When looking for the archetypal modernist-style of purpose-built French ski resort, Eco friendly Flaine often springs to mind. Inaugurated in the 1960s, the original development was approached as a project to blend architecture, art and nature in a snow-sure setting that offered convenient access to/from the slopes, creating possibly the world’s first ‘designer’ ski resort.
The resort is still focused around this original, urbanised, split-level core, the two levels of which are linked by rail-mounted elevators: the upper Flaine Foret zone houses most of the self-catering apartments for which the resort is particularly noted, perched above the lower Flaine Forum zone which features a spacious snow-covered plaza area bounded on three sides by hotels, apartments, shops, cafes and bars, opening out on to the wide gentle pistes which flow through this wooded plateau.
Opinion is sharply divided on the hard-edged architectural style of Flaine Forum, but since some of the original apartment blocks are now registered as Historical Buildings, they obviously have their own fans. Most subsequent developments have sustained the general aura, preserving much of the original unity of the site. All of which makes it less ostentatious than many of its competitors and quite a fun experience. It’s practical, too, with everything almost close to hand. Slightly less so but offering sweeping views over the village is the Hameau de Flaine – around seventy Scandinavian-style chalets added on an elevated site 2km away by a Norwegian developer during the 1980s. Set between the two is the pedestrianised Flaine Montsoleil resort, originally developed by the Canadian Intrawest Corporation, who built Whistler and now owned by French leisure giant Pierre et Vacances. Aesthetically Flaine is not really a resort you would call attractive, though Intrawest, have spent a lot of money trying reverse that trend.
Renowned for being especially well-suited to families (hence the prevalence of self-catering accommodation), Flaine has plenty of car-free open spaces and safe play areas for children; the childcare services and family-friendly facilities are also generally well regarded by this principal target market of family groups. Many arrive by car being one of the closest resorts to Geneva, which also means short transfers from the airport too, allowing for potential short break holidays. As well as being a very good destination for families, Flaine is also a good choice for mixed-ability groups and for those who prefer relatively inexpensive, self-catering apartment-based holidays and convenient access to a big ski area. Anyone seeking a more traditional Alpine village ambiance, or a wider range of catered accommodation may find the surrounding linked villages of the Grand Massif more to their liking.
With 120km of pistes on its own, this is enhanced by its links to Samoens, Les Carroz and Morillon adding a further 145km of interconnected pistes which is names “Le Grand Massif” ski area. The Grand Massif is deservedly popular with British skiers, who value its wealth of varied terrain and good snow record and the fact that it offers something for just about everyone, including those in search of mileage. The Grand Massif pretty well suits all levels of skiing ability, with both the lift system and piste layout are constantly being improved. The Grand Massif’s vast ski area presents an impressive variety of terrain: the main Flaine/Aujon bowl contains plenty of wide open pistes for beginners and novices, plus there’s a great choice of long red runs and challenging expert-level descents off the dome and crags of the surrounding Grandes Platieres, which top out at 2,480m.
The upper reaches of this huge bowl are well above the tree line and so can be quite exposed when the weather closes in; the linked sectors of the lower-altitude satellite resort villages of Les Carroz, Morillon, Samoens and Sixt have a great selection of good cruising pistes, plenty of which run through forested slopes and, therefore, provide more sheltered surroundings with less poor visibility on days when low cloud and/or rough weather are an issue in the upper sectors. The big plus though with staying in Flaine is that it has it has its own microclimate which together with its unique elevation makes this one of the most snow sure regions in France.
Off-slope activities and facilities include an ice rink, ice driving circuit, climbing wall, gymnasium, a cinema, plus a cultural centre housing an art gallery and library. Those who like to dine out in the evening may be disappointed to find only a few decent restaurant choices to choose from, sparsely dotted around Flaine’s two principal residential areas. Likewise, only a limited selection of otherwise fairly lively bars are scattered around the various quarters of the resort; Le White Pub and the Flying Dutchman are the key central apres-ski venues. There is a token nightclub in the Galerie (commercial centre) in Flaine Forum, but nightlife in Flaine is generally low key enhancing more its family friendly atmosphere. For those unsure about whether to try Flaine or not, here are the main reasons for staying and skiing in Flaine and the Grand Massif ski area:
- Excellent snow record.
- Lots of great value self-catered apartments and larger chalets
- Eco-friendly, excellent green credentials.
- Big-mountain skiing, combined with a relatively lively feel.
- Capable, modern lift system with convenient hands-free lift passes.
- Short transfers from Geneva.
- Secure learning areas with free lifts for beginners – whatever their age!
- Areas dedicated to off-piste skiing where free riders can make the most of Flaine’s famed powder snow.
- The 14km long piste Cascades – a blue graded adventure suitable for families