Small, civilised and with huge open bowls of untracked snow, Ste-Foy has always been an off-piste paradise. New facilities are increasing its appeal to families, too, without destroying its charm
When I first visited Ste-Foy, about 10 years ago, it felt like going back in time. The ski resort was no more than a huddle of chalets, a bar, a restaurant and three slow, consecutive chairlifts that took you up to the Col d’Aiguille at 2,620m, slowly revealing the splendours of a huge open bowl of slopes above the village, its full extent hidden by trees until the third lift. The network of pistes was small, but Ste-Foy was getting a name for itself as an off-piste paradise where you could score fresh tracks days after a dump – with much less competition for them than in nearby Tarentaise big hitters such as Val d’Isère and Tignes. I loved it.
The great thing about Ste-Foy now is that, while the unpretentious atmosphere, traditional architecture, quiet slopes and laid-back style remain, it has grown into a classy resort with lots of recently-built apartments and chalets to stay in – some of them quite upmarket. There are now a handful of good restaurants and lively bars, a supermarket… and spas. While it’s still appealing to those looking for off-piste, the resort's increased facilities – including a fast six-seater chair, a new blue piste and a new nursery area with magic carpet lifts – make it increasingly attractive to families, and to skiers and boarders of any level who want a quiet, relaxing time.
It’s not the place to come for endless corduroy: there are only 32km of marked pistes, after all, though almost half of them are red – great for fast cruising. However, the small numbers hide a big story – runs that are almost always quiet, plus lots of easily-accessed off-piste that takes a while to track out. Some of the official blacks are pretty much ungroomed, too, but protected by the resort for safe off-piste opportunities without a guide. Plus, if you feel the need for bigger numbers, with a five-day or more Ste-Foy lift pass, you get cheap day passes at Val d’Isére or Tignes, Les Arcs, La Plagne and La Rosière, all a manageable drive away.
Most easy runs are on the lower half of the mountain – from the very top it’s a choice of red, black or off-piste – but, for adults and children, Ste-Foy does make a good place to learn without the pressure of crowded pistes and the additional hassle of negotiating buses and multiple bases. The absolute beginner area is away from the main runs, and there’s every chance of small classes. Besides, the resort is so popular with the British these days that there are lots of fluent English-speakers in the ski school.
Despite all the development, Ste-Foy is still amazing for finding fresh tracks when better-known resorts are tracked out. The trees are unbeatable on a powder day, and guides run trips to the resort’s signature off-piste runs, such as the hike to the north face of Foglietta, and an easier run through the picturesque old village of Monal. Though heliskiing is banned in most of France, it is accessible here – you can do a trip that starts in Italy but descends via Ste-Foy’s off-piste.
The number of new apartments in Ste-Foy means there are often good self-catering deals available; the tourist office website (www.saintefoy-tarentaise.com) has information on them. There are also catered chalets in the resort, plus small hotels in the vicinity, including the Auberge sur la Montagne 3km away, which has eight recently refurbished bedrooms and a friendly atmosphere. Be careful you don’t book a hotel in the wrong Ste-Foy – it has been known, as there are a lot of them in France!
The Foglietta off-piste run ends in the village of Le Miroir, where you get a bus or taxi back to the resort. First, stop off for a meal at Chez Mérie. It serves beautifully cooked and unusual traditional dishes at lunchtime and in the evening – booking essential (+33 4 79 06 90 16). In the resort itself, La Maison à Colonnes (+33 4 79 06 94 80) at the foot of the slopes has a sunny terrace that’s great for lunch – and in the evening there’s nowhere better for cheesy Savoyard specialities. For a more gourmet experience, try La Bergerie (+33 4 79 06 25 51). For lunch there are also Les Brevettes – great for omelettes – and Chez Léon (+33 4 79 06 90 83), both at the top of the first lift – though they can get busy, especially if the weather is bad. For cheap and cheerful, there’s a snack bar at the top of the second lift.
When the slopes close, it’s usually the Pitchouli Bar that’s the first port of call, where a few beers can develop into a friendly session accompanied by live music and a pizza. The Iceberg piano bar is perfect for a quieter drink, while down at the Hotel Monal – in the main Ste Foy village, on the main road to Val d’Isère – there is a wine bar with a huge array of bottles and a knowledgeable owner who runs tasting sessions. There are also some good restaurants here, including one in the hotel itself.
As an alternative to bars, there are some impressive spas – especially for a small resort. The Balcons de Sainte Foy (www.balcons-ste-foy.com) offers access to its facilities, including pool, hot tubs and saunas, for €18.50 a day or €100 for the week. For massage and treatments, there’s also Spas & Beauté in the Fermes de Ste-Foy apartments (www.cgh-residences.com).
Easily accessible from Geneva, Lyon, Chambery and Grenoble airports, Ste Foy is also handy from the Eurostar that comes into Bourg St Maurice in the valley – especially as, this season, there’s a new direct bus from Bourg serving the resort.