When you think Three Valleys you automatically think Courcheval and Meribel, where as many seem to go to people-watch as they do to ski. Or you think purpose-built high rise resorts.
Well, think again; think Les Menuires
Yes, there was a time when Les Menuires was the ugly poor relation to its swanky big sisters, but thanks to a realisation a few years ago that the resort needed to change its image to compete in this highly comperative market, it underwent a radical overhaul.
Gone are a lot of the architectural disasters of the 1960s and 70s, replaced by low-rise attractive looking apartments and hotels.
Granted the centre of the village still gives a flavour of what it used to be like, but on the whole a lot has been done to make this an attractive ski resort to visit while maintaining easy access to one of the biggest and best ski networks in the world.
Les Menuires is set between Val Thorens and Saint-Martin-de-Belleville. We traveled with ski travel old hands Crystal. Crystal offers a very useful service before you travel, supplying you with your own personal information pack on your destination which gives you all the details on where you are going and what do.
We stayed in four-star Le Hameau des Airelles Apartments.
Positioned out of the main town the apartments are linked by a free ski bus service to the main ski area five-minutes ride away.
The apartments have been built on the site of one of the old tower block developments which was demolished during the revamp of Les Menuires.
Now the complex of chalet-style apartment blocks is an attractive feature and includes impressive leisure facilities including a swimming pool, steam room and sauna.
My only criticism was that because cleaning costs extra, although on the surface the apartments looked clean enough, they would definiltey have benefited from a deep clean with plenty of bleach and disinfectant However, they did have a very useful a daily bread and croissant delivery service which made breakfast time a treat.
For intermediate skiers, snow conditions permitting, it is possible to ski down to the apartments but as we were traveling with two small children this wasn’t possible. Instead we walked up the hill to the bus stop to take us to the main ski area where the ski schools are based.
My two were booked in with the French ski school Prosneige (http://menuires.prosneige.fr/english/) and luckily they were placed in the same lesson with a fantastic teacher, Jeni. Her no-nonsense yet caring approach was perfect for my six and eight-year-old who had skied once before but not on the main slopes.
I had been rather concerned how they might take to it and that was one of the reasons we chose accommodation with a pool in case they were too tired in the afternoon to ski. I needn’t have worried. If anything it was us begging them to come off the slopes. By the end of the week they were skiing red runs and giving us a run for our money.
After a good lunch, there is a huge selection of restaurants both in resort and on the mountains, we took them off to the top of the mountain to ski down with us and we were amazed by their progress in one week.
We often chose to have lunch in one of the restaurants next to the ski school meeting point which were slightly better value than the more picturesque ones on the mountain tops.
The children loved to explore the huge ice sculpture of a pirate ship and also take themselves off to the adjacent nursery slope thanks to a “magic carpet” lift system.
Les Menuires and the Three Valley ski area is perfect for families. There are even dedicated pistes just for them where others skiers are asked to ski more slowly and carefully than they may ordinarily do.
For older children and big kids of adults, there are a couple of fun parks where you can test yourselves on jumps and speed courses. Not for the faint-hearted.
Les Menuires has something for everyone, no matter what their ability. But if you fancy more of a challenge and a change of scenery then you can buy an area lift pass which gives you easy access to the biggest linked ski area in the world. It is a little more expensive than the local pass but well worth the money. I defy anyone to be able to cover even half the available ski area in a week.
For those not limited by ski school lunchtime pick up, the swish resorts of Meribel and Courcheval are accessible for good skiers and Crystal runs day skiing hosting trips to both.
The snow conditions not being the greatest, we tended to head high and up to the resort of Val Thorens.
The unseasonably warm weather when we were there had made lower slopes a bit worn in places and even beyond the help of the impressive snow making facilities in the Three Valleys.
As the majority of accommodation in Les Menuires is self-catering there is a good choice of restaurants for all budgets and also a selection of supermarkets.
If you aren’t lucky enough to stay in accommodation with the leisure facilities Les Hameau boasted then there is a recently opened leisure complex in the centre of the town with a swimming pool, fun park and trampolines. For the non-skier there is also ice skating, snow shoeing and rubber ring tobogganing.
With access to 600km of piste within the Three Valleys – including 183 runs for beginners and 119 for intermediates this really is a fantastic resort for families no matter what their ability.
Crystal Ski (tel: 90871 231 2256; www.crystalski.co.uk) offers a week’s stay at the four-star Le Hameau des Airelles in Les Menuires with flights from Leeds Bradford Airport and airport transfers from £1,796 for a family of four. Skiing to and from the door, indoor pool and gym included.
A six-day local lift pass costs £171 with an adult area pass which covers the Three Valleys ski area is £223. Family lift passes are also available.