It’s one of the French Riviera’s best-kept secrets. Less than 100 km from Nice, several ski resorts offers a wide choice of slopes. Last but not least, from early December to late April they enjoy a good snow cover and plenty of sunshine.
Strolling along a beach and, less than two hours later, skiing in the Alps. That’s one of the most attractive facets of the French Riviera but also one of the less known. The Alpes-Maritimes department indeed boasts 15 ski resorts totalling around 600 km of downhill runs and 250 km of cross country ski trails. Not very busy outside school holidays and weekends, they are renowned for their sunshine as much as for their excellent snow records.
[ Practical ]
- By road
From 85 to 100 km from Nice on autoroute A8, then on D6202, D2205 and D97.
- By bus
100% Neige bus daily at 7.30am from the railway station, on Saturday at 1.30pm from the railway station and the airport. Price : €4. Duration of the journey : from 1 h 45 to 2 h 05.
Regular bus daily at 10am and 4.30pm from the railway station and the airport. Price : €1. Duration of the journey : 2 h 20.
To Isola 2000
100% Neige bus daily at 7.30am from the railway station, on Saturday at 1.30pm from the railway station and the airport. Price : €4. Duration of the journey : from 1 h 55 to 2 h 05.
Regular bus daily at 10.15am and 4.30pm from the railway station and the airport. Price : €1. Duration of the journey : 2 h 30.
100% Neige bus daily at 7.15am from the railway station. Price : €4. Duration of the journey : 1 h 55.
Regular bus daily at 10.30am, 1pm and 5pm from the railway station and the airport. Price : €1. Duration of the journey : 2 h 15.
Les Chalets d’Auron
- Isola 2000
Pierre et Vacances « Les Terrasses d’Azur »
L’Adrech de Lagas
The White Grouse
- Isola 2000
Le Cow Club
Pub Blanche Neige
Ski lift passes
- Auron and Isola 2000
1 day : €27.20 to €34
6 days : from €136 to €159.50
1 day : €27 to €32
6 days : €129.50 to €152.50
- Auron Tourist Office
Tel : 0493230266
- Isola 2000 Tourist Office
Tel : 0493231515
- Valberg Tourist Office
Tel : 0453232425
- Riviera Côte d’Azur Tourist Office
Tel : 0493377878
Easily accessible resorts
Among them, three offer a wide choice of slopes for all levels. Situated in the peripheral zone of the Parc du Mercantour, one of France’s most beautiful national parks, they are easily accessible from Nice. Buses leaving daily from the train station and the airport indeed serve them for only €1 or €4. A gorgeous route that goes through spectacular, narrow and deep gorges where are nested picturesque villages.
The closest one, Valberg, is only 85 km away from the coast. Located at an elevation of 1 700 meters, retaining some old houses, it’s a ski spot since 1909. Today, its ski area comprises 53 runs with a total length of 90 km divided between 6 blacks, 20 reds, 14 blues and 11 greens. Wide and technically not too demanding, extending from 1 500 to 2 070 meters of altitude, many of the pistes run down through wide gorges and larch forests.
In spite of this moderate altitude, skiing is always possible till mid or end April because 85% of the ski area is covered by snow cannons. Reasonably sized, having a relaxed atmosphere, Valberg is a great resort for families especially as it boasts an ice rink, a superb ski school for kids from 3 years old and a nursery caring for babies as young as 6 months. In addition, it has a snowpark and the Breuil sector offers 25 km of cross-country ski trails as well as snowshoe itineraries.
A bit further away from Nice, 95 km, but adjacent to Italy, Isola 2000 is totally different. Situated over the authentic village of Isola, at the end of a dozen km long winding road, this purpose built resort was created from nothing in the 70s on a small plateau surrounded by 15 peaks towering between 2 450 and 2 974 meters.
A view over the Mediterranean Sea
Made up of multi-storey buildings, its centre is visually not very appealing but is very convenient. All shops, bars, restaurants and family facilities are concentrated there and apartments as well as hotels have the advantage of being at the foot of the slopes. However, if you are looking for more cosy lodgings, wooden chalets and small size buildings with a more traditional style have recently been built on the outskirts. Extending from 1 800 to 2 610 m of altitude, the ski area features 42 runs (4 blacks, 11 reds, 21 blues and 7 greens) with a total length of 120 km 80% of which are lined with snow cannons. Having said that, they are rarely needed because Isola 2000 generally enjoy heavy snowfalls. In 2007 and 2008 it was even the French ski resort with the highest snow depth. Not to be missed, on clear-weather days, it’s possible to see the Mediterranean Sea from the ski area’s highest point, the Cime de Sistron.
A unique and breathtaking view that almost every skiers can enjoy. From there it’s indeed possible to go back to the resort by taking almost only blue runs. There is just a short stretch of red one, but it is relatively easy. However, it does also exist some technical and bumpy red and black runs to please experienced skiers. As to the snowboarders, they will find a border cross race track and a vast snowpark equipped with halfpipe, big air, table-kiker, jumps and handrails. During the school holidays, twice a week there is even night skiing wherein one of the slopes is highly lit and the corresponding ski lift is open. If speed is your thing, Isola 2000 also has an ice race track where you can drive cars or karts. The same company offers snowmobile tours around the local mountains when the lifts close including an unusual one, at night, comprising a tasty and healthy meal in an altitude restaurant. Lastly, there is an indoor pool, whirlpool and sauna located down in the old village.
Superb high mountain landscapes
Considered to be the resort offering the most technical runs, the third, Auron, is a few km further north and Stephanie of Monaco has an apartment there. Created in 1937 on a 1 600 meters high plateau once occupied by a village, pastures and fields, it retains a few old buildings including a 14th century Romanesque chapel decorated with beautiful frescoes. A cable car takes you in few minutes to the heart of the department’s largest ski area that extends between 1 600 and 2 450 meters of altitude and consists of 42 runs : 9 blacks, 15 reds, 16 blues and 2 greens. They have a total length of 135 km including 40% supported by snow cannons. At the top of the slopes, several panoramic viewpoints give you the possibility to discover some superb high mountain landscapes and almost all of them are linked to the resort by blue runs. However, experienced skiers also find challenging slopes with very steep technical red and black runs as well as long schuss where to glide at full speed.
Saint-Etienne de Tinée © T.Joly
Another very enjoyable feature of this ski area is to boast very long runs and so you can ski for a long time before to have to take a ski lift. Beside, it’s a haven for freeriders because off pistes itineraries are numerous and most of them can be reached within a short walk. Of course, there are also a snowpark comprising a beginner area and facilities for families like an ice rink and a nursery. If you prefer to stay in a more typical place, a cable car links the ski area to Saint-Etienne de Tinée, a charming village situated down in the valley. Till the beginning of the 20th century, it was the third most important town of the Alpes Maritimes and it boasts a rich historical heritage including several 16th, 17th and 19th century chapels and churches adorned with remarkable frescoes. The perfect place to combine skiing with cultural holidays.
November 21, 2016