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23 January 2013

Spotlight on: Les Contamines

Rob Crabtree discovers Mont Blanc's pretty little secret.

Geneva airport, the gateway to the Alps, is just a few hours from some of the most famous ski resorts on the planet. Each year, millions of people pass through its doors  en route to their winter holiday. For many, this means a tour operator transfer to one of the big ski areas, such as The 3 Valleys or Portes du Soleil, but what if you’re looking for something a little different? Something a little quieter and…a little closer to home? It’s time to let you into a little secret.

Les Contamines, France
Traditional chalets in Les Contamines

Les Contamines, France
Family skiing

Only an hour south of Geneva, the signs start to look familiar. Chamonix, Flaine, Megève. This resort however is so secret, it isn’t even signposted from the motorway. Sitting at the top of the valley above the neighbouring resort of St Gervais, under the watchful eye of ‘The white lady’, Les Contamines is a beautiful and unspoilt alpine ski resort. The traditional Haute-Savoie village stretches along the river ‘Bon Nant’, flanked on both sides by steep fur-lined slopes.

Unlike many of its larger compatriots, there is a year-round community here. Traditionally a farming area (Contamines means ‘ploughable land on the squires estate’), the green slopes of summer offer plenty of activities, from hiking to mountain biking, swimming and archery. In winter the resort welcomes Nordic, as well as Alpine, skiers to extensive cross-country piste. If sliding downhill isn’t for you, there’s also walking, snow shoeing, ice climbing and even a biathlon stadium.

Part of the ‘Evasion Mont-Blanc’ ski area, Les Contamine Hauteluce boasts over 120km of piste for all abilities. Rising from the resort at 1164m, the ‘Montjoie’ gondola whisks you up through the trees to the base of the area. Although you can ski back to resort level, ‘Etape’ at 1470m is the best place to begin and end your day on the mountain, with ski lockers conveniently placed within the lift station. For such a small resort, the lift system is very efficient, with a mixture of new high-speed detachable and fixed chairlifts making it ideal for beginners.

Despite favouring the intermediate skier, the resort caters well for beginners. With the majority of runs north and east facing, the mountain avoids much of the day’s sun and boasts a good snow record. Due to its close proximity to the Mont Blanc, the weather system also works in its favour, with temperatures regularly 2 or 3 degrees cooler than neighboring resorts. This also makes it a perfect location to host an FIS world cup ski cross event, as it has done every year for the last 10 seasons.

Les Contamines, France
North facing slopes

Chalez Chovettaz

Accommodation in the village is predominantly privately owned chalets and apartments. There are a handful of small hotels and B&Bs, including the beautiful ‘Chalet Chovettaz’ where we were staying, but the majority of visitors choose to stay either in their own chalet, or one booked through the tourist office. With no tour operators serving the resort, the village has remained very much unspoilt, with a noticeable absence of the high-rise apartments you see in many French resorts. The buildings are quite spread out which, although adding to the village feel, can make travelling around a little tricky. There is a free shuttle bus which runs to and from the main areas, but having a car would make it much easier. What you lack in convenient transport however you gain in peace and quiet. There is no through traffic and once the lifts have closed, you will struggle to see or indeed hear any traffic at all.

If it’s lively après ski you’re after, Les Contamines really isn’t the place for you. Although there are a handful of bars, split between the main street and the newer area by the lift station, you won't find many clubs or a discotheque to dance the night away. This is not to say however that you'll struggle for entertainment after dark. You’d certainly never be stuck for a good place to eat, with some excellent restaurants serving anything from Crepe and Gallette to Michelin-starred dining. If you fancy combining this with a little exercise however, snowshoeing up to Chalet Columbaz is a real treat.

Sitting about 300m above the village, this traditional mountain lodge serves wonderful home-cooked Savoyard specialities, including Tartiflette and Farcement. After a couple of vin chaud and a nip of Genepy (the local aperitif), the return journey by toboggan also makes it highly worthwhile! Similarly, if you still have energy to spare after a hard day's ski, ice climbing by night is quite spectacular. Situated in the stunning area of Notre dame de la gorge, the floodlit wall is a great challenge and ideal for groups. After which, you'll certainly be ready for a large helping of local cheese and a generous glass of savoyarde wine.

Les Contamines, France
Ice climbing by night. Photo: lescontamines.com

Les Contamines, France
Mountain restaurant & chalet refuge: La Roselette

The excellent cuisine however isn't reserved to the village. The resort has a number of wonderful mountain restaurants, built and run in the traditional style, serving hearty local food to weary skiers. If you're familiar with the canteen style restaurants of some of the larger resorts, this couldn't be further away. These tiny buildings host diners on multiple floors, climbing steep steps and sitting under the eaves, the atmosphere and food is fantastic and really adds to the authentic alpine experience this resort has in spades.

Les Contamines really is a great all round resort. Families will enjoy the friendly local ski instructors and affordable accommodation and weekenders can make the most of their time on the snow due to a short transfer time and limited lift queues.

It might be relatively unknown at the moment, but the secret can't be kept forever!

For more information:

www.lescontamines.com
www.skicontamines.com
www.guides-contamines.com

You can read what others have to say about Les Contamines on our resort review pages, or you can write your own review.

More about Les Contamines on skiclub.co.uk

Comments

  • Date: 30 January 2013
  • My goodness finally some one has heard about this wonderful Place! Happy happy memories of skiing with the family on empty slopes, unrushed life style and no lift lines.. just perfect

Mike Mattinson
Mike Mattinson

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