In Review

Breathtaking La Plagne: why the French Alps are not just for Christmas

The beautiful La Plagne resort offers more than simply winter skiing, with year-round pleasures including hiking, rafting and e-biking

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For someone more accustomed to lazing beside a pool in August and September, the prospect of spending late summer days last year adventuring in the French Alps was as foreign as it was intriguing.   

La Plagne - a resort in the French Alps with an endearing logo of a red pom-pom hat atop a smiley face - comprises a web of villages lying from 1,250 metres up to 3,250 metres above sea level, on the Bellecote Glacier. In winter, the “altitude sites” are ski-in, ski-out villages made up of clusters of charming wooden Alpine structures designed by architect Michel Bezancon in the 1970s, plus the three older, family-focused villages of Plagne-Montalbert, Montchavin-La Plagne and Champagny-en-Vanoise. They are all part of Paradiski, the world’s second largest ski region. 

As expected, the scenic drive from Geneva Airport past the majestic Mont Blanc is mesmerising. The sight of France’s one and only Olympic bobsleigh track, open to daring visitors, and the village of Aime la Plagne, signals our arrival at the resort. 

It’s a mild late-summer afternoon, and the area, which heaves with revellers come winter, feels serene. As it says in the La Plagne brochures, "the mountain is yours”. 

We fortify ourselves with a delicious pasta dish at Le Monde de Sophie, a charming little place where the restaurant's namesake offers just two dishes daily, made with vegetables from her own garden. Then without further ado, I’m covering my bikini with a wetsuit and helping to carry a raft to the Isere River, while listening to instructions from our good-humoured guide from AN Rafting. What follows is an hour-and-a-half adventure down Aime’s rapids and gorges, complete with just enough dips, splashes and cliff jumps to get the heart racing. And the vast outdoor playground of La Plagne has plenty more adrenaline-boosting fun, plus more serene activities, on offer.

Bionic cycling

Having been cynical about e-bikes in London, their virtues become cleared when there are snow-capped peaks to explore. It’s a glorious feeling, being propelled with the push of a pedal up a mountain path that you never would have dreamed of attempted otherwise; essentially, bionic biking. 

La Plagne has a generous stock of more than 80 electric bikes, including 24in children’s bikes, and a family bike park for cyclists of all levels to enjoy. There is also an e-biking map for visitors to help you navigate the 93 miles of e-bike trails through forests and pastures where you can hear the distant clanking of cowbells from herds whose milk makes Beaufort cheese.

There are even ski lifts that can heave the bikes up the peaks, as well as battery charging points along the e-bike trails, though our batteries weren’t even half used up after our breezy nine-mile ride.

Apres-bike

Seeking some apres-sport culinary indulgence, we make our way to La Spatule, the region’s most celebrated crepe restaurant, where The Week Portfolio felt compelled to taste as many different savoury and sweet versions of the eaterie’s secret family recipe as possible.

La Plagne has been attracting top culinary talent for some time, including Michelin-starred chef Jean-Michel Bouvier, at the helm of a restaurant called 360, in honour of its panoramic views of the Plateau du Fornelet, in Plagne-Montalbert. This winter will also see the arrival of London’s Phil Howard, who, having earned two Michelin stars at the Square in London, is launching another venture in the centre of Plagne-Montalbert, nearer to his £1m ski chalet.

Yet perhaps the most magical dining experience on offer in La Plagne is cosying up in the fairy-tale Finish kota (wooden hut), complete with its own jacuzzi, at the Cocoon Grill. As we lounge on sheepskin rugs, our chef cooks on an open brasero, or brazier,  producing succulent, locally sourced Perigord duck, Limousin beef cooked in herbs from Provence, and potatoes steeped in duck fat. All this indulgence is capped with berries soaked in Armagnac, before we pad back to our rooms in the Cocoon Hotel for a blissfully deep sleep.

Summer summiting

For those as unfamiliar as I was with the term "via ferrata", it’s a rock-climbing experience created in the Alps. The protected climbing routes don’t require participants to shove their fingers into rock crevices, forge footholds, or do anything else that makes them fear for their safety. Instead, footholds and handles are pre-built into the rock, alongside continuous steel cables that act as an Aeroligne lifeline, allowing climbers to keep moving without having to undo or change their connection.

The brave, including children aged over 12 with relaxed parents, can rent the necessary equipment from any sports shop in La Plagne and make their way to either of the two via ferrata routes at Champagny-en-Vanoise. 

Or, if you fancy even more of an adrenaline rush, you can take the Blanchette chairlift from Belle Plagne to La Plagne's newer intermediate course, opened in 2015. The rocky 600-metre route of cables, ladders, ramps, a monkey bridge and two giant zip wires isn’t for the faint-hearted - but the views from the top are as impressive as they are terrifying while suspended on the side of the steep rock face. 

For those who suffer from vertigo, there are tree-climbing courses in August run by climbing expert Charlie Delhumeau in Champagny-le-Haut, on the edge of the beautiful Vanoise National Park. And every visitor should make an early morning expedition to the summit to watch the sun rise over the Alps.

Trails and tribulations

Competing in the peaks of La Plagne isn't reserved only for the professionals who are part of the Tour de France. In July the resort hosted its 28th annual 6000D trail-running festival, including the Race of Giants, which attracts more than 2,900 competitors from 12 different countries. The runners race from the apple orchards of Aime up to the summit of the Bellecote Glacier along the 18 permanent marked trails and four steep climbs. There is even a children’s version, the 6D Kids.

La Plagne is a great choice for anyone with children too often glued to video games - offering healthy, safe thrills and adventure. For parents, La Plagne is an opportunity to be a part of an authentic, tight-knit community of mountain dwellers in a truly breathtaking setting. It’s a liberating, unforgettable experience that feels a million miles away from the crowded beach resorts of the nearby French Riviera. 

For more information about La Plagne, visit www.la-plagne.com

One night's B&B in a double room (two sharing) at Le Cocoon (www.hotel-lecocoon.fr) is priced from 120€ (£105 approx.)

Daily flights from London to Geneva with easyJet (www.easyjet.com)

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