Flaine sits on a forested hillside in a natural snowy bowl only 30km (18 miles) from Mont Blanc. The origin of the resort’s name is rather romantic – legend has it that a huge giant slept in the mountains and valleys, resting his head on the spot where Flaine now stands. Flainoz was an old French word for pillow.
Established in 1968, Flaine dates to the baby-booming years when France was building big ski resorts in big ski areas very quickly. The emphasis was on constructing resorts that were cheap to stay in but offered doorstep skiing in some of the world’s biggest and best ski areas. Nothing else really mattered very much. Twenty years on, with the emphasis switching to quality, the concrete rectangles deposited in areas of great natural beauty have drawn much criticism but Flaine has hit back pointing out that its architecture is purposely stark and functional and that it was designed by Marcel Breuer, a master of the Bauhaus school. Although its design may at first appear incongruous it in fact echoes patterns of light and shade that are to be found in the rocks and crags at the base of the valley. What Flaine also points out, is that whatever your first impressions of its concrete monoliths, you should not judge a book by its cover!
The resort is located at a snowsure altitude in the huge Grand Massif ski area, which has lift-links down to quaint traditional villages like Samoëns and Sixt in the valleys below. Flaine itself is also a more vibrant place than many of the purpose-built resorts dating from the same era, it is more genuinely family friendly too, with lots to do besides sliding and a car-free environment.
The main part of the resort is split in to three sections – Forêt, Forum and Front de Neige, linked together by pedestrian walkways and lifts – the design is very functional. There is also now the choice of staying in the new development, ‘the Hamlet of Flaine’ – which despite the resort’s complete confidence in its original concept, is a complete architectural and design contrast. Wooden built to Scandinavian-style design using a range of delicate colours, the hamlet is fully in keeping with the aspirations of ’90s skiers.
Le Grand Massif