Take a left for the thrifty side of the Alps

Lucy Grewcock had passed by the sign for Sainte Foy many times on her way to Val d'Isère...this time, she followed it instead

I feel the familiar ripple of excitement as our vehicle drops down a gear and we snake around the first in a long series of bends on the ascent to Val d'Isère. Sitting up straighter in my seat, I assess how the snow cover compares with last year, my muscles awakening and gently flexing as I take my body through imaginary ski turns.

But after only five hairpin bends, our driver swings left off the main road. In almost a decade of climbing this route, I have passed the sign to Sainte Foy more than 30 times but I've never once taken the turn towards what I've always considered to be the inferior baby cousin of Val d'Isère and Tignes.

It was my boyfriend, Tom, who suggested we give Sainte Foy a chance. He'd heard that the Alps' youngest ski resort, which has just turned 20, has been quietly developing into a chic retreat and was secretly harbouring some of the best ski terrain in the Tarentaise Valley.

First impressions boded well. With spacious rooms and bespoke interiors, our chalet, The Peak, is typical of Sainte Foy's sophisticated style, yet the stone columns and twisted timbers suggest the new building could have been here for decades. It costs half the price of similar chalets in better-known resorts, too.

We got our lift passes and ski hire sorted in record speed and found time for a few warm-up runs before heading up the mountain. On the Grand Plan chair lift, we discussed the week ahead with a couple from Edinburgh, who told us that though Sainte Foy has just four chair lifts and 15 pistes, the town is a short taxi ride from some of the Alps' most illustrious resorts, making a ski safari possible.

"You can get cheap passes for all the nearby resorts," they explained. "Think we'll be nipping over to La Plagne for a day." A great idea – we began planning our tour. With a week's lift pass costing half the price charged in the biggest resorts, at Sainte Foy you can easily afford a morning in Les Arcs, or an afternoon in La Rosière.

For now we would explore Sainte Foy. We met Fabienne, our guide for the day, at the foot of Le Marquise – the resort's new six-seater chair lift – and headed up to the Col de l'Aiguille. We pulled out the piste map to plan our attack, but Fabienne waved a mitten at the uncrowded pistes and chalky white powder below. "No need for rushing here," she said.

It was sound advice. Sainte Foy operates a laid-back attitude, with few collisions and none of the usual lift stampedes. We carved wide turns on expansive red runs and raced each other along winding, tree-lined blues.

Planning to get regain our ski legs before venturing off-piste, I was surprised when, at more than 2,000m, Fabienne lifted a fence and signalled for Tom to drop over the edge first.

"Welcome to Shaper's Paradise," she whooped, as we bounded down one of three designated free-riding zones. No off-piste area can deliver the safety of the nursery slopes, but Sainte Foy's vast bowl is controlled from the ridge above, so the risk of avalanche is greatly reduced and the chance of a speedy rescue is enhanced. Beyond this ridge, the backcountry offers endless adventure. And with a north-west aspect, you can find untouched powder long after nearby resorts have been tracked out.

We glided home through the pine trees – even down at resort level the snow quality was good. A new network of snow cannons, able to make up to 4.5 hectares of artificial snow, has recently been installed on the new blue run, Les Charmottes, ensuring skiers can shoosh straight into the Iceberg Bar for an après-ski beer, even in late April.

Après-ski is a congenial affair here. Don't expect to be spraying magnums of Dom Pérignon from the terraces, or showcasing your Gucci one-piece. The family-friendly bars are lively but, come early evening, the drinkers disperse for dinner. Drawn by a log fire and a menu of Savoyard specialities, we opted for La Maison à Colonnes, a restaurant set in a 16th-century listed farmhouse at the foot of the pistes.

As the week drifted by, we became enchanted by this unassuming ski resort that skirts Vanoise National Park and is controlled by strict heritage charters. New developments are well considered and carefully monitored.

Inspired by this attitude, on day five we strapped on snowshoes to explore the valley with Sainte Foy veteran and local celebrity, Bruno Davy. "Allez. Let's go!" Bruno grinned with excitement. Lifting our feet high to manoeuvre the clumsy raquettes, we followed him along quiet forest trails, as he pointed out the tracks of chamois, roe deer and white hare.

At the edge of the forest, Bruno offered us a glimpse into Sainte Foy's future. With construction already under way, the new buildings there will almost double the occupancy within five years. "And, here, a new lift," said Bruno, gesturing towards a clearing. He outlined plans for new shops and restaurants, the upgrade for existing chair lifts and, possibly, the opening of a new ski area. "New pistes through the forest?" I probed. "Maybe higher up, but not here," Bruno shook his head. "C'est le parc national," he laughed, slapping a larch tree.

Crunching back to our chalet for the last time, Tom spotted the couple we had met earlier in the week. "How was La Plagne?" he called across the piste. "Didn't need to go in the end," they shouted back.

Neither did we.

Compact Facts

How to get there

Easyjet (easyjet.com) flies from Gatwick to Geneva from £45 return. Première Neige (020-7078 9580; premiere-neige.com) offers a week at The Peak from £546 per person and return transfers from Geneva airport for £90 per person.

Further information

La Maison à Colonnes (00 34 79 06 94 80); Sainte Foy Tourism Office (saintefoy-tarentaise.com).

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Personal Trainer / PT - OTE £32,000 Uncapped

    £22000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing fitness cha...

    Recruitment Genius: Membership Sales Advisor - OTE £10,000 Uncapped - Part Time

    £7500 - £10000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing fitness chai...

    Guru Careers: Marketing Executive / Digital Marketing Executive

    COMPETITIVE: Guru Careers: A Marketing / Digital Marketing Executive (CRM, Eve...

    Recruitment Genius: Receptionist / Sales / Customer Service Assistant

    £8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: The role is likely to be 4on 4 off, days and ...

    Day In a Page

    Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

    Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

    But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
    Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

    Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

    Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
    Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

    Britain's 24-hour culture

    With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
    Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

    The addictive nature of Diplomacy

    Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
    Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

    Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

    Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
    8 best children's clocks

    Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

    Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
    Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
    Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

    The Arab Spring reversed

    Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
    King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

    Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

    Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
    Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

    Who is Oliver Bonas?

    It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
    Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

    Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

    However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
    60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

    60 years of Scalextric

    Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones