1. It’s the quiet back door into the giant Alpe d’Huez ski area
It’s a relaxing start to the morning when you have a choice of cable-car and gondola, which both set off from the same place in the village centre. The ski school meeting place is here as well, which suits parents dropping off kids. Whether you stay right at the top or down at the bottom of the village, convenient escalators and funiculars whisk you here.
The long, long runs
The ski area has 250km of piste including the 16km Sarenne in neighbouring Alpe d’Huez which is world-famous, but it’s the steep Tunnel run that provides the bigger challenge. It drops straight down the front face from the Pic Blanc and, together with Les Rousses and La Fare – a testing black run that ends in the hamlet of L’Enversin d’Oz below Vaujany – it makes up the 2200m Champagne Run. For something a little easier, the Vaujaniat is an intermediate cruise down from Vaujany’s own ski area, with a little cluster gondola bringing you back up to the cable-car station. In a good snow week, advanced and expert skiers will have a ball here.
The best chalet food in the Alps
Chalet Saskia is a comfortable but by no means OTT chalet, conveniently situated for both the village and mountain access. It sleeps ten in each of two mirror image segments – and they can be taken separately or as a whole. The chef for both, working from his glass-walled kitchen between the two, is New Zealander Marcus Cull, who has been resident there for 20 years. Yes, you heard that correctly: 20 years. His creations never fail to stun and surprise guests and they are all based around locally sourced ingredients.
Be prepared for nine or even ten little courses – starter, main and dessert punctuated with a host of incredibly creative amuse-bouches. These might take the form of BLT: bacon panacotta, lettuce jelly and roast cherry tomato, panfried foie gras with orange, soy and pepper crystalline. Cleanse the palate with a pineapple and tarragon sorbet before starting on the cheese. This in turn might be followed by a pre-dessert of morello cherry marshmallow served on a liquorice stick dipped in chocolate and served with a curry lipstick. In our opinion, you won’t eat better in a Michelin-starred restaurant.
However, if you don’t fancy a week of gourmet food, you can also self-cater in one of the many apartments scattered throughout the village, half board in a chalet in the outlying hamlet of La Villette or in the Hotel Rissiou. The food’s good in the hotel and other chalets, too.
Interesting mountain restaurants abound
There are more than 20 mountain eateries in the Alpe d’Huez and Vaujany area, including Le Chalet du Lac Besson (+33 476 80 65 37) on the area’s cross-country track, well away from the piste. If you want something a little different, try the new La Fruitiere (table-service) and Folie Douce (self-service) – part of the Val d’Isere chain, albeit slightly cheaper than the original.
Closer to Vaujany is Les Airelles – at the top of the Montfrais nursery slope, with a pleasant sun terrace and wholesome mountain dishes. Auberge de l’Alpette (+33 476 80 70 00), on the piste down to Oz, has the best omelettes and salads on the mountain. Both restaurants are next to easy pistes, so in warmer weather parents can sit in the sun watching their children go up and down the drag-lifts.
In Vaujany village itself, the restaurant in Hotel du Rissiou is open to non-residents as well as those on half board. You can expect delicious food and there’s an extensive wine list, too.
The village reinvests in its facilities each year
In the late 1980s, the little village of Vaujany unexpectedly hit the jackpot when it sold land to France’s largest hydro-electric scheme. The villagers used the money to convert their cowsheds into chalets and built a 160-person cable-car that links into the Alpe d’Huez ski area. Since then they’ve added a vast modern creche and improved the beginner ski area.
The family amenities are second to none
This is the third home to the Vaujany garderie, for children aged six months to 11 years – the older ones can mix skiing with other activities down at the kindergarten. The building relocated last year into a purpose-built new edifice below Chalet Saskia. There’s also a swimming-pool complete with waterslides and a paddling pool, a brand new bowling alley, a skating/ice-hockey stadium and a new restaurant. The complex is accessed by a state-of-the-art funicular from the cable-car station.
On the snow, the ski school runs English-speaking classes during the school holidays to cater for the many British families who stay in the resort. Children aged three years and over can join group lessons. The ski school is based at Montfrais at the top of the gondola; the nursery slopes are also up here, accessed by a moving carpet inside a protective glass tunnel. Unfortunately there’s no current alternative to the ESF in the village itself, however more proficient skiers can head over to Alpe d’Huez for lessons with Masterclass and a choice of other independent ski schools.
The prices are lower than in mainstream French resorts
Expect to pay 5€ about for a beer in Vaujany and 3€ for a soft drink. A beer in Val d’Isere is roughly 9€ and a soft drink 5€. On the mountain above Vaujany you’ll pay around 12.50€ for pasta, 4€ for a soft drink and 21.50€ for a bottle of house wine. On the mountain at Val d’Isere you’ll pay about 17€ for pasta, 5€ for a soft drink and 24€ for a bottle of house wine. The biggest difference is at La Fruitiere – at the one above Alpe d’Huez the beautifully-presented spag bol costs 19€ while in the Val ski area the same thing costs 26€.