“ Savoie, France. „
The Alps aren't an obvious summer destination, but me and some friends were looking for somewhere that we could have choice of activities like white-water rafting, mountain biking and gorge walking. During the summer months, hundreds of ski chalets sit dormant in the French Alps and you can get some cracking deals on them. We found a good deal at chaletmartin.com and decided to take the plunge.
For the week, we paid £600 for a group of 6- not a bad deal, we thought. For this price, we got a spacious chalet with a bedroom each (most with ensuite), and a pleasant garden with a barbecue. My room even had a mezannine, although as I later discovered this just provided a hiding place for local wasps and other critters. The living room was equipped with satellite TV and a music system and we had the benefit of both a dining room and a kitchen diner. In Winter, Chalet Martin offers almost full-board but be prepared to self-cater in the summer. The chalet is designed to sleep 12 so you could end up paying as little as £50 a week if you were prepared to cram in.
Our chalet was in Le Raffort, a small hamlet that was a 5 minute drive (or a 20 minute uphill walk) from Meribel Village. We flew into Geneva and hired a car at the airport. Meribel is a two and half hour drive from Geneva, and Chambery made at ideal point to stop for a picnic and some food shopping. The hamlet is conveniently located on the bus route, and a slightly irregular service connects you to the nearby resorts.
Activities-wise there was plenty to do within driving distance. We went white-water rafting just outside of Moutiers, while Meribel Mottaret (a short drive away) was an ideal base to hire bikes and take the lift up to 'the slopes' (just a steep gravel path in the summer!). There was also a driving range and with a summer ski pass you also get free admission to Meribel's ice rink. Lift passes were available for around 45 euros a week from Meribel's tourist office which is still fully staffed in summer. We were also able to enjoy the usual Bastille Day celebrations, which happily coincided with our trip. Word of advice- make sure you get insurance- even in summer. One of my friends had a biking accident and needed basic treatment in Moutiers hospital. The dressings for a minor injury amounted to Euro60 so make sure you're covered.
My main gripe was with Meribel town itself- the phrase 'ghost town' comes to mind. Having visited the Austrian lakes during the summer season I was expecting something like that- quaint squares, lots of little cafes and the gentle 'bustle' of visitors. About half of the cafes and bars in Meribel were closed and remained closed during our stay. There's also the seasonal wildlife, that no one really warns you about before you go. Our chalet had a mild fly infestation which we had to deal with as well as the occasional curious spider and a wasps nest was just outside of my window.
My advice would be to stay somewhere a bit more populated, like Chambery. The place had everything- cafe, bars and shops, plus plenty of outdoor activities centering about the lake. As we passed through on the way back to the airport, I couldn't help but think 'Here's where we should have stayed'. Meribel was a worthwhile experiment but next time I'll be skiing down the pistes rather than skidding down them on a dodgy mountain bike.
Oh Merbiel! What a fabulous ski resort! We have been to this resort on two holidays and also we have done a 6 month ski season out there, so it feels like a second home when we revisit! This resort is a really great family resort. It has something for everyone, from the old to the young and the skiers to the non skiers! Quite often in a group there are one or two people who dont want to ski, this is the resort for you. Meribel is located in the middle of the three vallees, in France, therefore it is between the ever popular with the celebrities, Courchevel and the purpose built Val thorens. Therefore all the non-skiers can get a lift pass and walk into Courchevel to celeb watch and shop and also shop, eat and spa in Meribel itself the prettiest of the three. Meribels skiing is fantastic, there are a variety of ski schools. The resort isnt very spread out so most chalets/hotels are close to the lifts. There are plenty nursery slopes, plenty of narly off-piste and harder black and red runs and great apres ski at the rond-point or 'ronnie' as its known! Stay with Snowline in Chalet Isba a great 10 bed chalet which is one of the closest chalets to the lifts and to town and Snowline are a fanastic company, who pick you up from the slopes each day and drop off, the accommodation has cinema and hot tub looking down valley and sauna, oh is fantastic!
