Méribel the very belle has a prime location, lively après-ski and fantastic runs for all abilities - so it's little wonder this French resort is top choice for British skiers
Méribel and its satellite village of Mottaret occupy the central Les Allues valley in Les Trois Vallées, which is the largest ski system in the world, with over 600km of pistes. The picturesque village was originally founded by a Scot, Peter Lindsay, in 1938 and has retained a strong British presence ever since, with a huge contingent of regular Brit visitors both staying in or owning chalets in the valley. Some may have reservations about it being a little too English, but Méribel provides a good range of accommodation to suit most pockets, and, with its enviable prime position, makes a great base for people who want to make the most of all that the Trois Vallées have to offer.
While a little less chic than Courchevel 1850, the village of Méribel has, thankfully, retained a pretty and traditional chalet feel. There are, in fact, relatively few hotels (accounting for less than 10 per cent of the 40,000 tourist beds), with chalets being the preferred choice of accommodation here, although there are some larger hotels in Mottaret.
The village centre has grown so much that not all locations are now convenient for the slopes, and there are now several areas in Méribel with their own identity, from the swanky, picturesque Belvedere area, higher in altitude, down to Plateau de Morel, then Altitude 1600 and, at 1,400m, Méribel centre. It is a good 10-minute trek from the Belvedere down to the bustling shops, restaurants and bars of Méribel centre itself.
Mottaret was designed later, in the 1970s, and is higher up the valley at 1,750m, allowing even easier skiing access to the rest of the Trois Vallées. However, although it may be cloaked in snow, it lacks the charm and atmosphere of Méribel, as it has less attractive architecture with mostly hotel and apartment accommodation. Also, the convenience of ski to door is largely outweighed by the inconvenience of getting to the centre of Méribel to eat and drink where the action is.
As well as the main two resorts of Méribel and Méribel-Mottaret, there are some very small traditional hamlets further down the valley such as Les Allues, which gives its name to the valley, and Brides-les-Bains.
There are 150km of pistes in the Méribel valley alone, and more than 600km available on the Trois Vallées lift pass for the whole area. Like all resorts in Les Trois Vallées, Méribel has very easy access to the slopes, with many chalets in the higher outlying districts being slopeside, and the vast interlinked lift system spanning out to access the west and the Belleville Valley towards Val Thorens, or the east and the Courchevel Valley. (Please note that the piste maps all show Courchevel as being the most westerly point when in fact it is the most easterly - the piste maps are back to front.)
It is also worth noting that in the later season the slopes of Méribel can tend to become more heavy and slushy in the afternoons than those in the neighbouring valleys.
Méribel has an outstanding amount of varied terrain for all levels of skiers and snowboarders. It also has better facilities for snowboarders than neighbouring Courchevel, with two great parks (Moonpark 1800m and Plattières 2400m at Mottaret).
Méribel really is an excellent beginners resort and the best option for novices in the Trois Vallées, with lots of confidence-boosting gentle green runs over at the Altiport. The transition from greens to blues is also as smooth as the corduroy pistes that make the learning experience here such fun, with a vast array of expertly groomed blues from La Saulire that are so wide a safe traverse is always a viable option - perfect for maintaining progress and flattering the ego.
Intermediates are so spoiled for choice that, save for your homeward run, you could almost spend your entire holiday here without having to ski the same run twice.
On the eastern side, fast télécabines run up from Méribel and Mottaret towards La Saulire. From here you can either head back down a couple of long, sweeping reds or head over the other side of the mountain towards Courchevel 1850 and further across to Côte de la Loze for the pretty runs down to Courchevel 1650.
On the western side, a télécabine rises up from Méribel to the ridge at Tougnète, where you have the choice of testing yourself on the steep black (Ecureuil) back down to Méribel, or taking the fast red (Dahu) to Mottaret. Alternatively, you can head over the ridge into the Belleville Valley towards Les Menuires.
