Samoëns is a small valley town in the Giffre Valley in south eastern France
Europe is awash with purpose-built ski resorts designed to pack in as many skiers as possible.
It’s fine if you want to keep the time spent between hotel and slopes to mere minutes, but such enclaves can be cultural deserts. For those who fancy sampling local culture and cuisine alongside skiing, or are planning a New Year ski trip to somewhere chocolate-box pretty, it would be hard to find a better fit than Samoëns.
A small valley town in the Giffre Valley in south eastern France, it remains a very French place, with pleasing alpine architecture, local culture and – unlike many more famous resorts – full of restaurants and bars where a round of drinks won’t empty your wallet of euros.
Even better, Samoëns is part of the Grand Massif ski area that also includes the better-known (though far less pretty) resort of Flaine, as well as Morillon, Les Carroz and Sixt-Fer-à-Cheval – offering 265km of piste altogether.
Though the main British ski companies operate there and you’ll hear British accents as you walk through its pedestrianised town centre, Samoëns doesn’t have the international feel of the bigger French resorts – on the contrary, it’s unspoiled and provincial.
But there’s enough shopping to while away the late afternoon hours – check out shops like Le Grenier Savoyard and Le Refuge des Saveurs, for cheeses, cured meats, wine and biscuits on your twilight stroll through the centre. Numerous patisseries offer mouth-watering French baked goods and you can buy souvenirs at La Maison de Marie-Louise, a chic treasure trove selling folk art, alpine ornaments and Savoyard pottery.
Even better, Samoëns is only an hour and a quarter’s drive from Geneva – its mercifully short transfer time makes it perfect even for just a long weekend ski trip.
My daughter and I chose a self-catered chalet with British accommodation company Erna Low and found ourselves in lovely Chalets de Layssia, conveniently situated in the town centre.
Only two years old, the modern flats are built of local wood and kitted out with luxurious kitchen and living areas, so we had lots of room for relaxing after skiing and for cooking to keep us within our budget. And the swimming pool and spa, both included, were great for soothing our muscles after a day on the slopes.
The downside to staying in a valley town is having to hop on a ski bus to the slopes each day and queuing at the Grand Massif Express gondola station – our fault for skiing in France’s school holidays. But once onboard we were soon soaring over snow-dusted pines to Samoëns 1600.
The church of Notre Dame de l’Assomption, Samoëns
There, the Chariande Express chairlift transports skiers to the Tête de Saix summit, from where you can ski easily to all the other resorts, or back to Samoëns 1600 on a variety of glorious red and blue runs – our favourite was the Marmottes red run, a wide flat red that also provided stunning views of the valley.
The Tête de Saix area is being extensively re-landscaped in a massive project for the upcoming ski season, to improve traffic flow and views of the alpine landscape, which will no doubt make the experience even more glorious.
On several days we skied to Flaine to sample the skiing there – it’s a wide, largely treeless natural bowl from which dozens of red runs swoop back down.
One afternoon we took advantage of the scenic forests that surround Samoëns and went Fat Biking – the “fat” referring to the bikes’ wheels, which grip the snow and mud, and don’t slip.
Mountain food in France is hearty, cheesy, meaty and delicious.
One evening we enjoyed a delightful dinner at a local farm overlooking the cowshed, Repàs a la Ferme.
For a treat, we tried out one of Samoëns’ most celebrated restaurants, 8M des Monts. It was one of dozens of delightful memories of this picture-postcard French town that was full of great shops and eateries.
Samoëns deserves to be top of any skier’s list of destinations.
Samoëns is part of the Grand Massif, one of the 18 linked ski areas of Savoie Mont Blanc
10 things to do in Samoëns
1. Indulge in a few aprés-ski cocktails at the friendly New Clarine Bar on Avenue Cognacq Jay.
2 Take in the scenic valley forests around Samoëns by renting a Fat Bike (mountainspirit-sports.com/en).
3 Enjoy fabulous contemporary French cuisine at the bistro 8M des Monts in the village square.
4 Try out Samoëns’ best runs, especially the long Marmottes red down from the Chariande Express.
5 Head over to Flaine to try the legendary Piste de Cascade, a 14km single blue run down to Sixt.
6 In Sixt, try the red runs that take you down to this picturesque little village before heading back to Samoëns.
7 Get an eyeful of Samoëns’ historic stone buildings, a reminder of its past as an important stone-cutting centre.
8 Spot some of the 30 stone sculptures by international artists dotted around Samoëns and further afield.
9 Enjoy a meal at Au Pré d’Oscar, a trendy restaurant at the top of the Grand Massif Express (aupredoscar.fr).
10 Shop for souvenirs in La Maison de Marie-Louise, which is packed full of alpine treasures.
Head over to Flaine to try the legendary Piste de Cascade, a 14km single blue run down to Sixt
Way to go
Samoëns is part of the Grand Massif, one of the 18 linked ski areas of Savoie Mont Blanc (savoie-mont-blanc.com, hiver.samoens.com).
Erna Low offers a one-bedroom, two-to-four-person apartment in CGH Les Chalets de Layssia in Samoëns from £798 for seven nights (ernalow.co.uk/france/grand-massif/samoens/les-chalets-de-layssia).
easyJet (easyjet.com) operates daily flights to Geneva from a number of airports, including London Gatwick, London Luton and London Southend, with return prices starting from £43.98pp (including taxes and based on two people on the same booking).