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Living the high life at Europe’s highest ski resort Val Thorens

Val Thorens (Xavier Ferrand)
Val Thorens (Xavier Ferrand)

Most folk take a day or two to adjust to the altitude, finding themselves out of breath quicker, or, if you’re really unlucky, a bit headachy. That’s on the downside.

On the upside, you’re guaranteed snow from November to May.

Even in summer this resort has snow. The air is like champagne, the sky seems bluer than is possible, and you are transported into a veritable winter wonderland.

Val Thorens still looks and feels like a new resort. It’s not your chocolate-box wooden chalet-style ski resort, it’s functional, with impressive modern architecture, and it’s on a grand scale.

It dates back to 1972, when all it offered was three drag lifts.

Today it is the largest ski area in the world, with 600km of slopes, 334 of signposted runs and almost 200 ski lifts.

It was nominated World Best Ski Resort at the World Ski Awards 2013 and 2014.

Surrounded by six glaciers and six peaks above 3,000 metres, the Caron Peak (3,200m) affords panoramic views of more than 1,000 French, Swiss and Italian summits.

You really feel on top of the world.

When I visited in February I wasn’t skiing (the boring old ankle again) and I expected to find life a bit dull when the other journalists in my group pottered off to the slopes.

I needn’t have worried. These days the resort has plenty to keep non-skiers busy, from snowshoeing to yoga, massages to shopping.

There are two Michelin-starred restaurants in the resort and three 5-star hotels.

I stayed in the newest, the Pashmina. This luxury refuge blends seamlessly into the landscape. The interior fittings are of the highest quality – natural wood, glass, slate, cosy corners, open fires, yes, all very, very chic.

Pashmina (Xavier Ferrand)
Pashmina (Xavier Ferrand)

My bedroom had its own little balcony and wood-burning stove – a real treat.

Rooms start at around £200 a night, half board. It’s also sold as a package through Crystal, Flexiski and others. (See hotelpashmina.com or call +33 (0)4 79 00 09 99).

Another great hotel is the Altapura, which has a superb Spa with its own product range made from alpine flora. (see altapura.fr or call +33 (0)4 80 36 80 36).

The great thing about Val Thorens though is that it has accommodation for all prices.

You can self-cater from about £50 a night, or stay in a very reasonable guest house from £60 a night. See valthorens.com

Pashmina (Xavier Ferrand)
Pashmina (Xavier Ferrand)

And did I mention the food in Val Thorens?

Oh wow! There’s everything here, from the delights of a £10 fondue or racelette in the charming old Alpine mountaintop bistro Chez Pepe Nicolas (chezpepenicolas.com), to the sophistication of the 2-star Michelin foodies’ dream of Jean Sulpice.

Somewhere in the middle comes the Michelin-starred l’Epicurien where a delicious three course meal can cost as little as £45 (you try getting a Michelin star in the UK for that price!).

A lunch or dinner at the eponymous Jean Sulpice should be treated with reverence.

The youngest to gain a Michelin star, this 31-year-old chef, now boasting two stars, is the local hero, and with one bite of his food, you’ll know why.

Despite the challenges he faces at such altitude (water takes longer to boil, wine and bread go off quicker) he produces some of the most innovative and exquisite food in Europe.

Think amazing combos such as celery risotto with wine, Parmesan biscuit with rocket and pear, chestnut with Parmesan truffle.

He’s as much an alchemist as chef!

But then, there is a real magic to this resort, so if you’re a skier – or just enjoy the good things in life, snow, Alpine air and great food, whatever your budget, Val Thorens is one for the wish-list.

Pashmina (Xavier Ferrand)
Pashmina (Xavier Ferrand)

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