A car is necessary to visit all four resorts, though when there's ample snow, La Grave and Les Deux Alpes are lift-connected. Fly to Paris, take the TGV to Grenoble (about three hours and $100), then rent a car for the hour's drive into the Grands Oisans. Alpe d'Huez, Les Deux Alpes and Serre Chevalier offer ground transportation from the train station. (Inquire at the Tourism Office.) Or fly to Turin, Italy, and rent a car for the 90-minute drive west to Serre Chevalier.
SKI AREA STATS
Les Deux Alpes: Summit elevation is 11,810 feet; vertical drop is 6,397 feet; there are 70 trails totaling 137 miles and 58 lifts; the resort offers night skiing and summer skiing; adults ski for $25; a six-day pass costs $125.
La Grave-La Meije: Summit elevation is 3,550 feet; vertical drop is 6,889 feet; there are zero trails and two lifts that serve mind-blowing terrain; adults pay $24 per day; a three-day pass costs $63. Le Grand Serre Chevalier is comprised of four lift-linked areas: Prorel (in Briançon), Chantemerle, La Salle Les Alpes (in Villeneuve) and Le Monetier (in Les Bains). The maximum summit elevation is 9,285 feet; vertical drop is 5,384 feet; there are 72 lifts, servicing 155 miles of marked trails; adults pay $16 for a ticket good at any two areas; a six-day, all-area pass costs $156.
In Les Deux Alpes, the best is the four-star Berangère for classic French pampering ($70-$130, full-board, 011-33-476-79-24-11). Almost as posh, and prettier, is the warm, woody Chalet Mounier ($50-90, 011-33-476-80-56-90). On a budget? Try the clean, no-frills Les Melezes, slopeside ($35-$60, 011-33-476-80-50-50). In La Grave-La Meije, the two-star Hotel Auberge Edelweiss is a short walk from the lift, has excellent dining and a fun bar (The Candy Ass) in a stone building ($33-$43, half-board; 011-33-476-79-90-93). Le Chalet de la Meige is modern and has cottages ($35-$62, half-board, 011-33-476-79-97-97). In Serre Chevalier Le Parc Hotel ($52-$65, half-board; 011-33-492-20-37-47) is clean and has modern three-star rooms in the old city, with good dining. Hotel Vielle Ferme: ($24-$28, half-board; 011-33-492-24-76-44), old-style accommodations in a building dating to 1722. In Alpe d'Huez, the three-star Chamois d'Or has modern amenities and private balconies, slopeside ($145-$175 per person, full-board). For considerably less, the three-star Mariandre offers small but impeccably clean rooms: $65-$95 per person, full board.
In Les Deux Alpes, Chalet Mounier has one of the best dining rooms in town (about $21 per person); La Petite Marmite has inviting alpine décor and excellent food for the price (about $16). And despite its name, the Crêpe A-Go-Go offers sophisticated regional cuisine (about $16). To meet other tourists, go to the Boom Boom Bar or the Irish Pub. Locals prefer Les Bluets: low-key, friendly and hip. In La Grave-La Meije, Madame Liotier prepares gourmet fare for intimate crowds at Le Vieux Guide ($13-$26 per person). For simpler fare, The Café de Glacier has good crêpes ($12). Après dinner or après-ski, join other North American thrill-seekers at Café du Glacier. In Serre Chevalier, two reliable bets for regional cuisine are La Mangeoire ($20) in Monetier or La Manouille ($15/person, even less for pizza) in Villeneuve. Cap off a perfect evening with a glass of wine at La Grotte du Yeti in Villeneuve. Discerning Alpe d'Huez locals like Au Petite Creux (about $25 per person). For simpler fare, try Au Ble Noir for crêpes ($12-$14). Expend any remaining energy at L'Etalon—a local institution. The Brits hang at Smithy's.
When at Les Deux Alpes, a gondola trip down to the old village of Venosc. In La Grave-La Meije, don't miss lunch at the Refuge Evariste Chancel (elevation: 8,221 feet): excellent, hearty fare (about $10) and an extraordinary view of Lac de Puy Vachier. In Serre Chevalier, stroll through the old part of Briançon: ccharming shops and restaurants. When in Alpe d'Huez, a backcountry cruise down the spectacular Sarenne Glacier, or down the east side of the Auris area, where cabs wait at the bottom to take you back to the lifts ($3).
WHEN TO GO
Jan. 5-31 or March 5-31, to beat school-vacation crowds.
Only at La Grave is a guide essential for the sake of safety. At the other three resorts, a day of guided skiing helps to maximize your time. Contact the Bureau des Guides at each resort: at Les Deux Alpes, call 011-33-476-79-21-21; at La Grave-La Meije, call 011-33- 476-79-90-21; at Serre Chevalier, call 011-33-492-20-15-73; at Alpe d'Huez, call 011-33-476-80-42-55.
Les Deux Alpes Office de Tourisme: 011-33-476-79-22-00, www.les2alpes.com; central reservations 011-33-476-79-24-38. La Grave-La Meije Office de Tourisme: 011-33-476-79-90-05; central reservations 011-33-476-79-92-46. Le Grand Serre Chevalier Office de Tourisme: 011-33-492-24-71-88 or 492-21-08-50. Alpe d'Huez Office de Tourisme: 011-33-476-11-44-44; firstname.lastname@example.org. To obtain information from the French Tourism Board, call 410-286-7800.