Discover the great outdoors in the Rhône and, within it, the food and culture of regional capital Lyon with its UNESCO-listed medieval alleys and monuments.
Ski in one of 200 resorts in three départements: Savoie, Haute Savoie and Isère. Some resorts are linked by ski area: Trois Vallées (now actually four valleys), linking Meribel, Courchevel, Val Thorens and Les Menuires; Portes du Soleil featuring Les Gets, Morzine and Avoriaz; Espace Killy, uniting Val d’Isère and Tignes; and Paradiski, linking Les Arcs, La Plagne and Peisey-Vallandry. Others are more than they might seem – Alpe d’Huez’s area, for instance, also takes in four other quieter villages, while Les Sybelles is lesser known but links six authentic resorts, including Saint-Sorlin-d'Arves.
A ‘family ski area’ might not be an exact fit for your family – if your kids have skied regularly, they’ll get bored with small, easy resorts. Among the following, however, you’ll find something to fit the bill whatever your level:
Alpe d’Huez (Isère): A huge, underrated area offering a massive easy-skiing area at the base.
Avoriaz (Haute Savoie/Portes du Soleil): A quirky traffic-free village with taxi-sleighs amidst a 650km intermediates’ paradise.
Chamonix (Haute Savoie): A large town with slopes on several bus-served mountains for serious skiers but also reasonable beginner areas.
Châtel (Haute Savoie/Portes du Soleil): A pretty, rustic village with good, quiet nursery areas.
Courchevel (Savoie/Trois Vallées): An upmarket resort in one of the world’s biggest ski areas, traffic-free and great for improvers.
Flaine (Haute Savoie): A purpose-built Grand Massif resort great for children but also with a stylishness that makes it attractive to adults.
La Clusaz (Haute Savoie): A traditional village a short transfer from Geneva, with pleasing all-round skiing.
La Plagne (Savoie/Paradiski): A fantastic ski area of many ‘villages’, including Belle Plagne, good easy slopes and connection to Les Arcs (see below).
La Tania (Savoie/Trois Vallées): A quiet, family-friendly base near Courchevel.
Les Arcs (Savoie/Paradiski): An excellent resort taking in several on-mountain centres, with wide-open slopes and connection to La Plagne (see above).
Les Deux Alpes (Isère): A lively ski resort but one with a mid-station ski-school area that can suffer morning queues.
Les Gets (Haute Savoie/Portes du Soleil): An unspoilt town with good beginner slopes and plenty of uncrowded intermediate pistes.
Les Menuires (Savoie/Trois Vallées): The least attractive resort in an enormous ski area, but one that’s central and safe with wide, easy slopes. It’s also relatively cheap.
Megève (Haute Savoie): Old-school ski chic: a town with a medieval heart but also great slopes for all the family.
Meribel (Savoie/Trois Vallées): A big, busy, spread-out chalet resort at the very heart of the gigantic ski area.
Morzine (Haute Savoie/Portes du Soleil): A colourful town at the ski region’s heart, with excellent slopes to progress on towards Les Gets (see above).
Sainte-Foy-Tarentaise (Savoie): A small but pretty resort near Val d’Isère.
Samoëns (Haute Savoie): A historic Grand Massif village connected to Flaine’s slopes (see above), with the disadvantage that the lifts are a bus ride out of the centre.
Tignes (Savoie/Espace Killy): The less fashionable (and cheaper) sister resort of Val d’Isère, with better children’s slopes.
Val d’Isère (Savoie/Espace Killy): A glamorous town with central nursery slopes, although finding slopes to progress on to can be tricky.
Valmorel (Savoie): A modern, car-free village in a charming historic style, with plenty of easy slopes.
Val Thorens (Savoie/Trois Vallées): The highest resort in the Alps (so it can be chilly), with good cruising links to other resorts.
Skiing aside, go rural in the Ain – easily accessible from both Lyon and Geneva airports and TGV terminals, it's great for summer hiking, paragliding, bird-watching, cycling, horse-riding, fishing, canoeing and so on. Swim on Lake Genin (or ice-skate in winter) and explore the Grottes du Cerdon caves with their weird formations where an underground river ran, waterfall, little train, play area and picnic spots, and the Dunes de Sermoyer, with sand blown here from Lake Bressan in prehistoric times.
Venture to the Loire (not to be confused with the world-famous valley), for more walking, cycling and horse-riding. At Marcilly-le-Châtel, the Volerie du Forez has free-flying birds of prey and dwarf farm animals, while close to the city of St-Etienne, the Espace Zoologique de Saint-Martin-la-Plaine has 100 species from Siberian tigers to wolves. On a cultural note, St-Etienne’s Musée d'Art Moderne is one of the world’s best modern art collections. South of here, the Parc du Pilat is a protected nature park wiht wonderful mountain scenery. At Saint-Julien-Molin-Molette arts and crafts village, there are tours and tastings at the Bonbons de Julien sweet factory.
Head south of the Loire, to the Ardèche with its family activity holidays.
Discover the Drôme, also strong on ‘green tourism’ – walking and mountain-biking in summer, and skiing (including cross-country) and snow-shoeing in winter. Good places to take kids are the Ferme aux Crocodiles, with crocodiles, giant tortoises and tropical plants; the Zoo d’Upie; the extraordinary Palais Idéal du Facteur Cheval, a childhood fantasy castle built by a postman from stones; and the quirky Musée International de la Chaussure at Romans, with everything from mummified Egyptian feet and tiny boots worn by Chinese women with bound feet to musketeers’ boots. Weirder still is the Monde Merveilleux des Lutins, a forest theme-park full of imps, gnomes and other sprites. Don’t leave without sampling some traditional nougat in Montélimar.