I know the Three Valleys. In fact, I’d go so far as to say I know this ski area better than any other. MadDogSki was born in the Three Valleys when I spent my mid-life crisis doing two winter seasons. I have been there and I have (literally) written the book. So how is it that when I visited the lovely village of St Martin de Belleville I discovered a whole new aspect to this amazing ski area?
My two winter seasons were spent living in the Courchevel valley and that’s probably why. One of the joys of the Three Valleys for me is all about travelling with a purpose and St Martin de Belleville was always one of our favourite destinations not least because of the great choice of lunch stops and Jerusalem – arguably one of the most enjoyable pistes in the domain (I won’t go into detail – you’ll just have to trust me). When we visited the Belleville valley we always had one eye on the clock for the last connecting lifts back which meant we spent very little time in the village of St Martin.
So when I was invited to visit I was mostly curious about how it would feel exploring the ski area from the ‘other side’. But St Martin has a way of getting under your skin. It is one of the few original villages in the Three Valleys (i.e. not purpose built) and its charm and connections to an extensive ski region attract 800,000 visitors a year.
We stayed in the luxurious Chalet Abode (one of the chalets from The Alpine Club) but the first night we ate out. We wandered through small streets, which clearly were home to locals as well as the expected holiday accommodation. We ate in Le Lachenal restaurant, just one of several family run establishments in the village. And on the way back to our chalet, we heard singing from the beautiful Baroque parish church and wandered in to watch the villagers practising for their Christmas service.
The next day dawned with bright blue skies, crisp snow and the slopes more or less to ourselves (a huge benefit of early season skiing). We met Philippe from Ecole de Ski Francais at the St Martin telecabine and headed up the mountain. Philippe is local, from a village further down the valley and this turned out to be a theme for our trip. We met some of Philippe’s colleagues (also local) on the mountain, and we ate at three great restaurants, which are all owned by local families who have been in the region for generations. The food we ate was for the most part, locally sourced and so was the wine. It’s therefore not too surprising that St Martin was voted 2016 best Gastronomic resort in the Alps against some pretty stiff competition.
In the evening, Helen from the Alpine Club came by to talk to us about their philosophy of working with local artisans and craftsmen on the chalets they have refurbished and how important it is for them to be part of the local community.
All in all, St Martin is one the most delightful villages I’ve visited. And of course, it doesn’t need adding that the skiing in the Three Valleys is superb. This season, St Martin has made a significant investment in a new beginners’ area with magic carpets, extensive snowmaking down to the village and a much better (quicker and covered) chairlift connecting with the St Martin 1 telecabine giving easy access to the rest of the Three Valleys.
For someone that thought they ‘knew’ the Three Valleys, St Martin de Belleville made me think again. If you want the best of both worlds – an authentic local village combined with world class skiing, St Martin might just be the place for you… but shhhh don’t tell anyone else.
Kate stayed with The Alpine Club in Chalet Abode. Prices start from £875 pp to include: breakfast & afternoon tea daily, 6 course taster menu on 6 nights, 6 pairs of premium wines with dinner, complimentary bar (wine, beer and soft drinks), champagne reception on arrival, daily housekeeping, on demand 4×4 chauffeur service to and from St Martin until 10pm.
Transfers were provided by Ski-Lifts.
Many thanks to Olivier Bertrand and his team at Intersport St Martin for ski hire and to ESF Les Menuires for our lovely guide Philippe.