Snow.Guide Ski Editor Rob Stewart and his family travel to the resort of Samoëns in the French Alps on a late season holiday at the all-inclusive Club Med resort.
Nestled at 1600 metres high, above the town of Samoëns, just over an hour’s drive from Geneva Airport, the newly built (opened December 2017) Club Med Grand Massif complex feels a little like a James Bond style lair as we approach from the twisting road below.
It’s my first ever time in the Grand Massif, France’s 4th largest interconnected ski area that also includes the resorts of Flaine, Morillon and Les Carroz. Tucked away between the Chamonix Valley and the resorts of the Portes du Soleil, it sometimes gets overlooked but the snow record is fantastic (partly due to its proximity on the north west edge of the Alps and the fact that many of the slopes are above 1600 metres) and the slopes extensive – many of the them wide open blues and reds that seem to go on forever.
How I had missed the region after over three decades of skiing in the French Alps I have no idea, but I was excited to be experiencing it for the very first time with my wife (Jacqueline) and 9 year old daughter (Amelie).
The Club Med Grand Massif – Overview
It was also my first time visiting a Club Med hotel – the all-inclusive complex is billed as a high end, ski-in-ski-out family orientated affair and with over 400 rooms, despite its semi isolated location (right at the top of the Samoëns gondola lift that whizzes up from the town below), the hotel feels like a resort in its own right.
Everything you might possibly need for your ski holiday is right there.
We quickly settled in.
The hotel is set over a number of floors, all accessible via lifts or stairs and once you get your head around where everything is, it’s easy to get around. From the bottom, there’s two car parking levels, an indoor swimming pool area, then a vast lobby that includes a huge bar area, with other cosy rooms available to hide away in, a floor dedicated to the ESF (Ecole du Ski Francais) ski school, in-house ski shop and rental department and a large locker and changing area, plus all the kids clubs facilities.
Above that there’s the ‘Cosy Mountain Restaurant’ which isn’t that well named because it’s not really cosy, it’s huge – and then above that an a la carte restaurant with spectacular views of the surrounding slopes.
The complex is vast, impressive and great fun to explore. If you only like cosy little chalets then it’s not for you but we very quickly felt at home alongside the very international group of guests who were staying there. We quickly met families from Britain, Ireland, France (obviously), but also Brazil, South Africa, Israel, Kuwait and Mexico. The staff were equally as international – yes many French nationals but also young and older members of staff from around the globe.
English is widely spoken throughout the hotel despite French being the first language of the resort. I always say a little bit of French goes along way and a bonjour here and a merci there makes a big difference (it’s a French hotel at the end of the day), but I never once struggled to speak in English when needed and everyone was more than happy to oblige.
The rooms are smart, modern and comfortable and most of them have fantastic views across the valley or up to the slopes of the Grand Massif ski area – being up at 1600 metres would have made the architects remit to provide decent views relatively easy. There’s various rooming options but lots of them are laid out for families, with interconnecting rooms and plenty of space. The room we stayed in was very quiet too, I never heard a noise from the surrounding rooms which is something that can badly affect many hotels.
The Club Med Grand Massif – The Food
The all-inclusive package means breakfast, lunch and the evening meal is included in the price. We always enjoy stopping at local mountain restaurants and I wondered whether we’d bother coming back for lunch every day.
Not only because the food itself was excellent, but the sheer convenience of the location made it easy too. At around midday when the morning ski school classes finish, right by the entrance of the ski locker area, there’s a midday après ski session happening, party style. Music (different every day), food laid out and a selection of drinks, both soft and alcoholic, await and it’s fun way to break up the day.
We took lunch at the ‘Cosy Mountain Restaurant’. French salads, Asian inspired starters, freshly made pizzas, lunch specials including raclette, Lyonnaise sausages, various casseroles, curry’s, fresh fish, gourmet burgers, vegetable selections, vegetarian dishes, a variety of pasta dishes, soups, fresh bread, cold meats, paella – and everyday a variation in the selection that meant you genuinely never had to eat the same thing again. Lunch could also be taken upstairs in the a la carte restaurant, which tended to be quieter, but the choice is more limited.
The evening meal is along similar lines but ramped up again – steaks, large selection of fresh fish dishes, starters that included lobster tail, foie gras, caviar, prawns, mussels and of course a huge selection of salads, vegetables and bread. More pizza, pasta and curry’s if that takes your fancy. There’s a tweak to the theme every night and always something new and different to try.
It’s very difficult to describe just how good the choice of food really is.
Upstairs in the A La Carte restaurant, the menu is much smaller but also high-end. Cheese Fondue is a popular choice but there’s also gourmet style dishes including foie gras, duck and fresh fish alongside vegetarian options.
