St Martin de Belleville, family-friendly ski village
Earlier this season, our roving reporter Briony Key found a hidden secret in the Three Valleys – the village of St Martin de Belleville, a perfect destination for family skiing. Here’s her report:
Mention the Three Valleys and most skiers will either have heard about it, been there, or want to visit. Who wouldn’t?… It is the world’s largest ski area. Crème-de-la-crème resorts such as Courchevel, Les Menuires, Meribel and Val Thorens all pull in the punters.
Here life takes a gentler pace, and regular guests beg you not to give it too much coverage less it loses its laid-back ambiance.
The resort, open from December to April, is an integrated part of Les Menuires-Saint Martin. It gives families the chance to chill out together, while also having access to the high-altitude ski area (1,400-3,400m) that makes up the Three Valleys.
I knew I was on to something good when seasonaires from other valleys told how they skied to St Martin de Belleville on their day off to enjoy the atmosphere.
Combine this with the Three Valleys ski guarantee – the largest number of open connected pistes in Europe for the whole season – and you can see there is a lot to be said for St Martin de Belleville.
There’s been a lot of investment this season, with terrain remodeling work making it easier for beginners and intermediate to ski back to the village centre.
Two moving walkways have been introduced – one to help teach beginners and the second for tobogganing.
And the Jerusalem run has also been remodeled to make it easier for intermediates, with a secondary route that allows them to bypass the more difficult sections.
The ESF ski school is based in the village, and offers the expected group and private lessons, plus the Piou Piou Club, which offers a wide range of options for the very young. There’s a non-skiing mini club for 31 months to five-year-olds, ski lessons and a multi-activities for three and four-year-olds, which include skiing, snow games and discovering nature.
Under five can get free ski passes on presentation of proof of age at the ski pass offices, and everyone can benefit from the child’s tariff when buying four ski passes for the same ski area and the same length of days (for two adults and two children aged 5-17).
You can also book off-piste skiing, ski touring and snowshoe sessions. Those seeking more active pursuits can also try Nordic sports such as cross-country skiing and biathlon, or whizz away on a dog-sledging excursion.
The ‘fur trapper’ evening looked especially fun for families, as it includes a torch-lit snowshoe hike and the option of dinner in an authentic setting (minimum eight).
St Martin de Belleville also gives families the chance to take in some culture after clocking up the famous Three Valleys miles. It’s also ideal for any non-skiers in your party. Guests can take a Baroque art tour, visit the museum, see the village’s oldest properties on the heritage circuit and visit a farm for afternoon tea. Another option is to wait for nightfall and enjoy a guided history tour by torchlight.
Whatever you try, you’ll find standards run high on and off the slopes. This year sees Chef Rene Meilleur celebrating his establishment’s 40-year history.
He and his son Maxime earned their 3rd Michelin star in 2015, basing their leading gastronomic dishes on traditional cuisine.
Their four-star hotel – which includes a recently enlarged reception, lounge and restaurant – is a welcoming place, with plenty of quirky features and an impressive new spa, which is also open to non-residents. You’re bound to think indoor pool and Jacuzzi, but add in Alpine hay-infused steam bath, and original treatments using milk and honey and you’re starting to get the picture.
Many mountain and village restaurants are also worth a mention. On the slopes, sleek Le Bouche à Oreilles sits at the top of the Roc des 3 Marches, with great views of the Borgne glacier. You can sit inside and out, and it’s a good place to meet up with a group if you’ve skiers of different levels, as it’s right near the chairlift. The service is top notch and, most importantly, there’s a wide range of dining options for those with big, and small appetites.
Those who like their history and contemporary mixed should head to Chez Pépé Nicolas. The old farmhouse has been in the same family for generations, and you can glimpse the life of bygone days as you try its traditional menu of mouth-watering mountain specialities.
Staying at The Alpine Club was also an experience to savour. From the minute you arrive you’re cosseted, with every effort made to ensure your chalet feels like your home, every query answered. The service included our chef and host, Dan and Abi; chauffeurs, Will, Joe and Kaleigh; and resort manager Kate.
They were a dream team that took the effort out of the words ‘ski holiday’ and ensured we arrived at the ski lift on time, with all we needed, well fed on fine food, and ready to enjoy some serious slope time.
The chalet itself is also worth mention – Chalet Abode is a 100-year-old Savoyard farmhouse, refurbished to retain the original features with all modern trimmings, such as a heated floor and wall-to-wall living room windows to showcase the mountain views. The family-friendly company won the Lux 2016 Hotel and Spa awards – best boutique mountain chalets.
There are plenty of ways to get to the village – by air, to, Chambéry, Geneva, Grenoble or Lyon. By Eurostar/TGV to Moûtiers-Salins-Brides-les-Bains and then a bus or transfer service (for instance, with the transfer company Ski-Lifts).
Special holiday offer for Chalet Abode for readers of FamilySkiNews this season:
Chalet Abode is offering FamilySkiNews readers 5% off for the Easter holidays, 26th March and 2nd April.
Sample prices (before discount) for sole occupancy for up to 10 guests for the peak holiday weeks are February Half term – £22,495; Easter, 26th March & 2nd April (still available) – £14,495. (NB They also offer adult-only shared chalets on special offer peak weeks – for example, 19th March – £1,295pp).