The traditional village of Samoëns might no longer be the well-kept secret that it once was but this charming French village is still under the radar of many British families. Which is a surprise, because this perfectly formed town has everything you need from a ski resort.
Located in the Haute-Savoie department in France, between Morzine and Chamonix, the traditional mountain village was first founded in 1167. Its name derives from a medieval expressions meaning “the Seven Mountains” a reference to the seven surrounding peaks.
It’s these very peaks that have been instrumental to the town’s development first thanks to its stonemasons (the mountains are rich in limestone) and later for the snowy slopes that today form part of the Grand Massif ski area, the 4th largest in France.
If you’re looking for a family-friendly ski destination that’s as full of charm as it is activities and excellent skiing, then here’s why you should consider Samoëns ski resort.
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The village of Samoëns sits tucked towards the top end of the River Giffre valley. Still today it’s a working, breathing, living community and one with a heart – and body – of stone. This was once a thriving centre for stonecutters and masons, known locally as ‘frahans’.
During the 17th century the frahans were so numerous that they established their own brotherhood, Société des Maçons. The brotherhood, which was involved in charity work and training young apprentices, still exists today and has become a cultural association “The society of masons”.
The frahans were so well renowned that they were commissioned to travel all over Europe to help on major building works including assisting military engineer Vauban on his fortifications and Bonaparte for the canals of Saint-Quentin. They even travelled as far afield as Louisiana in America and Australia. In order to ensure that outsiders couldn’t understand them when they were talking with one another, the frahans developed their own language called Mourmé.
Evidence of the stonemasons work can be seen everywhere in Samoëns ski resort today, in its streets, its grand stone houses that mix with older medieval buildings and its sculptures.
Remnants of Mourmé remain today too; visit the the Fandioleuse creperie and you’ll see the name of the pancakes written in the Mourme dialect. Visit the cemetery of the Notre-Dame de l’Assomption church and you’ll see evidence of the stonmasons’ work in the columns, statues and stone vaults.
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Exploring Samoëns village
The heart of the village centre is the main square, once the largest in the region, with its ornamental fountain. La Grenette (the covered wooden market place) is another symbol of Samoëns. A weekly market was first established in the town in 1355 by Count Amédée VI of Savoy selling furs, hats, food, sheets and seeds.
A market is still held here every Wednesday and is one of the biggest in the Haute-Savoie. Come here for the local produce including cheese, sausage, wine, cheese, honey, more cheese. You get the picture!
Standing tall in square is the towering Gros Tilleul (large lime tree) that was planted in 1483. Opposite is the church dating back to the 13th century and a botanical garden, constructed in 1906, and showcasing more than 2,400 plants from five continents.
You can learn more about the village of Samoëns, its history, the stonemasons and their ancient language on a guided heritage walk.
Incidentally, Samoëns is the only French ski resort officially classified as a monument historique, an accolade shared with more well-known monuments such as the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre in Paris.
The Grand Massif Ski Area
As far as ski resorts go, the Samoens ski resort sits low at just 700 metres. However, this heritage-listed village enjoys something of its own micro-climate – and therefore good snow cover – owing to its close proximity to Mont Blanc. Plus, the north facing slopes stay colder for longer preserving the snow conditions.
It’s big selling point, however, is the easy access to the Grand Massif Ski Area, the fourth largest ski area in the French Alps with 265 km of pistes. An eight-person gondola, the Grand Massif Express gondola, whisks skiers up to the entry point to the ski area in a matter of minutes
The Grand Massif Ski Area includes the linked resorts of Flaine, Les Carroz, Morillon and Sixt Fer à Cheval with 139 slopes and 62 ski lifts. There’s excellent skiing to be had too, whether you’re just getting your ski legs or if you’re an experienced skier.
For advanced skiers there are some very good black runs including Styx and le Diamant Noir in Flaine, which tops out at 2,561m with 140 km of slopes. Flaine is also good for off-piste conditions; do hire a guide if you decide to explore the backcountry.
