Terminal Neige Totem
As well as some of the resort’s best ski food, Hotel Terminal Neige Totem has the best position in calm, car-free Flaine. Part of this purpose-built resort – famously designed in ‘brutalist’ Bauhaus style by architect Marcel Breuer in the late 1960s – its picture windows frame wide-angle views of Flaine’s northwest-facing slopes. Slopes that are so close it truly is ski-in, ski-out.
Owned by France’s upmarket Sibuet hotels group, this is the first venture in a new, more affordable spin-off hotel brand called Terminal Neige (a second property will open above Chamonix later this summer) – and is a return to form for Flaine, where the vision for Wallpaper-style interiors to bring out the best of Breuer’s bold concrete buildings (actually a beautifully graphic reflection of the limestone-lined bowl in which the resort sits) went dramatically off-piste in the 1980s and ‘90s as mass-market operators moved in.
Designed to appeal to winter weekenders as well as dedicated skiers, the hotel is bookable on a b&b basis by the night as well as by the week, half-board (being under 90 minutes’ drive from Geneva airport also helps make it easily weekend-able).
In an effort to keep prices down, there are few frills; no minibars in the bedrooms, no fluffy bathrobes, no little boxes of tissues. What there is, apart from those spectacular views (ask for a room on the fourth or fifth floors to make the most of them), are decent bathrooms, plenty of storage space for bulky ski gear and properly great beds.
The bedrooms aren’t really the focus here, though. Instead it’s the ground floor, a vast multifunctional space with a bar and lounge area (complete with original Breuer fireplace) at one end, a restaurant in the middle and a ski hire shop and coffee counter at the other. Below these is a small spa, the highlight of which is a wood and steel outdoor hot tub.
Catering to the cocktails, craft beer and charcuterie crowd rather than the fine dining set, the décor throughout is fun but cosy, with Native American-inspired woven textiles, sheepskins, a smattering of iconic mid-century furniture and the odd pop of neon.
The food reflects the same philosophy, pairing carefully sourced ingredients with playful touches to suit for hungry skiers, couples and families alike. Hang out by the fire with a glass of wine from the owners’ Luberon vineyard, the Domaine de Marie, or a jam jar cocktail (we recommend the Ruby, made with gin, lime juice, raspberry liqueur and cranberry juice). Then take a seat in the restaurant and, when you’re ready, zero in on the buffet. Don’t panic.
The word buffet may strike fear into the heart of many food-lovers but they pull it off with flair here; think plates of charcuterie and cheeses, slices of just-cooked rare beef served with a nutmeg-spiked root vegetable gratin or pan-fried seabass with a rich ratatouille and green beans cooked with just the right level of crunch. Home-cooked pizzas, quiches and chips are usually on offer, too, as is fondue. And if you’d rather go a la carte, book in for a long lunch instead; choices include a cocotte of the day (veal comes with a superb side of lemon and blue cheese-spiked polenta).
The dessert bar is the real triumph, though. After a day’s skiing you’ve little hope of showing any restraint as a parade of tiny pink praline tarts, dainty Nutella mug cakes, mini lemon meringue pies, broken slabs of chocolate, homemade blueberry marshmallows, made-to-order waffles and frozen yoghurt with myriad DIY toppings are paraded in front of you. If your willpower happens to be as solid as the surrounding mountains there little fruit kebabs, too.
Restaurant Le Michet
For lunch or dinner in more traditional surroundings this former farmhouse is tucked at one end of Flaine, at a handy spot where most of the runs converge as they descend into the village.
Though there’s a sunny terrace it’s a place to wallow inside on a cold evening, protected by timber rafters, thick stone walls and central fireplace. If you’re after Savoyard specialities you’ll find everything from tartiflette to home-smoked trout and salmon on the menu but it’s worth experimenting with some of the more unusual dishes; the subtly spiced lentils with coconut milk and black rice (essentially a creamy dhal) is great post-ski fuel.
Or dive in and order a tartiflette burger, a homemade beef patty topped with reblochon cheese, onions, bacon and just a smidgen of cream. It’ll cost you €20 with chips but this is no ordinary burger and there’s more than enough for two.
