Field Guide: Les Arcs, France

A ski and snowboard mecca, Les Arcs is arguably the biggest and best ski resort in the world. But in the summer season, it’s also a superb destination for bikers, hikers, paddlers and other adventure-seekers.

16th February 2024 | Words by Alf Alderson

Think of Les Arcs and you inevitably think of skiing. As one of the world’s biggest and best ski resorts, that’s hardly surprising. Whilst the ‘best’ bit is of course subjective, there’s no doubting the ‘biggest’ moniker; the resort is part of the huge Paradiski ski area, linked to La Plagne via the world’s biggest cable car and offering some 425km of pistes, served by over 140 ski lifts which also access huge and varied off-piste terrain. And just to top it all off Les Arcs also has the world’s longest black/red run, offering 2,050 vertical metres of exhilarating downhill.

However, this classic modernist French ski resort is not just about winter sports – visit in summer and you can enjoy a superb, sunny climate in which to mountain bike, hike, cycle, raft and a whole host of other exciting activities. With climate change forcing ski resorts to focus more than ever on the summer market, what’s on offer in Les Arcs in the summer months is only likely to increase in the future.

Les Arcs Winter

‘Les Arcs’ is actually a broad term that’s used to describe a collection of mountain villages built in the 1970s. This consists of Arc 2000, Arc 1800, Arc 1600 (the numbers refer to the altitude) and the linked villages of Peisey-Vallandry, with the addition of Arc 1950 which was built in the 2000s, and not forgetting tiny Villaroger at the very edge of the ski area. Unlike the rest of the resort’s villages, Villaroger is a traditional mountain settlement with limited accommodation and facilities.

Situated in the Vanoise Massif of the Graian Alps, Les Arcs sit in the shadow of 3,250-metre Aiguille Rouge and 3,779-metre Mont Pourri, within view of the Mont Blanc massif to the north. It is a superb outdoor playground both winter and summer.

How to get there

By air

Geneva, Grenoble and Lyon airports are all two to three hours by road from Les Arcs depending on traffic and weather conditions, whilst Chambery is about two hours away but has less frequent flights.

Transfers are expensive unless included as part of your holiday package; consider taking the train, which is cheaper. There are decent train services from all the above airports to Bourg St. Maurice from where a funicular railway (see below) takes you up to Les Arcs.

Les Arcs

By car

Most people driving to Les Arcs will access the ski area from the town of Bourg St Maurice in the valley below. France’s excellent autoroute network makes the drive from the UK fast and easy – allow 10 hours or so from the ports of Calais and Caen, for example. Bear in mind that the main access road, the N90, is invariably busy with holiday traffic at weekends and traffic jams are common.

Bear in mind that the main access road, the N90, is invariably busy with holiday traffic at weekends and traffic jams are common.

By train

Les Arcs is one of the easiest of French ski resorts to access via train. Travelski Express will take you from St. Pancras International to Bourg St Maurice (with a change in Lille) in around ten hours, from where a funicular train (free on presentation of your train ticket) takes you to the foot of the slopes in Arc 1600 in less than seven minutes. From here, free and frequent shuttle buses run to Arc 1800, Arc 1950 or Arc 2000 (but not Peisey-Vallandry or Villaroger).

Les Arcs

Getting around

Winter visitors don’t really need a car, as the vast network of ski lifts will convey you between all the villages and slopes, as well as taking you to neighbouring La Plagne. Free shuttle buses allow you to travel between villages too, whilst the funicular railway from Arc 1600 to Bourg St Maurice provides access to the region’s biggest town.

In summer there’s a much-reduced network of ski lifts provided for hikers and mountain bikers along with a free shuttle bus service between most of the villages.

When to go

The ski season generally runs from a week or so before Christmas to late April, and some of the lifts will open again for mountain biking and hiking from mid-July to late August. Outside of these periods accommodation in the resort villages is very limited.

Don’t miss:

Winter sports

Skiers and boarders of all abilities are superbly catered for in Les Arcs.

Beginners have a wide range of top-notch ski schools to choose from wherever they’re based, with a number of free beginner lifts and various beginner/novice only ski areas, the best of which is located just above Arc 1800 at the Mille 8 Leisure Complex, where you’ll also find a swimming pool, spa and restaurant.