Family-friendly Les Carroz is particularly good for beginner and intermediate skiers with a huge number of blue runs (43 percent of the 32 trails on offer) and red runs (45 percent).
Haut-Savoyard Morillon village is the closest to Samoëns ski resort and another great option for beginner skiers. The slopes of Morillon enjoy plenty of trees, which makes this a good option too if visibility is poor.
During the ski season a free shuttle bus runs to the Morillon telecabine (as well as other villages including Sixt-Fer-a-Cheval) from Samoëns. Morillon also enjoys one of the longest green runs in Europe called Marvel.
One of the most famous runs in the ski area is Les Cascades, a 14km-long blue run that passes through the middle of the Sixt-Passy nature reserve from the top of the Grandes Platières in Flaine right down to Sixt.
All the resorts have beginner zones too, in particularl Morillon 1100 and Samoens 1600.
The only possible downside to Samoens ski resort is that it is not a ski-in ski-out destination. If you’re looking for a resort where you can ski to the door at the end of the day then I would recommend looking at somewhere like Meribel or Les 7 Laux.
However, the Grand Massif Express gondola is just a short drive or bus ride away from the centre and while there is no way to ski back to the lift station in Samoens at the end of the day, you can ski to the nearby hamlet of Vercland with a free bus taking you the 2km into Samoens.
Ski Passes for the Grand Massif Ski Area
A range of ski passes are available depending on your level of skiing and how much you want to ski.
The ‘Vill4ge’ ski pass is a good option for beginners and intermediates still getting confident on the slopes. This ski pass gives you access to the 4 village resorts of Les Carroz, Morillon, Samoëns and Sixt.
Confident intermediate and experienced skiers should opt for the full ‘Grand Massif’ ski pass, which gives you access to the entire ski area.
To give you an idea of prices for 2022/2023, a six day Grand Massif ski pass costs €256.80 for children aged 8 – 15 and €321 for adults up to the age of 64. For families, the good news is that children under the age of 8 ski for free (in most resorts it’s up to 5 years old).
See the various ski pass options and prices here.
The Grand massif ski slopes are open from Saturday 17 December 2022 to Sunday 16 April 2023
Ski school in Samoëns
If ski lessons are on the agenda then I highly recommend local ski school ZigZag. I spent a morning skiing with Adrien Vallier from ZigZag and he was excellent. Not only was Adrien charming and a great guide, he also has possibly the two best jobs in the world; ski instructor in the winter and winemaker in the summer.
ZigZag offer group and private lesson but they are small so make sure to book early.
The other two ski schools are Ski School Samoëns 360 and ESF Samoëns.
Ski hire in Samoëns
We hired skis from Roland Gay who has a ski shop in the Samoëns ski resort with lockers as well as a shop at the top of the Grand Massif Express gondola at Samoëns 1600 where you can also store your equipment.
Other winter activities in Samoëns
There is plenty to do in Samoëns away from the downhill slopes. One of the best places to start if it’s your first time here is with Jamie from Ride the Alps.
Jamie is a Brit who has been living in Samoëns for the last 20 years so he knows the area extremely well. He specialises in biking holidays but also offers winter activities including snowshoeing adventures.
We spent an afternoon walking in mountains with him, stopping for a hot orange juice with a dash of local Mont Blanc gin along the way. He’s a great guide and knows how to make his tours fun – vital if you’re with kids! We spent most of the afternoon running – and falling down – snowy banks.
Other winter activities include Fat Bike touring, cross-country skiing, mountaineering in the Giffre valley (including ice climbing) and paragliding. Enquire at the tourist office for details.
In January this year, Samoens also hosted the 5th International Ice Swimming Championships. The four-day event saw nearly 500 competitors from over 40 countries compete in a series of events in the Lac au Dames in water that was below 5C.
Samoens and the surrounding areas is still very much a farming community. Some of the farms, such as Les Croës Canailles, are open to visitors where you can meet the cows, learn about local life and sample the local cheese!
