The French resort of Megève should never be overlooked as a great short-break ski destination. If you seek chic and charm, look no further - this is the prettiest resort in the whole of the Alps
Known as the 21st arrondissement, thanks to its popularity with Parisians, Megève is a beautiful medieval town in the French Haute Savoie. In its heyday in the 1960s it was le grand fromage in the French Alps, frequented by royalty and celebs, and while it may eventually have lost out to Courchevel 1850 as the place to be seen, it still draws in the rich and famous today. In fact, the tables could be turning back in favour of this most charming and understated of resorts, as the influx of Russian oligarchs and nouveaux riches has turned Courchevel 1850 into a victim of its own success - by comparison with Megève, the new pretender could be considered vulgar, unappealing and too ostentatious perhaps. It is an often-spoken truism that while form may be temporary, class is permanent - and Megève has class in bucketloads.
In modern terms, its location is low at 1,100m (especially for France, where purpose-built and perfectly located ski resorts are practically de rigueur). This means it can suffer from a lack of snow; in fact the peak skiing season in Megève is really condensed into a couple of months. However, what it lacks in height it more than makes up for in its many other merits, namely its authentic Savoyard charm, many wonderful restaurants, shopping and scenery. It is also ideal for a short break destination, as it is only an hour's drive from Geneva.
Originally designed in the 1920s as the French alternative to Switzerland’s glitzy St Moritz, Megève has evolved with an elegance and timeless pretty charm that its esteemed Swiss rival could never quite manage. Horse-drawn sleighs or calèches serve as taxis, winding round the narrow cobbled streets. This is a beautiful, photogenic town, with its quaint medieval square, 13th-century church and endearing open-air ice rink. With plenty of upmarket boutiques, coffee shops, restaurants and smart hotels, there is plenty to do here besides the skiing, and Megève survives very nicely as a year-round destination. It is comparable in some ways to the elegant Italian resort of Cortina d’Ampezzo, in that it has some glorious skiing on offer but not everyone who comes here does so predominantly for that reason, which gives the town a comfortable and reassuring ambience.
Megève has over 300km of pistes spread over three mountains. The main two, Mont d'Arbois and Rochebrune, are linked by cable car. The third area, Le Jaillet, which sits on the other side of the valley, is the smallest and usually the first to suffer from lack of snow.
Mont d'Arbois is accessed via gondola from the centre of town. A two-stage gondola operates between Mont d'Arbois and the slopes down to Le Bettex and St Gervais. From Mont d'Arbois you can work your way to Mont Joux and Mont Joly. From the Mont d'Arbois lift base, a cable-car takes you over to Rochebrune.
Le Jaillet is accessed from the north edge of town by another gondola. From here you can head to Le Christomet and the slopes of Le Torraz.
Megève is an excellent resort for beginners and heaven for intermediates. Le Jaillet has some great intermediate slopes and a couple of good steeps for the more advanced. In all three sectors, there is some excellent under-used powder in good weather to keep the experts happy.
Because Megève’s slopes are not rocky but grassy, it means that there doesn’t actually need to be much snow for the terrain to become covered sufficiently to ski and snowboard. There has also been big investment in snow cannons in recent years, so the lower sections don’t get closed so easily.
Nursery slopes are located at valley level and higher up on each of the three mountains. Many like to progress to the long, easy green runs on Combloux and the long, confidence-boosting green down to Le Bettex. Generally, the Mont d’Arbois runs are the stepping stone to the slightly more challenging blues and reds on Rochebrune. Another big plus for Megève is that outside of school holidays, the slopes are quiet, so novices can progress easily and with more confidence.
If looking for a ski school, try ESF (04 50 21 00 97), International (04 50 58 78 88) or Freeride (04 50 93 03 52). If dialling from the UK, prefix all numbers with 00 33 and omit the first zero.
There are loads of intermediate runs on all mountains. The main downside is the proliferation of drag lifts, which, as many resorts are now making these virtually obsolete, is a bit of a let-down. You will encounter some on the way up to Cote 2000, which is the location for the Women’s World Cup Downhill, a fairly tame but entertaining scenic black with views of Mont d’Arbois and Mont Joly over towards Les Gets.
One of the attractions is the number of scenic, pretty, tree-lined descents such as the run down to the small hamlet of St Nicolas, where there are splendid views of Mont Blanc. In fact, over 700km and 190 lifts are at your disposal on the Mont Blanc lift pass, which covers those in Chamonix.
Confident intermediates should try the red and black runs of La Giattaz or the northeast-facing slopes of Mont d'Arbois and Mont Joux.
For experts there is plenty of unexplored off-piste - especially good from the top of Mont Joly and Mont Joux, but try also the long blast down black Princesse from Mont d'Arbois. Le Jaillet has limited runs to test the expert, but there are one or two terrific descents from the top, Christomet. And, of course, there's the opportunity to use the Mont Blanc pass to ski the awesome and dynamic terrain in the Chamonix valley.