Wine is also included in the price. There’s one choice of house wine for red, white and rose but options to purchase higher end wines too, from around 20 Euro’s a bottle upwards to over 50 Euro’s. The ‘included in the price’ wine is very drinkable though and there’s plenty of it. Despite the availability of wine at dinner, beer on tap and all-day cocktails downstairs in the bar, I never saw anyone getting carried away. It must happen, but it is a family hotel and that is worth considering if you are thinking about a group trip with the boys or girls with a party kind of vibe – it just wouldn’t work in that environment.
Breakfast is also taken in the ‘Cosy Mountain Restaurant’ and once again there’s a huge choice of hot and cold food available. Fresh fruit, yoghurts, omelette station, eggs in almost every other style, bacon, sausages, pastries galore, fresh bread, and pancakes….it goes on. Breakfast wasn’t quite perfect though, cereals weren’t very varied and we thought the muesli could be better, the boiled egg cooker was never hot enough and often lacked enough water. Small niggles but when everything else is outstanding, even these little things stand out.
The food experience at Club Med overall is fantastic. The buffet style works well, everything is fresh and you can eat as much as you like – a very dangerous situation when the food is that good. I would also say that vegetarians will find plenty of choices available, perhaps vegans might struggle a bit, although when considering how difficult it is for vegans in the Alps generally, the choice here might very well be vastly superior.
The Ski Area
The Grand Massif is France’s 4th largest interconnected ski area linking up Samoëns with Flaine, Les Carroz, Morillon and Sixt (which is actually a little out on a limb and not open during our stay in April).
Because the Club Med hotel is located above Samoëns itself – at 1600 metres and right at the top of the gondola that starts just outside the village – you literally step outside and onto the snow. There’s a clever entry and exit point at the Club Med complex, right onto the areas nursery slopes that are some of the most extensive in France.
For beginners this is a real draw – no walking with skis, flat areas gradually feeding into gentle slopes with a magic carpet lift and a couple of drags.
The progression for beginners is a bit of a leap though, so it would take a few days before graduating from this area, but long blues above the resort await.
The whole area is a paradise for intermediate skiers and snowboarders. It’s easy to get across to Flaine, on mainly blue graded pistes, and once there, the huge Flaine bowl offers blues and reds in abundance. Many of the runs are wide and open too and I like the mix of higher altitude open slopes, and tighter wooden runs that weave through the forests.
There’s some incredibly long runs on the Samoëns side of the mountain too. Notably from the top of Tete des Saix (2118m) down to Morillon 1100 metres. It’s a cruisy blue from top to bottom and great to do first thing in the morning without stopping – 1000 metre vertical and around 7 km’s of piste.
Off-piste opportunities in the Grand Massif aren’t lacking either. Fortunately I had an ESF Mountain Guide that came with the Club Med package. Our group was mostly French, but out of the 8 skiers, there were two English speakers and the guide, Nicolas, spoke good English and said pretty much everything in both languages. If you know where you’re going then there’s some excellent off-piste in the Flaine bowl area, just away from the marked runs. With a bit of traversing, large tracks of terrain open up. Conditions were spring like but we found some decent ‘spring corn snow’ in several places and didn’t see another person (the off Chamois though) from top to bottom.
In more winter like conditions, there’s some interesting bits of off-piste closer to Samoëns, but it was all a little tracked out and heavy during the middle of April. We stayed away, but I could see the potential, and it’s always a good reason to go back.
Overall I am really impressed with the Grand Massif – I really like nearby Portes du Soleil and over the years I have spent a lot of time there, but I’m as equally impressed here too. The snow record is very good – people look at altitude and make assumptions and of course altitude helps a lot but you should consider that most of the runs are above 1500 meters and the snow depth record in this area for slopes over that altitude is one of the best in the Alps.
The views from most of the peaks, and especially from the top of Grandes Platieres in Flaine, of Mont Blanc are some of the best you’ll get. You’re very close to Mont Blanc here and the huge wall of ice and snow right in front of you is nothing less than spectacular.
Club Med Grand Massif opened in December 2017
There’s 382 rooms, 3 restaurants, 1 bar, a heated indoor pool, kids club (from 4 to 17 years old), spa and ski hire facilities
Adult prices start at £1,384 per person for the 2019-20 ski season, all-inclusive for 7 nights. (From 1,499 including flights and airport transfers from London). For the Easter period, prices start at £1,467 per person all-inclusive for 7 nights.
Summer 2019 adult prices start at £1,061 per person for 7 nights all-inclusive with return flights and airport transfers from London.