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Charming villages within the best ski areas in Europe

For many skiers, modern ski resorts with sophisticated infrastructure, lifts and an extensive network of slopes are an essential part of the experience. But this convenience often comes at a price, with cities built specifically for this purpose, high on function and low on charm.

But it's still possible to enjoy an authentic alpine experience while enjoying the best that the mega resorts have to offer. Here are six mountain locations where skiers can be in tune with ancient ways and still connect to the sport.

Valtournenche, Italy

Breuil-Cervinia, Aosta Valley, Italy

The powerful Matterhorn stands sentinel at the head of a meandering tributary north of the Aosta Valley in Italy. The popular winter resort Breuil-Cervinia lies at your feet, while the Swiss jewel Zermatt sits atop the mountain.

The two areas' lifts connect at Theodul Pass, forming a borderless star ski system surrounded by some of the highest peaks in the Alps. The high point is 3,883 meters at the top of the sharp, modern Matterhorn Glacier Paradise lift.

But just a 10-minute drive below Cervinia lies the unknown village of Valtournenche, home of the late mountain guide Jean-Antoine Carrel, who with his friends competed with British climber Edward Whymper to be the first to climb Monte Cervino. Whymper, who started in Switzerland, won the race. But tragedy struck when four members of his team died in the crash. Carrel's crew, which started in Italy, reached the top three days later in July 1865.

A glimpse into the past of Valtournenche can be found in the narrow alleys that touch the roof around the whitewashed church, with signs for guides on the square walls.

The Maison de l'Alpage, a museum dedicated to the region's ancient ways of life and agriculture, is housed in a converted barn known as a “rascard”. A long gondola takes skiers to the compact ski area of ​​Valtournenche, from where a (sometimes) heated cable car takes visitors to the Cervinia system and the white playground of Zermatt.

On the way down to Valtournenche (also accessible by car) is the Foyer des Guides, a mountain bar and restaurant run by Sabrina and Walter, descendants of original guides, who serve Aostan specialties in an elegant chalet with a sunny terrace.

St. Martin de Belleville, France

France's vast Les 3 Vallees has long claimed to be the largest ski area in the world, and with good reason.

The ski area has 600 kilometers of slopes spread across three large valleys, ranging from elegant Courchevel at one end, through Meribel to high-altitude Les Menuires and Val Thorens (“ValTho” as the locals call it) at the other.

In fact, there are four valleys, because the few lifts above Orelle have been interconnected for a long time.

Hidden in plain sight from all the big-name resorts is the tranquil village of St. Martin de Belleville, now an authentic alternative ski base for those in the know.

It is situated in the Belleville valley, below Les Menuires, with a quick connection to the Tougnete range, above Meribel, from where the whole of Les 3 Vallees is its winter oyster.

For food lovers, St. Martin has another great attraction in the form of the famous La Bouitte a three-Michelin-starred restaurant run by father and son team Rene and Maxime Meilleur, whose cuisine is a modern twist on traditional Savoyard dishes.

La Bouitte, which means “little house” in the local dialect, grew out of a small potato patch bought by René in 1976. Originally accessed by off-piste skiers, it is now a hotel and restaurant, as well as a meeting point. place for gourmands, with separate bistro and spa.

Vaujany, France

Cycling fans have probably heard of this village's famous neighbor, Alpe d'Huez for the legendary stories of Tour de France riders fighting through 21 hairpins until the end of the stage in the city.

For skiers and snowboarders, Alpe d'Huez is a sprawling, functional winter resort in the southern Alps, with 248 kilometers of slopes and 84 lifts reaching a height of 3,330 meters on a series of sunny, south-facing runs. .

Full of wooden and stone chalets, churches, farms and authentic charm facing the Massif des Grandes Rousses, Vaujany lies in the valley at around 1,250 meters.

With just a few local bars and restaurants – La Table de la Fare is the spot for après-ski drinks, while Le Stou, near the pool, is good for food – definitely not a place for party-goers. A leisure center, ice rink and bowling alley complement off-piste activities.

The Montfrais gondola or the long Alpette cable car take skiers to the Alpe d'Huez system, from where they can venture to the summit of Pic Blanc (3,330 meters) to tackle the Sarenne, the longest black run in the world, with 16 kilometers long.

For off-piste lovers, the Combe du Loup (Wolf Valley) offers a variety of sometimes powdery terrain, with views of the famous extreme ski village of La Grave and La Meije mountain (3,984 metres) above.

“It's a small, traditional mountain village with all the infrastructure and facilities of a large resort,” says Steph Bridge, owner of Chalet Polaris in Vaujany.

“Locals cling to old traditions and there are chickens, vegetable gardens, marmots and chamois running free in the mountains.” “We love coming back at the end of the day and sitting on the terrace in the warm evening sun, even in January, and enjoying the sunset.”