My children are into their skiing in a big way, and that includes racing. Sadly, what used to be time spent on family ski holidays is now time spent carting the children to various race venues, or training for such events. We therefore don't get to choose our destinations in the same way as we used to, being governed instead by the race calendar.
At the end of the winter season, the British Champs are held in Meribel, and so for two weeks in April we find ourselves in this resort.....
Meribel, in France, forms part of the Three Valley ski area - an area in the Savoie region of France which includes Courcheval, Val Thorens, Meribel, and the new resort of Orelle.
You can get to Meribel in a number of ways - take a plane as part of a package or a DIY trip with car hire to Geneva or Chambery. Transfer time is a good two or three hours by car. Be warned, if you are taking a package - many tour operators are not including transfers in the price, so you may find that you are charged several hundred euros for a taxi transfer from the airport to resort......
You can drive - it is very simple, I have done it myself.....about nine or ten hours from Calais on easy roads. French main roads have numerous tolls, but to make things easy, and to save finding change, and reaching over to the opposite side of the car to throw money in a bucket, you can get a SANEF automatic device which you put on your windscreen, go through a dedicated tollgate at each toll station, and they simply accumulate your tolls and charge it to your bank account once a month - this doesn't cost more than a few euros as a deposit for the device, and your usual tolls, and makes things a whole lot easier.
You can travel by Eurostar - I have done this too....Going from London to Moutiers on the overnight train, arriving in Moutiers at the bottom of the mountain at about 6am, then getting a bus up the mountain that takes about half an hour or so......dead easy.
And you can get to Meribel by coach - try Ski Meribel, who have fantastic sleeper coaches at very good prices. Ski Meribel can arrange a full package with accommodation etc as well, or you can do what I have done, and just use their coach travel and book your accommodation independently.
So, we have ascertained that Meribel is an easy resort to get to - once there, what are you faced with?
Well, you have a friendly resort, suited for skiers of all abilities, from first timers to racers, and for all people, from families to groups of students.....there really is something for everyone.
The resort is quite spread out - Meribel Village, Meribel Centre, and Motteret being the main areas, all easily accessible by free ski-bus.
There is accommodation to suit all budgets and requirements, from luxury catered chalets, through hotels with spas, to budget self catering apartments. Take your time to look at the accommodation options, and you will quite possibly be pleasantly surprised at what you can get for your euros. My tip would be to move away from the package deal brochures that you get from the main tour operators, and look at www.merinet.com for a huge range of places to stay. If you do stay in a rented apartment, the agencies in the resort are incredibly good at helping you out should you have any queries or issues while you are there.
So, we have got to the resort and found somewhere to stay.......I suppose it is about time I told you about the skiing - after all, that is the reason you are looking at going to Meribel? Well, as well as being a winter ski resort, Meribel caters for the summer market too, so if you want mountain calm, somewhere to walk, bike and see some wonderful scenery, you could do worse than go to the Alps for your summer hols.......
As for skiing, well, Meribel has 150km (about 100 miles) of pistes, with 53 lifts (cable cars and chair lifts - no drags as far as I can recall). There is a good number of blue and red runs covering a vast area, with some gentle green runs into the resort (although these are hard work at the end of the day, late in the season when the slush takes over) and a couple of black runs for those that feel the need to push the limits.
The runs are varied, with some running through the trees, and other wider and more open. It is a resort that is popular with race organisers, so you sometimes find that a red run has been booked for the day by a race team for training. If you see a slalom course set up, don't just assume it is there for the general public, otherwise you may see yourself flattened by someone wanting to be the next Bode Miller......!
There is a stade at the Chaudanne area of Meribel, and a shorter stade in Motteret - these are not only used for the big competitions, but also for the local slalom and giant slalom races that tourists can take part in, and which are run by the ESF (French ski school), so why not give yourself a taste of racing while you are there - get the adrenaline rushing through your veins!
If you are a complete beginner, don't fret - beginners are well catered for. So much so that Meribel gives a free trial day - free kit, free instruction and free access to the slope. Many of the ski hire shops have a sticker in their windows indicating that they take part in this scheme, so why not take advantage and "try before you buy"? If you don't like it, you have lost nothing, and can spend the rest of your week doing other stuff - if you do like it, you can book up lessons for the rest of the week with confidence! I think this is an excellent scheme and something that other resorts could look at doing to encourage those who are not sure whether the white stuff is for them.
