Felice Hardy heads back to Arc 1950, twenty years on from the ski resort’s inception. Does it live up to the 2004 dream?
It was January 2004, and on the table sat the biggest ham I’d ever seen. It was larger than my head, almost the size of a child’s torso, and it was part of the lunchtime celebration at Le Chalet de Luigi for the launch of the resort. The brand new village of Arc 1950 was squeaky clean and freshly finished, with the sunshine peeking through the floor-to-ceiling windows to give it that extra bit of sparkle.
This was the first new ski resort I’d ever been to – a stand-alone village built by Canadian developer Intrawest, developer of Whistler in British Columbia and Mont Tremblant in Quebec. Intrawest’s intention was to bring a slice of North America to the French Alps, with good-sized apartments from which you could ski-in and ski-out to all the shops and restaurants, as well as to the lifts. The resort would be designed in a style that would set it apart from the French no-frills resorts first developed in the 1960s and 1970s.
When I came to the opening twenty years ago, I thought the buildings were attractive, if a little chocolate-boxy, but what’s not to love about a bit of prettiness in the French Alps? The village was far removed from the concrete monsters created in the ‘60s and ‘70s, with their shoebox-sized apartments. All the new buildings had been constructed of wood and stone, with concrete facades painted in pastel pink, yellow, green and cream.
Back then, we arrived by mountain funicular followed by bus or taxi, and cars were hidden away beneath the resort in underground car parks. Children threw snowballs in the streets, skiers walked or slid to lessons, all without meeting a vehicle en route. Some other resorts had already banned cars and replaced them with electric vehicles, but they could be just as intimidating to pedestrians as they travelled at high speed. Arc 1950 had none of that – just peace and quiet, with the swish of skis and whirr of the gondola the only sounds.
Now it’s 2024, and I am back to celebrate the resort’s 20th anniversary.
Luigi’s still has its hams on display, but these ones seem smaller – or did my imagination inflate the earlier ones? The apartments are still the same, and I am relieved to see that the village hasn’t expanded into a small city. Everything is exactly as it was, albeit twenty years older.
Lifts in the ski area have been updated, shops and restaurants have changed hands, and there are new additions up the mountain. But my favourite restaurant, Belliou la Fumée, an ancient former hunting lodge at the bottom of the piste below 1950, is the same as it was twenty – or even fifty – years ago. You used to have to climb down a ladder to reach the lower half of this rustic cabin, but today, thankfully, there is now a staircase, which makes it a lot easier for ski booted guests at lunchtime, not to mention the wait staff. Everything else is just as quaint, with a roaring fire, sheepskin rugs draped over the chairs, and ancient artefacts decorating the interior.
A welcome green addition to the resort is the B.O.B – Beautiful Organic Break – café up at 2800m, with gorgeous views, organic offerings like four types of non-dairy milk, home-made soups and bread, plus a row of recycling bins.
When I came here, Les Arcs didn’t have a lift connecting it to La Plagne, as it does today, turning it into the giant Paradiski area. But the other villages of the immediate area are still as they were – Arc 1600, Arc 1800 and Arc 2000 – and no more villages have been constructed, although accommodation has been upgraded.
The funicular from Bourg St Maurice up to Les Arcs is now free – if you reach it by train. It’s a move to deter people from flying or driving out, and an important feature of Les Arcs’ green-ness in which it calls itself: ‘A responsible, committed and engaging resort for the future and the present.’ Free shuttle buses ply the roads between satellites.
The tourist brochure tells me that since 1989, Les Arcs was the only French ski resort with a direct train from Paris, Lyon or the major European capitals, combined with a funicular providing direct access to the resort and slopes. Until recently that was true, but sadly – because of a combination of Brexit and post-Covid finances – Eurostar has cut its services to and from London, and you now must change trains in Paris and Chambery, with an RER regional train across the French capital from Gare du Nord to Gare de Lyon.
My P&V apartment in Arc 1950 is Les Sources de Marie, which comes with all eco-friendly products like soap, shampoo, cleaning products and dishwasher tablets. You are encouraged to recycle, with a separate bag provided for tins, plastic, paper and cardboard. In fact, the idea is for all of Les Arcs to be environmentally friendly. There’s a ‘clean the mountain’ day in summer and all new lifts introduced will be solar powered.
One of the two highlights of my trip is a restaurant called 2134 Rooftop at Arc 2000. You can access it at night on the direct Cabriolet gondola from Arc 1950, followed by a complicated arrangement of lifts and corridors inside the building. It’s a recent addition to the resort, and well worth the trek, as it serves some of the best cuisine in Les Arcs, from Savoyard classics to Asian-inspired dishes like tuna tataki. The restaurant focuses on its wines, all of them chosen for their environmentally friendly, pesticide-free and chemical-free production.
The other highlight is the zip wire at Arc 2000. What they call the Tyrolean is conveniently located near the B.O.B restaurant, in the spot where they used to run the infamous Kilometre Lancé speed-skiing race. Zip-wiring is a fun after-lunch activity and a lot safer than the KL. Weight, rather than age, is how they decide who travels – you must be between 25 and 120 kilos. I am a bit of a zip-wire aficionado and have done it in Saas Fee, Verbier, Ischgl, Whistler, and Hawaii. Before setting off, the idea of whizzing at a high speed in mid-air always scares me, but invariably it is thrilling – and less frightening than abseiling or bungee jumping.
I am kitted out in my ski clothes, helmet, goggles, gloves and boots, as the zip operator fits my harness. We leave our skis at the top, to be collected later. There’s a choice of two positions and I opt for the sit-up-in-a-swing position rather than head-first like a diver. Then I am launched from the top of the Varet cable car. The zip line is 1800 metres long and reaches a speed of 130km/h, but it doesn’t feel that fast. The air is glacial on my face and when the pulley slows down I stretch out my arms like a bird.
Pierre & Vacances offers seven nights’ self-catering accommodation in Le Village Arc 1950 from £1,790, based on two people sharing a one-bedroom apartment; travel not included.
Erna Low organises accommodation-only or packaged trips, including self-drive or flights & transfers, plus extras such as ski passes and ski school. Enquire for details.