Tourists have been coming to St Gervais for over 200 years, so I decided to see what all the fuss was about.
Drawn by the thermal spa, and then skiing, this Haute Savoie town has long boosted visitor numbers to the south-east of France
Shoulders below the bubbles of the welcoming outdoor spa, I looked up at the ink black sky, watched the stars twinkle and eased away the ski aches of the day. It was so peaceful.
Within 24 hours of being there I could see those contributing to this 200-year-old history had a point. If there is an art to Alpine living, St Gervais has it!
In 1806 notary Joseph-Marie Gontard founded what is claimed to be the first Alpine spa town, which brought palaces, parks and casinos to the Auvergne Rhône Alpes.
The spa was a hit as its natural waters helped heal the ski and soon wealthy tourists were stopping at its prestigious hotel on route to Chamonix, along with hikers talking the ascent of Mont Blanc.
‘Les Thermes’ sits in the ‘Parc Thermal’ in the lower village of Le Fayet and is still a hit today, helping thousands of patients annually.
Its health and beauty treatments are all based on the therapeutic properties of spring water – and it’s a great place to visit after a day on the slopes, or for a day of wellbeing.
Travelling up from Le Fayet to the main town is also a treat as St Gervais les Bains (also referred to as St Gervais or St Gervais Mont Blanc) is not a recently purpose built resort and has many historic buildings.
You could say it’s a charmer, with its belle époque centre, welcoming chalets and quirky contemporary art exhibition in its car park. A significant year-round population also gives the place a settled feel, with a range of locally run restaurants and cafes, and a lively street market.
Seeing large groups of seasonaires isn’t so likely here – and you are likely to be addressed in French, although English is widely spoken and there is a warm welcome.
Set in a narrow gorge, St Gervais 260km ski area is pretty, and mostly tree lined. Folk on the hill are friendly, and the heart of the resort is a find for beginner and intermediate skiers and snowboarders, with wide runs and plenty of space to build-up confidence and has fun.
Head over to Mont Joly (2,353m) and it’s a different scene, with steeper, more challenging routes on and off piste and runs that really make your legs work!
There’s also a new six-person chairlift planned for Chattrix this December. This will give direct access to Monty Joly’s upper slopes and the Grande Epaule run, with its 1,000m vertical drop towards Chattrix.
The infrastructure is good, with heavy investment in new lifts and snow cannons in the last 10 years, and there are nice, unpretentious places to eat.
Food on the piste is generally more affordable than the resort’s neighbours, and there’s a fun party scene, focused on the resort’ La Folie Douce.
Getting out and about doesn’t feel busy. Lift queues are rare, and you can (sometimes) cherry pick the seats you’d like in the restaurants.
St Gervais is also part of France’s third largest ski resort, the Evasion Mont-Blanc. This links the area to Combloux, La Giettaz, Les Contamines, Megève and Les Houche – and more than 400km of piste.
Tramway du Mont Blanc
If like me, you just can’t get enough of great mountain views, the Tramway du Mont Blanc is a must. Board the train at St Gervais and you’ll climb up France’s oldest railway track to the foot of Mont Blanc. One of the last remaining cog railways, this 100-year-old work engine carries you to the Bellevue Plateau and Le Prarion ski area – a place that literally made me feel on top of the world.
St Gervais carries the Famille Plus label.
Briony stayed with Peak Retreats at 3-star Hotel Monte Bianco. 7 nights full board from £474 per person – includes a return Eurotunnel crossing with a free upgrade to FlexiPlus on most dates. Above prices based on 2 people sharing a Twin/Double room (sleeps 2) for low season 2019/20.
Peak Retreats has several #skideals running at the moment.
Discover more on St Gervais…
Vanessa Fisher spent September in St Gervais.
Kate Whittaker went to 4 resorts in one weekend, and one was St Gervais.
Dan Elkan explains how to ski in St Gervais by train.