Best of both worlds: skiing in Vaujany and Les Deux Alpes

 By Mark Hodson

On a good day the journey by road between the resorts of Alpe d’Huez and Les Deux Alpes in the French region of Isère takes less than 90 minutes. On a really good day – as I found recently – it can take the best part of three hours.

As we left the pretty village of Vaujany on the outskirts of Alpe d’Huez, the light was failing and soft snow flakes began to fall. By time we hit the final twisting stretch of road into Les Deux Alpes, the snow was getting deep, cars were getting stranded and we took refuge in an auberge while waiting for a replacement taxi – this one with snow tires.

These two resorts – among the best ski areas in the Alps – are due to be connected by gondola at a cost of €100m. The project has been discussed for many years but it now finally has the go-ahead and is due to open in 2023. The connection will take 18 minutes, creating the second largest ski area in Europe after the Three Valleys.

Big is beautiful in the Alps. It is predicted that many low-lying small resorts will be forced to abandon winter sports over the next 10 or 20 years because of climate change. Instead, they will switch to spring and summer pursuits: hiking, mountain biking and the increasingly popular E-biking.

Meanwhile, resorts are scrambling to attract the new rich from China, Brazil, India and Russia. For those new markets, large linked ski areas have more appeal, while combined marketing budgets will ensure the big boys get even bigger.

Some small resorts are thriving because of their links to bigger hubs. Vaujany is a charming stone-built village at 1,250m with only modest slopes of its own. But 30 years ago the French government bought up much of the surrounding land to build a vast hydro-electric plant and the villagers cannily voted to invest the money in a huge gondola connecting Vaujany to the Alpe d’Huez ski area. Now it offers the best of both worlds: authentic Alpine charm and world-class skiing on its doorstep.

Because Vaujany didn’t become a ski resort until the late 1980s, it isn’t blighted by 1960s concrete architecture. It has some very classy apartment buildings – including La Perle de Oisans, where I stayed – and excellent public amenities including an indoor swimming pool and world-class ice rink, all paid for by (green) hydro electric money. A new luxury hotel, Le V de Vaujany, is due to open next month. Its restaurant, IDA, opened at the end of 2019 and is outstanding.

Another string to Vaujany’s bow is its easy airport access. The charmingly small airport at Grenoble is only about 90 minutes away, avoiding the extra hassle of flying into Lyon or Geneva.

Skiing in Alpe d’Huez was magnificent, but with a fresh dump of snow and brilliant January sunshine, the experience at Les Deux Alpes was even better. A high resort at the end of a valley, LDA is surrounded on all sides by jagged mountain peaks. At resort level it may not be the prettiest spot in the Alps, but on a clear day there are few places with more dramatic views from the slopes.

With glacier skiing up to 3,600m, Les Deux Alpes is known for its long season, with guaranteed snow well into Easter, while its buzzing strip of bars and good-value restaurants attracts a young party crowd. But in recent years there has been a push upmarket with cosy resort restaurants such as Le Rouge et le Noir and the newly-opened Chamois Lodge. On the slopes, Le Diable de Coeur is a superb lunch spot (try the ravioli with black truffles and the locally-brewed Bière des Glaciers).

Why not add a cheeky city break?

As we all become more time-poor, one of the trends in skiing is a move away from week-long holidays in a single resort. Combining two resorts in one trip is an obvious option but another is to combine a ski resort with a city break. The city of Grenoble is a prime candidate as it sits midway between the airport and the resort of Alpe d’Huez. We spent an evening there, strolling around the charming old town and dining at the superb Le Fantin Latour. The stylish contemporary Hotel OKKO is a good base.

How to do it

Return flights from Stansted to Grenoble Airport cost from £26 with Ryanair and £45 with Easyjet. A two-night stay at the Hotel OKKO costs from £83pp with breakfast, based on two sharing. A two-night stay at the four-star La Perle de Oisans in Vaujany costs from £103pp, based on two sharing.

In Les Deux Alpes, five nights at the three-star Hotel Le Souleil’Or starts at £433pp with breakfast, based on two sharing. Book transfers with Actibus.

For more information visit Isère Tourism.