What happens when you're a non-skier on a skiing trip? First-timer Emily Anderson visited Saint Martin de Belleville to find out.
When I was invited to spend a few days at White Mountain Chalets in Saint Martin de Belleville, I was both excited and apprehensive. Excited because it’s a magical, unspoiled village with access to the largest ski area in the world. And apprehensive because I’d never so much as strapped on a pair of skis in my life.
Daunting as it was, I hastily borrowed all the necessary gear from friends and colleagues and set off to the mountains.
Those apprehensions began to melt away when I reached Chalet Coco – a White Mountain Chalets house in the hamlet of Villarabout, just above Saint Martin – before disappearing entirely by the Champagne on arrival. With the sun shining and the snow glistening as I stood on the terrace looking across the mountains to the quiet and picturesque village of Saint Martin.
Located a few miles down from the popular resort of Les Menuires and Val Thorens, the highest ski resort in Europe, it’s the perfect base for exploring the Three Valleys including hotspots such as Méribel and Courchevel.
Saint Martin only began developing as a ski resort in the 1980’s. Built around a 16th-century church, the village has retained the charm and character of its farming heritage. Many of the chalets and restaurants are conversions of original farms and barns and in keeping with the traditional ‘Savoie style’.
The resort continues to expand with a new development of high-end accommodation. Prime positioned chalets built on-piste are already being booked off-plan for Winter 2018/19 season, such as the newest addition to White Mountain Chalets, Chez Bugi, with its six en-suite bedrooms and ski-in ski-out location.
Chalet Coco, our home for a few days, is an original barn renovation, affectionately described by Ruth (co-founder of White Mountain Chalets) as a Dorset country cottage in the snow. Perched on the edge of Villarabout facing out towards the valley you can enjoy uninterrupted views from every room. The best view, however, is enjoyed from the hot tub after a full day on the slopes.
After the champagne arrival our group was eager to collect the ski hire so that we could settle in for the night. We all clambered into the Land Rover Defender and our driver, Will, took us to Intersport in the village. White Mountain Chalets provides a daily on demand transfer service for each chalet, which is ideal for groups of mixed ski abilities. As a first time skier it meant I could attend lessons in the morning, relax back at the chalet before heading back out to meet the rest of the group for lunch.
With the boots getting toasty on the boot warmer, our Chef Alex welcomed us with afternoon tea, complete with homemade walnut cake. We headed downstairs to claim one of the five luxury en-suite rooms (all with complimentary The White Company toiletries). The two master suites have a terrace or balcony with spectacular mountain views.
Chalet Coco is one of six luxurious chalets offered by White Mountain Chalets in Saint Martin de Belleville. All have individual styles and facilities: Chalet Verdet has a hammam and sauna, for example, while Chalet Cateline is best for those who want proximity to the village and slopes.
All pride themselves on their thoughtful service, remarkable food and top-notch wine – the latter all included as part of your stay, as well as one of the highlights (see ‘Food and Drink’ below).
A week at Chalet Coco, sleeping 10, starts from €8,000 outside of peak season. Price includes a dedicated host and driver, and a chef who will prepare breakfast, afternoon tea, and a five-course dinner on six of your nights. You’ll also have a Champagne reception on the first evening and a complimentary bar throughout. To book a stay in Saint Martin de Belleville at one of White Mountain Chalets www.whitemountain-chalets.com contact Ruth or James on (+44 1626 895082 or firstname.lastname@example.org).
Food and Drink
After we got back each evening it wasn’t long until mouth-watering aromas drifted downstairs calling us for dinner. The sun had gone down and the views from the terrace across the mountains were a calming icy blue and Saint Martin was glowing in the distance.
We gathered in the open plan living area around the roaring three-sided glass fireplace for wine and Canapés, served by our host Mel. The pièce de résistance was the dining experience, included on six of the seven nights if you stay for a week, at which you’ll be served a five-course meal. Even the preparation was an event: the kitchen is open plan, and you can enjoy watching the chef take care and precision in creating each exquisite dish.
When you’re eating away from the chalet, this place comes recommended, offering traditional Savoyard food with amazing views across the Peclet-Polset glacier and Lou Valley. It’s an authentic restaurant in a traditional shepherd’s chalet located between Les Menuries and Val Thorens, accessible by ski via the La Chasse piste – or otherwise by car and a nice stroll. In the evenings they provide you with a torch to illuminate your route back to the car park, a lovely touch.
Sit outside on chairs made from recycled milk churns, grab a complimentary sun hat and order the Fondue Savoyard made with the regions famous Beaufort cheese, a classic après ski dish – well deserved after a full day skiing. The Croziflette des Montagnes is also recommended: it’s a gratin of crozets, small flat square-shaped pasta and Reblochon cheese; both specialties of the Savoie region.
A converted pasture chalet ideally located half way up the mountain above Saint Martin, accessible by the bubble lift in the centre of the village. It’s an excellent spot to meet non-skiers for lunch or stop on your way back down to the village. A family run business with a relaxed and welcoming atmosphere. They serve fabulous salads in generous portions; order the Vogue salad, breast of duck, apple, nuts, honey and red cabbage.
Things to do
Learn to ski
There is no doubt that learning to ski when you are younger is far easier but this is the perfect opportunity, and it’s fun! I recommend private lessons with Brit-run New Generation ski school. The very patient Luke Gerrett, Resort Manager and Ski & Snowboard Instructor at St Martin was there to hold my hand on my very first two-hour lesson.
By day two I was snowploughing my way down the bottom of the piste. Group lessons are great for children or to refresh skills. New Generation also offer guides and off piste adventures.
www.skinewgen.com/ski-schools/st-martin; A two-hour private lesson in non-peak weeks costs €170. Five days of tuition in a group in non-peak weeks, with 2hrs teaching per day, costs €199. See www.skinewgen.com/ski-schools/st-martin for more details.
Hit the spa
While the rest of your group are out skiing, why not have some ‘you time’. I opted for a treatment at La Bouitte, the spa at the three-Michelin-starred restaurant in the in the hamlet of St Marcel. Already well known for its restaurant and 5 star hotel, the spa La Bela Vya opened in 2017. It offers unique treatments inspired by nature, the mountains and products from Saint Marcel.
Book the special ‘La Tanière des Marmottes’ treatment. You will be shown to the Marmot’s Den, a dimly lit, private stone cave. In a warm, humid atmosphere, like a hammam, you are coated with green clay, known for its anti-inflammatory, antiseptic and absorbent properties. After 25 minutes of relaxation the rain comes down from the ceiling of the den to rinse you.
La Tanière des Marmottes lasts 30 minutes and is for one or two people (€69 / €99). See www.la-bouitte.com.
A fun alternative to skiing for all ages is to visit Dany and his adorable team of sled-dogs. Get to know the dogs on a half hour introductory ride, costing €39. One-hour excursions and night sledding experiences are also available.