Perched by its lonesome, flanked by snow-drenched slopes and giant Christmassy-looking trees, Club Med's newest resort appears, from an eagle's-eye perspective, a bit like a James Bond villain's lair masquerading as a top-secret science lab or medical facility. It's nothing of the sort, of course, but for snow bunnies and alpine enthusiasts, Les Arcs Panorama has a real licence to thrill.
More than three years in the making, this is a cool, cutting-edge, all-inclusive alternative to the traditional chalet-like resorts that sprinkle the French Alps. With 433 stylish rooms and suites, a clutch of bars, restaurants, pools, a spa and gym, it's also a beacon of 21st-century architecture, sporting a harmonious stone, timber and glass frontage, sleek curves and sloping roofs, and an interior full of nature-inspired sculptures and furnishings, high-tech features and lots of natural light. The resort is hidden away from the other settlements in the buzzing Les Arcs ski area, but still boasts direct ski-in, ski-out access to one of the world's finest winter playgrounds.
On top of boundless tasty food and drink and quirky apres-ski entertainment, a stay at Les Arcs Panorama includes a ski pass for the entire Paradiski region, which snakes across the stunningly photogenic Tarentaise Valley in France's Savoy department and comprises Les Arcs and neighbouring resorts Peisey-Vallandry and La Plagne. Linked by chair lifts, cable cars and funiculars are a staggering 425 kilometres of pistes (ski runs), 70 per cent of which are above 2000 metres in altitude. Generous amounts of white powder are common from December onwards and many pistes have inspiring vistas of Mont Blanc, Europe's loftiest peak.
A six-day Paradiski pass would normally cost €305 ($484) per adult, and €244 ($387) per child – something to bear in mind when weighing up accommodation options. Club Med does charge extra for equipment hire – skis, boards, boots and helmets – but guests are offered complementary skiing and snowboarding lessons for all levels, led by the charismatic English-speaking instructors of the ESF (French Ski School). Children as young as four can have free ski classes – one of the myriad kid-friendly features in a resort that strives to attract multi-generational families as well as active couples and solo travellers. I'm more of a "40 Year Old (Ski) Virgin" than 007, so the grade-A beginner lessons – which see me waddling like a duck and learning the essential "snow plough" braking manoeuvre – are a godsend.
It feels like a mini-triumph when I ascend the resort's "magic carpet" travelator and glide down its adjacent nursery slope without tumbling over. I gain confidence with every lesson, although, in fairness, there are more suitable places in the French Alps for complete beginners due to the lack of green (easy) pistes nearby. There are heaps of blue (average) slopes, however, some of which are green-ish in standard, plus red (difficult) and black (very difficult) runs for daredevils. In the resort's Arolla bar, where each night there are live bands, DJs, theatre shows and cocktail-sipping and partying, you'll hear guests chatting about Aiguille Rouge, a mountain run that drops 2000 metres over seven kilometres to the village of Villaroger.
My other half, Celine, who grew up skiing in the French Alps, refreshes her skills in the intermediate classes, before whooshing down some of the steeper pistes. At the end of every session, she returns with rosy red cheeks and a beaming smile. Boosting the resort's bonhomie are the apres-ski drinks, including genepi – a popular local herbal liqueur – and the GOs (Gentils Organisateurs), the multilingual staff who help fuel Club Med's famously fun, warm-spirited atmosphere.You might not want to ski – or snowboard – all day, and sometimes the weather will make that decision for you.
Conditions can be temperamental and fast-changing at these altitudes, with snow, sleet and mist quickly replacing sunny blue skies. Thankfully, there's plenty to savour inside the resort, which was unveiled in mid-December and typifies the upscale direction in which Club Med is heading. Founded in France in 1950, the company was bought by a Chinese consortium in 2015, with ambitious plans to add premium new resorts to the near-80 seaside and mountain "holiday villages" dotted across 26 countries.
