The Essential Guide to the French Alps

The glorious peaks enveloped in pristine snow are just one reason skiers and hikers flock to the French Alps. Another is the scene—here, it’s about as glitzy as it gets, with everything from luxury hotels and Michelin-starred dining to world-class shopping and a lively après-ski nightlife that draws visitors from all over the world.

Place du Rond Point des Pistes, 73150 Val-d'Isère, France
There are wild times to be had at Val d’Isère’s most happening slope-side bar, where skiers can take advantage of buy-one-get-one-free beers at happy hour, or swing by at 6 p.m. when the live music and DJs really get the party rolling. Here, dancing and general exuberance are the order of the day, especially during special events like themed races or the annual closing party (when the bar sets up a waterslide for skiers). While Cocorico closes at 8 p.m., the party continues steps away at Doudoune, a club run by the same team that stays open until 5 a.m.
Maison de Village, 74400 Argentières, France
While Aiguilles Rouges offers sublime skiing in winter, its true glory is revealed once the snow melts. Named after the granite spires that glow red at sunrise, the nature reserve, which was established in 1974, boasts walking trails at all levels of difficulty. The slopes above the Chamonix Valley entice hikers with a penchant for Alpine pastures, while the elevated Lac Blanc bewitches as it reflects the Mont Blanc massif on its emerald surface. Many hikers devote days to exploring Aiguilles Rouges, taking in fields of orchids as well as wildlife like ibex, marmots, chamois, and deer. To delve deeper into the area’s abundance of flora and fauna, visit the information cabin at the Col des Montets, open May to September.
Snaking, cracking, shimmering a brilliant blue in places and covered by mystical frost in others, the Mer de Glace displays nature in all its powerful glory. France’s longest glacier stretches for 4.3 miles and is over 650 feet deep. Quite literally a sea of ice, it continues to move under its own weight; its surfaces break up, crevasses appear, and pointed columns of ice known as seracs burst from the surface. Though this glacier continues to amaze, it’s slowly being decimated by climate change—in 1988, you only had to climb down three steps to reach the ice grotto, which is carved out every spring; now, the ice has receded so much that you have to tackle 430 steps.
23 Route du Golf, 74400 Chamonix-Mont-Blanc, France
Located next to Les Praz’s par 72 golf course, La Cabane des Praz offers a charming, out-of-town dining experience, along with views of Mont Blanc and other majestic peaks. Golfers and couples alike come here to enjoy modern French cuisine by the crackling fire, or afternoon tea on the sunbaked terrace. The menu ranges from fillet of beef in Béarnaise sauce to arctic char with parsnips and mushrooms. During the week, diners can also opt for a $36 three-course lunch menu.
More from AFAR
Sign up for our newsletter
Join more than a million of the world’s best travelers. Subscribe to the Daily Wander newsletter.
AFAR Journeys
Journeys: Africa + Middle East
Journeys: Africa + Middle East
Journeys: Africa + Middle East
Journeys: Africa + Middle East
National Parks