Mottaret also has télécabine access to Les Menuires via the three-stage Plattières lift. After a quick lunch in the good self-service restaurant at the top of Plattières 3 you can take the wonderful long blue (Grand Lac) down the Belleville valley right down to St Martin.
If the snow is good, Méribel offers some of the best intermediate runs in the area. The Combe Du Vallon from the top of Mont Du Vallon (accessed from the télécabine at Mottaret, and the highest point in the valley at 2,950m) has long, steep exhilarating reds that descend 1,100m all the way to Mottaret and give access to plenty of amazing off-piste options on the way.
Most of the pistes are expertly groomed and there are not too many mogulled sections to challenge the knees, though there are some decent steeps and bumps at Bartavelle and Bosses.
Experts will obviously be keen to explore the whole of the Trois Vallées - and there are some spectacular blacks and reds below the Cime De Caron jumbo cable car over in the Belleville Valley, including the famous Combe de Caron, a fierce mogulled black run, and the pounding 12km off-piste descent down to Vallon du Lou.
Pointe de la Masse, further down at Les Menuires, also provides steep, testing mogul fields and endless off-piste opportunities, with over 1000m of steep vertical powder where you can escape the crowds.
There are lots of off-piste options off Mont du Vallon and Côte Brune, where you'll find some seriously steep powder and bronco-bumps to negotiate. There is also plenty of off-piste powder available if you head on the Burgin télécabine up to the Saulire summit at 2,739m above the Courchevel valley, as well as the under-skied off-piste over towards Courchevel 1650 at Côte de la Loze.
MÉRIBEL AT A GLANCE
Number of lifts (in Méribel) 48
Number of lifts (in Les Trois Vallées) 200
Chairs 18 (including one fast eight-seater and four fast six-seaters)
Lift capacity per hour 75,000
Snow cannons 600+ (providing over 45 per cent coverage)
Mountain restaurants 11
Resort altitude 1,400m-1,700m
Ski terrain altitude 1,300m-3,250m
Number of pistes (in Méribel) 74
(8 green, 34 blue, 24 red, 8 black)
Number of pistes (in Les Trois Vallees) 336
(53 green, 131 blue, 118 red, 34 black)
Longest run 5km
Pros and cons
Prime central location in Les Trois Vallées
Fantastic runs for all abilities
Village charm and atmosphere
Snow deteriorates quicker than in the other two valleys
Resort too spread out
Too anglicised for some people.
If dialling from the UK, prefix all numbers below with 00 33 and omit the first zero.
Amazingly, the Méribel valley does not particularly excel at high-altitude mountain restaurants, with most of the options being self-service. However, the Courchevel valley provides numerous lunch-stops, some of which are really excellent (and expensive) - for details, see my other guides on Courchevel 1650 and Courchevel 1850. Also, most restaurants in and around Méribel town centre are virtually ski to door, and when this is taken into consideration, there are actually plenty of terrific places for a piste stop. Any restaurants marked with an asterisk (*) are especially recommended.
Le Roc Tania* (04 79 08 32 34) Take the Loze chair from the Altiport up to the top of Cote de la Loze. You get splendid views from the sunny terrace plus fast service and very good food that's surprisingly moderately priced - many mains, starting from around €11 so very good value.
La Cava (04 79 00 31 29) Situated at the Rond Point. Suitable for beginners, as the free bus stop is right outside. This is a family-run restaurant and a good option for lunch or dinner with good value plats du jour, pizzas and salads. Service is fast and friendly average prices around €20-25 pp with wine.
Le Grand Coeur* (04 79 08 60 03) Set in the stylish hotel of the same name, this is a long (expensive) lunch or fine dinner option. Expect haute cuisine with haute prices, and lovely views over the chalets of Méribel to be savoured along with the exquisite food.