Three favourite runs
When there is plenty of snow you can't fail to enjoy the delights of the Mont d'Arbois to St Gervais run. There are two variations, one an easy green, the other a more difficult red, so it pleases everyone. There's some lovely wooded terrain on the way down to the little village, where you'll find some nice places to have lunch.
Experts should head to Cote, where there's a demanding black run from the top of the Cote 2000 chair.
MEGEVE AT A GLANCE
Number of lifts 72
Cable cars three
Lift capacity per hour 38,400
Mountain restaurants 34
Number of pistes 135
(23 green, 41 blue, 54 red, 17 black)
Beginners pistes 17 per cent
Intermediate pistes 70 per cent
Expert pistes 13 per cent
Linked areas Mont d'Arbois, Rochebrune, Le Jaillet, Les Contamines
Pros and cons
Easy pistes, great for intermediates and confident beginners
Scenic setting, picturesque views
Traditional, delightful village
Chic shops and hotels
Perfect for short breaks (one-hour drive from Geneva)
Gourmet restaurants, luxury hotels
Non-skiers will have plenty to do here
Low-level, meaning not always snow-sure
Slow, aging lifts
Three separate mountain areas, only two linked
If dialling from the UK, prefix all numbers below with 00 33 and omit the first zero.
Megève has some of the best mountain restaurants of any European resort. There are 34 to choose from, nearly all of which are table service and offer wonderful homely and nourishing Savoyard specialities in quaint log cabin settings.
Because the three ski areas are not linked via piste I have listed the best restaurants under the relevant ski area. Restaurants marked with an asterisk (*) are especially recommended.
Mont d'Arbois area
Les Mandarins (04 50 21 31 27) Location: Mont d'Arbois. The oldest mountain restaurant in France. Nice rustic atmosphere, good food and spectacular views. A fairly expensive option.
La Raviere* (04 50 93 15 71) Location: ski down to Communailles. This is a very small cabin restaurant with few tables inside or out. It is also one of the very best - so book ahead! They do not accept credit cards. Highly recommended.
L'Idéal* (04 50 21 31 26) Location: at the top of the Princesse gondola. Rothschild-owned and serving delicious, authentic Savoie fare. Another highly recommended eaterie - book ahead or be disappointed.
Auberge du Christomet (04 50 21 11 34) Location Jaillet: halfway down from the Cristomet Chairlift. A wonderful and welcoming gourmet favourite, this restaurant is also really great value, with a three course feast typically under €30.
Face Au Mont Blanc (04 50 21 06 51) Location: at the Jaillet cable car. Popular but pricey mountain restaurant, with buffet-style service.
La Babotch (04 50 91 93 96) Location: ski down green Rosiere. Very cosy and well-priced restaurant. Recommended.
L’Alpette* (04 50 21 03 69) Location: on the Rochebrune piste, five minutes by chairlift from the Rochebrune cable car. An expensive but wonderful gourmet treat, serving delicious charcuterie delights. It also has a sun terrace with some of the best views of Megève. This is the best of the mountain restaurants. Reservations essential.
La Radaz* (04 50 58 94 44) Location: on the piste above the Cote 2000. This traditional mountain hut has all you'd expect, including the rustic interior and great Savoyard specialties. One of the best.
Chalet Forestier (04 50 21 12 95). Location: on the Rochebrune piste, a two-minute ski from the Caboche cable car. Set in a picturesque locale covered in fir trees, this quiet restaurant serves large portions of authentic Savoyard food. Friendly service.
La Caboche (04 50 21 55 19) Location: top of Caboche cable car. Decent food and fast friendly service.
Auberge (04 50 21 31 84) Location: at the bottom of Cote 2000. The ambience and food here are among the best on the mountain. However, the staff have a very anti-Brit bias, and whether you speak good French or not, you will find yourself getting seated and served last. You have been warned!
There are nearly 100 restaurants to choose from in town so you're spoilt for choice.
Flocons de Sel (04 50 21 49 99) 75 Rue Saint-François. Michelin-starred Savoyard farmhouse, serving fantastic six-course meals. Head chef Emmanuel Renaut is renowned as one of the best in Megève.
Puck Owned by the same esteemed chef as Flocons de Sel. A pleasingly relaxed and moderately-priced paradise for gourmets. Recommended.
Domaine de la Sasse (06 09 90 30 29) Cote 2000. Just outside Megève in Cote, and hidden from the main road (there's a 20-minute walk once you leave the car), this is a private, almost unknown place. The patron, Dominique Meridol, lives in solitude on Mont Joly, and his speciality is bison served in every way possible. A unique experience you'll be talking about for years.
La Taverne du Mont D'Arbois (04 50 21 03 53) 2811 route Edmond de Rothschild. Owned by the Rothschilds, who run mountain restaurants L'Auberge de la Côte 2000 and L'Idéal, this is a fantastic welcoming place with a cosy open fire and friendly service. The speciality is grilled asparagus but all the meat dishes are also excellent. The cheese selection is considerable and the desserts among the the best in town.
