Value for Money 65%
Small, low-key and traditional, St Martin de Belleville is part of the enormous 3 Valleys lift system, but offers a radically different experience from neighbouring resorts. It’ll bore the pants off party animals – but that’s exactly how its growing band of fans like it.
Table of Contents
- 1 Essential Advice for the Perfect Trip
- 2 Guide to the Mountain
- 3 Where to Learn
- 4 Where to Stay
- 5 Where to Eat
- 6 Where to Party
Essential Advice for the Perfect Trip
How could it have happened? St Martin de Belleville is a cute little village attached to the world’s most famous lift system, and it’s managed to retain its style, charm and sense of proportion.
Most of the ancient stone and wood barns have now been converted into chalets, but farmhouse cheese is still made here, and you can still buy fresh milk by the pail. What’s more, prices tend to be a little lower here than in the rest of the 3 Valleys.
Small-village atmosphere: big-resort skiing
Anyone looking for real ski-in, ski-out convenience, and a sense of being at the hub of the piste system, should stay in Les Menuires, Mottaret (Meribel’s high-mountain suburb) or Courchevel 1850. Those who want a high-altitude resort with guaranteed good-quality snow will be better off in Val Thorens.
But if you want at least a taste of old-fashioned France, as well as a more relaxed pace to your holiday, then put St Martin de Belleville near the top of your hit list. It’s a very welcome antidote to what the French call les usines de ski – modern, purpose-built ski factories.
Guide to the Mountain
Contrary to what some people believe, St Martin is one of the best-connected resorts in the 3 Valleys, a suitable base for exploring the whole area. It takes less than 15 minutes to ride the gondola and the six-person express chair-lift out of the valley and onto the ridge that separates St Martin de Belleville and Meribel. At that point, you start to comprehend the sheer volume of skiing on offer.
From here, you can ski back down to St Martin on rolling blues and reds, or down to the neighbouring resort of Les Menuires, or over into Meribel, and beyond into Courchevel. In all there’s a mind-boggling 600km of groomed runs to ski, plus of course the oodles of off-piste that lie in between. If you laid the pistes out end to end, they’d run from London almost as far as Aberdeen.
The best piste in the 3 Valleys, according to New Generation ski school and many other locals and regular skiers who come here, is Jerusalem. It’s just above St Martin de Belleville, has rolling terrain and gorgeous views.
Back-door access to a vast ski area
Of course, technically, there’s something for everyone here, and the high altitude of nearby Val Thorens means snow cover is more or less guaranteed. However, St Martin itself suits mid-winter parties of intermediate skiers much better than anyone else.
1. St Martin’s low altitude and the western aspect of the local runs mean that at the end of the season the snow cover can be thin and slushy.
2. While there’s plenty of advanced and expert terrain in the 3 Valleys, some might think it a bit of schlepp to reach it from St Martin.
In fact from the Tourgnete ridge between St Martin and Meribel it’s two pistes down, then onto the Pas de Lac lift in Mottaret – and from then you’re skiing in Courchevel. To go to Val Thorens from the same ridge it’s just one piste to Les Granges lift, then one run to the Cote Brune lift – and you’re skiing into Val Thorens.
3. Beginners will be fine on the resort’s nursery slope (provided the snow isn’t too slushy). But the local lift system doesn’t connect to any more beginner-rated slopes, so unless they make quick progress, they’ll be stuck down in the village for most of the holiday.
5. By contrast, some of the best intermediate skiiing in the whole of the 3 Valleys is right on your doorstep, in Les Menuires. There, the Pointe de la Masse is the place to go when the pistes elsewhere are too crowded (and this is a common problem during peak weeks, over New Year and during the February school holidays).
A great spot for intermediate snowboarders after heavy snow
We’ve met snowboarders in St Martin de Belleville who are having a wonderful time – which is because they’re intermediates, venturing off-piste for the first or second time, who adore the wide-open off-piste terrain on the upper slopes of the valley.
More advanced riders will be happier staying in either Val Thorens or Les Menuires (both of which are in the Belleville valley), or over in Meribel. Beginners should avoid St Martin too, because the nursery slope is served by a drag-lift. It takes a long time to get the hang of drag-lifts on a snowboard.