Where to stay in Samoëns Village
There are a range of accommodation options in Samoens village and nearby.
MMV Club Residence
We stayed in the newly opened MMV Club Residence in centre of town. The chalet-style building (awarded the “Silver Pyramid” prize for its low-carbon design) holds 102 apartments that can sleep up to 10 people.
The apartments aren’t huge but they are comfortable and well equipped and they all come with individual balconies. The property has a kids’ club, a swimming pool and spa area and can organise ski hire and lift passes. Breakfast boxes are available as well as fresh bread and pastries.
The residence is a five minute drive (or 20 minute walk) from the Grand Massif Express.
From €749 per week.
Club Med Grand Massif Samoëns Morillon
For an all-inclusive option look at Club Med Grand Massif Samoëns Morillon. The 420-room property has family rooms sleeping up to 4 people and interconnecting rooms that can accommodation 6 people. There are kids’ club for all ages including Baby Club Med for babies from 4 months old.
Ski passes and group ski and snowboard lessons are included in the price. Ski equipment is an additional cost but can be organised by Club Med. Children under 4 stay for free.
Chalet Nord Champ
If travelling with family and friends then look at this beautiful mountain chalet that sleeps up to 14 people in five double bedrooms (each room has an additional single bed). The chalet is located on the border between the villages of Samoëns and Morillon; it’s a 10 minute walk down the country lanes to Morillon village centre.
For more accommodation ideas, take a look here.
Where to eat in Samoëns Village
There are lots of great places to eat in Samoens and one of the best things is that prices tend to be very reasonable, unlike some of the bigger ski resorts in France.
We tried and enjoyed the following:
L’Accordéon is a lovely restaurant that opened in the summer of 2022 serving excellent food including salads, bagels, pasta, wraps and more. Tapas is served in the evening and there’s sometimes live music. It’s located off the main roundabout near the pharmacy.
Ten minutes outside of the village centre on the way up the mountain is this old working farm turned restaurant. With just a handful of tables you need to book in advance and it’s well worth doing so because the food is excellent.
Owner Josiane busies herself all aspects of the restaurant (cooking, serving and clearing plates) and does it all in an incredibly friendly, relaxed manner. Expect lots of delicious traditional dishes and lots (and lots!) of cheese.
We stopped at the mountain restaurant L’ Beu for lunch when skiing in Morillon and our group had a delicious meal of galettes, ribs and steak accompanied with a to-die-for pepper sauce. Don’t miss the excellent deserts in particular the Grand Marnier and chocolate crepe.
This popular restaurant sits in the heart of town serving excellent French bistro style cuisine.
For a drink with a difference book a bubble car for a floating aperitif. The Apero Suspendu experience takes place on Thursday evenings from January 26 to April 6. Each bubble car can fit six people and the gentle journey up and down the slopes takes around 45 minutes.
The meeting point is at the start of the Vercland gondola.
La Luge à Téran
Located on the piste in Samoens 1600, La Luge à Téran, sometimes opens for evening meals after the slopes have closed for the day. Staff will meet you in the car park at Samoens 1600 for a guided walk through the snow until you reach the restaurant. Enjoy an aperitif outside by the fire followed by a traditional – and delicious – Savoyard meal.
On the red piste coming down to Vercland is Grand Cret, a farm turned restaurant that started life as a refuge back in 1699. Today they serve excellent food – the côte de Boeuf cooked on a Green Egg bbq comes highly recommended! Stop for lunch on the slopes or
The cosy Fandioleuse creperie serves crepes the size of the a full meal! All kinds of fillings are available in both sweet and savoury flavours. If you order a day in advance, they also have fabulous French onion soup, raclette and fondue.
Vin sûr Vin
A locals favourite is this wine bar that stocks a great range of wines and serves sharing plates of apèro snacks.
How to get to Samoëns Village
The nearest airport is Geneva, which is a one hour drive from Samoëns. Go Massif organises transfers from Geneva airport to Samoens village from €65 per person for a return.