La Plagne Centre might sound like the, well, centre but La Plagne is a starburst of self-sufficient conurbations.
Centre might be the original, long, low 60s buildings (which, with their indoor shopping mall, have undergone a neat refurb) and Aime 2000 on the hill above it, mountain peak-shaped apartment blocks, is the wildest but they’re not strictly at the centre. For that, and for charm, you can’t beat Belle Plagne.
Pistes snake between the chalet-like apartments and hotels while at its heart is a Disney-like stone and timber traffic-free village with cosy bars and cafes wedged up against a boulangerie and stores stacked with local cheese and sausages.
And easy access to La Plagne’s 225km of runs, the wide open expanses of piste in one direction, the lofty Bellecote glacier, the low, pretty village of Montchavin and Les Arcs in the other.
About La Plagne
Big enough in itself, La Plagne is also part of the world’s second biggest ski area, Paradiski, which takes in Les Arcs, reached via the Vanoise Express, a two-deck cable car that looks like a sci-fi London bus as it swishes across the valley (look through the glass floor panel for a hair-raising perspective).
Together there are 425km of runs plus a wealth of truly good off-piste. La Plagne tops out at 3,250m, Les Arcs not far off, so snow is very reliable. It’s one of those places where lifts form a spider’s web, even criss-crossing, so there’s no shortage of transport – and with most chairlifts carrying six or eight people any queues disappear quickly.
You’ve got easy cruising pistes with spectacular panoramas, you’ve got neat villages deep into the forests and you’ve got glaciers in both resorts. A free bus links a number of the centres well into the evening and the gondola between Belle Plagne and Bellecote runs as public transport until late.
The skiing at La Plagne
Phenomenal. It’s not for nothing that La Plagne rates itself the world’s most popular ski resort, with 2.5 million visitors each winter.
The skiing goes on and on and the signposts are important. From Belle Plagne one can jump on the gondola straight up to 2,739m Roche de Mio with runs amidst the craggiest peaks (and lifts to the glacier) or ski down to Bellecote where in one direction the Arpette chair accesses the long, winding runs down to Montchavin or the Les Arcs link while in the other is either the Blanchette or Colosses chair towards Plagne Centre, Plagne Villages, Plagne Soleil and Plagne 1800.
In this direction as with elsewhere, there’s always a blue run for the least confident skier along with reds, off-piste that won’t scare the pants off you and a black or two.
While the Bellcotte glacier has some decent pistes it’s the gnarly black semi-pisted Rochu and Bellecote blacks that carve their way around the outside that are glorious for experts, steep and full of bumps with a wilderness feel, connecting with the long black Derochoir which funnels you back to civilisation.
If you like runs down amongst the trees, there’s plenty of that, at Montchavin at one end of La Plagne, at Montalbert at the other, and at little Champagny, hidden over the ridge from the Roche de Mio.
Yet for all the places to investigate, for many the big, open pistes that pour down amid the string of ridges that make up the vast area are what makes it special. Freewheeling skiing seemingly without end and in all directions and with wondrous views.
And then you swish down to the Vanoise Express for a second huge, world-famous resort – get there early and you basically have a day’s excursion, a world of cruising, the Aiguille Rouge glacier (with a selection of steep, daunting ‘Natur’ unpisted runs) and purpose-built villages dotted across the mountain.
Why go to La Plagne
The scope: There’s so much skiing and so much of it is good. Whether you’re looking for tree-lined runs down to villages or panoramic above-treeline pistes, wide-open glaciers or demanding blacks, it’s here. And then you can head across to Les Arcs and double your money (it’s all on the Paradiski lift pass).
The choice: While Belle Plagne is one of the prettiest, handiest spots (in a great position for quick access to Les Arcs), you can holiday here half a dozen times and always see things from a different perspective.
The activities: Lots to embellish the skiing with. Try e-biking on fat tyres, heading across the snowy slopes trying to keep up with the guide (from Plagne Centre, from €69, elpro.fr) or zipwire down a snowy, forested cleft on the edge of Belle Plagne – eight zipwires up to 45m above the ground (elpro.fr).
The Colorado Park toboggan run is 1.5km of bends and tunnels (skipass-laplagne.com, €7). While other options include guided snowshoe hikes, dog-sledding And then there’s the bobsleigh, the track from the 1992 Winter Olympics – try the raft, a beginners’ one-man car (€45), reaching 80km/h through the 19 bends of the 1.5km run, or go for the big car with pro driver, reaching 120km/h.
The X Factor: A couple of hours at Belle Plagne’s new Deep Nature spa, a world of relaxation hidden behind the rustic facades and bars. The contemporary interior is a contemporary dream in pale stone and wood, with several saunas, steam room and the futuristic salt cave. And indoor/outdoor pool and raised hot tubs have mountain views while glass-fronted timber barrel-like huts offer a place to lie back. A bigger, second pool with gushing water features is for families. Adults €32; family spa adults €19, under 15s €13.
Where to eat on the slopes
360: Everyone gets a view in this two-storey glass block, one floor jutting out over the slopes at the top of the Adrets chair above Montalbert. One level is an industrial chic cafeteria, all timber and steel, with pasta stations, rotisserie and a cauldron of soup, while above is a smart restaurant. Cool bar and a splendid terrace. le360-laplagne.fr
La Bergerie: A converted farm with a huge, bustling terrace that serves local dishes in a rustic atmosphere. It sits on the blue Mira run above Plagne Villages and is the place to stop for a tartiflette (the hearty cheesy potato dish) or simply a glass of vin chaud. It becomes an après-ski haunt as the afternoon wears on, a DJ getting the dancing going. restaurant-la-plagne.com
Great value: Hotel Belle Plagne 2100 sits just above the main street, its pointy, glass-fronted centrepiece, housing cool, modern bar on one level, the light, airy restaurant (with gorgeous views over slope and mountains) above. Rooms are simple but the public areas are impressive. Buffet dinners always included a Raclette cheese browning under a heater (with all the trimmings), alongside pasta, meat and oven-baked fish whether salmon or something from a mountain lake. Friendly and multi-national – including a good crowd from Britain’s Crystal.
Luxury: Hotel Carlina. Also in Belle Plagne, is one of the resort’s finest, a boutique property with the air of a private chalet. Rooms, all with a balcony or terrace, face south over the slopes. Even family rooms, with a couple of single beds, are a contemporary delight. The adjoining Residence is five cool apartments for eight-12. There’s a spa with a splendid indoor pool, a restaurant with four-course dinners (fondue on Sundays). Nice bar and sun terrace too.
One night special: The Over The Moon package is a night alone under the stars at 2,400m in a piste-groomer, its coach converted to a luxury caravan. It might be €320 for two, but you get transport breakfast, private bathroom in a nearby building – and, of course, wi-fi.