Where to Learn
If you want to learn in St Martin de Belleville, you’ll find a choice of two ski schools here. The first is the more traditional ESF. The other is the British ski school New Generation who run small classes for adults and children.
There is also Les Menuires Ski School, which is a handful of excellent instructors offering private lessons. They are part of the ESF, but tailored to English-speaking people. For off-piste skiing or snowboarding, they take groups to the Tougnette ridge or the Pointe de la Masse area when time and conditions allow.
Meanwhile, the local Bureau des Guides (+33 479 01 04 15) can organise off-piste excursions in the area. “The beginner area is tiny and the only pistes are blue ones, which have narrow and steep sections. Our novice boarders found this a problem,” noted a reporter.
A good choice for self-sufficient families who know how to ski
You’d think St Martin de Belleville would be crawling with family-friendly British tour operators. But none has set up shop here – probably because the nursery slopes are rather underdeveloped, and there’s a lack of family-friendly facilities you’ll find in bigger 3 Valleys resorts. So we wouldn’t recommend it if you’ve got new skiers in your brood.
That said, if you and your kids already know how to ski, are hungry for more, and can look after yourselves at night, then you might well enjoy St Martin. No-one’s going to be kept awake in the small hours of the morning by drunken Dutchmen fighting in the street.
Those in search of child care will find it at the Piou-Piou club, which is run by the ESF and cares for both non-skiing and skiing children from 30 months to five years. Not all the staff speak English. It has a children’s restaurant and ski lessons are given for little ones from three years old.
Where to Stay
There’s a good range of accommodation in St Martin de Belleville and the neighbouring hamlet of St Marcel. Here are some recommendations:
Abode is an upmarket chalet in the hamlet of Villarabout, on the outskirts of St Martin village. It’s an old Savoyard farmhouse built in the late 1800s that’s been beautifully restored with designer touches by owner Chris Raemers (who is an architect) and is squirreled away in the heart of the hamlet, with stunning views from the living room. If you want the full St Martin de Belleville effect, this is where to stay.
Chamois Lodge is also beautifully finished in old wood and stone, and decorated in an elegant contemporary style. The only drawback to both of these is that it’s a hike up to the lifts – fortunately the company operates an on-call chauffeur service to take care of the problem.
Finally there’s The Ecurie, which is a renovation of a 130-year-old Savoie stable and farmhouse that’s been turned into a four-bedroom luxury chalet.
A newish company, Ski Talini, have three chalets in the resort, including Chalet Polaris which has five bedrooms and has a lovely sauna, walk-in shower and a fitness room complete with exercise bike and step machine. The chalet’s enormous living area has vast windows looking out onto the Belleville Valley.
Some 400 years ago, Chalet de la Lune was a working farmhouse with cows in the sitting room. Today it retains its rustic character with a vaulted-ceiling living area, as well as having 21st century luxuries such a cinema den, a games room and an outdoor hot tub.
Then there’s Chalet des Anges, close to the St Martin gondola, with a double-height ceiling in the sitting and dining area, with the large windows offering spectacular views and opening onto a covered balcony.
Hotel St Martin is a three-star offering both rooms and self-catering apartments at the foot of the pistes. Rooms have been individually decorated and have a pleasant, woody feel. Alp’Hotel is another three-star which is on the piste, but a bit of a walk from the centre of the village. Rooms vary from basic doubles to a nice wood-panelled mini-suite.
The Chalets du Gypse apartments are a good option for families, because they have a private indoor pool and are ski-in, ski-out. Newly built in traditional style, the apartments are a cut above the standard French rabbit hutch, and visitors rave about the pool and location.
Try the posh suburb
For more top-notch chalets (but not a ski-in, ski-out location) you should try Les Chalets Cocoon, which are six luxury apartments in St Marcel, with their own fireplaces and private 4×4 transfers to the slopes.
The apartments each have a fireplace, swanky TV and sound systems, private saunas, and lush interiors (the owner is an interior designer). Prices are low, too – but that’s probably because you need to commute into St Martin each morning to catch the lift (although you can ski off-piste back to the village in the evening).
