Skiing in France’s 3 Valleés – Courchevel vs Les Menuires
I’ve been skiing in the 3 Valleés for three years now, and so far out of my limited experience of other ski-areas (Crans Montana and surrounding area of Valais, and St Moritz both in Switzerland being the only other places I’ve been), I really do enjoy the vast number of runs and different locations I can ski to in this area of the French Alps.
I should also point out that I am very much a recreational skier – Sunshine Club rather than Extreme Team if you catch my drift. Blue runs are my favourite, but I’m happy to go on reds if it means getting to a great restaurant, but I’m not happy on blacks at all. And that is what is so great about the 3 Valleés: I can get to all the same places a my Extreme Team mates, but I can go on Blues and Reds instead of Blacks.
Here are the other things I really appreciate about the 3 Valleés:
1) It’s bloody huge.
2) If the weather or snow is bad in one valley, it’s often better in another and you can get there easily.
3) Different valleys suit different pockets, so you can stay in cheaper resorts (Les Menuires/Val Thorens) but enjoy the facilities, restaurants and pistes in the upmarket resorts (Meribel/Courchevel).
4) It’s easy to get to from a number of airports – Geneva, Lyon, Chambery or Grenoble, and it’s also very accessible by train at Bourg St Maurice.
5) It’s great for all levels of skier.
Where to stay:
I’ve stayed in Courchevel and Les Menuires which are as opposite as you can get. Courchevel is Eurotrashtastic and ludicrously overpriced, but 1850 where we stayed is very, very pretty.
Les Menuires is very 18/30, it’s the cheapest of the resorts and not pretty at all.
However, I would stay in the Les Bruyeres end of Les Menuires over Courchevel every time unless money was really no object and I could stay in Hotel Kilimandjaro or one of it’s affiliated chalets and have my own chef.
Some of the best skiing in the 3 Valleés is in Val Thorens, the highest of the resorts, and Les Menuires is next door to it, whereas Courchevel is 3 valleys away.
Les Menuires’s pistes stay sunnier later into the day than either Courchevel or Meribel (in fact Meribel’s slopes dip into shadow fairly early), Les Menuires is cheap to stay in and has easy access to what I think is the best restaurant in the whole 3 Valleés – La Bouitte.
Plus, if you stay in either Reberty or Les Bruyeres, not only are you in the quietest and low-rise part of the resort, you also have access to the best restaurants and you are also on the doorstep of the best lift in the Valley – Les Bruyeres for the quickest and easiest access to both Val Thorens and Meribel.
Here are my picks of Cafes/Restaurants:
In and around Les Menuires:
La Croisette: L’Oisans in the Croisette is very reasonably priced for lunch (self service, no faff, Savoyarde food), it’s right at the bottom of the slope in La Croisette and has a big outside terrace, so it’s good for a meeting spot.
Reberty: La Ferme – very much the place to go for the end of day Vin Chaud. Very large terrace and friendly waiters – although as it gets very busy you do have to grab waiters when you can (tip em big the first round of drinks and tell them to keep em coming). A lot of the chalet hosts and ski instructors come down here, I think mainly because they serve Vin Chaud in pint glasses for €4 or €5 a pop. Also does very good lunches, and is nice and sunny at that time of day.
Les Bruyeres: Both Marmite de Geant and Les Marmottes either side of the ice rink are good value for lunch or dinner, one of them has a terrace as well. Both serve traditional savoyarde food – it’s all tartiflette, big salads, raclettes and fondues.
For Sunshine Club skiers: At the top of the Roc des Trois Marche 1 lift there is a nice new cafe that has bundles of deck-chairs out front, has a great view and sunshine til late afternoon. Great for a chocolat chaud mid-morning or an espresso after lunch. Again, La Ferme at Reberty is good for a sunny stop off. In Les Bruyeres there is a new sun terrace at the restaurant right by the main Les Bruyeres lift. It’s a bit pricier than other places though.
St Marcel: La Bouitte – the best restaurant in the 3 Valleés, and only a 15 min taxi ride from Les Menuires, or if the snow is good – navigable off piste.
Funitel Peclet: Up at the top of the Funitel Peclet there is a restaurant on the right that has a couple of terraces – upstairs and downstairs. The upstairs terrace gets the best of the sun and there is also a cosy interior (It’s also waiter service rather than downstairs which is self service and a bit sparse). It’s pretty damn high up so it can get chilly outside, but they do serve very good goulash soup! More importantly the Funitel Peclet lift takes you onto my favourite ski-run in the 3 Vallees: the blue run Dalles – non stop sweeping turns, can go hell for leather, it’s really wide and lovely.
Chalet du 2 Lacs: Up at the top of the 2 Lacs chair lift it’s a little further away from the madding crowds. I really like the interior of this restaurant – puts me in mind of a viking banquet hall (animal heads, soaring ceilings, lots of wood) and there are huge windows overlooking Les Menuires and down the valley to St Martin de Belleville. Standard Savoyarde fare, but we thought very decent. The runs down into Val Thorens from here are great blues and you can also go all the way to Les Menuires from here when the snow is good, rather than having to go all the way back up to the top of Col de la Chambre.
Meribel: Les Darbollets for lunch. Really pretty spot on the Rhodos/Dorons runs near Rond Point. Looks out over the valley on one side and down into the forest on the other and catches the midday sun wonderfully. Bit more expensive and upmarket that a lot of the other restaurants on the pistes, but very nice, and maybe because of the price, not so busy.
For my experience in Courchevel, read the dedicated post here.