Where do you take a skier who wants unlimited piste, amazing food and stunning mountain scenery? St Martin de Belleville suggests Sheridan Whitehead.
I've carved up the mountains from Meribel, clocked up the kilometres from Courchevel and hit the peaks from Val Thorens but when it comes to the Three Valleys, I lost my heart in St Martin de Belleville.
(the picturesque village of St Martin)
Nestled in the French Alps and a few lifts from its more famous neighbours, the chocolate box resort of St Martin offers skiers and boarders easy access to the 600km of piste of the Three Valleys network without the crowds and high prices that cluster around Meribel, Val Thorens and Courchevel.
It is the best kept secret of the Three Valleys, and, as the home of three of the most charming chalets in The Alps, it will spoil you for the other big name resorts forever.
I’d heard a whisper about this little-known French resort, and when I finally arrived, it was love at first ski. The runs around St Martin are some of the best in the network both for quality of the runs (including juicy slivers of off-piste) and the stunning mountain and village scenery. Indeed, the red run Jerusalem which takes you whooping and swooping back into the village is a firm favourite of many ski journalists, including The Daily Mail Ski and Snowboard editor Henry Druce. Plus, there’s room to breathe as the pistes and lifts are blissfully crowd free. But it's not just on the slopes that St Martin shines.
(powder skiing above the village)
The pretty little resort retains its mountain village authenticity as there is still a large enough local population committed to preserving the architecture and ambiance to stop it feeling like Chiswick on snow which some of the more famous Three Valleys resorts often do. This enthusiasm for preserving the feel of St Martin to safeguard their future translates into plenty of lovely traditional stone and wood buildings and an absence of high-rise, concrete monstrosities. Plus, there's an unusually good range and quality of restaurants with Michelin listed and the now famous three Michelin stared ‘La Bouitte’, within minutes of St Martin.
(gourmet food courtesy of The Alpine Club)
But when you're staying at one of our three favourite chalets you won't have the chance to think about Michelin star restaurants as you'll be too busy savouring mouth-watering, beautifully presented six-course dinners, whipped up by your personal fine dining chef.
Combining luxury and comfort, with fantastic food on tap, this collection of boutique chalets, Chamois Lodge, Chalet Abode & The Ecurie, offer a very different experience to the run of the mill chalet holiday. Each chalet has been designed as a private mountain retreat, tucked away in an ancient hamlet, yet only 4 minutes chauffeur drive from the main lift hub.
(Chalet Chamois Lodge)
Chalet Abode is a converted 100 year old Savoie farmhouse whose warm living room with its original wooden roof & stone walls invites you to curl up on a huge and comfy sofa before the fire to eat canapés while looking at the magical mountain views; testament that style and comfort can exist hand in hand. The second chalet in this exclusive collection is Chamois Lodge, perched on the hillside with stunning views, it is just as welcoming. It’s light, bright and airy with gorgeous views of ancient Savoie hamlets, sprinkled across the snowy mountains. Best of all each one of the large alpine bedrooms has these to die for views, as does the double height living room with 2 balconies. The latest addition to this beautiful collection is The Ecurie, and we’ve left the best until last. Originally an old Savoie stable, it has been lovingly renovated by the owners (I don’t think I mentioned that these chalets are owned & managed by an architect & his wife who live & work in St Martin de Belleville, providing a unique, luxury holiday experience). The heart of The Ecurie is the double height living room, a feast of ancient timbers & sensational central fireplace, yet a cosy, intimate place to relax after a days skiing. The 4 charming bedrooms have a cabin like feel to them, with old beams & more ancient wood, each with a balcony or terrace with glimpses of the old village & mountains.
I’ve been back to St Martin many times since it first stole my heart on that first run. But flying down Jerusalem as the sunset tinges the mountain tops pink at the end of another fantastic day, my heart still swells with the excitement of first love when I see St Martin nestled on the valley floor below me and I know I’m going home to a beautiful mountain home, with spectacular food in front of a roaring fire.