Yeah baby! Fancy sleeping over a Michelin-starred restaurant every night? We certainly don’t mind the inconvenience of staying in St Marcel (not least because there’s a shuttle bus to and from the lifts). La Bouitte has ten rooms and suites, all rough-hewn and woody.
Of course, we wouldn’t recommend eating downstairs every night for a week, but all the same. Imagine the feeling you’d get at the top of the piste home at 4pm, thinking: “Here comes dinner…”
Where to Eat
There are plenty of options in the immediate St Martin de Belleville ski area, with good alternatives higher up in the Belleville valley. Lots of people ski here from other 3 Valleys resorts for lunch and there are some good spots – including Le Corbeleys (+33 479 08 95 31) at the top of the gondola out of the village, which has a sunny terrace and good food.
La Loy (+33 479 08 92 72) offers traditional regional dishes. Le Chardon Bleu (+33 479 08 95 36) has a south-facing terrace and is also open for dinner followed by a torchlight descent. The evening outing is just for groups and must be booked 24 hours in advance. Down in the village, L’Etoile des Neiges, owned by Hotel Edelweiss, is another lunchtime favourite.
However, the star attraction in the area is La Bouitte, in the neighbouring village of St Marcel de Belleville, which has three Michelin stars for the superb quality of chef Rene Meilleur’s food. The whole place has a lovely, rough-hewn farmhouse atmosphere. There’s no piste down to the village, though that doesn’t deter good skiers – and anyone who doesn’t fancy the off-piste challenge (or can’t find enough snow) can call the resort for a quick transfer from St Martin.
Of course, anyone staying in St Martin will be wandering right across the 3 Valleys, and will probably be more interested in lunch spots nearer other resorts than the ones on their doorsteps. There are plenty to choose from – Courchevel has the poshest spots, but the most up-and-coming lunch scene is above Val Thorens, which is in the same valley as St Martin de Belleville.
They like their food in St Martin de Belleville. You will too
L’Eterlou (+33 479 08 94 07), is recommended, as is L’Etoile des Neiges, (+33 479 08 92 80), which is open for dinner. Meanwhile Le Montagnard is set in an old hayloft. It’s superb for an evening out, with its gourmet cuisine.
La Ferme de la Choumette, close to the resort, is a farm where you can see the cows, sheep and goats from the windows while eating in the restaurant. The speciality is meat cooked on an open grill. La Voute serves good pizzas, grills and fish.
A restaurant worth visiting is Le Jardin de Josephine, which has the same owners as Le Montagnard, and has a small menu of delicious local cuisine. The restaurant is named after the owner’s grandmother and her influence is evident in the restaurant’s attractive decor.
Where to Party
This is not a party resort. If you’re looking for nightlife then head to almost any one of the other 3 Valleys resorts – in particular Meribel and Val Thorens. The village has quite a few bars for a resort of its size, but no nightclub.
One of the best things to do after skiing is to wallow in the lovely La Bela Vya spa at La Bouitte in St Marcel. There’s a Jacuzzi, sauna and well-being area, with treatments based around mountain hay, milk and honey.
“A bonnie wee place with a few nice pubs and restaurants, but don’t expect raucous nightlife. The emphasis here is on good-humoured charm,” said a reporter. We’d agree. The apres-ski scene is limited, but suits St Martin de Belleville’s older clientele perfectly.
Another said: “I love St Martin but when I recently stopped in for a drink there were only two French in the crowded piano bar on a Sunday night and the rest came from Surrey, Fulham or Putney”. The reason, according to Helen Raemers from the Alpine Club based in the resort, is because “The British do like to go out, whilst many of the French, Germans and Dutch holidaymakers are here on self-catering holidays and don’t use the lovely village restaurants and bars that much”.
L’Eterlou (+33 479 08 94 07) is at the foot of the St Martin drag-lift, Le Joker cafe/bar (+33 675 23 31 80) and Bar Le P (+33 679 80 35 76) are other evening venues. Le Billig (+33 479 00 15 54) serves tapas and has a pool table, darts and table football.