High view of snow-covered mountains with ski lift in foreground above Vars

Vars

La Forêt Blanche, Hautes-Alpes, FrenchAlps

Big-mountain skiing south of Serre Chevalier & Briançon, beside the Parc Naturel Régional du Queyras.

High altitudes, dependable snowfalls and a ski area linked to that of Risoul 1850

Long drives from the UK, but much more rapid flight transfers from Grenoble, Marseille, Turin & Cuneo.

Early morning skiers on near-empty pistes, with trees and ski lifts

The Ski Area

Despite having installed its first ski-lifts way back in 1937 to exploit real big-mountain ski potential, most leisure skiers have still yet to hear about Vars. Today the piste network is linked to that of neighbouring Risoul, the resulting combined area being known as La Fôret-Blanche.

Vars enjoys international renown for its impressive freeride terrain and its purpose-built speed-skiing piste. It also offers extensive and varied intermediate terrain for all abilities, plus safe débutant areas and facilities.

There are some surpisingly long cruising runs here, including some fine, currently under-appreciated tree-lined descents on the opposite side of the valley below Peynier (2273)m. The 2750m Pic de Chabrières is accessible only by drag-lift, but rewards the effort with astonishing views and some superb descents, including a bracing drop over into Risoul.

Resort Information

Altitude : 1650m - 2750m
La Foret Blanche
Pistes Total:
185 km
21 Green
43 Blue
39 Red
10 Black
Ski Domain Lifts: 50
31 Draglifts
17 Chairlifts
1 Cabriolet
1 Gondolas

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The Ski Village

Most of the accommodation is currently within two of the villages in the valley — the original community of Vars Sainte-Marie and the purpose-built ski village of Vars Les Claux. Until now the decision as to where to stay was one of charm versus convenience, but the construction of Le Hameau des Rennes, a whole new lift-served, chalet-style village beside the road to the celebrated 2108m Col de Vars expands the choice considerably. In terms of energy-levels, services and convenience, though, the focus is likely to remain firmly on Vars Les Claux, which although now looking a little dated, is well maintained and has a friendly atmosphere.

Most of the village activity centres around the Tourism Office (free WiFi) at the foot of the Chabrières gondola. The ESF ski school building is at the top of the adjacent car park and has direct access to some easy pistes for beginners. There is also the Eyssina New School at Point Show.

If shopping for groceries, there are several mini supermarkets well spaced throughout the village so you shouldn’t have to walk too far for supplies. Other shops and services are spread the length of the village and include ski and hire shops, gifts, interiors shops, and a good selection of restaurants and one of our favourites, the stylish Après Ski salon du thé. It’s a 10-15 minute uphill walk from the Tourist Office to Le Fournet at the upper end of Vars Les Claux or you could use the shuttle bus.

The new high-altitude village centred on Le Hameau des Rennes includes (payable) underground parking, health and fitness centre, shops and other services.

Staying There

Value for Money Accommodation Dining Out Nightlife Village Charm

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Groups of skiers on wide piste between ski areas

Why go skiing in Vars ?

Just about everyone, really, apart from celeb-spotting shopaholics and hedonistic party animals.

Families and mixed-ability groups will appreciate the varied terrain, with the large snowpark being an attractive feature for young freestylers. The ski schools are particularly friendly and encouraging for small children and beginners.

Drag-lift-phobics can stick to the chairlifts and still access all but the very highest, most remote terrain. Intermediates will love the long cruising runs and the ease of access to a different experience over in the Risoul sector, while advanced skiers can spend time exploring the internationally-renowned freeride/off-piste terrain.

Skiing There

Beginners / Families Intermediates Advanced / Expert Mountain Scenery

Snowboarding

From beginners to pro-riders, there's something for everyone.
7 Snowparks


Cross-Country Skiing

Free access to two beginners trails.
1km Cross-Country and Nordic Ski Trails

icon-smileyYes please...

  • Extensive linked-domain skiing.
  • Terrain for everyone, including the bravest free-riders and speed-skiers.
  • Accommodation for most budgets, with a whole new village recently added.
  • Dependable recent snow record.
  • Solid value, with no compromises on the ski experience.
  • Capable lift system, decent grooming and clear signage.

icon-frowneyYes but...

  • Long distances for those driving from the UK.

icon-winkingOur Tips

  • Occasional drag-lifts accessing some of the highest (and best) terrain are well worth taking for truly breathtaking views.
  • It’s well worth discovering this place - the southern French Alps are addictive.

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Practical Information

Ski Hire

Save precious skiing time when you book your ski equipment online with Alpinresorts.com

After a quick and easy reservation everything will be waiting for you when you get to Vars.

You get to choose the shop and there's a BEST-PRICE GUARANTEE.

Make BIG savings by booking online today!

