Les Menuires, France
Part of the Three Valleys resort system (along with Meribel, Courchevel, Val Thorens, La Tania and Saint-Martin De Belleville) Les Menuires is situated in the Belleville ski area of Savoie, North-East France, near the Swiss border.
The resort itself lies in the lower regions of the valley below Val Thorens, at an altitude of 1800m, and was founded in 1964. However, the resort was arguably ruined by the construction of some extremely contentious modern architecture, including a church, ski lifts and a massive triangular apartment block, complete with concrete facade, which have not improved with age.
The resort has been largely criticised for being one of the ugliest around, even by French people, but on the practical side the skiing benefits from good infrastructure, proximity to Geneva and the access to the Three Valleys ski area. There is also some good off-piste skiing to be found nearby.
How to get there:
The easiest way to access the Three Valleys is by flying to Geneva and taking a taxi or bus to the resort. As Les Menuires is at lower altitude than the other resorts taxis and buses are slightly cheaper than to Val Thorens or the other resorts.
Easyjet offer a huge number of flights to Geneva from as little as £50 return to many major UK airports.
It is also possible to fly to Chambery or Lyon, and it is possible to find cheap charter flights to Chambery from operators such as Satellite travel.
From Geneva airport it is between 1.5 and 2 hours to the resort by taxi transfer, and a little less from Chambery or Lyon. The bus takes up to an hour or so longer, depending on timetabling and changes at Moutiers.
The Transdev public transport service, operated by Altibus, offers a good and reasonably priced and runs from Geneva, Chambery and Lyon all the way to Les Menuires, connecting from large coaches to smaller minibuses or taxis at Moutiers.
They operate a flexible return service for people on long holidays or ski seasons where you can arrange to travel home with just a few days’ notice. However, they sometimes require a minimum number of passengers to operate the smaller services from Bourg St. Maurice to the resorts, so it is best to buy tickets before leaving the country so the service is confirmed.
The train is usually much more expensive than the plane (especially for early bookings), usually costing at least £150. It usually travels overnight from London Waterloo via Lyon or Paris and ends at Moutiers or Bourg St. Maurice, but at this point it is necessary to take the bus (see above) or a taxi transfer to the ski resort anyway.
It is also possible to take the train from some of the airports but the same applies – you have to travel by road from Moutiers – so there is little point.
Although it is possible to find sleeper trains, some of the overnight services are just standard trains and can therefore be cramped, noisy and uncomfortable.
Travelling by car is an option but is only really preferable for people with large amounts of equipment, given the cost of the ferry, petrol, toll roads in France and parking in the resort. Poor conditions can also be dangerous and may result in your car being snowed in, and it may also be necessary to purchase snow chains for the tyres. All-in-all the journey to Les Menuires takes around 8-10 hours from Dover.
Who the resort caters for:
Given the resort’s reputation as somewhat less than scenic it tends to attract young groups or families on a budget, taking advantage of the cheaper prices whilst having the option to enjoy the same ski area as the more expensive resorts of Courchevel and Meribel.
There is no great night-life in the resort so people seeking a party usually head round the valley to Val Thorens, Meribel or Courchevel, usually by means of an expensive taxi ride.
Much of the resort’s accommodation is to be found in a large concrete building which forms the centre of the resort and looks back down the valley. There are some modern chalet-style apartments to be found but as the resort is very young, and purpose-built, there are few traditional chalets.
The Club Med hotel is one of the larger hotels in the resort and offers a wide range of inclusive holiday options:
Kaya chalet-hotels offer more upmarket accomodation in Les Menuires and in the wider Belleville area:
The slopes in Les Menuires are part of the wider Belleville ski area, all of which is situated at quite low levels, and are suitable for beginners and intermediate skiers. The two highest peaks are at 2700m and 2850m, making a maximum vertical drop of around 1000m.
In total the Les Menuires/St. Martin area offers 160km of piste and 36 ski lifts. There are also a number of off-piste options in the area, with some very scenic tree and river routes, around the Lac Noir lift for example, but avalanches are always a danger, especially early in the season when the snow cover is poor and loose and it might be wise to take a guide.
Passes cover at least St. Martin De Belleville and Les Menuires. However, more advanced skiers may get bored and opt to pay a little extra to purchase a Three Valleys pass, which allows access to a huge ski area with countless piste and off-piste runs.
This is a good investment for any skier at intermediate or above, especially if staying for more than a week. It is possible to purchase a full Three Valleys pass for the duration of the holiday or just extension passes for anything from a day upwards, which simply add to the basic Belleville pass for the time required.
In times of poor snow or late in the season the relatively low altitude can make for bad conditions in the Belleville area, even with 400 artificial snow machines. In this case it may be necessary to seek out the higher slopes available in the Three Valleys. The resort has actually introduced a guarantee system whereby it offers some reimbursement if more than 80% of the lifts are closed, but this is bound by various conditions and would be of little comfort to those only skiing for a week or two.
Black Runs: 8
Red Runs: 24
Blue Runs: 23
Green Runs: 6
Pistes: 160 km
Cross Country: 28km
Ski Lifts: 36
Max Vertical: 1000m
Highest Lift: 2850m
Lowest Piste: 1800m
Resort Altitude: 1800m