News from the snow
Les Menuires France
One of three resorts in the Belleville Valley, which is itself one of the world famous 3 Vallées (Three Valleys), les Menuires has a reputation for offering the lowest prices in the area. Located above the old Savoyard village of St Martin de Belleville and below Val Thorens (Europe's highest purpose-built ski centre), les Menuires has marketed itself as 'The Smile of The Alps' because of the semi-circular arc of its main building complex and its good sunshine record. The resort is divided in to 'quarters' - although there are more than four of them. The main facilities are in La Croisette, the original centre, and les Bruyeres. Above them are the accommodation complexes of Reberty 1850, Reberty 2000 and Brelin. Below them are les Fontanettes and Preyerand. Much of the building is extremely functional and the emphasis has traditionally been placed on slope-side convenience rather than architectural design sympathetic to the beauty of the surrounding mountainscape. However some of the older buildings that were especially criticised by some for their unattractiveness have now been demolished and the newer developments are more tasteful - with more exterior wood and sloping roofs and gables, and less concrete rectangles. The latest development was the opening of a four star hotel (the highest standard in France) Le Chalet Hotel Kaya and four stay residences have also opened. Another good point for many is the fact that Les Menuires is such nice family resort - definitely lacking in the fur-coated snobs which frequent some of the other resorts nearby.
Purpose-built altitude resort cursed by much disclaimed architecture but nicknamed 'The smile of the French Alps' by its owners. Well positioned on the Trois Vallées and livelier than many similar ski stations.
The St Martin and les Menuires pass opens up 160km (100 miles) of trails served by more than 33 modern lifts and costs about 30% less per week than the 3 Vallées ticket. For a bigger area and access to the altitude slopes the Belleville Valley only pass still offers more skiing than most resorts in the world, 300km (187 miles) of trails between Saint Martin all the way up to Val Thorens, served by more than 60 modern lifts. However it's only about 5% cheaper than the 3 Vallées pass (600km/350 miles of trails).
Les Menuires own skiing in the Belleville Valley is at one end of the Trois Vallées with lifts linking directly and quickly to the skiing of Meribel or over le Mont de la Chambre to Val Thorens or back down to Saint Martin de Belleville on long pistes. The resort is perhaps best known for its 'own' ski area somewhat away from the various 3 Vallées routes - Le Pointe de la Masse, where north facing slopes offer some of the circuits most challenging skiing, notably the off piste run down to the Lac de Lou.
Both Les Menuires and Saint Martin de Belleville offer a snow guarantee which enables skiers to reserve their holidays with the promise of satisfaction or your money back.
The Ecole de ski Français (ESF) at Les Menuires has done more than most European resorts to make a special effort for adult beginners, following the North American model of creating a 'beginners village' - an enclosed area of around 5000 square metres near the Preyerand area especially reserved for new skiers and designed to suit their needs. Beginners also have 6 free ski lifts around the resort alone and a special very low cost beginner's pass giving access to a reduced circuit of 11 key lifts throughout les Menuires. The Ecole de Ski Français (ESF) employs nearly 200 instructors in the resort who offer lessons for groups or private individuals in regular skiing, snowboarding, competition skiing and the new sport of skwal.
Snow shoe outings are guided by ski school instructors. For experts one day and half day off-piste tours of the Three Vallées are available and the Company of Guides, which is attached to the ski school, in the winter offers additional off piste courses and tuition, ski tours and glacier treks. The ESF has an international section especially set up to deal with foreign guests.
The same opportunities are available at the Piou Piou Club in la Croisette quarter, but this also has a nursery for children aged from three months to two and a half years (please note that a health certificate must be brought along when you register your child for this facility). Two six day training courses are organised from Sundays to Fridays if you want more than regular day care with snow fun. The 'Boule de Neige Course' is for children aged from three to five and includes one - two hours of learn-to-ski daily depending on the child's motivation, the rest of the time having fun or doing creative tasks. The 'Tiskieurs Course' for children aged 4 to 5 is more skiing oriented.
Every day between 8.30 and 9am the instructors collect children by bus from the various sectors of les Menuires.
For older children there is the Mini Champion Course (staged in the school holiday periods) for ages 6 to 12, with various levels of award or the 'Competition Course' for 6 to 18 year olds which includes more testing techniques. Although the free lift passes are not generous, ending when a child is five, the 3 Vallées resorts do offer child discounts of 25% on the adult price right up to a child's 16th birthday, with a slightly better discount of 35% until the child is 10 years old.
Other good choices are La Ruade in Preyerand for Savoyard ambience or the L'Etoile restaurant.Fondue and raclette evenings are organised in some of the 13 mountain restaurants above the resort, followed by torch lit descents back to les Menuires.
The Medz-e-ty in the Preyerand quarter offers activities, shows and a variety of dining options.
Sledging and a quad bike or buggy circuit, snowmobiling and the cinemas are all available in the evening. The resort's sports centre is also available to 9pm with saunas, jacuzzi and Turkish bath.
New attraction in Les Menuires : Roc 'n' bob
At the top 0f the Roc des 3 Manches gondola, children and adults alike will enjoy the new tobogganing slope. 4km long with 450m of ascent and 22 bends, this slope offers a thrill at the heart of the Les Menuires!