Don’t worry – I’m not the chairlift equivalent of a trainspotter; I’d timed the journey to see exactly how long it takes from the village where I was staying, Les Allues, to Meribel’s ski slopes. Skiers often assume that the only place worth staying is in the centre of the ski resort – to be closest to the slopes and the action, and they overlook places like Les Allues, thinking it must be a hassle.
They should reconsider. For the sake of 15 minutes each morning that I spent eyeing the piste map and peering out as snowy trees glide past the window, I’d bagged a place in a fantastic chalet for far less than it would cost for the equivalent in Meribel Centre, considered to be the prime spot.
The great thing about catered chalets is that breakfast, tea and dinner are included. You can ski all day and never have to think about shopping or cooking. This really allows you to max out your mountain time – and provides a home-from-home to hang out with your friends. And if you are sharing the chalet with other groups, the atmosphere and camaraderie after a day on the slopes means you can make new ones easily too.
The skiing in the Three Valleys is epic. From Meribel gondolas and chairlifts fan out in all directions, each a tantalising portal to a range of pistes. We spent our first day navigating the quiet, tree-lined pistes above Courchevel. On the second, we headed over for Val Thorens, a whole valley away, whose village is perched at a lofty 3,200m. With the sun beginning to dip, we headed back to Meribel for après ski, pulling up at the Folie Douce – one of France’s most renowned slope-side bars. There we found DJs spraying champagne over the crowd, flamboyant dancers and performers, MCs encouraging the crowd to dance on the tables. Not that they needed it.
Back down in Les Allues, the vibe is very chilled – but very welcoming too. The streets lined are with wood and stone chalets, roofs heaving under the snow. The village actually dates back to the 14th Century, and so it doesn’t just feel like a ski village. Everyone you pass says ‘Bonjour’ and smiles – no-one seems to be in a rush. Unlike Meribel Centre, there’s only one bar, called La Tsaretta, but it’s a friendly mix of locals, seasonnaires and holidaymakers with live music once a week. To get up to Meribel for more bars and clubs, Ski Blanc offer a free chauffer service until 1am– and there’s also a regular free bus. If you are coming back very late, a taxi costs €25 for four people.
Les Allues feels special when you are there, but in fact many ski resorts in the French Alps boast equivalent villages, down the road from the central locality, but offering their unique blend of authenticity – as well as value. Fifteen minutes sat in a gondola for the privilege? It’s no time at all.
Ski Blanc has six catered chalets in Meribel les Allues, with price from £299 per person per week (www.skiblanc.co.uk). Daniel travelled to Meribel by train. Return rail fares from London to the closest station, Moutiers, start from £109 return (www.voyages-sncf.com; 0844 848 5 848).