There's an increased focus on five-star spaces – or, in Club Med parlance, 5-Trident (the company's logo is a trident). While Les Arcs Panorama is a 4T resort, it has a fancier 5T section, with 24 suites – each 70-74 square metres in size and handy for four people – and La Belvedere, an exclusive lounge for suite guests. Its main draw is the "free" champagne and the 400-square-metre terrace, which has a Jacuzzi, and a wonderful 180-degree view over the Tarentaise Valley. Suite guests also have their own private ski locker room.The resort's regular "superior" and "deluxe" rooms – and the cosy lounge-like public areas – are rather chic, too.
Accessed with digital bracelets, our "superior" room – A1754, 24 square metres – has scenic mountain vistas and a vibrant feel, with curtains, cushions and blankets shaded in pink and gold – a colourful contrast to the white walls and bedding, and the walnut wood furniture. There's a separate toilet and bathroom with branded "joy-inducing" soap, gels and shampoo. Some rooms have balconies and many are separate but can be interconnected – convenient for families who wish to holiday together yet still have some privacy.
Adults are free to do their own thing by day as there's a range of dedicated kids' clubs, from four months to 17 years old (fees apply, though, for under-fours). Included is a special family-oriented restaurant, Bread&Co, in which children "invite" their parents to dinner, take their orders and play interactive food-themed games. For most meals, the majority of guests flock to the White Stone, the enormous main restaurant, where there's a variety of seating, from snug booths and outdoor terrace spots to huge round tables, and a buffet that is always extensive and enticing. Expect everything from healthy salads and fishy temptations to pan-Asian cuisine and authentic Savoyard produce such as cured meats and deer stew, as well as Gallic favourites such as Charolais beef and foie gras. Most dishes go down a treat with the complimentary wine, which is mostly from the Savoy, Rhone and Provence regions.
Desserts include more than a dozen flavours of ice-cream, delectable tarts and a chocolate fountain that is virtually impossible to walk past without poking in a marshmallow on a stick. For a la carte dining and table service, make a reservation at 1790 Gourmet Lounge, a refined speciality eatery where you can also enjoy late breakfasts and lunches buffet-style. In truth, it's easy to overindulge on all the wining and dining here, but unlike many all-inclusive resorts, at Club Med Les Arcs Panorama, you really feel like you've earned the right to tuck in – especially if you've been on the pistes all day.
FIVE MORE THINGS TO DO OFF-PISTE
From stretching and zumba to yoga and pilates, guests can enjoy instructor-led classes, and also make use of the gym's cardio and weights equipment and heated indoor and outdoor pools.
TAKE TO THE SPA
Not part of the all-inclusive deal, the resort's branch of Cinq Mondes, the prestigious Parisian spa, offers a plethora of treatments, from 20-minute massages to five-day pampering packages.
WALK AND HIKE
While snow-shoeing is an exciting winter option, Nordic walking and hiking is brilliant in summer (June-August) once the snow has mostly melted to leave the resort's surrounding landscapes lush and green.
Take the funicular down to this charming historic town, which has aromatic fresh produce markets and typically quaint Savoy architecture. See savoie-mont-blanc.com/en
Nestled on Bourg-Saint-Maurice's outskirts, Cooperative Laitiere de Haute Tarentaise is a pungent factory offering educational tours plus tastings of Beaufort, a delicious alpine cheese made with cow's milk. See fromagebeaufort.fr
Steve McKenna was a guest of Club Med
A seven-night all-inclusive winter stay (December-April) at Les Arcs Panorama is priced from $2365 per person. A summer stay is priced from $1700. At Club Med, all children under four stay free. Weekly hire of skis and boots are priced from €179 ($287) for adults, and €110 for children. For snowboards it's €189 and €124. Book the Easy Arrival package (no extra charge) and your equipment will be waiting for you in your locker. The nearest airports to the resort are Lyon and Geneva – both about a two-and-a-half hour transfer by road. See clubmed.com