Les Barmes de l'Ours claims the honour of being Val d'Isère's first five-star hotel under France's new classification scheme. It is also a first for Madame André, an astute businesswoman from Le Lavandou who has diversified into hotels after making a fortune out of trucking.
The location, within a stone's throw of the Bellevarde and Solaise lifts, and close to the town centre, is brilliant. So, too is the welcome from the life-size mechanical polar bear posing engagingly in the doorway.
Les Barmes offers a winning combination of convenience and quality. Provided you can tackle the daunting Face, the 1992 Olympic downhill slope above the hotel, it is effortless to ski in, and ski out. And although it is a substantial building, it has a cheery chalet atmosphere.
On the third floor, the game plan is classic Alpine chalet, interpreted in my handsome suite as two spacious rooms with a large balcony overlooking the mountain. The walls mix wood with textured paint; the floor is expensively carpeted, and striped covers on sofas and a huge double bed stand out boldly. The pictures might appeal equally to courtesans and honeymooners: derelict outbuildings in the snow in the sitting room, a naked woman arched tantalisingly over a fallen tree trunk in the bedroom. The bathroom is impressive and immaculate, with a double Jacuzzi tub, a separate shower and a heated slate floor.
Les Barmes's 56 rooms and suites are divided into four categories, one per floor, with corridors to match. Scandinavian chic – pale wood and minimalist decor – rules on the first floor, and North American lodge, clubby and substantial with check fabric and leather, on the second. The mountain lofts under the roof are the most luxurious, with cockle-shaped baths and wood fires. La Suite de l'Ours is the top of the range, with its own sauna and steam room.
The food and drink
La Table de l'Ours, one of two restaurants with a Michelin star in the resort, is coolly elegant with a big fireplace, many layered tablecloths and beeswax candles. In line with its rustic gourmet theme, some dishes are accompanied by a rural aroma created at the table by blasting dry ice into a glass filled with hay-scented water. Anthony Maubert, whose credentials include time spent at Airelles in Courchevel, rules the kitchen. His €85 (£74) menu – amuses bouches, choices of starter, main and dessert – changes every Tuesday. A la carte specialities include tartiflette with truffled pork and magret de canard with polenta.
Le Pas de l'Ours is a magnificent buffet, with oysters, prawns, lobster, jamon iberico, plump asparagus and other delicacies, plus a sumptuous cheese board and mouthwatering desserts. The €75 (£65) price includes unlimited access to hot meat, poultry and fish of the day in the Rôtisserie. A spread like this makes half board something of a bargain. For fondue and raclette, head along the road to Le Coin Savoyard.
The Sofa Bar serves afternoon tea when the lifts close and free canapés from 7pm. Don't miss Le Vitamine jazz band on Tuesdays, and Huw Lewis, a singer, pianist and guitarist, on Wednesdays throughout the season.
The Comfort Zonal spa, with a heated pool, hot tub, hammam, sauna and extensive lounging areas, takes up much of the lower ground floor. Massage, hairdressing, and beauty treatments are also available. Teenagers may prefer the games room with a pool table and a PlayStation. The on-site Killy pro-shop has this year's rental skis and a boutique selling high-end clothes.
There are three rooms with wheelchair access and baths with lifts. Wi-Fi is free throughout; rooms included. There is car parking in front of the hotel, but it must be reserved in advance.
Standard double from €430 (£375) per room for half board, based on two sharing.
Les Barmes de l'Ours, Chemin des Carats, 73150 Val d'Isère (00 33 4 79 41 37 00; hotel-les-barmes.com).Reuse content