Top tips

  • Take cash. Credit card machines and ATMs exist in most villages and resorts but they do tend to run out of money.
  • Eat lunch early and enjoy empty slopes for two hours – French skiers still like to take long lunches.
  • Avoid the bigger resorts during the French school holidays (early February to mid-March).
  • Only go off-piste if you have the correct equipment (transceiver, shovel, probe) and you know how to use it. The laissez-faire attitude to backcountry skiing is liberating but potentially life-threatening.
  • If you go early season book a higher resort like Val Thorens – otherwise you could be skiing on grass.

getting there

Most skiers enter France through Switzerland's Geneva International Airport (gva.ch) or Lyon Saint Exupéry (lyonairport.com), both of which require a two- to three-hour transfer to the Alpine resorts. Skiers visiting the Pyrenees enter via Toulouse (toulouse.aeroport.fr) or Spain's Barcelona (barcelona-airport.com). Carriers to Geneva include Aer Lingus (aerlingus.com), BMI Baby (bmibaby.com), British Airways (ba.com), easyJet (easyjet.com), Fly Be (Flybe.com), KLM (klm.com), Jet 2 (jet2.com), Lufthansa (lufthansa.com) and Thomson (thomsonfly.com); while Lyon has Aer Lingus, BMI Baby, British Airways, Easyjet and KLM. If you are traveling independently, coach transfers from Geneva and Lyon can be arranged through Altibus (altibus.com).Driving to the Alps is a rite of passage for many skiers and the motorway network is excellent. Make sure you have cash or cards at the ready to pay tolls and get in the correct land when approaching the payage.

red tape

France was a founder member of the EU. Member states require no visas but foreign nationals from the rest of the world need to apply for permission to enter.

health

As part of the EU, France is governed by European health standards. Medical insurance is recommended and EU citizens should carry a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC). The EHIC is not a substitute for medical and travel insurance but entitles you to emergency medical treatment on the same terms as French nationals. Note that in the case of accident in a ski resort visitors to the départements of Savoie and Haute-Savoie may be transferred to Switzerland for hospital treatment.

eating

Say France, think bread, cheese and wine in any order, at any time of the day. Part of France's great appeal is its superior culinary tradition. Start the day with a buttery, just-baked, pain au chocolat or croissant, wash it down with un grande café and you are set up for a day on the slopes. Michelin-starred restaurants can be found in Chamonix, Megève, and Saint Martin de Belleville and many make visiting these establishments a feature of their ski holiday. If your budget doesn't stretch to this, there are plenty of pizza/steak/fondue-style gaffs in most resorts. However, these can be pricey and don't always offer the best grub. Do as the locals do and you are more likely to get authentic rustic alpine food. Lunch on the mountain can be a disappointing affair with the many self-service (referred to as 'self') restaurants serving expensive, bland, greasy food (€13 for a plate of chips anyone?). The French make their own, and come midday baguette and fromage picnics are enjoyed all over the slopes. If you are on a budget there are usually panini-serving snack bars to be found at the base of the lifts.

crime & safety

The crime level is generally low but it is not advisable to leave skis unlocked on balconies and outside restaurants – new season, sought-after skis are at most risk of walking. The biggest threat is car crime and there have been cases of tourist cars being targeted for valuables. Report any incidences of theft to the local police (Police Nationale).

language

The official language is French. Although the accent varies hugely across the country English is widely spoken, especially in the resorts.

getting around

You should take particular care when driving in France as driving regulations and customs are different from those in the UK. Roads in France, particularly motorways, are of an excellent standard but speed limits are higher than in the UK and the accident rate is higher. Driving is standard European (right-hand side). A valid driving licence from your home country is fine.

car hire

Most major hire car companies (easycar.com, hertz.com, avis.com etc.) have offices in airports and cities. Usual age restrictions apply. Note that if you fly in to Geneva and hire a car, you may need some Swiss Francs for parking.

mountain passes

Check the route before you travel, especially if you're planning on taking a mountain pass between resorts. Many are closed over the winter.

public transport

SNCF is the national railway of France. UK residents can make online bookings for train tickets to and within France. This includes travel on Eurostar, TGV high-speed trains and other local train services (autotrains).

opening hours

Shops are generally open 0800-1200, before reopening again from 1400 until 1700 although most shops in the Alps stay open until 1900. Stock up in big towns at the larger supermarkets (Super U/ Carrefour); Alpine supermarkets, such as Sherpa, are expensive but stock all the essentials.

green travel tip

Overland travel to the Alps is easy. From December to April Eurostar offers the brilliant (if pricey) train service from London St Pancras to the Alps calling at Moutiers, Aime La Plagne and Bourg St Maurice. Prices start from £99.00. The legendary Snow Train (raileurope.co.uk), complete with disco carriage, leaves St Pancras and calls at Ebbsfleet (Kent), Chambéry, Albertville, Moûtiers, Aime la Plagne, Landry and Bourg St Maurice.

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