La Plagne is the collective name for a group of seven purpose-built high-altitude resort 'villages' and the ski domain that surrounds them; together with four further outlying linked villages. This collection of 11 resorts is one of France's largest linked ski areas, yet La Plagne is itself only one half of the even greater Paradiski domain that includes the adjacent and similarly extensive ski area of Les Arcs.
These two giants of winter-sports tourism have been linked since 2003/04 by the astonishing 200-person capacity double-decker Vanoise Express cable cars, which span the 380m-deep Ponturin Gorge between them, creating an immense twinned domain that covers a grand total of 425km of pistes across 10,000 hectares.
La Plagne's core accommodation bases are prime examples of the French club-village style of planning and architecture first developed in the 1960s and '70s; love it or hate it, it's undeniably convenient for snowsports.
The fragmented layout of separate bases at different altitudes does however weaken any sense of unified resort ambiance, impacting on the apres-ski scene that tends to disperse early from all but the largest hubs. Nevertheless, as you might expect from such an extensive and well-established ski domain, La Plagne truly has earned the right to be described as having 'something for everyone', and offers skiers and snowboarders of all abilities a great variety of terrain at mostly snow-sure altitudes, across a choice of resort villages.
The seven core La Plagne resort villages are: Plagne 1800 (1,800m); Plagne-Bellecote (1,930m); Belle-Plagne (2,050m); Plagne-Centre (1,970m); Plagne-Soleil (2,050m); Plagne-Villages (2,050m); and Aime-la-Plagne (2,100m).
The four outlying linked villages are: Champagny-en-Vanoise (1,250m); Montalbert (1,350m); Les Coches (1,450m); and Montchavin (1,250m).
La Plagne's extensive ski area offers a great variety of slopes across a diverse range of topography: from a glacial peak, through wide open bowls, to sheltered wooded pistes. The largest sectors are the two huge bowls spread out around the two biggest bases, Plagne-Centre and Belle-Plagne; these open bowls are well above the tree line and are predominately characterised by lots of good intermediate runs, ranging from motorway-wide long blues and fast reds to some more testing narrow link routes.
Snowboarders need to plan routes carefully though in order to avoid the many flat areas (the slopes above Belle-Plagne in particular). Lift links within the bowls and to the surrounding ridges are well thought out and fairly straightforward, but they can get very busy; queues are a common feature.
Whereas all of the resort villages have at least one beginners' slope served by a free lift, the best beginners' zones are to be found at Plagne-Centre, Plagne-Bellecote, Plagne 1800, and Aime-la-Plagne.
The most challenging runs are to be found in the south-western Le Biolley sector, in the valley beyond the ridges directly above Plagne-Centre and Aime-la-Plagne. Off-piste opportunities abound: the Friolin area off Bellecote towards Les Bauches is the most notable lift-served zone; the Face Nord de Bellecote is a serious challenge, and the routes off the back of Bellecote, across the Cul du Nant Glacier, towards Champagny-le-Haut feel a long way from civilisation.
The outlying sectors of Champagny, Montalbert, and Montchavin-Les Coches all add further dimensions to the domain; Montchavin-Les Coches is the most extensive, with attractive wooded slopes housing some of the best intermediate runs in the domain, and is closest to the western terminal of the Vanoise Express for the connection with Les Arcs.
Off the slopes and apres ski
La Plagne was designed purely as a winter sports resort, and the focus is very much on the slopes; Plagne-Centre and Belle-Plagne are the liveliest resort villages, but nightlife is generally very low-key at the other villages and there are few off-slope attractions.
There are outdoor ice rinks in Plagne-Bellecote and Aime-la-Plagne; a fitness centre and heated outdoor swimming pool in Belle-Plagne; a multi-sports centre in Plagne-Centre; a chairlift-served toboggan/sledging run just above Plagne-Centre, with banked turns over a 1.5km course set in attractive wooded slopes; and a snow-tubing slope in Plagne 1800; there are also a number of scenic walking trails, some with fabulous views towards Mont Blanc.
Sightseeing helicopter flights, snowmobiling, quad-biking, dog-sled mushing, snow-circuit karting, and piste-basher (piste groomer) vehicle driving lessons are some of the more adventurous alternative daytime activities that are also available.
La Plagne's prime attraction for adrenalin junkies is the Olympic bobsleigh run (built for the Albertville 1992 Winter Games), based just below Plagne 1800: this 1.5km floodlit ice track has 19 bends and a vertical drop of 124.5 metres; it's the only one in France and is open for public descents using specially adapted training bobs, some of which can reach speeds in excess of 100 km/h
Most of the shops, restaurants, bars, pubs and clubs are concentrated in Plagne-Centre and Belle-Plagne, although Plagne-Bellecote does have a couple of lively bars too; Belle-Plagne also has a tenpin bowling alley.
Key apres-ski venues include the Spitting Feathers bar in Plagne-Bellecote, Le Luna and Scotty's in Plagne-Centre, and La Tete Inn in Belle-Plagne, all of which feature end-of-day happy-hour drinks promos and/or live music. Later on in the evenings these same venues, together with a disparate collection of neighbouring basic bars and eateries, provide a reasonably animated nightlife atmosphere, but La Plagne isn't really a destination of choice for true apres-ski and clubbing fans.
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Bars and clubs
Le Cosy Bar/Disco
Le Loup Blanc