This département in the French Alps (Rhône-Alpes) boasts Europe’s highest mountain (Mont Blanc, at 4808m) and some of the world’s toughest ski slopes yet also some of the biggest areas for learning and progressing. Most of its resorts have kindergartens and nurseries, and ski schools have expanded from the once all-powerful ESF to embrace independent operators who pride themselves on English-speaking instructors, some from Britain, others from the southern hemisphere. And like almost any other area in France, the resorts are geared up for snowboarders, with terrain parks where youngsters can slide and jump on rails and terrify parents in halfpipes.
But this is not just a destination for winter family holidays: summer in the Haute Savoie means hiking in the mountains, swimming, sailing, windsurfing or waterskiing in the many lakes, including Lake Annecy, cycling and mountain-biking, horse-riding and much more besides.
|Flying Time||1.75 hours|
|Carbon Footprint||0.72 tonnes CO2|
Head for the family ski playground of the Portes du Soleil. At one end of the circuit sits Les Gets, a friendly village with excellent easy slopes above the centre, and others that are quieter in the Chavannes area (where British family operator Ski Famille has two of its numerous Les Gets chalets). Chavannes also has a beginners’ boarder-cross course (bumps and banked corners) with its own lift. The resort (which also has an ice-skating rink) offers charming skiing over to the jolly town of Morzine, with its own good beginner area. The pair combined offer enough skiing for most families.
However, it’s worth taking the little road-train (kids love it) across the centre for the second sector, where, after some rather flat skiing, you’ll find Avoriaz (family-friendly and traffic-free) and Châtel (with family skiing either a bus or gondola ride away), and cruising runs into Switzerland and resorts such as Champoussin and Morgins. Avoriaz is high altitude (1800m) so very snowsure, with curiously appealing modern architecture.
Flaine is another family favourite, safe and car-free. Chamonix is one of the world’s best-known resorts, but it’s best to steer clear of it unless you’ve got children willing to walk and able to carry their own skis. A decent alternative for families determined to get a Chamonix fix is Les Houches, a sprawling but pleasant village 7km down the valley. Its large area of easy, tree-lined runs is a great place to improve. Determined adults can get the Mont-Blanc Unlimited lift-pass, which allows exploration of the Chamonix slopes (as easy to get to from here as from Chamonix itself).
If you like traditional French style, delightful La Clusaz has wonderful skiing in the most scenic of surroundings. Nursery slopes in the village and up above give way to easy runs, plenty of cruising and even expert terrain, both here and at nearby Le Grand Bornand (a bus-hop away), bringing the total skiing to 200km. They are also very close to Geneva.
Megève is another classic French spot – a medieval village transformed into a posh resort town in the 1920s. Although it has lost its title as France’s glitziest ski resort (Courchevel now has that pleasure), this is a lovely place for a fairytale French holiday, where skiers seem more concerned about the overall ambiance than rushing around. Skiing is on several peaks around the town, with beginner areas on each, as well as at the base. It’s a place high on stylish hotels but low on apartments. There’s lots for intermediates, plus family attractions such as an open-air ice skating rink, sleigh rides, a market and an indoor pool.
Check out lovely, medieval Talloires on Lake Annecy – a great base for both winter and summer activities in the area.
For tips on eating out on family holidays in the Haute Savoie and the region as a whole, see our French Alps destination guide.By Nick Dalton
The official ski season in the Haute Savoie kicks off in mid-December and ends in early May, although the ski lifts may open earlier if there’s enough snow.
If you come for non-snow-based family holidays, summer is the best time – you can take advantage of the wonderful views without the crowds.
The Haute Savoie has a bonus for skiers over other French départements in that it’s close to the Swiss border and has short and easy transfers from Geneva International Airport (around an hour) – great when you have youngsters who just want to be there and who, once they’ve seen a mountain and a touch of snow, have had enough of the beautiful scenery passing by.
The area is also within reasonable distance of Lyon and its international airport, Chambéry airport in Savoie and Grenoble airport in Isère. Within the département itself, Annecy airport has connections to Paris with Air France. There are shuttles to the resorts from the major airports.
For getting to the French Alps by train, see the excellent Man in Seat 61 (seat61.com/France.htm).
The presence of some of the world's most famous ski resorts means the Haute Savoie is not the place for the cheapest family skiing holidays, although costs can be kept down by choosing some of the less glitzy resorts and by sticking to self-catering accommodation.
Self-catering apartments and chalets can offer the best value and most flexibility and space on family holidays. Chalets with a catered option can be a terrific option for groups of friends or extended family although usually cost a little or a lot more. There are also masses of tempting hotels, from secluded luxury hotels above the slopes, with spectacular views, to properties in the centre of villages but still just minutes' walk from the slopes or shuttlebus.
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