News from the snow
Megève was one of the earliest ski resorts to be created - a French answer to St Moritz. Based on a thirteenth century village its pedestrianised centre still has cobbled streets. Today it is a unique place in many ways - differing from almost all other French ski centres in its history, ambience and altitude. It is almost the antithesis of the high altitude concrete rectangle resort for which France is infamous but, none-the-less, it gives skiers access to one of the world's largest lift-linked ski areas, and a lift pass that includes neighbouring Chamonix. Equally significant, the range of shopping, restaurants, facilities and organised activities available surpasses all other French destination resorts. Megève has a long history. Two hundred years ago it was comparatively large, with 2,400 people, mostly involved in agriculture. This population had dropped to 1750 at the start of the first World War. However, everything changed when Baroness de Rothschild picked the village, which had a few years earlier opened a tourist office and begun winter tourism, to be changed in to a 'French St Moritz'. Such was the influence of the Baroness that, following the construction of the resort's fourth hotel, the Hotel Palace Mont d'Arbois, and her persuading French railways to open a special line from Paris to neighbouring St Gervais, the royal families of Europe began arriving in the resort by the early 1920s. The famous 'Ski Club de Paris', managed by Austrian instructors, opened in 1932 and at Rochebrune, where the area's skiing actually began, opened a cablecar in 1933. The resort was undisputed as 'most chic' in France during the '60s and '70s but lost ground in the '80s when the French super areas came into their own and Courchevel became the place to be (although it lacks the history, character and ambience of Megève). Today, with skiing no longer the be all and end all of winter holidays, Megève is back in renaissance.
One of the largest towns in France (third biggest bed base after Chamonix and La Plagne), with the most to do, besides ski, of any French resort. Options include a casino, choice of four beauty farms, bridge club, bowling, concerts, conferences, ice shows and so on. The huge ski area pass includes Chamonix, with the local area lift linked to St Gervais and Combloux. Megève itself has a medieval town centre. Heliskiing is also offered by the International Ski School and the Guides Office. The area of Cote 2000/Rochebrune is the most snow sure in the region.
The three areas are together known as the Evasion Mont Blanc and form only a part of Ski Pass Mont Blanc which gives access to a dozen resorts in the Mont Blanc area, including Chamonix.
Megève's trails are largely cut through thickly forested slopes, the exception being the wide snowy slopes of Mont d'Arbois which reaches up above the tree line to the resort's highest slopes at 2350 metres. Most of the beginner areas are down close to the village and make the resort a wonderful place for first-timers when snow conditions are good. When the snow level is a little higher Jaillet is a good, quiet choice and Mont d'Arbois the most snow sure. This is also the area that holds the most attractions for intermediate skiers. Here the combination of the resort's largest ski area and steepest slopes are most appealing as is the picturesque terrain.
There are many red runs in the area, most notably down to Le Bettex above St Gervais.
Experts have more limited opportunities locally although of course the proximity of the world's tough skiing mecca - Mont Blanc - means you're never far from the terrain you want in this category. There are several steep blacks and off piste runs particularly on Mont Joly and Mont Joux. In addition, both ski schools and the Mountain Guides Office offer daily tours of Chamonix's famous Vallée Blanche as well as heli-guiding, off piste and ski touring. The mountain guides also organise long distance ski treks on all traditional routes such as Chamonix to Zermatt.
The Rochebrune area has long pistes, some among fir forests, and a challenging part at l'Alpette. The Caboche cable-car and the gentle modern chair-lift at "la Petit Fontaine" provide good access towards Cote 2000, the venue for World Cup races.
Cross country skiers are well catered for in the valley so long as snow cover is adequate, with up to 75km (48 miles) of varied terrain.
The Mont d' Arbois kindergarten next to the cable car of the same name employs ESF teachers to instruct children aged 3 to 5 to ski. The third kindergarten at the top lift station of the Chamois cable car takes children aged 3 to 5. Named Caboche, it operates its own private ski lift.
For older children, both the Ecole du Ski Français and the International Ski School offer tuition for all abilities, up to racing school, from age 3. Maximum class size is 12 children, but the international Ski Schools' Club ' operating weekday afternoons has a maximum of seven children in its classes.
In common with Megève's clientele the cuisine is largely 'very French' with crêperies and Savoyard specialities the order of the day. In this latter category the former Rothschild family home, now hotel and restaurant, the chalet du Mont d'Arbois, is highly regarded.
Creative cuisine by talented young chefs offer delights for the most demanding clients. Emmanuel Renaut, winner of the famous 'Tattinger' prize, opened his new restaurant 'Flocons de Sel' in December 1997.
For a night away from French food, you could try The Phnom-Penh for Cambodian.
Although known for its up market and thus expensive restaurants and night clubs, Megève can be enjoyed to the full by the less well-heeled also. The Wake Up and the Bar St Paul are both among the less expensive/more lively options, whilst Harries Bar has a great choice of beers.
Apart from wining, dining and dancing Megève has a casino, three cinemas and an eight lane bowling alley with billiards and video games as well as the many facilities of its top class sports centre. There are 4 nightclubs in the resort (Les Caves de Megeve, Palo Alto, 5 Piues Jazz Club).
Although there is no specialised snowboarding school both the ESF and International Ski Schools have snowboarding divisions offering tuition on moguls and in slalom, for beginners to experts. 'Boarders also have the chance to try off-piste 'boarding, heli -boarding and touring, through these schools.
The two parks are located on Mont d'Arbois and on Rochebrune (new 'boardercross) and there is good free riding terrain accessed by a higher propor-tion of chair and cabin lifts than the French norm. The snowboarding park is situated on the Mont Joux area of Mont d-'Arbois.