If you want to have lessons when you are in Meribel, again there is something for everyone - whether you are are skier or a snowboarder, beginner or on your 20th year of hitting the piste, there is a lesson or a guide out there for you. ESF are, of course, the main providers (go to www.esf-meribel.com for more details) and have always always in my experience been excellent, from ski kindergarten for tiny tots to private tuition in preparation for racers. There are others providers available too, and again I would suggest looking at merinet.com to get an idea. Costs vary according to time of year, length of lesson and numbers in a class.
Of course, you need to get up the mountain before you can come down, so a lift pass is vital. Free for under 5s and over 75s (proof of age needed), lift passes can be an expensive part of any ski trip, so work out what it is you will actually need before you buy. Family lift passes work out much cheaper if you have two adults and two or more children under 18, whereas if you buy single child passes, they count as adults when they are 13.....so you can see there are big savings to be made. Beginners can get a very local lift pass for much less money, but for the majority of people it is a choice between a pass that will allow you to use the Meribel ski area only, or one that will allow you to explore the wider Three Valleys area. The difference can be considerable, again depending on time of year etc, so think about whether you WILL actually get round to going to Courcheval or Val Thorens, or will Meribel give you all the skiing you need this time round.
My tip here would be that you can upgrade for a day if you want to explore further afield one day, and although that won't actually save you any money if you DO go elsewhere, it will save you money if you stay in Meribel after all!
At the end of the day (and if you want to stop for refreshment during the course of the day) you will want to take off your ski boots, and head for somewhere to relax, have a drink or two, have something to eat perhaps, and to soak up the apres ski atmosphere, and I have to say that Meribel does this incredibly well.
Slightly cheaper than the neighbouring Courcheval, Meribel has a good range of bars and restaurants, offering everything from pizza to traditional Savoyard food. You are spoilt for choice, yet are not faced with the "fast food strip" of Val Thorens - no kebab kiosks here. Bars are friendly, often offer free internet access, and quite frequently have resident bands. It is not a 24 hour party place though, so you can still get a decent nights sleep before hitting the slopes the next day. We have stayed right in the resort centre, close to bars and entertainment, and still manged to get enough sleep to get up for racing at 5am.....
What about if you are a non skier? Well, there is again plenty for you to do. Get a pedestrian lift pass that allows you to use all the bubble cars linking the resorts - head over to Courcheval and watch the rich and famous as you drink a very expensive cup of coffee.....visit one of the many spas for a bit of pampering, go snow-shoeing with one of the guides available, swimming, ice-skating, ten pin bowling.....or just watch the world as it whizzes by you, as you sit with another Vin Chaud.....
Meribel have a comedy festival in April - some of the best known comedians come over for it and it is well worth getting tickets for if you are there at that time.
There is a good range of shops, from supermarkets providing everything for the self catering skier, to the most amazing patisserie, gift shops and of course a whole range of ski gear. Generally fairly reasonable prices considering.
All in all, Meribel is an excellent resort......my two negative points would be that late in the season, it gets slushy in the afternoon as you head back into resort. If you want guaranteed all day skiing, look at the higher resort of Val Thorens. Secondly, the prices have increased noticably over recent years, and with the Euro still being fairly strong against the Pound, what would previously have been considered cheap alternatives, are not as cheap as you might expect.
Head over to www.merinet.com where you will find loads of information, including webcams.
Meribel, right in the heart of the three valleys in france. This is a lovely mountain get away. Whether you ski or dont. It is a great place for all the family. Young or old. Though people mainly go there for skiing, there is lots to do if you dont want to spend the whole day on the piste.
Although meribel can be expensive you can go on a budget. It is a lovely town, with lots to do and a great night life, whether you just want a quiet night in evolution/barometer or a big night out at la Pub/the tav and then onto dicks tea bar. There is lots of live music in the evenings from great cover bands like Four Play,livewire,bring your sisters or more chilled out music like the godhead number or honeyfungus...they all add up to a great night out. Although dicks tea bar is abit of a meat market, it is where all the seasonaires go for a drink when the pubs close, so it gets very lively.