Les Arcs

Intermediates will revel in Les Arcs’ huge array of blue and red runs – wherever you base yourself there’s a great selection to go at, such as the network of red and blues through the trees above Peisey-Vallandry and the wide, open pistes above Arc 1600 and Arc 2000; or you can even enjoy a day out in neighbouring La Plagne, also an intermediate paradise, via the Vanoise Express cable car.

For advanced and expert skiers, an obvious ‘must do’ is the 2,050-metre descent from the summit of 3,225-metre Aiguille Rouge to Villaroger. It touts itself as the world’s longest black run, although in truth the only really challenging terrain is at the very start (and even that can be by-passed), after which you’re onto red slopes all the way down.

Les Arcs

There are also some serious black pistes off Aiguille Rouge down into Arc 2000, along with a fine selection of off-piste terrain ranging from mild to real heart-in-the-mouth stuff; it’s best to sign up with a guide to make the most of it. In addition to all this, there’s a good terrain park on the slopes between Arc 1600 and Arc 1800, with something to suit all abilities.

In addition to all this, there’s a good terrain park on the slopes between Arc 1600 and Arc 1800, with something to suit all abilities.

Les Arcs

Mountain Biking

In summer a limited number of lifts provide access to 149km of mountain bike trails, which are usually dry and dusty and bathed in warm summer sunshine.

As with the skiing, there’s something for all abilities, from ‘The 8’, a seriously steep and technical run starting at Arc 1600 and finishing in Bourg St Maurice, to the flowing blue ‘Woodstock’ above Peisey Vallandry.

A fun option for anyone other than a complete beginner is the 23-km, 1,058-metre vertical ‘Route 66’, all the way from the Col de la Chal above Arc 2000 down to Bourg St. Maurice, which takes in everything from high alpine single track to shady forest and riverside trails.

Les Arcs


The same lifts also give access to a wide range of hiking trails, and more adventurous hikers can easily find their own routes off the beaten track with the local 1:25,000 IGN map (Les Arcs and La Plagne).

Other adventures


Other winter options include cross-country skiing (there are some lovely trails in the pretty Nancroix Valley below Peisey-Vallandry, with access via a free shuttle bus), various sled runs and snowshoe trails, a zip wire above Arc 2000 and dog sledding and skijoring, along with less frenetic activities such as an entrancing light show in the top station of the Varet gondola and, at the top of the Vallandry gondola, an interesting exhibition on the region’s mountain animals and the resort’s efforts to be as green as possible.

Les Arcs


Arc 1800 is the focal point of the summer action, with an open-air swimming pool where you can also enjoy fantastic mountain views while basking in the sun, along with a climbing wall, archery and a wide range of activities aimed particularly at children.

Down in Bourg St Maurice there is white water rafting and kayaking on the Isere River, whilst the Nancroix Valley has an exciting via ferrata.

And, of course, there’s cycling – whether on a regular road bike or an e-bike there are some seriously challenging cols to be ridden locally (Cormet de Roseland, Petit St. Bernard, Col d’Iseran, which have all featured in the Tour de France) along with easy, virtually flat cycle paths alongside the Isere River.

Les Arcs

Flora and fauna

Obviously winter visitors will see little in the way of flora and fauna due to snow cover or the fact that many animals, if not actually hibernating, tend to keep daytime activity to a minimum. Indeed, as you ski around you may notice signs advising you to avoid certain areas of the resort in order to minimise disturbance to one of the region’s iconic species, the tetras lyre (black grouse), which lives in burrows under the snow and can be easily disturbed by human activity – please observe these.

Indeed, as you ski around you may notice signs advising you to avoid certain areas of the resort in order to minimise disturbance to one of the region’s iconic species, the tetras lyre (black grouse), which lives in burrows under the snow and can be easily disturbed by human activity – please observe these.

Other species – most of which you’re far more likely to see in summer – include marmots, ibex and golden eagle. There have even been rumours in recent years of wolves having been seen in the surrounding mountains.

In early summer the region’s alpine meadows become awash with colour as wildflowers come into bloom. Look out for several species of gentian, alpine forget-me-not, alpine aster, alpine toadflax, rhododendron and clover amongst others.