Tried and tested

Tried and testedLe Bouquetin II

Le Fournet
05560 Vars Les Claux

Chalet style apartments, Le Bouquetin II at Le Fournet,  Vars Les Claux

Le Bouquetin II is a comfortable residence located in the area known as Le Fournet. The four buildings are just 80m from the slopes and 300m from the resort centre itself. The accommodation consists of three storey 3 bedroom chalets sleeping up to 10 persons with a well equipped kitchen, a bathroom on each floor and plenty of storage. However, the lounge, dining/kitchen area might be cramped with ten people and we were disappointed that the terrace was unusable during our visit, due to snow accumulation. On the plus side, piste access is just a couple of minutes’ walk (a shuttle bus also operates) and there are bars, restaurants and a small supermarket close by. You can access beautiful pedestrian and cross-country ski routes nearby, which will take you as far as the Réfuge Napoléon and Col de Vars.

Enquiries and bookings:
Ski Collection
023 9289 0960
reservations@skicollection.co.uk


Things to do

Tried and testedSnow-shoe Walks

Montagne-liberté
Dominique Sports or International Ski School
05560 Vars Les Claux
Tel: +33 (0)6 15 07 28 85

If you haven’t tried it before, learn how to use snowshoes to their full potential and visit places away from the pistes, discovering the wildlife and the mountains. We joined Nathalie Ruiz (mountain guide and expert in plants for medicinal and culinary uses), who led our walk above Sainte-Marie giving us spectacular panoramic views of the Vars ski domain and beyond.


Bars & Restaurants

Tried and testedTribeca

Plateau du Caribou
05560 Vars Les Claux
Tel: +33 (0)4 92 21 81 19

Restaurant and bar with large terrace where you can dine or meet with friends for a drink. The interior is surprising with its contemporary styling and the mood is very relaxing.
We enjoyed Sea Bass served with Tribeca’s rich, creamy risotto, followed by a choice from an extensive menu of delicious desserts. Expect to pay around 30€ per person for two courses, plus drinks.


Tried and testedL'Ecuelle (The Banana House)

05560 Vars Les Claux

Upmarket restaurant with chalet decor and a warm ambiance. Expect to pay from 13€ upwards for a main dish from their traditional Savoie menu with fondue (2 persons) at 21€. We chose Crozet aux Cèpes and Tagliatelle aux Noix.


Tried and testedLes Cassettes

05560 Vars Les Claux
Tel: +33 (0)4 92 46 59 08

Les Cassettes mountain restaurant, Vars

 Situated mid-mountain at the foot of the Mayt chairlift, the staff at Les Cassettes give you a big welcome when you enter this traditional family restaurant. Varied hot meals and light lunches are served promptly and in ample portions. We enjoyed a steaming bowl of home-made vegetable soup and a great pizza.


Tried and testedl'Après Ski

05560 Vars Les Claux

Relax after a long day on the slopes in this warm chalet style salon du thé. There is a large selection of teas, coffee and chocolate to choose from, plus tempting treats such as crêpes and waffles. The salon is decorated with interesting memorabilia and there is a small boutique selling rather nice gifts and regional products.


Tried and testedLa Marmotte

Résidence le Seignon
05560 Vars Les Claux
Tel: +33 (0)4 92 46 51 34

Situated near the Tourist Office in Vars, La Marmotte offers a modern approach to traditional Savoyard dishes and a varied menu for those who find that they've had enough fondue and charcuterie to last a lifetime. We chose Gnocchi Napolitain which was packed with flavour, and the Escalope Sarda, tender chicken with mozzarella in a creamy cèpe sauce. Expect to pay 10€-15€ for a main course. The adjacent café is open all day and is a great place to watch the world go by and take advantage of the village WiFi coverage.


Getting there

By Car
For Dover-Calais ferry travel, other cross-channel routes, offers and bookings visit P&O Ferries

From Grenoble: Take the N91 (Col du Lauteret) to Briançon, then the RN94 to Guillestre where you turn off for Vars. Alternatively, take the N85 to Gap via the Bayard mountain pass then follow signs for Embrun-Guillestre-Vars. We strongly advise that you check your route before travelling because of weather conditions and diversions.

From Marseille: Take the A51 to La Saulce, continue in the direction for Tallard & Briançon (RN94) to Guillestre where you turn off for Vars.

If you feel up for it, there's a coach service which operates between Paris and Vars (plus other southern Alps ski resorts) called the Neige Express.

By air
The nearest airports are Cunéo or Turin in Italy.
Other possibilities include Marseille (transfer by the Navettes Blanches shuttle service), Grenoble or Lyon Saint Exupéry airports.

For transfers to Vars from main airports and railway stations visit Silvestre Travel. A long established transport operator, Silvestre Travel will provide a quote on request. They also offer tailored group travel and tours.

