The 15 cutest villages in ski resorts
Review by Dave Watts & Chris Gill, Editors of Hwere to Ski & Snowboard
Where is it? Savoie, France
Why go? Attractive, affordable base for the Trois Vallees
Slopes 1260m to 3230m
The Trois Vallées is the world’s largest linked ski area, and St Martin is a great base from which to explore it, offering an attractive village and better value for money than big-name neighbours Courchevel and Méribel. St Martin was a backwater farming village until the 1980s, when chairlifts were built to link it into the slopes of Méribel and Les Menuires. It remains a lived-in, unspoilt place with a small square and lovely 16th century church, which is prettily floodlit at night. The old village has been tastefully expanded with new buildings built of wood and stone in traditional Savoie style. It’s unbeatable as a quiet, inexpensive, attractive base for exploring the rest of the Trois Vallées.
From St Martin, a gondola followed by a fast chair whisk you up to Tougnète, from where you can head back into the Belleville valley and explore all the pistes of Les Menuires and Val Thorens, as well as St Martin’s local slopes. Alternatively, you can drop over the ridge to discover the extensive slopes of the Méribel valley. From there, you are just one gondola ride away from Courchevel.
With 600km of pistes and more than 170 lifts, the Trois Vallées is the largest linked ski area in the world, and ideal for mileage-hungry intermediates. Most of the pistes are easy cruising blues or more challenging red runs. Even the keenest piste basher will only be able to cover a small fraction of the available runs in a week. St Martin’s local slopes are pleasant blues and reds, and one of the Trois Vallées’ nicest and quietest red runs, Jerusalem, goes from the top of the Tougnète ridge down to the top of the gondola from St Martin.
Some of the best steep pistes in the ski area are located on the slopes of La Masse, accessed via Les Menuires. These red and black runs usually have excellent snow because of their north-facing orientation, and are served by a fast jumbo gondola. The Trois Vallées also offers remarkably good off piste to be explored with a guide.
For such a small village, there’s a surprisingly large choice of good restaurants, such as the Montagnard, Eterlou and Voûte. The Ferme de la Choumette and Ferme Auberge Chantacoucou are both working farms situated just outside the village, serving up tasty Savoyard dishes. At the top end of the price scale is La Bouitte, up the road in the hamlet of St Marcel – its goumet cuisine has earnt it two Michelin stars.