02 Feb A ski week in Flaine: Gateway to the Grand Massif
If spectacular views, varied pistes and a cosy village feel sounds like your cup of tea, you might just want to try Flaine as your next ski trip destination. This easy-to-reach but less well-known resort in the French Alps is packed with surprises.
When I mentioned to a few folks I was off to ski in Flaine, the universal response was “Where?”.
Truth be told, Flaine isn’t a well-known ski resort back home in the UK. But ask the French, who come here in droves every year, and they’ll tell you it’s an alpine gem hidden in plain sight.
The Grand Massif is a ski area towards the north of the Haute-Savoie department, just a hop skip and jump away from Chamonix. Flaine is the largest resort in the Grand Massif, and is home to jaw-dropping scenery and pistes that rival any of the major French resorts. It’s also just over an hours drive from Geneva, making it delightfully easy to reach. But the real surprise is the price. Our trip here cost significantly less than a stay in nearby resorts of a similar size, without compromising on quality. In fact, our apartment complex was smarter, better furnished and better equipped than many we stayed in previously in France.
If you’re looking to escape the crowds, enjoy a budget-friendly ski trip, want to avoid long airport transfers, or simply want to indulge in some of the best views of Mont Blanc outside of the Chamonix valley, Flaine might just be for you. Here’s my guide to a ski holiday in Flaine and the Grand Massif.
I spent a week in Flaine in January 2020. I was part of a group of 30-something friends who consider ourselves to be intermediate skiers, but expert viewpoint and hot chocolate-seekers. We were looking for an affordable, easy-to-reach resort but weren’t too worried about pints and parties – we were happy to find our own fun. The Grand Massif, and Flaine in particular, fit the bill perfectly.
Why choose Flaine?
With over 260km of piste, there’s no shortage of mountain to explore in the Grand Massif. The ski area is home to five resort towns; Les Carroz, Flaine, Morillon, Samoëns and Sixt Fer-a-Cheval. Flaine is largest of the five and it’s also the highest, occupying an imposing position in a large bowl-shaped valley with views of Mont Blanc beyond. Locating yourself here give you access to a large number of pistes on your doorstep, as well as some of the faster lifts. You’ll also find good ski links across to the other villages.
The town was purpose-built in the 1960’s and designed by prominent American architect Marcel Breuer who chose to bring a little bit of brutalism to the slopes. It’s not a style that sits well with everyone, especially if you’re expecting traditional-style chalets. But it certainly shouldn’t put you off a visit to Flaine. The older buildings might not be to my usual taste, but there’s a certain charm to them. Plus there’s some wonderfully sixties-esque quirks, like a small funicular railway and retro-style bucket lifts, worth seeking out.
Crucially, the whole resort isn’t a homage to days gone by. The more modern Hameau de Flaine area is packed with more traditional-style alpine architecture. The ski lift network is bang up to date and besides, you’ll spend most of your time taking in the views, which are pretty spectacular.
With a quick transfer time from Geneva and laid-back atmosphere, Flaine is ideal for families and anyone looking to escape enthusiastic après ski. There are a few bars in town, but you’ll mostly have to make your own fun. Thankfully I was travelling with a fantastic bunch of friends and with a couple of bottles of wine back at the apartment we didn’t miss the chance to party post-skiing too much.
All about Flaine
There are three distinct villages that make up the resort of Flaine, stacked on the sunny east side of the valley.
Flaine Forum is the administrative centre and where you’ll find shops and restaurants facing on to the piste. It’s the liveliest part of town and has good access to the lift network. A little further uphill (and easily reached by a quirky funicular) is Flaine Forêt. Similar in style to Flaine Forum, this part of town is largely residential and also has good access to the pistes.
Hameau de Flaine is a ten minute walk, or a quick shuttle bus ride, further uphill. This is a more recent addition to the resort with chalets and chalet-style apartment complexes peppering the hillside. There are fewer shops and restaurants here but it’s peaceful in return. Skiing into town for access to the lift network is easy, and there are great views across the valley.
How to get to Flaine
The Grand Massif is one of the easiest ski areas to reach from Geneva airport, a little more than an hour away. It’s a quick jaunt down the motorway then a left-hand turn onto the mountain road leading up to the resort. You can hire a car at the airport, or for less fuss and considerably less money, book a private transfer.
We took a minibus transfer with GoMassif who specialise in the Grand Massif ski area. This option was included in our package with SkiWorld, who we travelled with, but I’d happily book them again if I was travelling independently. It took just over an hour and half door-to-door from the airport to our apartment, with no bother at all.
I always recommend shopping around for private transfers before you book. It’s a competitive market out of Geneva airport and there are some great deals to be found. Check out Alpybus, who I’ve previously used and offer a comparable door-to-door service.
How to get around Flaine and the Grand Massif
Getting around between Flaine Forum, Flaine Forêt and Hameau de Flaine is possible on foot, but it’s a bit of a trek uphill. Thankfully, the resort runs frequent, free shuttle buses every day from 8.30am until 6.30pm. It’s the easiest way to get to and from the lifts or even the shops. Plus it’s ski friendly, so you’re welcome on board with your skis, boards and more.
Find up to date shuttle bus timetables and parking advice on Flaine’s tourist website.
