Explore French Alps
For international flights, the three main gateways into the French Alps are Lyon, Grenoble, and Geneva in Switzerland. If you are flying by private jet, your best options are the airports in Chambéry or Grenoble, depending on your final destination. Also, some towns and hotels have helipads, so it may be possible for you to transfer from the airport by helicopter. The scenic Courchevel Airport is very famous, but it’s so dangerous that nearly all commercial flights are forbidden there. Still, it is possible to arrange flights with turboprop aircrafts like the Pilatus pc-12, but you should know that there’s no room for a go around, so either you land in the first try — or you don’t land at all. On the ground, the best way to get around is by car, so many people bring their own car and take advantage of the good highway network. But you can also take the TGV to some towns and valleys.
Climate & seasons
If you are like most travellers who come to the Alps, you are probably interested in skiing or hiking. So for you, there are only two seasons — snow, or no snow. (Except of course if you want to see specific seasonal characteristics of the landscape, like the golden larches in Autumn or the blooming narcissus in Spring.) Snowfall starts in November, but the best times for skiing are in January, February and March. Thawing comes in April, moving upwards from the lower altitudes — in some places, you can do Spring skiing until May. If you are a hiker, the best time for you is the summer, from June to September. The weather is sunny and warm, but you may also witness the dangerous beauty of mountain thunderstorms. The most crowded months in the French Alps are July and August, especially in the Mont Blanc area.
Where to go
Some of the most prestigious ski resorts in the world are here. Courchevel leads the way as the most high-end one. Some people find it too posh, but that’s for you to decide. One thing is certain: the level of hotels and services is really high. Neighbouring Méribel offers a balance of high level of luxury, family-friendly appeal, and easy runs for beginners and intermediates. Chamonix, home of the first Winter Olympic Games in 1924, is a gateway to Mont Blanc and unofficial ski capital of the French Alps. This is also the best place in the French Alps to head out on a remote snowshoeing excursion. From Chamonix you can get by cable car to the Aiguille du Midi in the Mont Blanc massif, or take a ride in the Mont Blanc gondola, which goes over crevasses and icefalls. Megève is another top ski resort near Mont Blanc. An authentic medieval village with many high-end boutiques, restaurants and hotels, Megève is popular in summer as well as winter. The Val D'Isère ski area is enormous, and great fun to be at, with both on and off-piste runs. Worthy of note are also Les Deux Alpes and Val Thorens. Together with Courchevel, Méribel and other areas, Val Thorens forms Les Trois Vallées, the biggest ski area in the world. If you come in summer, you will find hiking trails for all ages and fitness levels in the national parks of Écrins, La Vanoise and Mercantour.
What to do
In winter, the obvious activity is skiing, and for good reasons. Many resorts in the Alps are linked together by their ski areas, in French style, so a single package offers you hundreds of miles of track. But there are other classic snowsports — as well as less classic ones. You can dive under the ice, drive a team of sled dogs, try snooc (a kind of sledge and ski touring) or go mountain biking in the snow. You can even ride a horse or paraglide. Also, the après-ski gets livelier every year. In summer, hike around Mont Blanc (doing the full circuit takes over a week) or take the challenge and try summitting — but only if you are well prepared, as it’s a demanding climb. Explore the national parks with an expert local guide, and you will learn about plants, animals and local culture. Relax and focus while you pick ripe blueberries, then stop at a wayside hut to taste artisanal cheeses, charcuterie and honey. Crown your experience by lodging in luxury hotels and chalets.
Photos from French Alps
EliteVoyage Hotel Collection in French Alps
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