By train
It is possible to arrive at Montdauphin Guillestre (18km) direct from Paris using an SNCF service.
A fast TGV service from Paris goes to Grenoble or Briançon.

Book your TGV fast train from Paris or Eurostar’s ski train direct to the French Alps with OUI.sncf

Transfers
Visit Ski-Lifts for the best range of ski transfer destinations from airports and main rail stations.

Cheap flights to the Alps

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Insight: Vars

Skiers in Vars in the Foret-Blanche ski area above Risoul 1800

Insight: Vars

Our arrival, beneath a clear blue sky, gives no hint of the dramatic change of conditions which have been forecast repeatedly for the night ahead. Sure enough, we awake to the kind of vision which in any other circumstances would have dissuaded us from even thinking about skiing until visibility improved. But we have an appointment with a guide, so find ourselves dutifully togging up, joining a nearby gentle piste and making our way in near-disbelief, and against driving snow, down to Vars Les Claux. When we get there strong gusts of wind are threatening to rip the colourful event banners strung across the road. Our host, though, is optimistic and — so far, at least — the Chabrières gondola lift is still functioning.

There’s barely a soul over here, and we’re in powder heaven as we glide down through red-graded tree-lined pistes all the way down to Vars Sainte Marie.
Chabrieres lift, Vars
Fresh powder descent from La Mayt (2580m), on the Blue-graded Heureux piste, Vars .

Things look distinctly marginal to us, though, and we edge up the mountain at a snail’s pace while peering out apprehensively into the snowfalls swirling around us. When we alight, despite the marginal conditions the sensation of the fresh powder beneath our skis raises a smile and we glide off in the tracks of our guide, thankful for his company and knowledge of the mountain.

For an hour or so we float around the more sheltered pistes above Les Claux until the wind starts to drop and visibility begins to improve. Encouraged, we take the chairlift across the valley and head up through the forest to emerge at Peynier (2273m). There’s barely a soul over here, and we’re in powder heaven as we glide down through red-graded tree-lined pistes all the way down to Vars Sainte Marie. The return haul via the I and II drag-lifts gives us plenty of time to ponder the growing appeal of a chocolat-chaud, which we’re about to sample in the Peynier mountain restaurant.

Duly revived, we head off on the blue-graded Mélèzes piste down to Les Claux, re-cross the valley and work our way up to La Mayt (2580m).

Fresh, soft snow and a clear blue sky in Vars

By now the bad weather is a distant memory, leaving only fresh, soft snow beneath a clear blue sky — perfect conditions, in fact, for a visit to the Col de Crevoux (2530m) and on up to the Pic de Chabrières. This involves taking the Chabrières draglift for an epic 1550m ride at 3.7m/sec. Not surprisingly, then, this lift is for confident skiers only, but we have to say that it’s well worth the effort and will leave you in no doubt that Vars really is the domain of big-mountain skiing. From 2750m the views are truly panoramic, with orientation panels to help take in everything visible on the vast, unbroken skyline, while far below you can make out the tree-lined pistes of Crévoux. Now, if they could only link it…

From the Pic we make an exhilarating onward red-graded swoop on the Col Sans Nom and join the blue-graded Saluces piste to the Razis chairlift which hauls us to the Pointe de Razis (2571m). From here it’s an enjoyable cruise back down to the tree-line and into Risoul 1850. The village has developed since our last visit, yet still retains its youthful appearance. We’re already aware just what the local tree-lined runs offer novice and intermediate skiers, so content ourselves with taking the Prés du Bois chairlift and a gentle green run back to the Platte de la Nonnehigh-speed chairlift , which hauls us all the way back up to the Pointe de Razis.

The Pic de Chabrières above Vars, at 2750m altitude.
The Crevoux chairlift passes the well-designed snowpark areas to arrive at the Col de Crevoux (2530m), Vars

Can it get any better than this..?

Only our growing appetites tell us just how far we’ve travelled since our dutifully early start this morning, so we work our way back to our lunch destination. After a long plunge on the blue-graded Vallon, we take the Vallon drag-lift to La Mayt and join the long blue cruise on the aptly-named Heureux over to the welcoming mountain restaurant of Les Cassettes. In perfect snow conditions, it’s one of the best powder descents we’ve ever experienced.

How do you follow that? In our case it’s an easy decision: head back over to appreciate a little of what the early morning visibility had denied us. We’re not disappointed, and enjoy the perfect end to what has turned out, against all expectation, to be a blissful day’s skiing. For us, Vars is right up there with the very best of French ski areas. Add the terrain of Risoul 1850 and you begin to wonder how much longer it will be before the rest of the world finally discovers La Fôret-Blanche. MountainPassions heart icon