If you want to head a little further afield to the other villages in the Grand Massif, you’ll need a car or to book a taxi. There are no regular bus services so keep this in mind if you plan to ski over to Les Carroz, Morillon or Samoëns during the day. You’ll need to make plans and keep an eye on the time to get the last lifts back.
For trips further afield, Altibus offer services from Flaine to some of the nearby towns down in the valley – including Cluses for rail connections. You’ll need to book in advance on the Altibus website.
Where to stay in Flaine
We spent the week in a self-catered apartment at the Pierre et Vacances Terraces d’Helios in Hameau de Flaine.
From the moment we stepped in the front door, we knew we’d made a great choice. Reception is a bright airy space with huge windows looking down over the town. There’s a cosy lounge area with wood-burning stove, board games and pool table and charming kid’s play area. There’s even a selection of newspapers daily.
The apartment complex is relatively new and our two-bed apartment was super smart. Alongside a well-equipped kitchen, we had two generous bathrooms, a cosy living room and big balcony. The apartments are stylish and up-to-date, and toasty warm.
The jewel in the crown is the Deep Nature Spa. The pool, steam room, sauna and outdoor hot tub are all free of charge for residents, and a delight after a long day on the slopes. Soothing our aching muscles in a starlit hot tub, watching the piste bashers on the slopes beyond, was a real bonus. Downstairs you’ll also find a small number of shops and restaurants, including one small supermarket and a ski hire shop.
Booking a self-catered stay? Checking out my guide to Everything you need to know for your first self-catering holiday
Skiing the Grand Massif
The Grand Massif is perfect for intermediates. With over 260km of piste, there’s plenty to get your teeth into without too much repetition. You’ll find gentle tree-lined runs into the lower villages, challenging reds higher up in the Flaine bowl and a surprising assortment of ungroomed pistes to really get your legs working.
The lift network is relatively modern and fast, and when we visited in January 2020, we barely queued at all.
Novice skiers will enjoy the scenic blues and easy access to nursery slopes and gentle runs lower down. For more experienced skiers there’s ungroomed runs and off-piste areas that’ll provide plenty of challenge and variety.
There was lots to keep us busy here all week long. From discovering scenic runs down into the lower villages and hidden hot chocolate stops, to seeking stunning views of Mont Blanc and bone-shaking moguls, the Grand Massif felt like an ideal choice for intermediate skiers. And we loved checking out the picnic spots that pepper the pistes. They’re some of the most beautiful I’ve ever found in France.
Of course, there’s much more to be said about skiing here. So I’ve created a guide to tell you everything you need to know about skiing the Grand Massif.
Eating and drinking in Flaine
Flaine may not be the largest, or busiest, of resorts but it’s certainly not lacking in good places to eat and drink. As it’s popular with French holidaymakers, it leans very much towards more traditional French establishments – and this means, in my mind, great food.
Brasserie des Cimes
If you want to lunch out in Flaine, the modest-looking Brasserie des Cimes in Flaine Forum was a hit with the five of us. Their Skiers Menu – comprising a generous portion of Croziflette, salad, a sweet crepe and a coffee when we ate – was excellent and came to a very reasonable €16,50. Options from their pizza oven also went down a treat.
Après ski is a little on the quiet side in Flaine, but The White is a cosy pub-style bar that’s about as busy as it gets. Happy hour prices start from 5.30pm so you won’t find much of a crowd in here early doors, but ski boots aren’t frowned at if you really fancy a beer as soon as you’ve finished on the piste.
Lastly, I can’t talk about where to eat here without mentioning the charming L’Ancolie. Situated in Hameau de Flaine, it’s a little way from most other restaurants in the resort. But you’ll be glad you made your way up here.
Step through the front door and it immediately feels like you’re in a traditional chalet, even though the exterior looks relatively new. High ceilings, huge roaring fire, cosy furnishings – it’s exactly what you hope for when you have one thing in your mind, cheese. We couldn’t resist the Raclette Traditionelle here, where a proper raclette grill and an enormous piece of local cheese is brought to your table to melt. The heaps and heaps of steamed potatoes, beautiful cured meats and fresh winter salad on the side went down a treat. Well, that and a couple of glasses of vino too. Fantastic food, friendly service and a charming location, this place hit all the right spots for us.
A note on food shopping. If, like us, you choose to self-cater, be sure to head to the Sherpa store in Flaine Forum to stock up. Not only does it have the best selection of food in town, it’s the most reasonably priced. Be wary of the Spar in Hameau de Flaine – it sells heads of garlic for an eye-watering €7.
Would I recommend Flaine?
Without a doubt.
There’s always a little trepidation when you visit somewhere that no-one else you know has ever been to before. You find yourself wondering, is there something you know that I don’t?
But in this case, I’m glad we followed our instincts and headed to Flaine. It was the perfect location for us. Varied skiing, stunning landscapes, easy transfers and fantastically good value for money. Of course, it helps that I had outstanding company (thanks guys, I mean it!) and that we were blessed with brilliant blue skies every day. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend the resort and ski areas to others, and I’d find it hard to pass up on a return visit.
Like this sort of thing? Check out all my ski and winter travel posts here. You’ll find more ski area guides, ski trip write-ups and travel advice for planning and packing for winter holidays.