© Rhonda Carrier

The French Alps Family Holidays & Breaks

Overview

By Nick Dalton

Many resorts in the French Alps (Rhône-Alpes) are purpose-built high on the mountains, so you can ski almost from your door and the kids can safely wander traffic-free streets. This is arguably the world’s greatest ski region, and the place with the biggest connected ski areas on the planet, so you can ski from one valley to the next, and often to the next, visiting a string of top resorts on a single day out. But while they might be big, they’re not daunting: huge areas at the base of the lifts fan out full of easy slopes to learn on, fun parks where very young skiers take their first ski steps, and perfect pistes taking improving youngsters much further afield. 

Most major French ski resorts are in the Rhône-Alpes, mainly in the Savoie, Haute Savoie and Isère (the southern Alpes Maritimes are in the Provence–Alpes–Côte d'Azur [South of France] region). The other départements of the Rhône-Alpes are the Ain, Rhône (home to regional capital Lyon), Loire (not to be confused with the Loire Valley), Ardèche and Drôme. None are on the tourist trail, but fans of hiking, mountain-biking, horse-riding and canoeing are in their element here. For culture, the Rhône-Alpes has some big cities including Lyon, Grenoble (Isère) and St-Etienne (Loire).

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Explore the World with Take the Family

Things to do with kids in The French Alps (Rhône-Alpes)

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 départementsSavoieHaute 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.

Local produce in the French Alps© Rhonda Carrier

Local produce in the French Alps

Eat

One of the highlights of the French Alps are the cosy, moderately priced traditional restaurants serving French mountain food including fondue, raclettetartiflette and and cheesy potato gratins (dauphinois and Savoyard). But there are lots of places serving global favourites too. Don't miss a trip to Lyon – it’s France’s gastronomic capital.

Summer karting competition in Avoriaz© Rhonda Carrier

Summer karting competition in Avoriaz

When to go to The French Alps (Rhône-Alpes)

The French Alps is generally a snowy paradise from late November to late April, but some resorts open even earlier – the Grand Motte glacier in Tignes generally opens at the end of September and has skiing into May.

In high summer there are lots of outdoor pursuits but fewer people; the school holidays are best because there are lots of organised activities for kids.

Promise of sweet treats in Avoriaz© Rhonda Carrier

Promise of sweet treats in Avoriaz

Cost

The French Alps can be fiendishly expensive, but choosing a low-key resort and self-catering accommodation will save you a lot of money, as will travelling outside peak periods.

Destination stats

Capital city

Flying time1.75hrs All flight times are based on flights from UK London airports, to the capital or nearest destination airport.

Carbon footprint0.76 CO2 Estimated tonnes of CO2 produced for return flights for a family of four.

TimezoneGMT +1

CurrencyEuro

Weather Today

2°C

35.6°F

Following fox tracks on a snowshoe hike in Les Sybelles© Rhonda Carrier

Following fox tracks on a snowshoe hike in Les Sybelles

Our partners

Crystal Ski has its own childcare and kids' clubs in select resorts and a huge range of other resorts across the French Alps.
Offering family ski holidays across the French Alps, Inghams is one of our most popular ski partners.
With their own children's ski classes, kids' clubs and childcare for babies from 17 weeks, Esprit is a popular choice for families with young children.

Offer of the week

Up to 30% off May half-term family holidays with Eurocamp - 7 nights from just £160 per family!

Find out more

Goat in Les Lindarets© Rhonda Carrier

Goat in Les Lindarets