Les Arcs

Where to stay, eat and drink


Les Arcs’ modern architecture dates back to the seventies and won’t appeal to everyone (Arc 1950, developed some thirty years later, is the exception, with a more traditional alpine look). However, it does have the advantage of being conveniently ski in/ski out in most cases as well as within easy reach of facilities such as shops, bars and restaurants.

All the ski villages have a wide range of accommodation options, from upmarket hotels to cheap and cheerful self-catering chalets and apartments. Indeed, there are so many of the latter offering different packages that it’s difficult to pick individual-stand outs.

Popular accommodation options include the four-star Hotel Aiguille Grive in Arc 1800, the three-star Hotel Arcadien in Arc 1600 and the huge, new Club Med apartments above Arc 1600, while in Peisey-Vallandry, La Forêt Chalet Pension has a good bar and great views.

As mentioned above, Arc 1950 has a more traditional, rustic feel, although it tends to be more expensive. Check out the apartments at Manoir Savoie with its outdoor pool and hot tub.

Arc 2000 is home to the only five-star hotel in the ski area – if that’s your thing, the Taj-i-Mah is perfectly located for accessing the slopes, bars and restaurants of the village.

Meanwhile, off the beaten track in little Villaroger is the lovely rustic Snow True chalet which is perfect if you want to get away from it all in more traditional surroundings – and one of the proprietors even produces his own exclusive hand-made chocolates!

Les Arcs

Restaurants and bars

You’re never far from a restaurant in Les Arcs, although it’s worth noting that most of the mountain restaurants are only open in the winter. This means that mountain bikers and hikers will generally need to head to one of the resort villages for food and drink whilst on the go in the summer months.

Soliets Restaurant (no website) above Villaroger has gorgeous views from its deck and is nice and cosy on snowy days although a bit pricey; it specialises in traditional Savoyarde cuisine.

Above Arc 2000 the Bulle Café (no website) is always busy both inside and out, and does great value pizzas and huge seafood platters, whilst even higher up the slopes is La Creche (no website) at Col de la Chal, popular for its sunny terrace.

Down in Arc 1950, Luigi’s on the edge of the slopes is easy to access on skis and does top Italian dishes, whilst also on the edge of the slopes above Arc 1600 Le Sanglier Qui Fume (no website) makes a great coffee or cocktail stop.

Above Peisey-Vallandry Aux Enfants Terribles offers everything from snacks and coffee to a bistro specialising in homemade produce. It also boasts a large, sunny terrace on which to enjoy it. And, like all good French ski resorts, Les Arcs also boasts a Folie Douce above Arc 1800. Head there for banging music, dancing girls and boys both on and off stage, and expensive food and drink, if that’s your thing.

For nightlife, unless you want to take the shuttle between villages, you’ll be restricted to what’s available in the village where you’re staying. In Peisey-Vallandry Le Mojo (no website) is centrally located, has regular live music and stays open until 2am, whilst Bar Mont Blanc (no website) is a bustling English-style bar with a good vibe that also has live music.

Good options in Arc 1800 include the above mentioned Folie Douce, the Jungle Café (no website) which is good value, popular with locals, and stays open until 1am. Also try L’Ambiente Bar, a French-style, chilled out place known for its cocktails.

In Arc 1600, check out the Nawi restaurant (no website), serving traditional Savoyard and home-made world cuisine, whilst the nearby Abreuvoir (no website) is usually equally busy with regular karaoke nights and live music.

Chalet De Luigi (see above) in Arc 1950 stays open until 2am and has a club and dance floor, whilst O’Chaud Lounge Bar (no website) is a very popular venue, with regular live music and DJs keeping things lively until the early hours.

Above Arc 2000 the Village Igloo near the bottom of the Arcabulle lift offers an unusual après-ski experience. The bar is carved out of ice and there’s also a grotto of ice sculptures here; from there you can ski down to Arc 2000, where the Patatrak on the fifth floor of the Residence Aiguille Rouge serves Indian and Thai dishes.

If you’re staying in Villaroger, expect things to be very quiet – the only bar is Restaurant La Ferme, very low key and offering basic but filling dishes. Or there’s Le Goyet, a friendly and traditional French restaurant on the opposite side of the village.

Les Arcs

Alf Alderson is an award-winning journalist and author who has been writing about adventure travel for 25 years, with his work appearing in a wide range of newspapers, magazines and websites globally. He divides his time between the Pembrokeshire coast and Les Arcs in the French Alps.

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