Les Enfants Terribles (04 50 58 76 69) Main town square, next to the Mont Blanc Hotel. A little expensive but lots of choice and great quality.
Brasserie Centrale (04 50 21 22 44) Main town square. Serves great fondue as well as pizza and other dishes.
For a change
Phnom Penh (04 50 21 12 49) 1423 Route Nationale. Serves intriguing and tasty Asian-infused alpine cuisine.
Megève does not have a boisterous Austrian-style après-ski scene - this is more like going out on the town, albeit a very quaint and atmospheric one. There are countless places to eat out in style, and some really lovely swish bars with live music, plus ice hockey and a casino to cater to the mainly well-heeled clientele.
Calèche (04 50 58 99 13) Rue Monseigneur Conseil. Many head here straight after skiing. A really smart and stylish bar, and a good place to start your night. Lots of live music.
Bar Tabac St Paul (04 50 58 25 79) Quai Prieure. A cosy little bar frequented by the locals; good for a less expensive beer or three.
Le Prieure (04 50 21 01 79) 116 Place de l'Eglise. Wonderful ambience in this petit tea room, restaurant and bar sitting right under the church tower on the square. Serves excellent fine food.
Le Chamois (04 50 21 25 01) 21 Rue Monseigneur Conseil. Another cosy little eaterie and bar right by the old church. Serves excellent fondues.
Club de Jazz des Cinq Rues* (04 50 91 90 69) Rue du Comte-de-Capre. Only open during the winter season. Attracts notable jazz greats. For live music, lots of drinks and a great atmosphere, look no further.
Wake Up (04 50 58 25 79) Route Edmond-de-Rothschild. Cosy and friendly little warm-up, warm-down bar with tapas snacks. For pre and post-clubbers - Le Pallas nightclub is conveniently on the same road.
Cocoon (04 50 21 09 91) Route Edmond-de-Rothschild, near Wake Up and club Les Caves. Small and cosy. There's a dance floor if you fancy it, and they usually have live music. Open until dawn.
Palo Alto In the casino, just by the ice rink. The ground floor is a piano bar, with dancing upstairs in the club for a younger crowd. Open until 5am.
Le Pallas (04 50 91 82 70) Route Edmond-de-Rothschild. The less mainstream crowd heads to this underground cellar-bar, where you can relax in the lounge or hit the dance floor.
Les Caves de Megève (04 50 21 30 11) Rue Ambroise Martin. Long established and very popular smart club.
Cargo (04 50 58 78 70) Rue Ambroise Martin, near Les Caves. The oldest club in Megève, but has some great DJs that work the crowd until dawn.
Megève has some of the most luxurious hotels of any French ski resort, ranging from old and traditional in style to modern, Art Deco and avant-garde. There are also some wonderful chalets for rent and I can recommend highly the well-established chalet specialist in Megève - Stanford Skiing:-
Best for luxury
Chalet du Mont d'Arbois 4* Rothschild-owned, this beautiful hotel treats guests like royalty. Traditional and opulent. Close to the Mont d'Arbois gondola; ski-in ski-out.
Chalet St Georges 4* Situated right next to the Chamois cable car, this a really charming and cosy hotel with an excellent restaurant open for lunch and dinner.
Best for location
Hôtel Mont-Blanc 4* Central location close to all the action, so you won't have any trouble walking to the best night spots and restaurants in town. Also close to the Chamois gondola.
Best for something different
Les Fermes de Marie 4* This phenomenon - a small (10-bed) chalet hotel built out of old farmhouses painstakingly taken apart and reassembled - provides luxurious accommodation with a difference. It's located five minutes from the centre but if you don't want to head into town the hotel has everything you need - three gorgeous restaurants, a health spa, indoor swimming pool, beauty treatment centre, a bar and even a library.
Best on a budget
Au Coeur de Megève 3* Family-run and very cosy. In the centre of town, ideally placed for nightlife and eating out.
Le Gai Soleil 2* A simple chalet-style hotel that is nicely located in the centre of town and close to the lifts. The staff are friendly and helpful, there's a good bar, and the rooms are comfortable.
Hotel La Prairie 3* A quality chalet hotel with large rooms and traditional design. This is a good place to stay for the weekend, as you're close to the centre of town.
Megève is less than 50 miles from Geneva airport, about a one-hour drive.
Fast TGV trains travel from Geneva to Sallanches, about eight miles away. From there, there are regular bus services to Megève.
From Geneva, follow Route de Malagnou and take A411/E712 into France, passing Thonex and Annemasse. Then take the A40/E25 after about two miles, passing Bonneville and Scionzier, towards Exit 20 (signposted Albertville/Sallanches/Megève). Take the N205 towards the N212, which passes through Combloux before arriving at Megève. NB: Megève is car-free, so you will have to leave your vehicle in one of the designated car parks.
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).
Megève Tourisme (04 50 21 27 28, www.megeve.com). Open daily 9am-7pm.
Compagnie des Guides (04 50 21 55 11, www.bureaudesguides.com).
Station (04 50 21 28 20).