By Belinda Buckley @ChamonixStylist
The world famous mountain resort that is Chamonix Mont-Blanc, sitting at the foot of Western Europe’s highest peak is not only the capital of mountaineering and the birthplace of extreme skiing, it is also a fantastic Alpine hub, from where you can get to any number of classic and classy ski resorts in under an hour. This year, included in all Mont-Blanc Unlimited lift passes available from Ehvoé partner La Compagnie du Mont-Blanc, is the Evasion Mont-Blanc collection of ski areas, at the heart of which is the renowned French ski resort of Megève, which is easily accessible from neighbouring Saint-Gervais.
Strictly speaking, Chamonix shares Mont-Blanc with Saint-Gervais (as well as Italy) and the down Chamonix valley village of Les Houches is also in Saint-Gervais – indeed the Tramway du Mont-Blanc connects Les Houches with Saint-Gervais-Les-Bains and Saint-Gervais-Le-Fayet, as well as taking mountaineers up to Nid d’Aigle in summer, from where they can start the shortest route up Mont-Blanc via the Dome du Gouter. Le Fayet has train connections to Chamonix, Paris and Switzerland, as well as the Thermes de Saint-Gervais where you can take the therapeutic thermal waters sourced from deep within Mont-Blanc. While Saint-Gervais-Les-Bains is the old school Belle Epoque resort from you where you can access the skiing.
The Evasion Mont-Blanc ski areas total some 445km of pistes: Les Contamines-Montjoie is popular with powder hounds; Saint-Nicolas de Véroce is laden with Baroque art; while Megève just is the Saint-Tropez of ski resorts.
Megève is France’s first purpose built ski resort, created in great style by Baroness Noémie de Rothschild in the 1920s. The Baroness wanted France to have a mountain resort to rival that of Saint-Moritz in Switzerland and she found the pretty, traditional Haute Savoyard village of Megève much more charming than the alpinist town of Chamonix that was dominated by British tourists. Noémie bought an old guest-house and turned it into the luxury Hotel du Mont d’Arbois, which is still owned by the Rothschilds. The Baroness also commissioned the first luxury chalet-style house for herself and her architect Henri-Jacques Le Même set the style for the development of Megève to be only in luxury traditional-looking Savoyard chalet buildings.
The resort plays more than one part in France’s skiing history, as local boy Emile Allais devised the French style of skiing involving parallel turns, as well as winning triple world ski champion in Chamonix in 1937 and founding the nation’s first official ski school, Ecole du Ski Français – ESF Chamonix being another Ehvoé partner.
The skiing in Megève and Saint-Gervais is much more cruisey than in Chamonix: slopes are less steep, areas are better connected and more family friendly. Chamonix skiing is all about being extremely hip, while Megève mountain style is all about luxurious lifestyle. There are numerous Michelin recommended restaurants in Megève, the Flocons de Sel carrying a prestigious total of 3 stars, while the 1920 restaurant at the Hotel Mont d’Arbois has 2 and the restaurant at the Alpaga hotel has 1 – even the mountain restaurants are gourmet.
Last year La Folie Douce opened its 5th luxury lunch at altitude and après-ski spot at the top of the Mont-Joux chairlift, where the ski areas of Saint-Gervais and Megève meet. La Folie Douce formula of fine lunchtime dining at La Fruitière restaurant at altitude, with a bouncing Ibiza-style bar on the snow (rather than the beach), was conceived by former ski instructor Luc Reversant in Val d’Isère. Since 2007 dancing snow sports practitioners have flocked to La Folie Douce mid afternoon to club it on the piste.
Such was the success of the Folie of Val d’Isère-Tignes that Val Thorens, Meribel-Courchevel and L’Alpe d’Huez were opened over the next 7 years, with Saint-Gervais-Megève following suit. Certainly, the newest La Folie Douce has become the place to go for a fun and fashionable day trip from Chamonix. If the gourmet prices of the La Fruitère restaurant and the pricey drinks in the VIP area of the après-ski bar are potentially off-putting, don’t fret – La Folie Douce is easy to get to via the Saint-Gervais-Bettex cable car and Mont d’Arbois gondola and there is a large non-VIP section of the dance floor that you can enjoy the whole spectacle from, as well as an excellent self-service canteen next to the society restaurant.
Go on, have a ‘folie de vacances’ at La Folie Douce in Saint-Gervais-Megève!