What about the skiing I hear you ask...meribel is known for its great pistes, and whether you are on the greens or blacks it has it all for you.
Having gone to meribel earlier this year, I must say I was impressed. This was the first time I'd been skiing, and I went out there to meet up with some seasonaires. This was really handy as I only had 5 days, and they really knew where to go.
Flying from Gatwick, It's around a 2 hour flight to Chambery, which is a TINY little airport deep in the french alps. It's around an hour's drive away from Meribel, and has a staff of maybe 10 people! This is better than you'd think though, as we ended up taking off much earlier due to the fact that everyone was there on time. Very nice indeed.
So, the first place you're likely to visit in Meribel is the main slope. This is an "assisted" ski slope, I say assisted because it's got snow machines, meaning even if the snow's not fresh, you'll always find fairly decent stuff around, especially at the Altiport higher up. From here you can access everything from Nursery slopes to Black runs and all in between, via the grand array of lifts, be they chairlifts, button lifts or bubble cars. In fact you can even get on the famous travelators toward Courchevel, which though I didn't go, is meant to be as impressive as it is expensive, I believe they actually have heated pavements there!
There is plenty to do around Meribel when you're not skiing. Jack's bar is a great place for what are probably the nicest fresh pizzas in town. It's well worth having a wonder around town, as it's very picturesq, what with all the wooden chalets and buildings. There are plenty of shops around, from bakers to get the obligatory morning Croissants, to fantastic Crepe places all manner of ski shops (some of which have skis costing over £25,000!).
There is a town hall which usually has some sort of nice exhibition running, and a town square which often has live music playing. Speaking of live music, the Altiport has a great apres ski bar, which has a lovely outdoor area often serving BBQ food, and pretty much every night they had a live band playing.
If you're not skiing, I'd recommend you rent a pair of snow shoes, they're about £5 a day and mean you can walk the beautiful landscape without stepping waist deep in snow every few steps!
If all this sounds wonderfully expensive, don't be put off. I went out there with broke ski bums, and though we didn't really go out for many meals, the abundance of cheap stubby beers and the delights of a home cooked fondue made up for it. Overall then, my suggestion is if you're going out with money, get a chalet and dive head first into the Meribel community. If you're on a budget, go self catering, maybe a little out of town, and catch the free bus into Meribel.
You can't really go far wrong. If you've not ski'd before, it's a great learning point, though I'd recommend some professional tuition, avoid the ESF french instructors (or so I was told anyway)!
SKIING & SNOWBOARDING:
Total Beginners do not need a lift pass for the first day or two.There is a free drag lift at the Altiport Area that not many people know about.(Catch the Free Bus from Town).The same applies to Snowboarders.In fact I know snowboarders who spent all week at the Altiport and never bought a pass at all.However it can be boring and a simple Meribel Valley pass will give you lots of possibilities.You definetly do not need the full 3 Valley pass.I would also advise Ski School.It is well worth the extra money.In Meribel there are about 10 different ski & Snowboard schools.Everybody seems to really enjoy ski school here.Far more fun than practising alone (Or letting your boyfriend/husband teach you).
This is absolutely the place.It has 600km+
of fabulous pistes in all 3/4 Valleys.You can ski for a week here without ever doing the same run twice:Meribel is the best place to stay as it is in the very centre of the 3 Valleys.You can reach Courchevel/Les menuires/Val Thorens so easy
that you are totally spoit for choice.
There is more than enough off piste & moguls to keep anyone happy.I would thoroughly recommend the French Ski School off piste daily adventure.Its about £35 a day plus lunch but the memory will stay with you for ever.It's real off piste with a high mountain guide,sometimes to either of the two Glaciers.If you are lucky enough to have a fresh fall of deep powder splash out and take this course.You will not regret it.
Great skiing but the best runs are at Mont Vallon up in Mottaret.You can ski in sunshine all day in this valley,so take good sun cream.
