Saint-Martin de Belleville, France
Situated in the well-loved Three Valleys resort system, Saint-Martin reaps the benefits of rubbing shoulders with the glamorous Courchevel and Meribel and the lively and vertiginous Val Thorens, all whilst maintaining a relaxed and cosy atmosphere.
Situated at an altitude of 1450m, the resort is a partner of Les Menuires in terms of the ski area. Unlike Les Menuires, however, Saint-Martin has retained all the picturesque charm of a traditional alpine ski resort, with cobbled streets, old houses with window-boxes of flowers, and some lovely restaurants and bars.
In terms of more practical advantages, the lifts in the ski area are relatively modern as many of them are purpose-built, the resort is close to Geneva so there is good public transport and it is close to the Three Valleys. However, the charm of the resort is as big a draw for those that know it.
How to get there:
The closest airports are Geneva and Chambery at around 2 and 1.5 hours respectively, although Geneva has more flights with companies such as Easyjet and they are usually cheaper. There is also a good transfer network in place, including a cheap and flexible public service with Transdev and Altibus, which goes via Moutiers all the way to the resort.
Taking the Eurostar from Waterloo is perhaps not quite as glamorous as it sounds as the journey is long and far from direct to the slopes, with changes at Lyon or Paris and a finish at Moutiers where you have to take a taxi or bus (see above) the rest of the way.
The journey from Dover takes around 8-10 hours and you can go over the channel on the ferry or under it via the Eurotunnel. The drive across France is best done overnight when the roads are quiet but it is worth remembering that conditions can be icy and roads are sometimes blocked higher up in the mountains, and for this reason it is advisable to carry snow chains.
Who the resort caters for:
The resort is quiet and peaceful, and beautiful without being flashy or wealthy, and it therefore attracts a discerning, if slightly older crowd, including a number of British people who live or have second homes there.
There are some lovely apres-ski bars such as the winningly-titled Pourqoui-Pas, and exceptional Savoie fare is available at restaurants such as Le Lachenal, but there is nothing in the way of clubs in the resort so people seeking a party usually head up the valleys to Val Thorens, Meribel or Courchevel, usually by means of an expensive taxi ride.
The traditional style of the village means that much of the accommodation is in small village houses and apartments or old farm houses, often built of stone, or traditional wooden chalets. The boutique feel is not yet matched by the high prices in Meribel or Courchevel but the feeling of tranquil isolation and limited development is reminiscent of what these other resorts would have been like some time ago.
Part of the resort’s charm is an absence of large apartments and chain hotels, but Hotel Kaya
does offer four star accommodation with a more traditional feel.
The ski area for Saint-Martin is the same as that for Les Menuires, as it is included under the wider Belleville ski area. Although there are some high peaks to be found at the top of the resort, the resort itself is relatively low and therefore snow is far from guaranteed.
The low level of the resort does have its advantages, however. Unlike the higher level resorts Saint-Martin is below the tree line and so benefits from much more typical Alpine scenery, with lovely forest areas, narrow ski runs and challenging off-piste.
With the Three Valleys on the resort’s doorstep many skiers and boarders will opt to extend their pass and go exploring, if only for a day. As weather conditions can limit access to the Three Valleys, however, it is sometimes worth just paying for a single day’s extension when you want to do a full day and the weather is right.
In times of bad snow many head for the highest resort in the network, Val Thorens, which is usually a safer bet. The lower reaches in the resort are prone to becoming slushy and although there is a guarantee system that refunds holidaymakers if there are many lift closures, it is good to have the back-up option of the higher slopes.
Black Runs: 7
Red Runs: 29
Blue Runs: 30
Green Runs: 5
Pistes: 160 km
Cross Country: 28km
Ski Lifts: 36
Max Vertical: 1000m
Highest Lift: 2850m
Lowest Piste: 1450m
Resort Altitude: 1450m