As France and Italy get ready to face each other in the Six Nations rugby, we put them head to head to see which is the better ski destination. It’s French Alps versus Dolomites, purpose-built versus traditional, fondue versus pizza – but which one wins out for you?
No. of resorts:
France – 28
Italy – 19
Biggest ski area:
France – Portes du Soleil, 650km
Italy – Dolomiti Superski, 1,220km
France – Val Thorens, 2,300m
Italy – Cervinia, 2,050m
France – Chamonix, 3,842m
Italy – Cervinia, 3,883m
Think ‘skiing’ and France is probably one of the first countries that springs to mind. It’s famous for huge, high-altitude ski areas, modern lifts and a great snow record. Most skiing is above the treeline, so you’ll slide off the lift to endless open runs at your feet and panoramic views as far as the eye can see.
But France can’t beat Italy’s champion on sheer size – the Dolomiti Superski is the world’s largest linked ski area, with 1,220km of piste. The slopes are quieter and more spread out, and the dramatic Dolomites are some of the most beautiful peaks on earth. A lot of Italy is lower altitude, but Cervinia tops France’s Chamonix by 41m to claim the highest skiable point.
France is all about purpose-built convenience. Lots of resorts are up the mountain, with cosmopolitan vibes and plenty of ski-in, ski-out accommodation or easy access to the slopes. Older resorts aren’t typically pretty, but many are now swapping their stark designs for Scandi chic. If you prefer the traditional look, there are some peaceful villages with cosy wooden buildings dotted around.
Speaking of tradition, that’s where Italy shines – its valleys are lined with old farming villages and working towns with a more relaxed feel. With fewer ski-in, ski-out stays, it can take a bit longer to get to the skiing, but there are good lift links and regular buses. Or if quick access is a must for you, Italy does have some purpose-built resorts too.
French food is praised for its quality, and the ski resort staples are definite crowd-pleasers. Cheese and meat top most menus – think gooey fondue and raclette, creamy tartiflette and juicy pierrade. Mountain restaurants are fairly pricey, but the many self-service places are convenient pit-stops for a quick sandwich or burger at lunchtime.
Italian specialities are also worldwide winners – who doesn’t love crisp pizza or fresh pasta? Regional recipes are common too, so you can mix up your meals with things like dumplings and polenta. Food is generally cheaper here and restaurants are more laid-back – Italians like to take their time over a proper lunch, with several courses and maybe a glass of wine.
There’s a reason that most of the world uses a French name for its post-ski entertainment. France is famous for celebrating the end of the ski day in style, with piste-side parties, live DJs and dancing on tables. Topping the must-do list is La Folie Douce – the epitome of lively après, with venues in six resorts across the Alps.
Following the theme of the rest of the country, Italian après is more casual. People gather in bars to catch up after skiing and sip a pre-dinner aperitivo – a traditional part of Italian culture. Most places offer free snacks too, like plates of cheese and cured meats, to keep you going until your evening meal.
Good value on a ski holiday isn’t just about the cost – it’s what you get for your money. The annual Post Office report rounds up the best-value ski resorts across Europe and North America, and several French and Italian names made the cut.
France is generally more expensive but you get a lot of bang for your buck considering the size and standard of the ski areas. The report picks out Morzine as the best-value resort when you add up the average price of equipment hire, lift passes, food and drinks. The lift pass alone works out to just 30p per kilometre of skiing in the Portes du Soleil area.
But Italy came out on top, with Bardonecchia claiming second place on the overall best-value list. If you’re all about getting the most piste for your pounds, head for Selva Val Gardena to pay just 19p per kilometre in the massive Dolomiti Superski.
France – La Plagne, Flaine
Italy – Passo Tonale, La Thuile
Après & nightlife:
France – Val Thorens, Les Deux Alpes
Italy – Sauze d’Oulx, Courmayeur
France – La Rosière, Alpe d’Huez
Italy – Passo Tonale, Cervinia
France – Courchevel, Morzine
Italy – Val di Fassa, Arabba
France – Val d’Isère, Chamonix
Italy – Selva Val Gardena, Sestriere
Are you backing France or Italy for the win? Whichever one you pick, you’re in for a champion ski trip.