This area has the best groomed slopes with lots of relaxing cruising.Over at 1650,because it is at the far end of the valley you will find uncrowded gentle pistes with perfect snow.1850 is always busy.1550 is a very small area as is La Tania but both are worth at least one trip.Good skiers should take a trip down the red or black to La Praz (1300)if the snow is ok. Jockeys (the black)is quite hairy.
Take a trip up the Cime Caron cable car.There is always a queue but as the car holds 160 people it moves very quickly.This is the highest point in the 3 valleys so take your camera.Its a fabulous view up here.All the skiing is excellent in VT but leave plenty of time to come home.A taxi is about £60-£80 .If you are tired take the easy red path down to Les Menuires and cut across to St Martin.This is the easy way back to Meribel.
Ugly place but La Masse on the far side is always excellent skiing and worth the effort.
An excellent one at Mottaret with another on Tougnete side Meribel. Have a look at Meribel Alpina web site for the full ski map.
RESTAURANTS & BARS:
Far too many good ones to list here.We found a fabulous little guide to Meribel written by local British seasonaires (Meribel-Unplugged).They also have an English web site by the same name.Look for it before you go.It will save you a lot of time and money.This guide lists all the best value restaurants in all 3 valleys and by following its advice we did not get ripped off once.Great lunches cost us about £10 each inc wine.It also has all the bars listed of which there are many, plus an apres ski Guide. However I must mention that here there are only two really excellent apres ski spots. In Meribel its The Rond Point with cracking live bands every afternoon(5pm) and LDV at Meribel Village on Thursdays.
The Brits have happy hours 4-5 so get there early and save money on the beers.(about 30%)
They will have a great time and there are lots of facilities for them.There is also a creche run by an English nanny (Kidsetc).Arrange ski school in advance as they get fully booked.
1) Avoid French School Holidays. approx 7th Feb-7th March each year.Paris holidays are the worst.
2) Avoid the rush hour at Chaudanne.Starts at 9.30am when ski schools start off.
3) Do not get caught out in other valleys.If you do then from VT ski to Les Menuires.From Courchevel 1850 ski to La Tania or wait for the free Bus.Both these tips will save you lots of cash.
4) Always reserve your restaurants for lunch and dinner.This way you will be treated like a local.
5) If you are driving in high season make sure you arrive on a Saturday before 9am.Otherwise expect heavy traffic from Albertville to Moutiers.
So I hope all this information comes in handy,but I am sure you will have a really great holiday here.
I went to Meribel for one week last Feb, it was the second time that I have visited France snowboarding, and I have to say that I was very impressed with the resort as a whole. The resort itself is only about 2hrs transfer from Lyon airport, this makes it only about half a day?s travel from the UK - which is about average for most European resorts. The resort itself is spread across the centre of the trois vallee area. The place has a fair number of pubs and some clubs, many of the pubs have very good and friendly atmospheres and you are catered for pretty much whatever you like from your night time activities. Now, to the most important bit - the slopes. The most impressive thing about coming to Meribel, or any of the resorts within the three valleys, is the huge area of excellent pistes. You can go for a weeks holiday and not even come close to venturing into half of the area. Even if you only have a lift pass for Meribel itself, the slopes are very good, and the lifts are on the whole a pleasure to use - and there are really only a few button lifts - not too good if you snowboard. When I was there it hadn?t snowed for several weeks and yet the runs were still enjoyable, although by the end of the week there was a great deal of ice on some runs and one low run was closed - though you could still just about use it as a short cut back to the challets if you didn?t mind some rocks and a bit of grass. There were a n umber of very flat transitions, which if you snowboard, are very annoying to say the least and due to the lack of snow, the half pipes were giant piles of rubble made of ice. With this in mind, I would say the conditions after some decent snow must be absolutely blinding. I would definitely go again and recommend this resort or any in the area to anyone - beginner or seasoned pro. There is something for everyone both on and off the piste and you would have to go several times to see even half of all the possible runs
? unless you plan on 10 hour days ever day perhaps!