Les Arcs is easy to get to, relatively inexpensive and has a huge variety of skiing – which is why it remains a go-to resort for skiers from these shores. But now it is also ploughing a green ecologically sympathetic furrow that is also winning it plaudits, finds Richard Bath.
Les Arcs in a nutshell
Les Arcs is a purpose-built family-friendly resort, and while not picture perfect, it makes up for what it lacks in charm with its user-friendly layout and the access it provides to a huge ski area which includes some particularly memorable skiing for intermediates and real powder monkeys (more of this later).
In all, it contains six ‘villages’ – Arc 2000, Arc 1950, Arc 1800, Arc 1600, Peisey-Vallandry and Villaroger. Arc 1600 and 1800 are the two original villages, and have seen a lot of development over recent years. Arc 2000, Peisey-Vallandry and Villaroger offer catered chalets. When Arc 1950 opened twenty years ago, it was an instant hit with its pretty architecture and uniquely user-friendly layout offering unrivalled convenience.
The other thing that it’s really important to understand about Les Arcs, is how seriously they take the whole green revolution. It’s relatively easy to get to nearby Bourg St Maurice by train, with links to the airports at Geneva (from 3hr 20min) and Chambery (1hr 40min), at which stage you can take the funicular to the resort for free. Les Arcs is rightly proud of its Flocon Verts credentials, recently attained B-Corps status, and has employed a whole range of innovative policies designed to ensure it’s carbon neutral by 2030.
There are 131 lifts and 200kms of pistes criss-crossing the slopes below the 3226m Aiguille Rouge, plus another 225km at neighbouring La Plagne, with the two halves of Paradiski area connected by the double-decker cable-car known as the Vanoise Express. Crossing to La Plagne takes more time than expected though, so most people tend to stick around the Les Arcs area, which provides something for everyone. Adrenaline seekers will head straight to the famously exacting steeps and couloirs of the Aiguille Rouge, which offers them a descent of 2000 metres in one single screamingly glorious run, while the Aiguille Grive, Mont Pourri and Grand Col are real honey-pots for the bold. Ski suit intermediates who love to sashay down the slopes, on the other hand, will have a great time cruising around the long reds down to Arc 1600, Arc 1800 and Peisey-Vallandry, where they find that so many slopes are protected by the trees that there’s a consistency of conditions which ensures Les Arcs remains skiable when other resorts may struggle.
There are terrain parks, ski/boardercross courses, and significant areas devoted to beginners.
One of the best things about Les Arcs is that even though it goes all the way up to the Aguille Rouge at 3226 metres, much of the best skiing is mid-mountain, so January and February are the prime months.
As for the money, ski passes for just the Les Arcs area cost E330 for six days (E264 for children aged 5-12 or OAPs aged 64-75) or E65 per day (E52). For Les Arcs and La Plagne, that rises to E369 for six days or E70 per day (E52).
Where to stay
Les Arcs is renowned for its huge numbers of self-catering apartments and for its 20th century modernist architecture, and nowhere exemplifies the latter better than our billet for our time in the resort, the iconic Hotel La Cachette, which is within a hundred yards or so of the lift. The old gal had fallen on hard times but recently underwent a full multi-million-Euro renovation, which has both restored and significantly upgraded the best hotel at Arc 1600 into a genuine four-star experience.
The ultra-modern Hotel La Cachette was the brainchild of celebrated designer Charlotte Perriand, who gave it what at the time were revolutionary angular shapes so that the amazing views and slopes were visible from as many vantages as possible. Inside it has a real chalet feel, especially in the big communal areas beside and above reception, and the first floor bar, all of which afford stunning views onto the terrace and over the valley below.
As far as facilities go, there is a hot tub and sauna on the terrace looking directly across the valley, while down below there’s a spa that contains a fitness room, a sauna and four treatment rooms for massages and herbal rubs etc.
The bedrooms range in size and quality, but the family room I occupied was exceptional and exceptionally large – and that was before I discovered a second bedroom with two bunks for children. It also had a bespoke kit drying area and a slope-facing balcony big enough to play football on.
Elsewhere, Arc 1950 is really cutesy and offers enormous convenience. Arc 2000 is the least visually attractive of the villages but also has the most high-end accommodation and is the best for beginners. As well as our billet at Hotel La Cachette, Arc 1600 has the best low-cost accommodation for teenagers and twentysomethings at UCPA, plus a new Club Med which is like a resort on its own. Peisey-Vallandry is good for intermediates and near to La Plagne.
Eating, drinking and making merry
The speciality of Les Arcs is traditional Savoyard food, and at Plumes et Cassolets right next to our ski room in Arc 1600 we encountered exactly the sort of home-cooked excellence we were looking for and which was the highlight of our trip. Our hotel, La Cachette, contained a buffet-style family restaurant which did good breakfasts for residents and decent evening meals, but the highlight was a trip to one of the range of really good local restaurants and cafes on the ground floor.
We didn’t manage to eat really widely across the various villages, but local recommendations suggested that if at Arc 1950 try Bellious La Fumee or Chalet de Luigi, while La Brasserie de 1950 in the Radisson Blu Resort works if you’re en famille, and Vache Rouge is a top option for seafood and meat specialities. Chalet de L’Arcelle, above Arc 1600, gets mentions in dispatches, while Les Chalets de L’Arc, Le Savoy and Le Cairn at or near Arc 2000 all get rave reviews, as does Chez Clarisse at Arc 1800.
In terms of going out, we especially loved the cheap and cheerful L’Aubeuvoir at Arc 1600, a big sprawling bar with live music and bar games.
How to get there
Les Arcs is one of those rare resorts in that it’s possible – indeed preferable – to reach it by train, with Bourg St Maurice station sitting at the bottom of the mountain and a seven-minute funicular taking you (for free if you have a ski pass) to Arc 1600. A quarter of Les Arcs’ skiers arrive by train, more than double the average for Alpine ski resorts. Geneva, with just one change, can be as little as 3hr 20min away and a direct train from Chambery takes from just 1hr 40min, with Lyon (3hr 30mins) as a final option. It’s much cheaper and easier than a transfer, with the train from Chambery costing from £20, Geneva from £34, and Lyon from £34. Indeed, if you’re really dedicated, you can travel all the way by train, leaving Edinburgh Waverley at 07.30 and changing at Kings Cross/St Pancras and Paris before arriving in Bourg St Maurice at 23.12.
We travelled with Erna Low, who have for many decades been the leading company to bring Brits out to Les Arcs. A week in Les Arcs with Erna Low to the Hotel La Cachette on a B& B basis costs from £732 per person for the week beginning 6th April 2024. A self-catering apartment in Arc 1950 is £223 per person based on 4 people sharing a 1 bedroom apartment for 4 for the week beginning 13th April 2024.
Don’t miss the January issue of Scottish Field magazine.