Tignes as a ski resort is quickly catching up with its big brother neighbour Val d’Isère, and is incredibly popular in its own right. The resort comprises four (or five if you’re splitting hairs) smaller towns at varying heights, all of which have undergone something of a facelift in recent years. At 2100m, Val Claret offers the most convenient piste access, with Le Lac (connected to the “5th” Le Lavachet) sitting at a similar altitude just down the road . Tignes 1800 (formerly Le Boisses) and Les Brevieres lie further down the valley at 1650m.
Like many of the upper tier French ski resorts, Tignes has a long and rich history spanning back to the 13th Century, when only Les Brenieres (now Les Brevieres) and the town of Tignes existed. The actual town itself is now hidden from view, except once every 10 years when the hydro-electric dam (doubling up as a bridge between Val d’Isere and Tignes) drains the water behind it, revealing the old town at the bottom of the valley where the water now collects. It was decided that after the second world war, the area needed a more realistic power solution, and the dam was finished in 1952. Don’t mention any of this to the more seasoned locals though, for although the town was sacrificed, the dam was never actually used as a power station, but exists solely as backup should either Tignes or Val d’Isere suffer an outage.
Ultimately, the trade-off was that Tignes received a juicy cash injection from the French government which it used in the 1960s to become the snow sporting veteran it is today. Like many resorts built at the time, Tignes has been maligned for its lack of beauty, but recent efforts at a makeover and an increasing number of chalet style properties is turning things around. The satellite resorts sprawled up the valley take you on a journey, and offer character where so many more modern resorts fall down.
Espace-Killy, the ski area covering Val d’Isère and Tignes is enormous and exciting, with over 300km of pistes, more than 90 lifts and heights of up to 3,456m. It also has a whopping 24,710 acres of off-piste fun, which is three times more than Whistler, the biggest area in North America. The Grand Motte glacier means you can ski almost year-round too, although with the waning summer ski scene, it now only opens for six weeks in the summer rather than remaining open year round.
Wherever you’re staying in Tignes, gentler slopes for those getting to grips with their skiing or boarding are never far away. Val Claret and Le Lac each have a free chair lift, and there’s a free drag lift in each of the four main areas (excluding lavachet) if you’re not sure you’ll make full use of a week-long lift pass.For the more adventurous, or the seasoned pro, Palafour in Lac and the Grand Motte heading from the top of the glacier down to Val Claret are great fun and offer loads of opportunity to have a play off the sides. Tignes is famed for its exceptional off piste, and if you are prepared to hike a little, your efforts will bear fruit, with The Fingers, Mickey’s Ears and The Eye of the Needle all weighing in. Just be sure of the conditions and realistic about your skill level because some of the terrain is extremely difficult.
Made up of so many small satellite towns you’d be forgiven for thinking Tignes might not provide such a vibrant après scene – but you’d be mistaken. On the mountain, you have La Folie Douce 1969, the original. Dropzone, based in the heart of Val Claret, has a large south facing terrace and a happy hour that stretches from 3 until 6, before turning into a nightclub at 10. It also lays on DJs, live bands, bar games and live sport for your entertainment. While you’re in Val Claret, be sure to check out Couloir. New a few years ago, it is fast becoming a favourite in the premier area of Tignes.
Underground bar moved from Le Brevieres to Le Lac and much larger premises a few years ago and it now enjoys a prime après location. Its key selling points remain – great live music, dancing on tables and more flavoured shots than you can shake a pole at. While most of the partying happens in the upper parts of Tignes, don’t be fooled into thinking the rest lack relief for the parched reveller. Our picks are TC’s bar in Lavachet, Les Melezes in Les Boisses, and The Boot Room in Le Brevieres.
If you still have the energy, Avant Garde just across the road from Blue Girl is undoubtedly the best after hours venue in Tignes. The tunes, spanning multiple genres, keep the holidaymakers and seasonnaires coming back until closing (4am) – be sure to get there early for any of the many guest DJ nights. Most of the venues on our list for après stay open past midnight, but Jacks in Le Lac is open until 4am too, as is Blue Girl in Val Claret.
Finally, if you’re lucky enough to be in Tignes over new years, you’re really in for a treat. No expense is spared for one of the greatest fireworks shows you’re ever likely to see, in one of the most epic locations. There’s always a huge musical billing too, with a star DJ lineup to finish the night off.
Unlike its neighbour, Tignes does not have any Michelin stars, but that doesn’t mean you can’t eat well. If you’re looking for Savoyard, La Table en Montagne is just off the piste in Val Claret and offers incredible food – especially the fish, which is cooked on hot stones and carved in front of you.
For those yearning a decadent pit stop, Le Panoramic lies at the top of the Funicular as you head towards the Grand Motte glacier. Decked out with traditional wood and warm sheep skins aplenty, it will be a welcome break from the cold outside, as at 3032m it’s one of the highest dining spots in the alps.
Over in Lac, the perfect place to refuel is Tchüss Burger, which offers a taste sensation with a huge variety of ingredients and sauces. Just be careful with your order here, the burgers are the size of the plates! Our favourite is the Mexicain with Samurai sauce, something we sadly haven’t been able to find back home despite our best efforts. Back down in Le Brevières, we also love L’Armailly, a great option if you want a long ski to build the appetite.
Resort altitudes: 1550-2100m
Highest point: 3456m
Area: Val d’Isère-Tignes
Best spot for…
Après: La Folie Douce 1969 (don’t forget the last lift back!)
Après-après: Dropzone (Val Claret) or Underground (Le Lac)
A rave: Avant Garde (Val Claret)
A lavish meal: La Table en Montagne (Val Claret) or Les Campanules (Le Lac)
Casual meal: Couloir (Val Claret) or Tchüss Burger (Le Lac)
Posh coffee: Le Coffee (Val Claret) or Café Flo (Le Lac)
Airport transfers: Chambéry 1h45 - 2 hours, Geneva 2h30 – 3 hours
Eurostar transfers: Bourg-St-Maurice 40 minutes