Flaine Forum; 00 33 4 5090 8008
Les Servages d’Armelle
Not in Flaine itself but in neighbouring Les Carroz d’Araches (ski over to it for lunch, or take a taxi for the 20-minute drive for dinner) this small hotel and restaurant is built with timber from an old farm. It has an authentic log-cabin vibe, the creak and reek of wood, with the odd nod (pony-skin stools in the bar) to the 21st century.
The hotel’s long-standing chef, Pascal Flécheau, is originally from the Loire and trained with two of the country’s best chefs: Jean-Claude Garzia and Eric Pras. His menus veer towards hearty mountain cuisine with an inventive modern twist. Think French charolais fillet steak with onion compote, carrot and parsnip mousse and dauphinoise potato, sweetbreads with risotto, cream, parmesan and truffle oil or roast Aveyron lamb with thyme polenta and green asparagus.
The rustic restaurant, with chunky wooden tables, roaring fire and spit roast, spills out onto a sunny terrace laid out with designer deckchairs in the snow.
It’s the perfect spot to sample some Savoie wines. The local grapes are little known but worth discovering; altesse and jacquère produce aromatic and dry whites and the mondeuse grape fragrantly peppery reds.
Make sure you take a big enough suitcase to squirrel away some gourmet souvenirs from this artisan food store on your way home. In the centre of Flaine Forum, close to the tourist office, almost everything it sells comes from within a 50km radius of Flaine; take your pick from reblochon and tome cheeses, Savoie salamis, beer from Brasserie Mont Blanc and Savoie-produced Pinot Noir and Cremant.
Le Grain de Sel
As in most ski resorts, eating out in Flaine isn’t cheap (with so many rental apartments on site the supermarkets do a brisk trade). The trick is working out what’s worth forking out for and what’s not. Which is where this simple café in the centre of the resort comes in.
You’re not going to be wowed by the décor or find anything you haven’t seen before on the menu but what it does it does well and almost everything it serves is cooked from scratch; think omelettes of the day with salad or tomme and onion tart. Or, take a tip from the ESF instructors who often pop in for a post-shift drink and order a hot chocolate or a glass of hot Xante, a cognac-based pear liqueur.
Flaine Forum; 00 33 4 5018 7443
Le Desert Blanc
If you’re what the French call a “ski bar” skier (fair-weather skier) you’ll want to spend your time hopping from one slopeside bar to another grazing your way through coffees, hot chocolates, vin chauds and beers along the way. One of the best places to start out in Flaine is Le Desert Blanc, at the top of the Grandes Platieres lift.
As the name suggests, the lift spits you out onto a vast plateau with spectacular views of Mont Blanc, the Aiguille du Midi and various other peaks. Order a hot chocolate and sit out in a deckchair here, drinking in the mountain panorama.
While you’re there keep an eye out for the resort’s nature guides. Two days a week during the ski season they’re out on the slopes with telescopes waiting to be flagged down by skiers wanting their help to spot local Ibex, marmottes and the other 40 or so species of wildlife it’s possible to see around Flaine.
The fact that Flaine’s slopes are northwest-facing means they tend to remain snow-dusted for longer than resorts with south-facing slopes. Having large areas of rock beneath the powder, rather than grass, also helps the snow stick around for longer. This was certainly the case during our visit when snow hadn’t fallen for some time but the cover was still there; the tracks of off-piste skiers in the snow below some chairlifts were so ingrained they looked like elephant hide.
This all means that you’re likely to be lucky with snow in Flaine. If you’re not, however, this rustic little chalet is the place to head for. Easy to reach on foot or ski (it’s hidden behind a bank of trees at the cross-roads of the Epicéa and Faust pistes, on a little green run just above the village), it has rustic little wooden tables, a wood-burning stove and a menu of salads, chilli, roast chicken and homemade brownies. When the sun shines its busy outdoor terrace is also a great place for a vin chaud.
Along the Epicéa piste; 00 33 45 090 8379
For a sweet après-ski snack, there are two little street food stalls in Flaine Forum to choose from: one serves crepes and the other waffles. Take your pick then eat it hot as you stroll around the centre of the village admiring the outdoor art gallery; giant sculptures dotted around the resort include works by Picasso, Dubuffet and Vasarely.
More info: flaine.com
Written by Rhiannon Batten, February 2017