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650km of pistes on your doorstep

The three valleys

‘The World’s Largest Ski Area’ is the proud claim of the Three Valleys, and it is indeed vast – with over 150 ski lifts accessing some 650km of pistes and vast areas of off-piste, you could ski here for a lifetime without getting bored.
The sheer size of the ski area means there will always be something to suit everyone from complete beginner to off-piste expert, whilst the altitude – several runs start at over 3000m – means the region is snow-sure.
There’s also plenty of variety in the resorts that make up the Three Valleys, from glitzy Courchevel 1850, where furs and diamonds are regularly worn both off and on the slopes, to lower key resorts like Les Menuires and La Tania where most of us with more modest means can get a taste of the action.
The resorts
The Three Valleys region is made up of Courchevel (itself divided into the four distinct villages of1850, 1650, 1550 and Le Praz), La Tania, Méribel (also divided into 4 villages), St. Martin de Belleville, Les Menuires and Val Thorens.
It can be confusing and a good study of the piste map is recommended before and whilst skiing here!
Each resort has its own character, some more distinctive than others. Courchevel 1850 is renowned for being the playground of the rich and famous – Russian oil barons, English pop stars and French film stars may all be glimpsed, and prices reflect this. The other Courchevel villages are not necessarily so expensive however.
The Méribel resorts are extremely popular with the English to the point where you’re more likely to hear English than French being spoken in many bars and restaurants.
Photo Les 3 vallées JSchneider - OT Val Thorens
La Tania and Les Menuires offer decent budget ski holidays but are characterised by uninspiring apartment block architecture, as is the party resort of Val Thorens, which is the highest ski village in the Alps; and St. Martin de Belleville is perhaps the prettiest of the resorts with a more traditional alpine appearance.
It’s also worth noting that you can access the Three Valleys by ski lift from the spa town of Brides les Bains and from the village of Orelle in the Maurienne Valley, often referred to as ‘the fourth valley’.
Photo Les3 vallées Les Ménuires St Martin de Belleville
Skiing in the 3 valleys
If you like to cruise long, wide and well-groomed pistes and never ski the same one twice in a day this is the place for you. You can even earn a ‘diploma’ by following the Three Valleys ‘Escapade’ route which takes you through all the resorts of the area in one day.
Along with great skiing you can also enjoy superb alpine panoramas from the top of all the resorts, stretching from the Mont Blanc massif in the north all the way south to the pointed summit of 3980-metre La Meije.
Great intermediate options include the array of linked blue runs in Courchevel 1650 and the long red of Creux and the fun black of Suisse in Courchevel 1850; the winding red of Combe de Vallon above Méribel-Mottaret; the wide undulating red of Jerusalem and the range of beginner-friendly blues above St. Martin/Les Menuires; and the exciting reds and blacks from the top of the snow-sure Cime Caron above Val Thorens. And that list is just scratching the surface of what’s available here…
Photo Les 3 vallées Christoffer Sjostrom
Each of the resorts has a good range of ski schools to cater for beginners, with a good option being the award-winning New Generation in Courchevel, Méribel and La Tania, whilst the ESF ski school in Courchevel is the largest in Europe with over 700 instructors.
Expert to advanced skiers will probably get the most out of the Three Valleys simply because there’s so much available to them. From challenging blacks such as Courchevel 1850’s imposing Grand Couloir to a superb array of ‘sidecountry’ terrain throughout all the resorts and excellent backcountry (especially in Courchevel, Méribel and Val Thorens) this is one of the most varied ski areas in the Alps.
Photo Les 3 vallées Christoffer Sjostrom
The combination of several north-facing slopes and high altitude means that even in late spring good snow conditions can usually be found, and whilst much of the off-piste terrain can be seen and easily accessed from the ski lifts, to make the most of it safely you should employ a guide – a good option is the Bureau des Guides in Courchevel and Méribel (www.guides-courchevel-meribel.com).
The Three Valleys is understandably one of the most popular ski areas in Europe and as such attracts vast numbers of skiers, and whilst lift queues are rarely a big problem, even at the height of the season, popular pistes such as Creux above Courchevel 1850 can have very heavy traffic at times, as can the runs back to resorts at the end of the day – the pistes down into Méribel-Mottaret can be especially bad.
Off the slopes
There are endless non-skiing options, from snowshoeing and cross-country skiing to tandem parapente rides above La Tania and Europe’s longest toboggan run (7km) above Val Thorens.
Méribel’s Olympic Centre has an ice rink, gym, swimming pool, bowling lanes and spa, and there’s also a good sports centre in Les Menuires (which also has a shorter 4km toboggan run) and Val Thorens.
Courchevel 1850 in particular offers some spectacularly expensive shopping (or window shopping), and there are cinemas here and in 1650, Méribel and Val Thorens, whilst the museum in St. Martin is surprisingly good.
EATING OUT
There are eleven Michelin-starred restaurants in the Three Valleys, and an enormous range of options both on and off the mountain to suit most budgets. A great place to stop on the slopes above Courchevel 1850 is Courcheneige for good value outdoor snacks or more expensive indoor dining in cosy surroundings.
If money is no object try the Michelin two-star Chabichou in the centre of 1850, whilst the Grand Couer in Méribel is also highly regarded.
Le Grand Lac is a popular spot offering good value dining on the slopes above Les Menuires, and in Val Thorens Europe’s highest four-star hotel The Fitz Roy is a fine option for epicureans, whilst more modestly priced options here include the Galoubet. Try to get hold of the resort’s free, very useful ‘Practical Guide’ with information on the range of dining options.
Photo Les 3 vallées OT Méribel/ J.M GOUEDARD
NIGHTLIFE
Things kick off early at the famous Folie Douce on the slopes above Val Thorens, with a daily après-ski party from 2pm-5pm. Down in the town the Malaysia Bar has live music until the early hours. Méribel is renowned for its loud and British influenced après-ski scene, with the manic, slopeside Rond Point and Dick’s Tea Bar in town being the classic spots to head for. Courchevel 1850 focusses on late night action, with Le Kudeta disco in the centre of the resort and Grange banging it out until the early hours.
Photo Les 3 vallées OT Menuires/ Gilles LANSARD
Practical 3 Valleys
WHERE TO STAY
If money is absolutely no object head to Shemshak Lodge in Courchevel 1850 – it will cost you several thousand Euro for a few days here but you get absolute luxury including a large swimming pool, Jacuzzi, sauna, hammam and gym.
A good mid-range option in Les Menuires is the chalet-style Isatis which is conveniently set right beside the Bruyères gondola, whilst in Méribel-Mottaret the friendly Les Arolles is also located on the pistes.
For budget skiers Green Mountain Chalets just outside St. Martin de Belleville is a laid back establishment that never fails to get good reviews.
Photo Les 3 vallées OT Méribel/ J.M GOUEDARD
Or if you prefer to live at your own pace, rent one of the many holiday accommodations published on MediaHols.com; and keep an eye on the last-minute special offers


GETTING THERE
Nearest airports: Lyon (2.5 hrs), Chambery (1.5 hrs), Grenoble (2 hrs), Geneva (3 hrs)
Nearest train station: Moutiers (10km)
Road: Accessed from the D915 out of Moutiers – all the resorts are well signposted.


FACTS AND FIGURES
Resort elevation: 1300 metres – 2300 metres
Top elevation: 3230 metres
Base elevation 1260 metres
Number of lifts: 165
Total runs: 650km
Snowmaking: Yes

www.les3vallees.com
Photo Les 3 vallées Office du Tourisme ORELLE
Text: Alf Alderson
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