Le Plan des Mains (04 79 07 31 06) This mountain complex at the base of the Mont Vallon lift (accessible only to skiers and riders) includes restaurants for all tastes: a gourmet restaurant, a brasserie and a self-service sandwich bar. They bake their bread and pastries on site, most main courses at the restaurants are well under €20 - bon appetit.
Les Cretes (06 09 40 51 04) At the top of the Tougnète chairlift. Has a nice sunny terrace and serves local specialities. Tartiflette costs around €20, with similar prices for a succulent rib eye steak.
Adray Télébar* (04 79 08 60 26 ) A little further down below the Rond Point is this hotel restaurant with a large and well laid-out sun terrace, while inside is cosy, with log fires. It's quite pricey (expect €70-90) for two with wine) for a daily splurge, but the food is really top class and service is excellent. A good and slightly cheaper alternative to Le Grand Coeur.
Ronde Point des Pistes (04 79 00 37 51) Known as ‘Ronnies’, this extremely popular lunch-stop is situated below the Rhodos télécabine - ski to the door or take the bus. It serves simple but extremely tasty basic dishes, like spaghetti bolognese, or they do terrific baguettes and chips. There's a lovely terrace and cosy upstairs restaurant as well. It's an ideal place to take kids, and great for après, too (see below). Book ahead.
Hotel Allodis* (04 79 00 56 00) On the edge of the piste at Belvedere. This hotel restaurant serves haute cuisine of the highest order. The restaurant is wonderful rustic, high beamed and chic, there is also dining on the lovely terrace It's the best gourmet option and highly recommended, take your credit card, but book ahead.
Le Plantin* (04 79 04 12 11) Ski down from Méribel towards Brides-les-Bains. Wonderfully stylish restaurant. Serves haute cuisine, considered by some to be the best food in the valley, but priced really quite reasonably at €25-35 for 3 courses. During the day the restaurant organises pick-up and drop-off from the lifts. Recommended.
Chez Kiki* (04 79 08 66 68) Situated at Le Morel. Frequented by celebs, the restaurant is now a Méribel institution. Chef Kiki's open-fire-cooked beef is mouthwatering, as are his famous fondues, expect to eat here for around €40 with wine per person.
La Cava* (04 79 00 31 29) Just beneath the Hotel Oiree de Bois. One of the best value places in the valley, serving bistro meals ranging from salad and pasta to soups and steaks. Expect to eat well here for €25 pp with wine.
Le Grain de Sel (04 79 06 12 17) In Mottaret at the base of the Table Vert chairlift. Serves outstanding traditional local cuisine at modest prices, expect to pay less than €25 pp with wine.
Au Temps Perdu (0479 00 36 64) In Mottaret. A cellar restaurant offering fine French dining with a homely atmosphere, expect to enjoy the experience but to pay around €40-50 pp with wine.
La Baleine (04 79 00 42 87) Here, you can have a fantastic duck fondue for two for only €20. The restaurant has tables that are easily reached from the slopes, making it a good spot for appetising lunches.
Pizzeria de Mottaret (04 79 00 40 50) This atmospheric cellar restaurant is a cut above your average pizzeria. Wood-fired pizzas start at €12 or choose from beef, pork, pastas, risotto or cheeses.
Given the high volume of repeat visitors and expats from Britain, you would expect there to be a vibrant après-ski scene - and you'd be right.
Rond Point des Pistes (04 79 00 37 51) A famously popular venue and a Méribel institution, with a large sun deck that gets packed out before 5pm. Plenty of live music and dancing, and good-value tasty paninis and baguettes, too. Order beer by the jug and order the house speciality toffee vodka - Get there early.
Dick's Tea Bar (04 79 08 60 19) Méribel Mussillon. This is the Trois Vallées version of the famous Dick's Tea Bar from Val d'Isère. Entry free until 1am. Cocktails before midnight are two for one - but it still makes for an expensive night.
