A little to the east of Verbier and on the north side of the Rhone valley, Crans-Montana (1,500m) can be reached by funicular from Sierre in the valley, or via one of two hairpin bend-packed roads up through the vineyards. Originally two resorts that have now effectively sprawled into one, Crans-Montana is one of Switzerlands largest alpine resorts and is situated on a broad south-facing plateau. It has one of the best sunshine records in the country, not to mention some of the most breathtaking panoramic views, stretching from Mont Blanc in the west to the Matterhorn in the east, to be found anywhere in the Alps.
Although now spoken of as one place, Crans and Montana do to some extent retain their separate identities. Crans, where hotel construction was begun in 1912 in those days many of the hotels were effectively sanatoria treating tuberculosis patients is the smarter and more expensive of the two. There is some excellent designer shopping to be had in the chic boutiques here and there.
By contrast Montana, which is the older of the two resorts, is rather less glamorous in style. But it is nevertheless a lively place with plenty of bars and restaurants that are on the whole more modest in price than those found in Crans.
Crans-Montana has 80 restaurants to choose from, not to mention a further 15 cafes and bars. Notable establishments include Le Pavillon which does an excellent fondue chinoise (meat fondue cooked in stock, not fat), and LAuberge de la Diligence which serves both Swiss and Lebanese food or try the delightful Gastronomique LOurs. After dark, interesting bars include La Grange in Montana and the George & Dragon in Crans.The best of the discos is LAbsolut Club in Crans.
Crans-Montana's ski area, which has 160km of pistes served by 40 lifts, is a miniature Trois Vallees that offers lots of cruising opportunities for advanced intermediates. There are several different access points to the ski area along the plateau, all linked by free bus. The price of getting so much sunshine is that sometimes the lower slopes can get slushy, but Crans-Montana's skiing in fact goes up to the very respectable height of 3,000m on the Plaine Morte glacier, which is now reached by a Funitel jumbo gondola from Les Violettes. The 11km run down from Plaine Morte is a long, steepish red that is one of the most dramatic in the Alps. With a respectable 140km of piste, there is a wide variety of skiing for intermediates and the fast network of lifts allows piste-bashers to cover a lot of ground. There is also some good off-piste to be had below La Tza or Chetseron. No trip to Crans would be complete without a lunch on the terrace of Merbe with its good food and great views or a last drink on the run home at Amadeus 2006 perched on a plateau at 2006 metres.
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