Top Lift: 1780m
Ski area: 265km of pistes
Adult lift pass: 216€ for six days
In a Nutshell
Samoens may share its ski area with purpose-built Flaine, but it couldn’t be more different. This is, officially, one of France’s Monuments Historiques – a pretty and ancient village surrounded by magnificent cliffs and mountains, which just happens to have a ski area attached.
Essential Advice for the Perfect Trip
If you’re tired of the usual high-altitude, factory-skiing schtick; if you’ve grown out of full-throttle apres-ski; if you want your holiday to be somewhere French, as well as mountainous – then may we suggest Samoens? It’s a small, low-altitude, medieval town set in the valley beneath the Grand Massif skiing area, and we can’t think of another place like it.
Of course, not everyone is going to warm to the place. This isn’t a ski-in, ski-out resort. You have to catch a cable-car from the outskirts of town up to the slopes at the beginning of the day, and back down again at the end of it. Anyone who wants to maximise their skiing or boarding time should give it a wide berth as a result. Complete beginners will probably be happier up at the purpose-built satellite, Samoens 1600 – because there’s no point adding a daily, cable-car commute to the general bewilderment of your first holiday on the slopes.
But that said, many of those who do stay here seem to love it. “Samoens is a truly wonderful place and completely unlike any other ski resort I have visited in the Alps. It is still a bit of a ‘secret’ and I’m writing about it with some reluctance, because I would hate to see it overrun by my fellow Brits,” says one. “It is a proper working town, rather than a resort, and has a lovely mediaeval square at its heart, and many beautiful buildings. In terms of character, it is chocolate-box cute, but not of the sickly sweet variety.”
In particular, this is good place for families who already have a couple of ski holidays under their belts, and don’t need the help of nannies and/or creches. They’ll appreciate the short commute from Geneva (about 45 minutes), the friendly locals and the lack of pressure to ski, ski, ski you find in the high-altitude resorts. That’s not to say the skiing isn’t good – the Grand Massif is one of the largest areas in France and boasts a super-snowy microclimate – thanks to its proximity to Mont Blanc. It’s home to many fine intermediate-friendly pistes. It’s just that in Samoens you’ll be taking your holiday at a more leisurely pace.