The handsome riverside village of Valloire is the biggest ski resort in France's Maurienne Valley, it lies just to the north of the Galibier Pass (a famously arduous stage on the Tour de France cycle race) which marks the watershed between the Northern and Southern French Alps.
The village is centred around a sturdy 17th Century Baroque church and has a nice blend of narrow old-town streets at its core and wide avenues on its periphery, its valley floor location means that most quarters are on the flat, making it an easy and pleasant place to stroll around; a free-of-charge trackless mini-train service also drives round the main streets during the day, connecting the ski lift terminals and various accommodation locations.
The community of Valloire also covers 17 outlying hamlets, including Les Granges, Les Clots, and Les Verneys, where some accommodation is located; a free shuttle-bus service connects these hamlets and the resort's suburbs with the centre of Valloire and the main ski lifts terminals.
Valloire has a friendly and relaxed ambiance and is a popular destination for British and international school groups, who appreciate the area's suitability for beginners and its traditional French atmosphere, as well as the good value that this relatively little-known non-mainstream ski resort offers.
It may be a little off the beaten track, but together with Valmeinier, with which it is linked, Valloire offers a very respectable total of 150km of linked pistes, more than two-thirds of which are situated above a snow-sure altitude of 2,000m.
The Valloire ski area is spread over three linked sectors: Les Vernays and Setaz to the south and Crey du Quart to the east, the latter linking with the slopes of the mainly purpose-built resort development of Valmeinier in the next valley.
The two principal access points from Valloire are gondola lifts based at the southern and eastern edges of the village, providing convenient access into the Setaz and Crey du Quart sectors respectively. Further access to the Setaz sector slopes is also provided by two roadside chairlifts at the southern hamlets of Les Clots and Les Vernays, the latter also the site of a compact little beginners' zone on a separate central meadow equipped with a free ski-tow.
Novices are well served throughout the ski area: there are additional beginners' zones at altitude in both main sectors, and over half of all the pistes throughout the domain are classified as green and blue, with at least one easy route linking in a circuit around all sectors of the Valloire and Valmeinier slopes, albeit mostly via narrow trails zigzagging down the mountainsides.
Most of the other runs are fair red excursions for intermediates, with a handful of tougher black runs for those with more advanced skills; a number of the blacks are also designated as ungroomed ('non damée') to allow mogul fields to develop.
The majority of the area covers the barren heights of the ridges between Valloire and Valmeinier, but the lower slopes of Thimel mountain in the Setaz sector are attractively clad with mixed woodland, providing some lovely scenic tree-lined runs down to Valloire village and its southern hamlets.
Off the slopes and apres ski
Valloire village is a pleasant place for a stroll and has a fair selection of shops, plus a weekly street market. There's also a good network of scenic walks and snowshoe trails out in the surrounding countryside; a popular excursion is a visit to a local working dairy farm specialising in cheese production.
More adrenalin-pumping ways of viewing the local scenery are to take a microlight aircraft flight from the resort's Altiport airstrip at the hamlet of Bonnenuit, or by tandem-paragliding off the high ridges to the east. Other adventure activities available include dog-sledding and snowmobiling.
Apres ski is fairly subdued, primarily focused on a few post-piste and later-evening drinks in one of the fair selection of basic local bars, Pub l'Atelier is popular for its occasional live music sessions; there's also a couple of disco-style clubs (called Odyssée and Le Village) that stay open until the early hours.
Most of the nightlife revolves around leisurely meals in Valloire's good selection of mainly traditional French restaurants; alternative entertainment is provided by the resort's full-sized outdoor ice rink, a tenpin bowling alley (licensed and open until 2am), and a cinema.
Each year in mid- to late-January an ice and snow sculpture concours is held in Valloire, and specialist sculptors come from all over the world to meet and compete; their ephemeral creations grace the village streets until they thaw.
Bars and clubs
L'Asile des Fondues
Pizzeria Vent d'Italie