I have, in the past, been in love with more than one woman at the same time. It led to tears and heartache, but, looking back with the wisdom of hindsight, I wouldn’t have done anything differently. Each was beguiling, fun, exciting, and made me feel good. Trouble was they didn’t see it that way. I swore that it would never happen again. But it has.
Things are a teensy bit different this time because it’s not women I’ve fallen in love with but a city and two ski domains. They’re neighbours and friends with each other making it tricky for me. I don’t want to upset them by having to choose. So I’ll come clean. The city is Grenoble and the ski domains are Vaujany and Les Deux Alpes, each about an hour from the other. Grenoble is definitely a city-girl, sophisticated, and hip; Vaujany’s a wild mountain woman, born and bred in a small village and steeped in country life. Mlle. Les Deux Alpes on the other hand, is a fun-loving party girl with her head in the clouds. What a mix!
You know I have a pal who collects wives/lovers, wherever he fetches up in the world. His peripatetic lifestyle as a football writer has led to many ‘away’ fixtures, and some tricky ‘home clashes’. One such ‘match’ was somewhere in South America (I forget where exactly) making ‘return games’ logistically awkward. I have no such problem with mine, the lovely Grenoble Alpes Isère airport, only an hour and three quarters away from Bristol or Gatwick.
Promise not to tell and I’ll take you through a typical few days of whirlwind romancing starting with Grenoble, first city of the department of Isère, and self-styled ‘Capital of the Alps’. Perhaps the greatest influences on the city’s style are the 45,000 students, C16th Bastille, and superb portfolio of galleries and museums; and, on the opposite side of the Isère River, the historic quarter, much of it fashioned comme Parisien, with charming cafes, quirky shops, and markets. Hop on a tram or city-bike to explore.
The new OKKO Hotel (‘Four Stars and No Clouds’ as their website proclaims) is as on-trend as it comes, and the place for SYPOTU (Smart Young Professionals On The Up…I just made that up!) to meet, sleep, and be seen. Interiors that hark back to the ‘good’ early days of Habitat (curiously the huge store is just around the corner) very much capture the buzz. There’s only one place to take your love to eat…Le Fantin Latour and its chef étoilé Stephane Friodeveaux, who combs the nearby Alps for his raw materials, creating edible mini-still lifes. Ask for a discrete table – most come here to be seen. Can’t be too careful! After a nuit d’amour a lazy morning pottering around the Musée de Grenoble calms the senses and readies me for the next stage of my triangle amoureux…farewell city-girl, bonjour chérie Vaujany.
She’s not quite what she appears to be on first meeting, a small rustic village of 300 permanent residents perched on the edge of a mountain at 1,250m. Dame Fortune smiled on her in 1985 when two nearby massive hydroelectric dams were completed. Vaujany gets over 3 million euros a year rent, making her an extremely desirable lover indeed. She spends it wisely on tip-top sports and leisure facilities and a cable car and gondola directly to her (very) big sister Alpe d’Huez. She’s not just rich, she’s pretty. Farms, old houses and shops cling gently to her curvy slopes, and my 4*Chalet La Perle de l’Oisans couldn’t be more romantic with the best views in the village.
She really comes into her own as part of the vast Alpe d’Huez system, all 250km of it. Hop on the Alpette cable car and 20 minutes later you’re at 2,800m on the Dôme des Petits Rousses surveying the world below. A short red, on to the Pic Blanc lift, and you top out at 3,330m. This is serious stuff, with two iconic runs to win bragging rights: the Sarenne, billed as the longest black piste in Europe, and the notorious ‘Tunnel’. The Sarenne is a true black at the top, particularly in icy conditions, but the remainder varies along its 11km length from proper red to blue. You need strong quads, skill and common sense.
There’s no hiding place INn the Tunnel (literally) – the approach being what gives this horror its name. Rappel. Piste Très Difficile! warn the orange signs. On exiting the single icy track through the mountain skiers are confronted by a gully just wide enough to snowplough, orange netting to the left, ahead, a cluster of skiers perched precariously on a lip. It’s as much as most can do to avoid crashing into them. The only way down is to commit and try to get into a rhythm. Pick a line well ahead and stay focused. Fall and you’re done for. In icy conditions (especially in the mornings when the sun hasn’t softened the surface) this could mean serious injury. I notice that the patrouilleurs de piste have netted the face halfway down this season to arrest fallers. Do not attempt the run without checking conditions, and only if you truly are competent.