Warth-Schröcken, Austria

Warth and Schröcken, considered one of the snowiest spots in the Alps, with 10 meters per year spread across a plateau on the border of Vorarlberg and Tyrol.

These two former farming villages, accessible only by mule trail until the early 20th century, struck gold a decade ago when their compact shared ski area was finally linked to the vast Arlberg system by the two-kilometre Auenfeldjet gondola.

This clandestine access to the famous resorts of Lech, Zurs and St. Anton opened up the largest ski area in Austria, with around 300 kilometers of slopes and 85 lifts. The Run of Fame is an 85-kilometre circuit around the entire region that fast skiers can complete in a tiring day. The 22-kilometer White Ring around Lech and Zurs is another favorite.

There are still many buildings in the timber-clad pitched-roof style of the Walser people who migrated here from the Swiss region of Valais around the 14th century. Of the two, Warth has direct access to skiing. But it exists at a slower pace, being much smaller than St. Anton or Lech, enjoying less of the hustle and bustle of a powder day.

“Warth is a quiet village tucked away at the back of the Arlberg, but three lifts later you're in the Mecca of Lech and all the ski area has to offer,” says Andy Butterworth, co-director of Kaluma Travel, which organizes alpine getaways from luxury in St. Anton and Courchevel.

“There are some lovely hotels that go unnoticed and have really vibrant terraces for the sunny après ski scene in March and April, like the Berghotel Biberkopf and the Steffisalp.”

Some people choose to ski to Warth and Schröcken for an afternoon and evening away from St. Anton and Lech and then ski back the next day.

“If you're staying in Warth, don't settle in one of Lech's champagne bars and miss the last elevator. It’s a long, expensive taxi ride back.”

The restaurants are eclectic, ranging from traditional Austrian dishes at places like the Hotel Walserstube or Wälder Metzge, to more refined dining at the “urban alpine” restaurant Bibers in Biberkopf.

Le Praz, France

If Courchevel is the queen of the rich French scene, then the small Le Praz She's your lady-in-waiting.

Located on a plateau at 1,300 meters, the village is the first and most authentic of the resorts that make up Courchevel at various altitudes – 1550, 1650 and 1850.

The marketing department renamed 1550 “Courchevel Village” and 1650 is now “Moriond”, but most people stick to the numbers).

As the site of the Olympic ski jumping at the 1992 Albertville Games, Le Praz isn't exactly unknown – the village also hosted the ski racing World Championship final last year.

But with its narrow streets, sloping roofs and more traditional alpine setting, the village offers more of an old-timey image than the rest of the resorts, despite recent development.

It's a good place for gluttony too, with the Bistrot du Praz an institution of sorts, and the four-star Hotel les Peupliers (now owned by the family of French world ski champion Alexis Pinturault) another favorite hangout for drinks or dinner afterwards. at his Table de Mon Grand Pere restaurant.

La Petite Bergerie a cozy place on the ground floor of an old stone chalet, serves Savoyard specialties.

A new lift and base station take skiers into the heart of Courchevel 1850 and the riches of Les 3 Vallees beyond, whilst the Eclipse piste, renovated and refurbished for the World Championship, offers a black run challenge back to the village.

“Le Praz still has that old-school soul and is the perfect antidote to the glitz of the 1850s,” says Simon Hooper, owner of ski rental company White Storm in Courchevel.

“It’s like going back to simpler times. It's a great place to relax in the depths of winter when the snowflakes are falling or soak up the rays outside a bar or around the lake in spring.”

Montchavin, France

As far as mega resorts go, the French Paradiski area is up there – 425 kilometers of pistes shared between the purpose-built resorts of La Plagne and Les Arcs, high above the Tarentaise valley.

The two areas are connected through a deep valley by the Vanoise Express cable car double-decker, and with 70% of the skiing above 2,000 meters, it's a pretty snowy place in a typical winter.

But if apartment block architecture from the 1960s onwards isn't your thing, the village of Montchavin could be your authentic key to the area.

Montchavin is 1,250 meters into the woods, on the La Plagne side of the Vanoise Express, offering car-free cobblestone streets, wooden and stone chalets, and plenty of nods to its agricultural past.

At 1,450 metres, its neighbor Les Coches is another unadvertised and sympathetically developed option.

Although both quickly connect to the main lift system, they often go unnoticed by skiers racing between La Plagne and Les Arcs, meaning the tree-lined slopes can be tranquil even during busy periods.

La Bovate or La Ferme de Cesar, located in the center of Montchavin, are atmospheric places to “boire un coup” (have a drink) or sample Savoyard specialties such as raclette, reblochonnade (made with creamy alpine Reblochon cheese), tartiflette or braserade (meat cooked on a hot stone).

Source: CNN Brasil

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