Les Menuires: gourmet convenience

31st January 2011, by Chris Gill

Newer Menuires

Newer Menuires

Author: Wendy King

La Masse is a great vantage point: wide, empty off-piste terrain behind me, the vast Three Valley slopes ahead. Part way down a long, scenic red run I pause to take in my base for a few days – Les Menuires, a changing face in this major ski area. From La Masse’s quieter slopes, the village in its full entirety is displayed across the valley. The original old core that I remember well is hard to warm to, brutal and unwelcoming apartment blocks inviting convenience at low cost but little else, and an evolving newer side where you can stay, dine and ski in comfort.

Les Menuires can be a bit of a shock – but actually a pleasant one. Prices are noticeably lower in this part of the Three Valleys for a start. Chalet-style properties have sprung up in cosy clusters along the slopes, including three smart hotels offering an alternative to the predominantly self-catering holidays. And the lift system has witnessed significant investment too.

Much of this newer development has taken place around the upper end of the resort at Les Bruyères and the Reberty ‘villages’, but the project to smarten up Les Menuires began with couple of the original concrete buildings, demolished and replaced by wood-clad residences about five years ago.

Staying there

Slipping into my own personal hot tub on the balcony at the three-star Hotel Isatis was a delight; moonlit La Masse a fitting poolside view. Indoors, my room had a cosy fireplace and snuggly sofa. The hotel is an attractive wood-panelled building, opened a couple of seasons ago beside the Bruyères gondola, step out the back and you’re on the piste. Ski rental and cafés are a short stroll along the boulevard and the outdoor pool steams away nearby. There is still little to do after dark, but then you come here for the slopes.

Further up the hill in Reberty 2000 is the 4-star Kaya, a marvellous addition to the resort. The hotel is beautifully designed in chalet-style but with a contemporary interior. On-site features include a rental shop, pool and spa. And its location is spot-on for ski-in ski-out convenience right beside a wide blue run that takes you down to the new Sunny Express chairlift. This six-pack that opened in 2009 whisked us away to the rest of the ski area with ease. Its addition has improved the attraction of staying much further up the hill.

Feasting there

There are some excellent spots for foodies in Les Menuires, and the mountain restaurants are pretty good. We were treated to a gourmet delight at the Kaya chalet hotel’s Le K. Ski up for lunch, swap boots for slippers and dine on four tasty courses from the set menu prepared by chef David Archinard – accompanied by fantastic Gamay wines.

If that’s too much for lunch (and we did wonder if we could ski afterwards!), the hotel has a fabulous sunny terrace that overlooks the slopes and worth a drink stop just to admire the view. Just below is another popular resort-level lunch stop, the Ferme. Alternatively, the Cocons des Neiges at the hotel Isatis also served up some tasty meals.

For a special evening, and a contrasting change of village, charming St-Martin-de-Belleville is nearby and home to the gorgeous Michelin-starred restaurant La Bouitte. It’s a lovely, traditional old farmhouse, managed by the Meilleur family. You certainly pay handsomely to eat here, but the courses are innovative and filling. We enjoyed a seven-course feast over three hours, with a choice of rich local wines. A highlight is always the homemade bread, which we tucked into throughout the meal.

St-Martin itself is a delightful reminder of the old farming ways of the region. A visit to the museum gives an insight into the region and the development of the ski area; the movement from a tough way of life where families eeked out a living in small barns, towards winter tourism as a mainstay of resort life and modern-day Menuires – now over 40 years old. You get a real sense of the valley’s development from wandering around here.

Cruising there

Virtually all Les Menuires’ local runs are blues or reds, many indistinguishable and offering good, wide cruising towards the rest of the Three Valley’s network. On our powder day we made fresh tracks between the pistes and enjoyed deep turns down unpisted red runs. Those off the new chair are a little steeper. Even fast learners can enjoy broad and gentle slopes. The nursery areas have been improved recently too – a free moving carpet serves one just outside the hotel Isatis. It’s small but handy, placed away from the main slope.

Local opinion advises skiing La Masse in the morning, then the main slopes across the valley in the afternoon when they get the best of any sun. And so it was that we were flying down the steeper Crêtes red run from Point de la Masse on a bright but very chilly December morning, Nikola our ESF guide giving lots of tips about the area and on our technique.

From the summit, guided groups were bouncing off-piste into the wilderness. But the mountain can also offer off-piste routes achievable by good intermediates too. The Vallée des Encombres descends to Le Chaterlard near St-Martin-de-Belleville, from where a bus will take you back to Les Menuires – after a decent lunch, of course.

Getting there:

Our press trip was arranged by Duodecim PR, staying at the hotel Isatis in Les Menuires. Flights to Geneva, with a minibus transfer. Allow 2-2.5 hours for the journey up to the resort.

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