In the land of the Snow King: France's ski resorts

In the land of the Snow King: France's ski resortsParis - France was once home to the Sun King Louis XIV but if you go to the French Alps you may feel as if you are in the land of the Snow King as between Les Menuires and Tignes there is a wintersport paradise with hundreds of pistes that lead down steep slopes and over gently rolling hills. The Trois Vallees ski region alone is the largest contiguous ski resort in the world and has 600 kilometres of ski runs and 200 lifts.

A trip to the region begins in Les Menuires, one of the best known resorts in the Trois Vallees. Your arrival at Les Menuires will be greeted by the grand spectacle of a panoramic view across a vast expanse of snow.

If there is not enough snow an array of 400 computer-controlled snow cannons are on hand to make sure wintersports can continue. The resort also guarantees to refund the cost of unused hotel rooms and lifts should less than 80 per cent of slopes be open. "We give our guests a satisfaction or money back guarantee," says Regine Jay-Grillot, director of the local tourist office.

The first downhill ski run leads from the designer hotel Kaya to the lift at Les Bruyeres 400 metres below. Skiers are transported from there to the top of the 2,850-metre-high Mont de la Chambre where another fantastic panoramic view as far as the eye can see awaits you.

Between La Masse and Mont de la Chambre are 61 ski runs and as the icing on the cake there is also a great view of the massif of Mont Blanc, the valley of Meribel, the glacier at Val Thorens and the Arves.

If these 160 kilometres of piste are not enough you can always get into the lift at Trois Vallees that goes over Mont de la Chambre to Val Thorens, the highest ski resort in Europe, or over the 2,430-metre-high Tougnete to Meribel and then onwards to Courchevel.

Les Menuires first opened in 1966 but only the apartment house "Berlin" survives from the original complex. The inauthentic atmosphere and ultra-modern look have given way to comfortable chalets and trendy hotels that have been designed to match the region's traditional architectural style. The concrete structures of the past have been replaced with buildings made of timber, stone and glass.

The prime examples of the resort's new look upscale hotels are the four-star Les Clarines, the 100-room chalet hotel Isatis as well as the Kaya.

Another ski resort superlative is the Espace Killy, about 40 kilometres as the crow flies from Les Menuires. The resort has 300 kilometres of ski runs and a ski station that has gained a reputation for its challenging ski tracks.

Tignes is at an altitude of 2,000 metres and is a favourite spot for more demanding wintersports enthusiasts such as those who like to ride mountain bikes with spiked tyres or dive into the icy waters at Tignes' lake.

"You discover a bizarre underwater world when you go ice diving," explains David, a diving instructor, who takes visitors to five metres below the frozen surface of Lac de Tignes.

The spectacle that awaits you there is fantastic as long as you are not claustrophobic. There are thousands of air bubbles captured like glass spheres under the lake's ice sheet as well as a whole spectrum of blue colours formed by the light passing through the ice.

"Espace Killy" is located between Tignes and Val d'Isere and was named after Jean-Claude Killy, a three-time Winter Olympic champion in Grenbole in 1968. But the area's history as a ski resort dates back to the 1930s when the first ski lifts and ski club were opened.

Today, visitors have a choice between 92 ski lifts and 300 pistes. There is also a track for husky dogs, snow-shoe trekking, and plenty of apres ski entertainment. Gourmets will also find something to enjoy in hotel Les Suites de Nevada where French chef Jean-Michel Bouvir prepares dishes such as truffles with polenta or fresh water crayfish with Nantua sauce. (dpa)