Follow a winding road four kilometres up through the Alps and you’ll find a gorgeous valley dotted with quaint villages. Of course, as beautiful as it is, you’re unlikely to have your eye on a trip to these parts merely to do an odd spot of sightseeing. Between December and April, skiers and snowboarders flock to Méribel, the central and most accessible third of the Three Valleys (Trois Vallées). With easy access from Grenoble, Geneva and Lyon airports, excellent ski conditions and stunning scenery, the region is particularly popular with Brits, who make up 45% of those on the slopes.
No concrete boxes
Méribel’s popularity with British skiers can be traced back to its ‘discovery’ in 1938 by Briton and future colonel, Peter Lindsay. He returned after the war and oversaw its development in partnership with French architect Christian Durupt. They built the resort in a traditional style and locals had the foresight to require all future accommodation follow the same style.
On the slopes
With its 600km of pistes and 200 ski lifts, the Three Valleys is the largest linked ski area in the world and Méribel is smack bang in the middle. In one day, an intermediate skier or snowboarder can expect to cover all three valleys. The huge range of options means that you can seek out snow conditions that suit you plus, if you’re going to push the limits, you’ll be less likely to find yourself stranded miles away with the lifts shut and facing a hefty cab fare home. The extensive gondola system even stretches down the valley to health resort and spa-town Brides-Les-Bains. Start your day with a scenic 25-minute gondola ride and with the money you’ll save on accommodation, you’ll be able to spend an extra day on the slopes.
When to go
The sheer number of lifts in the area mean that you’ll rarely have to spend long waiting in queues, but choose your time wisely and you can enjoy good ski conditions. December falls can be fantastic, but it’s worth keeping an eye on snow reports before you book or you might be disappointed. Christmas and the New Year period are very busy, but consider visiting in January as the French tend not to holiday at this time of year. School holidays start in February, so expect the slopes to be crowded and classes to be busy. Snow quality starts to drop in March but good falls in April can make this a good month to squeeze in that last run of the season. The sunny conditions of July and August see the resorts reopen for trekking and a huge range of organised activities.
Worth a look
Méribel has the best nightlife in the region and a sundowner at Rondpoint – where quality cover bands get the punters rocking out in their ski boots – is a must. Try out the speciality of the house, toffee vodka. For a low-key wind-down, head down the valley to Brides-Les-Bains, where you’ll find a number of local bars and a casino. There’s a high rollers room upstairs, but don’t expect to bet more than €100 at a time – the limit was introduced after a big-spending visitor broke the bank a few years ago.
Thermes de Brides-Les-Bains
After pounding the slopes for most of the day, you deserve some luxury treatment. With a 100-year history pampering France’s poshest, it should come as no surprise that last year Brides-Les-Bains opened a new state-of-the-art spa and treatment centre. After a session in the sauna, Turkish steam room, ‘experience showers’ and jacuzzi you’ll have no excuse not to feel relaxed.
Bonus points for: Good snow and lots of it
Loses marks for: Can get crowded
Check out: Rondpoint for the après-ski
– DAMIEN NOWICKI