A family and beginner friendly option in the Savoie region of the French Alps yet one also offering spectacular off-piste. La Plagne is linked by the world’s biggest cable-car (the double-decker Vanoise Express) to Les Arcs and Peisey-Vallandry to create the 425km, environmentally friendly Paradiski ski area with its 152 green/blue, 79 red and 22 black runs, serviced by 160 lifts.
Yet La Plagne is a self-contained and lively collection of resorts in its own right, great for family ski holidays, with a vast amount of activities and facilities for all abilities and ages within its several villages, which range from the purpose-built (including Plagne Centre, Belle Plagne, Plagne Soleil and Plagne Bellecôte) to the traditional (Plagne 1800) and also embraces some charming original villages (most notably Montchavin and Montalbert).
With excellent nursery slopes, one of the top independent English-speaking ski schools (Oxygène) and vast amounts of interesting terrain to progress onto, La Plagne has special appeal for families but is enjoyable for all levels. The descent from the Bellecôte glacier at 3,250m to villages at 1,350m is accessible even to moderate skiers, while highly experienced skiers and boarders can take the top chairlift up from the glacier to discover fantastic black runs and awe-inspiring views. And there are lovely wooded runs and cross-country trails too, especially those taking you down through the forest to Montchavin, Champagny and Montalbert, plus the 1km-long 7 Cube snowpark, for all abilities of skier and boarder, and a half-pipe open to all in Plagne Bellecôte.
Take advantage of the day's skiing in Val d’Isère, Tignes, Les Trois Vallées or Les Arcs included in lift tickets of six days or more.On a Friday afternoon, head to 7 Cube to watch (or take part in) ad hoc competitions, or to watch others throwing themselves off jumps while you enjoy a picnic lunch. Pick up a copy of the Guide Hiver at the tourist office to keep up to speed on seasonal events, which include La Gorzderette, a wacky sporting challenge.
La Plagne’s big sell off the slopes is its floodlit, 19-bend bob-sleigh run, constructed for the 1992 Winter Olympics. The self-piloted Bob Raft, which travels at up to 80km/h, takes children 1.3m or taller. Also self-steered, the 90km/h Speed Luge is for ages 16+, while the Bob Racer is strictly for thrill-seekers 18+, with a professional driver at the helm hitting speeds of up to 120km/h.
Hop on the cable-car up to the Bellecôte glacier to explore the ice grotto with its glacial sculptures, and then warm up with a hot chocolate in the café. Or take kids to one of several espaces luges for snowy freeplay, including one right in heart of the resort of Plagne-Centre.
You can also go dog-sledding through the forest, with adults given the chance to take the reins themselves or enjoy ice-skating and swimming in a heated outdoor pool.
The madcap après-ski Superluge Derbys, run most evenings in season by the ski school Oxygène, involve 450m of vertical descent from Aime-la-Plagne to La Roche, on sturdy, state-of-the-art sledges in the dark (helmets and headtorches are provided). Participants (who must be 14+) can warm up afterwards over a vin chaud or hot chocolate. Alternatively, Oxygène’s Moonlight Skis are open to any skiers or boarders comfortable on blue runs and include a Savoyarde meal.
Champagny’s artificial ice tower is suitable for everyone from beginners to experienced climbers, with tuition available for kids and adults. Alternatively, a jaunt on an Airboard snow-bodyboard can be sampled with the ESF ski school, by ages 16+/, or they also run rides on a Snakegliss (minimum height 1.2m).
For ages 16+, there’s snow quad-biking and snowmobiling (ages 12+ can ride snowmobiles as a passenger), while all the family can go toboganning at the dedicated 1.5km piste, Colorado Park. Paragliding with an instructor is popular in La Plagne, or take a helicopter flight over the area or around Mont Blanc. Those 1.35m and up can tackle the treetop adventure course.
One of the great pleasures of visiting La Plagne is taking peaceful winter walks along the marked trails through the glorious unspoilt countryside, spotting wildlife including ibex, chamois, golden eagles and bearded vultures and perhaps stopping for lunch at a mountain restaurant en route. Some walks are circular, others require you to take a bus or ski-lift home; free maps are available from the tourist office. Customers Services at the front desk of the hotel will point you in the right direction and also call up the tourist office.
Snow-shoe excursions and Nordic skiing are other ways of exploring the surrounds. The Nordic Centre in Peisey-Nancroix, at the entrance to the Vanoise National Park, has cross-country skiing and snowshoe trails plus more walking paths and toboggan routes. You can hire snowshoes from local sports shops, or if you take a guided tour including commentary on local plants and animals and history of the valley, snowshoes and ski poles will be provided. Customer Services at the hotel can advise you on the best course of action.
While not known for its wild party scene, La Plagne does have a wide choice of bars across its 10 resorts/villages, with Plagne-Centre and Belle-Plagne being the liveliest and Aime-la-Plagne a more peaceful hang-out. Among quirky spots to seek out are Plagne-Centre’s wintry-themed igloo with its animated polar bear and Plagne 1800s La Mine with its old train and mining paraphernalia. There is also bowling and a cinema.
Or taking ‘nightlife’ into a whole new dimension, head for the Blacksheep Igloo Village at Dou du Praz (above the resorts) to spend the night on an ice bed in a 2- or 5-person igloo, after a warming Savoyard meal around an open fire.
Traditional rich Savoie fare featuring local cheeses – fondue, raclette and tartiflette – plus other rich, calorific produce including hearty sausage and dumplings, is widely available both in mountain restaurants and in the villages themselves. But there are also lots of places to get good pizza, steak and the like.
The best of the mountain restaurants are above the satellite villages, outside the main bowl – Le Forporet above Montalbert stands out for cosiness, wonderful views, a mini-farm and all-day menu of crêpes and other snacks as well as its home-made local lunch and dinner specialities including meats cooked on hot stones.