Vaujany: A hidden gem in the French Alps
This article comes with a caveat: Vaujany 100% has my heart. It’s where I met and married my husband, and my in-laws have recently invested in an apartment in the village. It feels more like home to us than the Hertfordshire town we actually live in, BUT I will also say that we’ve tried other ski resorts and we always come back to Vaujany – not just because the place is special to us, but because it’s special full stop.
The village sits on a sunny, south-facing slope overlooking the stunning “Massif des Grandes Rousse” mountain range that houses the vast and varied Alpe d’Huez ski area. It’s the epitome of picture-perfect Alpine charm, with pretty, wooden chalets lining the quiet, meandering mountain roads, but don’t let its rustic appearance fool you into thinking that the resort is primitive.
Thanks to a large annual levy from the hydro-electric plant further down the mountain, Vaujany is an unusually wealthy community and it has invested its wealth wisely. The result is a resort that offers state-of-the-art facilities and direct access to one of the world’s largest ski domains, while still maintaining its traditional roots and small-village feel. It’s a hidden gem and one that, quite frankly, I’m reluctant to tell too many people about!
We began our love affair with Vaujany in our early twenties when we were footloose and kid-free, but 19 years and two children later, our holiday priorities have changed somewhat. Luckily for us, the resort is arguably more suited to our current life, with provisions for families far above and beyond those you’d expect for a village of its size.
In fact, in 2009, Vaujany was awarded the coveted Label Famille Plus, a national accolade that recognises outstanding family resorts across France.
Let’s start with Vaujany’s main attraction – the skiing. As mentioned, the village sits on the edge of the Alpe d’Huez domain, which consists of 250km of pistes that go from 1,135m right up to 3,330m at the top of Pic Blanc. A two-stage gondola whisks 160 people at a time from Vaujany’s lift station, up and over the mountain to 2,800m, from where you can ski all the way down into Alpe d’Huez and beyond. There’s something to suit every age and level, and even the most adventurous skiers are hard-pushed to cover it all off in just a week.
For beginners though, the local Vaujany-Montfrais ski area is easily accessed directly from the village via a six-person bubble and provides the perfect playground to learn and progress in safe surroundings. It has three restaurants, a snow park, a good selection of blue, green and red runs and some off-piste trails, so it’s also ideal for mixed ability groups to base themselves for the day without the need to venture further afield.
Vaujany has its own branch of the Ecole du Ski Francais (ESF), offering private and group lessons from the age of three to adulthood – because you’re never too old to learn to ski! Children start in Club Piou Piou, which takes place in the newly- renovated, fully-enclosed Jardin de Niege at Montfrais and gently introduces youngsters to skiing through games and activities. Our four-year-old completed his first week over New Year, collecting four badges along the way and declaring that he loved it “so, so much!” Ski school drop off was a bit chaotic in that wonderfully blasé French way, but once the kids were safely on the bubble and heading up the mountain with two instructors and two assistants in charge, they were (mostly) all smiling.
As they work their way through the ESF badge system, children progress out of the Jardin and on to the gentle green and blue runs of Montfrais, connected by a moving carpet and easy drag lift. Lessons are flexible and can be booked for the morning or the afternoon, or all day with lunch provided. We opted for the morning lessons, with one of us collecting our son at 11.30am so we could spend afternoons together, usually heading back to the village to do one of the many other activities on offer.
At the modern leisure centre, our oldest son and three-year-old nephew loved the 25m swimming pool and “big boy” water slide, while the nine-month-old happily splashed about with the toys provided in the shallow paddling pool. If you get a few precious minutes to yourself, there’s also a sauna, jacuzzi and hamman, strictly for grown ups.
Dads, don’t forget your budgie smugglers – swimming shorts are banned in most French public pools!
The indoor ice skating rink welcomes children aged five and over, while the high-tech bowling alley next door features the genius, tantrum-diffusing invention of bars that rise up from the gutters to stop the kids’ balls rolling sadly past the pins. A new complex in the centre of the village features a small cinema, as well as a multi-media library with over 3,000 books, games and films available to loan. There is also a new heritage museum and the much-loved Maison de la Faune, which introduces little ones to the local Alpine wildlife (via the medium of stuffed animals, so expect questions like “Are they actually dead, mummy?”).
The Tourism Office runs a schedule of events every week throughout the ski season, which revolves around entertainment for children. In the past we’ve met the local husky dog pack, danced to live music at sunset and seen a magic show. On our most recent visit, the village square played host to the most impressive balloon animal show we’ve ever seen, leaving the kids in complete awe/slightly freaked out.
Over New Year, we were lucky enough to have my very lovely mother-in-law on holiday with us, so we didn’t use the childcare in the village this time, but we have used the Garderie in the past and will certainly use it again in the future for our newest addition. The purpose-built, beautifully-equipped nursery, run by experienced English-speaking staff, is open seven days a week during the ski season and takes care of children from six months to five years.
The daily Kids’ Club caters for children aged three to 11 and runs morning and afternoon activities such as nature walks, sledging and crafting. We’re yet to try it, but we’ve heard only good things from chatting to other parents in resort. The ESF even offer a service whereby they transfer children from their morning ski lessons to the nursery or Kids’ Club in the village for the afternoon, making it possible for parents to ski all day without the need to head back to resort at lunchtime.
Chances are you’ll all be exhausted after the day’s exertion, but if you do fancy getting out, après-ski in Vaujany is a somewhat gentle affair. There are a handful of bars and restaurants in the village, most of which welcome children in the early evening, and you’ll find everything from fine dining to traditional Alpine fayre, as well as burgers, steaks, crêpes and delicious thin-crust pizzas made to order. Arsens Café is the place to be if you want a pint of beer and the rugby, while Scratch is a cool bar tucked away in an old vaulted farm building. If you’ve got teens in tow, La Grotte de Yeti stays open late and is the nearest you’ll get to a nightclub.
The newly-renovated boutique hotel, Le V de Vaujany has the kind of super-stylish bar and bistro that you’d usually run a mile from with kids, but a door in the corner of the room reveals a cute little play room with toys, a big screen TV and comfy bean bags to occupy the little ones while you relax with a G-Vine and Tonic. We had lunch there on New Year’s Day with three kids under four and the staff were incredibly tolerant, despite the carnage we left behind.
Accommodation options in the village range from the aforementioned luxury hotel to 5* catered chalets and more basic self-catering apartments. We’ve tried and tested quite a few over the years, our favourite being La Perle d’Oisans at the top of the village, with its spacious apartments and unbeatable views. Check out UK-based operator and Vaujany specialist, Ski Peak or alternatively visit www.vaujany.com or www.vaujanyskicompany.com/ for listings of privately-owned apartments and chalets
available to rent.
Wherever you choose, most accommodation in the village has easy access to the lift station, ski hire shops, supermarket, bars, restaurants and leisure centre thanks to a network of escalators and lifts that connect the different levels of the village. This saves tired legs (big and little!) from walking up and down the steep mountain roads after a day on the piste.
Phew! That feels like a lot of information and there is still so much more to mention about this glorious little village (the breath-taking sunsets that turn the whole mountain pink, the awesome New Year’s Eve fireworks display, the magical torchlit descents on the piste opposite the village, the wonderful deli filled with amazing local cheeses and charcuterie, the 300 days of sunshine a year). I really could go on but I won’t because hopefully you’ll get to discover all the quirks of this special little place for yourself. Just don’t tell too many people about it when you do!
For more information, visit www.vaujany.com
Written by Beth Roberts
Beth works in PR and lives in Hertfordshire with her husband and two sons, aged four and eight months.