Family ski holidays are nearly always a hassle, and they create a big hole in the wallet. But then, at some point during a stay, you find yourself on the slopes, powdery snow around, blue skies above, rosy cheeks on the children’s faces, and all the hard work is forgotten. But what about the empty wallet? which takes me to Saint Martin de Belleville, in the 3 valleys…
Saint Martin de Belleville is a pretty attractive option when you want to ski in the largest ski resort in the world. It has access to the same slopes as world-famous Meribel and Courchevel but without the price tags, without the flashiness, and without the crowds. The village might not hold the same charm, but it’s a very family-friendly place. And you can eat really well, especially if you indulge in a meal at three-star michelin restaurant La Bouitte (but then, let’s not bring up the price tag..).
Here’s a quick run-down on how we did it last Christmas with my extended family:
– GET THERE:
The easiest is to take the French TGV (fast speed train) from Paris to Moutiers-Salins (book in the family wagon as soon as the tickets go on sale, about 3 months prior). Or take the Eurostar direct from London and then take a taxi (Eur80 one way for 8 passengers with Caroline +336 80 40 49 78 . She’s English, her husband is from St Martin. She handles the business, He does the driving. Team work!).
You could also rent a car in Moutiers (but book this very early as there are only a few car rentals in town), in which case make absolutely sure that it comes with snow tires (or buy chains at a gas station) at the risk of getting stuck in the mountains if there is a snow storm. You can also fly to Lyon, Chambery (1h drive) or Geneva (2h30 drive).
If you stay in a chalet which provides a chauffeur to take you to the slopes, or located right near the center of St Martin, you won’t really need your own car but I always find it reassuring with young children to have a car in case someone falls ill and needs to see a doctor quickly… which is exactly what happened this time around! Long story short, I was rushed to a mountain doctor for fear of a nasty meningitis, painful injection in the bottom and all, taken down in the valley by ambulance to the hospital..only to be told in the middle of the night that i needed to go back home (in a snow storm) and get some rest because it was just a virus. C’est la vie..
There are many companies that will sell you a package of transportation + chalet + all sorts of services (check out White Mountain) but me being me, I like to dig for deals and take care of it all myself. Call it independent travel if you will. We stayed in one of these newly built chalet run by Home by You, located at the bottom of the village. Ours was chalet 1, with 2 bunk beds in one of the bedrooms. It was spacious, comfortable and very stylish but it also lacked the soul and charm of an owner’s chalet. The bedrooms were a bit bland, all located on the same floor while the living / dining room was the real selling point, with unobstructed views of the mountains and a stunning wooden table for large gatherings. The service needs to be polished but overall, it was good value for money + style.
I also took note of those places, without checking them out:
This mountain stone house called le Trait d’Union has been converted into a b&b that seems full of charm. It just opened this winter after an extensive renovation. You access it from the slopes, or with snow shoes, the owner will come get your luggages with her snowmobile. It’s run by a mother-daughter team and I would love to experience it one day. Maybe when the children are older, or with a group of friends. Please let me know if you ever do! It’s possible to just have just lunch there.
La Bouitte Spa-Hotel (see below) is a Relais & Chateau with luxurious rooms in a nearby hamlet. I can’t even imagine what breakfast looks like…
St Martin has all the basics covered, from a quality butcher to a small supermarket with a decent selection and a good bakery. You can have your big shopping delivered ahead if you buy it online on superu. Our chalet had no basics a part from salt and petter, which I always find a drag (when I rent out our house in Provence, I always include lots of goodies in the kitchen, and a personal greeting note!).
We enjoyed a few delicious meals:
– On the slopes: at la Ferme de la Choumette, a working farm that produces mostly cow and goat cheeses. It has a beautiful terrace for sunny days and the added fun of eating next to the cows in the evening. You can visit it with the children to observe the milking of the cows. It’s accessible by car from the village or by ski from the slopes.
– In the village: at Le Montagnard, a delightful restaurant that specialises in all those delicious mountain dishes of fondue and tartiflette. Book ahead as it’s quite small. They’ll happily collect you and drive you back home. This comes handy after the yummy white wines from Savoie that you must drink with a fondue (never drink water with a cheese fondue! it would turn the cheese into glue in your stomach. It’s a golden rule!)
– In the little hamlet of Saint Marcel: the exceptional La Bouitte, a three-stars michelin by father and son Rene and Maxime Meilleur. This is such an incredible culinary experience. I won’t lie if I tell you that we decided on St Martin de Belleville largely so we could have a dinner there! The Meilleur family been in the village for generations and used to run a small pub in the 1970’s. Renee, the father, got inspired by chef master Paul Bocuse, he recruited his son in the kitchen to look after the patisseries, his wife greets the clients, and slowly, they have earned their reputation. We ate like kings and chatted casually with Rene and Maxime about their recipes, their family business, exchanging jokes as if we were regulars.
– GOOD TO KNOW:
Three are two ski schools that operate in St Martin de Belleville.
– We chose half days with New Generation for Marcelo (he’s almost 12) and Amalya (8). The classes are in English but more importantly, they cap the number of students at 8 (and Marcelo was actually alone with another boy for the week, lucky him, private class at the price of a group class!). Lior was in the French ESF school, with fun English-speaking teachers who taught him how to get down his first slope.
– If staying for a full week, it’s more economical to buy a ski pass for the full 3 valleys as you will amortise it in 2 days. The beauty of the 3 Valleys is the freedom to ski in this enormous ski resort, from Val Thorens and Les Menuires in one direction to Meribel and Courchevel in the other direction.
We like to experiment different ski resorts every year. We’ve often enjoyed Austria because the quality of the service is excellent. I wrote about Kitzbuhel and Bad Gastein here and here. We also loved Val d’Isere as the quality of skiing + apres-ski is top notch. And Avoriaz might still win the prize, in my view, for family-friendliness.