Phew! My chérie is not impressed, having been there done that. Perhaps some ‘us time’ in the village’s super-new, super-duper Ida restaurant will soften her heart. No secret is safe in a small village. But what the hell. After perfect Dirty Dry Vodka Martinis (by mixologist-supreme Robin Medina) snuggling by a crackling fire, followed by chef Arnault Baldereschi’s signature roasted scallops in carpaccio, her heart is well-and-truly melted. The restaurant is part of a new 4* hotel, the ‘V’, but we couldn’t slip upstairs and stay as sadly it’s not quite open yet…maybe a ‘return game’?
Next morning pas de regrets as I head for assignation number 3, Mme.Les Deux Alpes (or LDA to avoid confusion). She’s the Polar (or should that be Alpine) opposite of V, who is distantly visible through the morning haze. The town, set at 1,650m is dotted along a 3km stretch of affordable hotels, apartments, bars and shops. It’s lively, something of a culture shock after sleepy Vaujany. LDA is a high-altitude woman, her greatest asset the Glacier du Monts-de-Lans at a breathless 3,568m, also open in summer from mid-June to September. Best for morning-sun skiing is the west-facing Valle Blanche with decent off-piste and easy cruising to warm up, then across the valley and the long ascent up towards the Glacier. It’s nippy up here (-21° during my visit) but not cold enough to chill my ardour for LDA. A top-of-the-world feeling with easy-peasy pistes and spectacular views. Lunch is just as marvellous at Le Diable au Coeur, 2,400m up. Mme. and I share oysters and glass or two of Riesling Côte de Rouffach René Muré 2015. Oysters? A promise of things to come?
After dark, it’s party-central; Pub Windsor to chill and chat, then dancing and craziness at L’Avalanche…at least I think it was. I managed to keep up with LDA until 4.00 am. What a weekend! Must check my diary for another rendezvous pour trois.
Tell Me More About Isère
The French department of Isère is home to 23 ski resorts including Vaujany and Les Deux Alpes. All of these are served by Grenoble Alpes Isère Airport, connecting skiers from all over the UK.
This winter sees 3 new ski routes introduced with weekly flights on a Saturday from East Midlands airport with Jet2 from 21st December to April 2020; a new route from Bristol with Ryanair from January to March 2020; whilst easyJet flies from Gatwick every Thursday thus offering guests a short break as an option. Celebrating the addition of these new flights will make skiing in France even more accessible to British holidaymakers, with a visit to the city of Grenoble combined with skiing in the two resorts of Vaujany and Les Deux Alpes.
Grenoble, capital of the Alps and the Dauphiné, is a university city, science hub and official City of Art and Culture, the perfect stop-over en route to the encircling mountains. The old town is full of lively squares, mansions and picturesque shopping lanes lined with old houses; countless museums containing rich collections; and relaxing parks and gardens and a stunning panoramic view of the surrounding mountains from La Bastille fort.
Vaujany, just an hour transfer away from Grenoble, combines the rustic charm and authenticity of a mountain village with modern facilities and offers superfast links to the heart of Alpe d’Huez Grand Domaine Ski and its 250 km of slopes. The resort is an excellent choice for keen skiers with the swift modern lift system ensuring they can make the most of long days on the mountain. The natural village environment provides an ideal platform to discover and enjoy the mountains by snowshoeing, hiking and skiing, while the sports and leisure centre offers a range of additional activities.
The top resort of Les 2 Alpes is entering a new era. Conscious of the economic, environmental and social challenges ahead, the resort is investing more than 500 million euros to ensure it maintains its position amongst the leading French ski resorts. Les Deux Alpes’ main advantage is its altitude, ranging from 1,600 metres to 3,600 metres guaranteeing great skiing both in summer on the glacier and in winter.
Fly to Grenoble Alpes Isère airport