Travel: Hitting the slopes in Les Menuires
- Credit: Vincent Ottenberg
Les Menuires loves to describe itself as friendly; and set in the mountains of south-eastern France, it is exactly that.
With wide, high-altitude, pistes that are accessible to skiers of all levels, it has great restaurants and bars, and a welcoming atmosphere.
From the challenges of escaping to France pre-Christmas, literally hours before new restrictions came into force halting the traditional British festive pilgrimage to the French slopes, I found the expansive pistes of Les Menuires something of an antidote.
With clear blue skies, fresh snow, uncrowded and perfect conditions in the days around mid-December, the resort was warm, welcoming and a delight to ski in.
As travel restrictions to France ease, UK-based skiers can now head out to a resort that is traditionally popular with Brits.
Les Menuires has 110km of piste and terrain suitable for beginners and intermediates through to advanced and expert skiers who may want to tackle a tricky black run or venture off-piste, something the resort has renown for.
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Purpose-built with a 1960s architectural aura, the resort features the landmark ‘Brelin’ apartment block in the La Croisette district, contrasted by the contemporary bell tower and newer properties, as well as the traditional village of Saint-Martin-de-Belleville nearby.
A highlight for 2022 is the new 10-seater lift direct to La Masse, the highest point of the resort at 2804m. Replacing two older lifts, which took 25 minutes to get to the top, the new lift reaches its destination within eight minutes and opens up an area that was generally less skied.
Once at La Masse, from the rooftop of the arrival station, there are spectacular 360-degree views across the wider Les3vallées ski area, which Les Menuires is part of.
From there, skiers can set off along blue, red and black runs from the very top, meaning it is accessible to the majority of skiers as well as those who just want to pop to the top for the view or dine at the refurbished ‘Le 2800’ restaurant nearby.
The skiing is excellent and varied in Les Menuires, but while the runs from La Masse into the resort at 1,850m above sea level are long, even longer is the piste down to its older cousin, Saint Martin at 1,450m. As the longest continual ski run in the resort, the descent from 2704m at ‘3 Marches’ is over 1250m.
Both resorts are part of the huge Les3Vallees ski arena which includes Courchevel, Meribel and Val Thorens, with access to more than 600km of piste, meaning you’re never short of a new run to experience.
And the altitude and well-tended pistes, accessed by a number of lifts powered by solar energy, means a long season that can run from early December until late April.
Take the train
My adventure to Les Menuires started at London St Pancras International with a desire to take the train rather than fly.
Eurostar, in association with Travelski, runs a Friday night departure/Saturday return service to the French ski resorts from London to Moutier and Bourg-Saint-Maurice. For me, departing on a Thursday, meant catching the 9.01am departure from London to Brussels, to pick up a connection at Lille and with changes in Lyon and Chambery.
But I was struck by Eurostar’s onboard advertising campaign claiming that in terms of carbon footprint you can do 13 Eurostar journeys for every flight. So, if you can make the Friday departure, taking the train is eco-friendly, and also a relaxed journey without airport queues and two-hour transfers (generally from Geneva or Lyon).
With the changes, it took me 11 hours, but was an interesting alternative to flying.
Exploring Les Menuires
I checked into my accommodation at rustic Ho36, with a friendly bar and restaurant and well-placed for the slopes and ski rental. After breakfast, I met up with ski instructor Nicolas Fressard, who took me on a day-long exploration of Les Menuires.
With more than 30 years of teaching skiers in the resort, he knows his way around as well as anyone.
“I think what is most special about Les Menuires, is the huge ski area,” he tells me. “Many of the slopes are red and blue, which is fine for many people, but if you want something more difficult there are black runs, with moguls, there are different snow conditions and off-piste skiing as well.”
The view from La Masse, and the ascent, was all it had been billed as, with the long descent equally exhilarating.
“From La Masse, there are such great views but you can get down easily, everybody can do it because there are different runs from the top. We also have a long season, we are also something of a family resort too, but there is also great access to the runs in 3Vallees.”
The next day, joined by my daughter Sarah, we explored the terrain again, this time focussing on the runs down to Saint Martin.
On our final day, we went further afield over to Meribel and Courchevel and then across to Val Thorens. Albeit only touching a fraction of the piste, it is possible to cover all three resorts in a day, without over exerting to get a taste of what each has to offer.
While the restrictions introduced just before Christmas meant disappointment for British skiers, the hotels, bars, and restaurants in the villages and on the piste, were open as normal, with French guests still constituting the higher portion of visitors to the resort.
And after skiing (apres ski), there’s still plenty to do with spas and sports centres, bars and restaurants, walks, snow-shoeing, ski touring, cross country skiing, or enjoying the fine French alpine cuisine. Or you can take the snowy path for a 10-minute stroll from La Croisette to Les Bruyeres to whizz down the new luges sur rails, an all-year-round toboggan run before dinner.
My recommendations would be the L’Alpen steak house in Les Bruyere and Au Village in La Croisette, where we had raclette. For lunch on the slopes try Le Roc Seven and Le Corbeleys.
While there remain challenges with travel, as restrictions ease there’s still plenty of skiing on offer in Les Menuires this season.
Take the trip
Travel: Mark Nicholls took the Eurostar to Lille and onward to Moutier. For direct Travelski Express departures visit uk.travelski.com/travelski-express
Ski pass: Les Menuires, €54 a day (six days €267) and Les3vallées €66 a day (six days €330) (skipass-lesmenuires.com/en).
Accommodation: ho36 (ho36hostels.com/en/les-menuires-en) with a mix of 17 hotel rooms, loft apartments and dormitory apartments.
For more information visit: lesmenuires.com