered stone houses perched on a sunny hillside. In the 1980s, however, it struck gold when the French government embarked on the country’s largest hydroelectric project in the valley below. Locals were awarded millions in compensation for their flooded land and canny villagers chose to invest some of their windfall transforming their hometown into a ski resort.

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They built the enormous 160-person Vaujany-Alpette cable car linking, their dinky village to the glitzy ski metropolis of Alpe d’Huez, then constructed a series of lifts and covered walkways to connect the village’s steep mountain streets.

However, despite these mod cons, Vaujany maintains its bucolic charm, with chickens roaming among tumbledown farmhouses and an enthusiastic resident cockerel replacing any need for an alarm clock.

First ski day of the season and tartiflette for lunch, of course

Day one and after a hearty breakfast of croissant and pain-au-chocolate at our base, Hôtel Les Cimes, we boarded the six-person Vaujany-Villette gondola and headed up to Montfrais, Vaujany’s own beginner area.

That’s one thing to remember about Vaujany, it’s not a ski-in ski-out destination – all the action takes place a lift ride away. At Montfrais, a magic carpet lift transports beginner skiers up the nursery slope, until they’re confident enough to tackle the green run and later the easy-going blues.

As this was our first ski of the season, Sam and I went up and down the Les Chalets, a wide-open blue run, before stopping for lunch on the sun-soaked terrace of Les Airelles; one piping hot tartiflette and Panaché for me and an oozy croque monsieur and Orangina for Sam.

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Hôtel les Cimes, Vaujany

Vaujany après-ski couldn’t be more family friendly

That afternoon we sampled Vaujany’s apres-ski scene, which caters perfectly to the U12 market (dancing teens will have to head to the Folie Douce in Alpe d’Huez). There’s a fancy leisure centre with a swimming pool and waterslide, an ice rink and a bowling alley where I lost spectacularly to a delighted Sam.

Other village entertainment includes curling, torchlit skiing, horse and cart rides around the village, and the local history museum/ where Sam made a beeline for the pro flight simulator. Vaujany is also home to a nursery which takes babies from six months.

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Pic Blanc, Alpe d’Huez © Alpe d’Huez

Day two and we take the high, sunny slopes of the Grand Domaine

By day two we had our ski legs back and so headed over to tackle the sunny, high-altitude slopes of the Grand Domaine. We cruised along Chardons and Piste de Bob, two easy green runs that lead into the main village where packs of noisy husky dogs waited impatiently to transport passengers around a track.

In the afternoon we jumped on board the DMC 1, one of the large cable cars that heads up towards Pic Blanc, the highest point of the resort at 3,330m.

Needing to get back to Vaujany, we disembarked at the half-way point so that we could take the most direct ski route back. The returning red run caused Sam some angst but the promise of a large hot chocolate with lashings of whipped cream ensured we made it safely – and surprisingly quickly – back to base.

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La Sarenne © d’Oz-en-Oisans

Visit Vaujany and dare (possibly) the longest black run in the world

On our final morning I deposited Sam with a friendly ESF instructor and was first in line for the Alpette lift: I couldn’t leave Vaujany without trying the resort’s most famous piste, the 16 km-long La Sarenne, the longest black run in the world.

The starting point for this epic run is the wild and windswept Pic Blanc that on a clear day offers stunning views of the surrounding marshmallow peaks and across to the Les Deux Alpes ski area.

There’s a debate as to whether the run really is a “true” black run  – its actual length is also questionable – but regardless, it’s a fantastic track that delivers a little bit of everything: steep verticals, wide open spaces, moguls, and spellbinding panoramas.

No sooner had I finished then it was time to collect Sam, enjoy one final lunch and say au revoir to Vaujany, the little ski village that really does have it all.

How to plan a Vaujany ski break

How to get there

Direct UK flights to Grenoble, from 1 hour and 40 minutes

Book flights with Easy Jet

Where to stay

Hôtel Les Cimes, 7-nights B&B £940 (2 adults, 2 children)

Find out more and book Hôtel Les Cimes

Good to know

Six-day ski passes for the Oz-Vaujany ski area cost from €193 per adult/€149 per child (age 5-12).

Six-day ski passes for the Alpe d’Huez Grand Domaine Ski area cost from €292 per adult/€230 per child.

Find out more at Vaujany Ski Company

Katja and Sam were guests of Ski France