The music of the French jazz band Vitamine gets feet stomping, or perhaps it is the night’s chill washing down the steep French Alps that make movement necessary.
In any case, the international crowd smiles as one when the band plays “When the Saints Come Marching In.” It is the tail end of April, yet steady snow has been falling over the last several days. After a long raucous cocktail party, we headed into the beautiful restaurant Fruitere for the hearty dishes developed to combat hunger high in the French Alps. The band followed us in and soon everyone was dancing on the dinner tables; the Alps have worked their magic. Many seemed to forget that to get to Fruitere we rode up the mountain on the La Daille lift, through a cave. The plan was to ski back after the party with torches to light the way, but the silky white Savoie wine won, and I thumbed a ride on a snow cat down the slopes; plenty of time to ski the next morning and I wanted to use both of my legs.
While both Val d’Isere and Chamonix are renowned for great skiing, they are at opposites in experiences.
On my arrival in Val d’Isere I noticed immediately that one is there to ski and as much as possible.
Speed is king in Val d’Isere, and the face of Bellevarde seen from the lifts is a constant reminder; many important downhill and giant slalom races have been won and lost on the B. In fact the 2009 World Alpine Championships will be held in Val d’Isere, fitting since over the last forty years some of the World Cup’s fastest races have been held there. The beauty of skiing the Val is the amount of terrain available — more than 300 km (186 mi) of piste (slopes) and ninety lifts will keep you busy and if off-piste skiing is your bag, Val has the most options in the Alps. It is said that you could ski everyday at Val d’ Isere for two weeks and not repeat your runs.
A car isn’t necessary in the town as a free bus system called the Train Rouge runs the length of the valley.
Still, as I could tell by the lines at the Ecole de Ski Francais or the National French Ski School, skiing is king. Chamonix is one of the oldest Alpine resort areas in Europe and is situated beneath the Alp’s largest mountain, Mt.

That said, Chamonix itself is a most civilized city and also draws well-heeled visitors that like the challenge of good shopping and finishing a huge Savoie style lunch. There are more than half a dozen peaks that surround Chamonix but the main connection to the slopes, piste and non-piste is the gondola, Auiguille du Midi, a thrilling ride in itself. There is no sin in taking a day off the slopes in Chamonix and in fact I would make it a requirement. While I found the hotel options in Val d’Isere perfect, I opted for a different stay in Chamonix.
After a day of adventuring, the hot tub on Valhalla’s deck was a perfect apres ski starting point. Fortunately for me my favorite and last stop for the night was Canadian owned micro brewery MBC, located a scant five-minute walk from the chalet. To plan any trip to France I usually begin with a visit to the French Government Tourism website.
My stay at the Chalet Valhalla was one of the best travel lodging options in quite a while. Get our free monthly travel newsletter and help support sustainable and responsible tourism.No spam, no selling your email, we promise!Subscribe to our email newsletter! Since 2000, GoNOMAD Travel has provided travelers with inspiring travel articles, photos from destinations around the world, and a community of like-minded travelers who are seeking to learn about the world and share their travels with others. For those who get burning calves and fatigued feet, there are other options in this ski capital, no boots needed. I enjoyed taking it to the nearby village of Le Fornet with its old stone homes built to withstand the over abundant snow fall.
On Mondays a village market takes place and is perfect to stock up on local cheeses, white sausages and wines. It has attracted travelers since the 18th century, and in fact the climbing guides set up a guide bureau, Compagnie des Guides de Chamonix in 1821. The city is a fabulous glimpse into lifestyles of better mountain living, complete with great dining and interesting museums such as the Musee Alpin.

The huge old Montenvers Hotel is perfect for a hearty view of the Mer de Glace, a glacier that spills from high peaks. Mary Shelly is said to have gotten some inspiration for Frankenstein from the groans of the glacier during her stay.
Through a well respected lodging rental company named Collineige, I ended my alpine adventure in the Chalet Valhalla, one of Collineige’s many choices. The ring of peaks visible combined with its location near the city center was an anchor to my great time in Chamonix. Next in line was a stop in town for a coffee on the main square to people watch and gather strength for Chamonix’s wide ranging night time options. St John, GoNOMAD's former Senior Travel Editor, circled the globe many times to report on exotic destinations. In fact there are twelve slope-side restaurants alone, but diners are decked in ski gear, a sure sign. The whole package is named L’ Espace Killy, after French skiing superstar Jean-Claude Killy.
Even today tragic fatalities can happen as risk takers are drawn to the surrounding challenges. When delving into the more off-beat runs use the vast well trained guides that are well known in the area. With a chef cooked breakfast at Valhalla, I was always ready to start another day high in the French Alps. The selection of properties that are handled by the company is extensive and covers a gamut of prices and type of stay. He was a correspondent for Around the World Radio which broadcasts in California and Australia.

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