For a week, I had a wonderful opportunity to explore the enchanting, Alpine village of Tignes with a fellow blogger. Although I visited in the off-season just before the ski slopes opened, it was still a gorgeous location to relax and catch up on the writing.
Where and Why Tignes
Tignes is located just 5 miles away from the Italian border at an elevation of 6,890 feet. The village features a world-class ski resort that hosted the 1992 Winter Olympics freestyle skiing and the European Winter X Games in 2010 and 2011. The town itself is home to little more than 2,000 people, with countless more coming for the summer and winter holidays.
Tignes is about as off-the-beaten-path as you can get (except maybe Touzac). In the summer and winter months, there are plenty of buses taking tourists up for mountain biking and skiing. That wasn’t the case when I went. I flew into Lyon and then had a rather interesting adventure hitchhiking to Chambery. From there, I jumped on the train to Bourg-Saint-Maurice (the last station on the line) and finally was able to get a ride from a friend to Tignes, arriving around 1 in the morning! I later learned that Blablacar is a far quicker and more reliable way to get to Tignes.
What’s particularly interesting about Tignes is that it’s not the original town. After World War II, France needed electricity. In 1952, a dam was built at the end of the valley and the town was submerged beneath the new lake. The citizens were relocated but were able to make a pilgrimage to their old village once a decade when the lake was drained while the dam was inspected and repaired. I say “were” as the dam is now stable and they no longer need to drain the lake.
Where to Stay in Tignes
Despite being such a small village, there are over 600 accommodations available in Tignes, most of which are apartments. You can find them on Booking.com, or save money by using AirB&B. The average price for an apartment is $60 a night, but some are available for as little as $20. As Tignes is so small, it doesn’t really matter where you stay in town.
Our apartment was on the seventh floor of the highest building in the “lower” half of Tignes. Basically, the perfect vantage. From the living room window, we had a breathtaking view of the village, Tignes Lake and several ski runs, as well as the year-round glacier rising to 11,811 feet. From the kitchen and bedroom windows on the other side of the building, we had views of the mountains, including Mont Blanc and others across the border in Italy.
What to Do in Tignes
The disadvantage of visiting in September is that nearly everything is closed. That’s not to say my week in Tignes wasn’t boring – quite the contrary! Aside from a ton of writing, we went on three wonderful walks/hikes. The first was just through the villages and around the lake. By the way, Tignes has the highest golf course in Europe.
The second was down to the main lake where the original town is submerged. It was only 1.5 miles, but the huge waterfalls along the trail were beautiful. The water was certainly cold, but that wouldn’t have stopped me from swimming, had I worn my bathing suit. Along the way is an old stone lodge which a guy fully refurbished and opened as a B&B. I certainly would stay there if I had the money.
I particularly enjoyed the fauna of the French Alps. In the afternoon sun, there are marmots everywhere, sunbathing on the rocks or running back and forth along the summer mountain-bike paths. In the evening, foxes can be seen running around the village. Birds are everywhere, and high in the mountains cows and sheep range free.
Hiking on the GR 5
On my last day, my friend and I went up to a refuge far back in the mountains. The path we took is actually part of the GR 5, the Alpine trail running 1,678 miles from Hoek van Holland, the Netherlands on the North Sea all the way to the Mediterranean. We hiked up to 8,700 feet before beginning our descent down to where the refuge and lakes were.
A French refuge is not for refugees, but rather is a hut for hikers and travelers in the mountains. Beds are €10 ($11) a night, plus €1-2 for the utilities. Off-season, the bathrooms are closed. We had wanted to spend a night in the refuge, but on the weekend it was raining so we couldn’t hike up, and we didn’t have time otherwise, as I was only in Tignes for five days. The law of the traveler strikes again, and I’ll just have to go back someday for that experience.
Tips for Visiting Tignes
When you plan to go to Tignes, I would definitely recommend the summer or the winter when attractions are open. In the summer, the lifts are free for hikers and mountain bikers. In the winter, the lift tickets run about €249 ($275) a week. On October 1st, the glacier opens up, and you can get early-season lift tickets for €25 ($27.50) for one day or €48 ($53) for two days.
This is a resort town and things can get pretty expensive, but if you want to save money, you could request to stay with one of the several Couchsurfers in town. There’s only one Carrefour market in town to shop at, but the prices are reasonable. And as I mentioned, don’t go in the off-season if you want easy transportation getting there. Otherwise, you’ll just have to get lucky with Blablacar, or unbelievably lucky hitchhiking.
I can’t recommend this town enough. I certainly plan to be back myself, especially when I have the wherewithal to spend a week skiing. Plus, I still need to stay a night in a refuge! It’s also just a great place to relax and write, and I got some wonderful posts and stories written, including the beginning of a special e-book… Stay tuned.
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Here’s some extra reading to save hundreds on your next vacation or stage of your journey.
- 5 Steps to Book Cheap Flights
- Hostels: To Book or Not to Book
- Is Workaway Worth it for the Traveler?
- Click here to claim your $25 credit with AirB&B
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