Doron Pub (The Pub) (04 79 08 60 02) The largest pub and a highly popular après-ski and sports bar. There's live music most afternoons from 5pm and then again at 10.30pm. Beers can be a bit pricey.
Scott's Downstairs from the Doron Pub (it's owned by the same people), with a more chilled-out vibe. There's live music on Wednesdays from 10.30 pm and an ever-popular happy hour every day from 4 to 6pm.
Barometer (no number) In the centre of town. A stylish, more reserved bar, serving the potent Mutzig beer and wines and coffees in a more tranquil atmosphere. Plasma TVs and regular live matches. Open 2pm to 2am.
Le Loft (06 16 91 85 66) Méribel's top nightclub, catering to a Euro crowd. Open until 4am.
Le Poste de Secours (04 79 00 74 31) French-owned, this is a great little bar (Méribel's most classy and stylish), serving impressive cocktails. It's a bit pricey, but there's a nice ambience.
Jack's Bar (no number) Opposite the Olympic Centre. A Méribel institution serving the strong Mutzig lager.
Le Privilege (04 79 08 59 74) French-style Euro disco, with a popular 70s night every Tuesday. Open from 11pm to 4am.
Le Rastro Bar (04 79 00 41 51) Just past the Plattières lift station. A rocking après-ski bar with a great atmosphere.
Le Zig Zag (04 79 00 47 40) Right next to Rastro. Head here later in the night for a spot of Jagertee made with real Austrian Stroh rum.
Despite its expansion, Méribel has stoically remained a pretty chalet village, with just half a dozen hotels, all in keeping with the chalet style. Some of these have outstanding restaurants that are worth a visit whether you are a guest or not.
Hotel Le Grand Coeur 4* luxe A prestigious and renowned yet cosy, traditional hotel, with exquisite food. Ski to door. Wonderful.
Hotel Allodis 3* Perfectly located for skiing. Wonderful warm and stylish interior design, and the best food in the whole of Méribel.
Hotel Mont Vallon 4* In Mottaret. This is a real luxury hotel with a cosy lodge ambience, splendid rooms and every comfort provided for. Ski to door - but shuttle to town.
Hotel Adray Telebar 2* This hidden treasure, with just 26 country-style rooms, has a mountain-lodge feel. The owners are charming and the food out of this world - visit for a meal even if you're not staying here.
Hotel La Tarentaise 3* In Mottaret, right on the slopes. Great location and popular with Brits. Rooms are clean but a bit basic.
Hotel Les Arolles In Mottaret, with a coveted on-slope location. Another one that's popular with British skiers, especially families. Basic modern rooms; nice pool.
Chalets and apartments outnumber hotel beds 10 to one here, and cover the spectrum from budget to super-luxury. One operator with a wealth of experience in chalets in Méribel is: Purple Ski (www.tumbl.it/purpleski).
Chambéry airport is 109km from Méribel, about an hour's drive. Grenoble is 176kms away, Lyon 186km and Geneva 190km. There are plenty of transfer options from the airports, but it's important to note that you need to make advance bookings for buses from Geneva; call Geneva airport office on +41 22 798 20 00.
Booking a private transfer via minibus can work out the most convenient and cheapest transfer, especially if you are part of a group - try Holiday Autos (www.holidayautos.co.uk).
You can book bus transfers from Geneva online at www.alpski-bus.com. Altibus (www.altibus.com) operates from all the other airports.
I would not recommend train transfers to Méribel, as they involve more than one change and long waits are frequent. Buses offer the best and most affordable means of transfer.
Take the motorway 43 to Albertville, followed by the RN90 to Moutiers, then the D90 to Méribel.
For car hire, try Alamo (0870 400 4562, www.Alamo.co.uk); Avis (0844 581 0147, www.avis.co.uk ); Budget (0844 581 2231, www.budget.com); easyCar (08710 500 444, www.easyCar.com); and SIXT (0844 248 6620, www.sixt.com).