Discover four of Savoie Mont Blanc’s lesser-known ski areas

This region in south-eastern France has 112 ski resorts in the French Alps. Whether you’re looking for state-of-the-art infrastructure or quaint, picture-postcard hamlets, it has it all.

Off-piste skiing in Les Contamines-Montjoie, a traditional resort at the base of Mont Blanc. 

Photograph by Savoie Mont Blanc-Lansard
By Savoie Mont Blanc
Published 18 Dec 2021, 11:00 GMT

Covering two thirds of the French Alps, Savoie Mont Blanc is a region where nature packs a varied, powerful punch. Among mountain enthusiasts, it's known for being home to winter playgrounds like Les Trois Vallées and Portes du Soleil, chic resorts like Courchevel and Meribel (which will host the Alpine World Ski Championships 2023) and natural big-hitters like Mont Blanc. However, with a territory that covers more than half of the country’s ski areas, there’s a lot more to discover. Local resorts range from big to small, from modern to nostalgic, offering a blend of 21st-century comfort and old-time charm to suit every mountain-goer. This winter might be the perfect time to discover them.

1. Espace Diamant

The six villages of Espace Diamant are located not far from Geneva airport, but they’re a world away from the glitz of their neighbours. Set among forests and alpine meadows, Crest-Voland Cohennoz, Flumet, Hauteluce, Notre-Dame-de-Bellecombe, Praz-sur-Arly and Les Saisies captivate visitors with the simple appeal of a bygone era. They’re surrounded by 119 miles of pistes and offer a host of alternative activities, too, be it husky sledding, hot air ballooning or visiting a local farm to taste delicious cheese.
Stay at: Le Toî du Monde, in Flumet. This 1886 inn has been renovated for the 21st century with an aim of being carbon netural, and its restaurant, with a Michelin Green Star, is working to become self-sufficient. From £74.

2. Galibier Thabor

This area on the southern edge of Savoie Mont Blanc links Valloire and Valmeinier in the Maurienne Valley. Little-known on the British ski market, these resorts share a 93-mile ski area and complement each other beautifully: Valmeinier is an easy-on-the-eye, contemporary ski in, ski out resort, built across the hillside from its original rustic heart; Valloire, meanwhile, is a characteristic Savoyard village set around one of the region’s most beautiful Baroque churches and a cobbled square that hosts a weekly market.
Stay at: Hotel La Setaz, in Valloire. Following renovations to improve energy efficiency, it’s become a beautiful four-star hotel with a spa and indoor pool, plus an adjoining 51-apartment residence for self-catering. From £147.

A 'cani-balade' outing in the ski resort of Les Saisies.

Photograph by Savoie Mont Blanc-Martelet

3. The Grand Massif

Some of the resorts in this area need no introduction: old Samoëns and futuristic Flaine have legions of fans. But the 165-mile ski area of Les Carroz, Morillon and Sixt-Fer-à-Cheval is home to other attractive, smaller-scale villages, with easy parking and affordable accommodation. The ski terrain is extensive and varied, and in particular, the 8.7-mile blue run Piste des Cascades, descending from Flaine to Sixt-Fer-à-Cheval past the Sixt-Passy Nature Reserve, is a must.
Stay at: RockyPop, in Flaine. This new hotel has fun interiors (think arcade games, table tennis and basketball) that mirror Flaine’s family-friendly ethos. Rooms and apartments sleep up to 10 people. From €60 (£50).

4. Les Alpes du Léman

In Les Alpes du Léman, meaning ‘Alps of Lake Geneva’, snow-laden mountains overlook the splendid lake. Within the area sit nine small villages, each clustered around a church, traditional fountains and an abundance of farms producing meats, wines and cheeses (including Abondance, Beaufort and Reblochon de Savoie), all sold locally. There are two Alpine ski areas — Hirmentaz-Les Habères, with 31 miles of pistes, and Roc d’Enfer, with 17 miles of pistes linked to Portes du Soleil — but Nordic skiing is big here, too, with a cross-country centre at Les Moises and Les Mouilles.
Stay at: Hotel de l’Union, in Lullin. It’s a charming base to enjoy the Col du Feu, a 23-mile Nordic ski trail from Les Moises to Habère-Poches. From €68 (£57).

Berthoud is a traditional dish from the Haute-Savoie region made with local Abondance cheese.

Photograph by Savoie Mont Blanc-Witt

A spotlight on the Aravis mountain range, a year-round destination

In the warmer months, Savoie Mont Blanc’s peaks and mountain destinations have just as much to offer.

Cycling enthusiasts can brave over 40 passes that have been featured in the Tour de France, including the popular Col des Aravis. This mountain pass is accessible from La Clusaz, a resort backdropped by Mont Blanc that charms travellers with hotels such as Les Rhodos, with themed bedrooms, and restaurants like La Ferme, where visitors and locals alike dig into traditional, hearty dishes.

Hikers are also well catered for. Head to Col des Annes, a valley located a short distance from the traditional resort of Le Grand-Bornand; whet your appetite by discovering the Aravis range before refuelling at La Cheminée mountain hut. If visiting the area on a Wednesday, make time to visit the resort’s weekly market, too, and pick up a souvenir or two.

How to do it

Located in south-eastern France, right in the heart of the French Alps, Savoie Mont Blanc is a region that includes all the resorts, towns and villages of the country’s Savoie and Haute- Savoie departments.

The region is easily accessible via train or airplane. New Jet2 flights will link London, Leeds, Bristol, Manchester and Birmingham to Chambéry from December 2021 to mid-April 2022.

When it comes to skiing trips, not everyone wants to follow the Saturday-to-Saturday template. If you’re looking for a more flexible or shorter mountain getaway, even during school holidays, Savoie Mont Blanc’s partner tour operators Ski Planet, Travelski and Sunweb can help you create a tailor-made break with the Free Time Ski Time offers.

For more information, head to savoie-mont-blanc.com.

Published in the Jan/Feb 2022 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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