As Val Thorens impatiently waits to kick off celebrations for its 50th anniversary coinciding with the opening of its new sports centre in December, we look at the other activities the area has to offer outside of ski season with a spotlight on the charming village of St-Martin-de-Belleville.
While the 3 Valleys contain eight resorts — Courchevel, La Tania, Meribel, Brides-les-Bains, Les Menuires, Val Thorens, Orelle, and St-Martin-de-Belleville — one of the most charming villages to stay in the area is the quaint St-Martin-de-Belleville, less commercial than the high-rise neighbouring purpose-built resorts and a perfect base from which to discover the region with fewer crowds. Explore its old, cobbled streets and Notre Dame de la Vie Chapel and make the most of the old bread ovens dating back to the 17th century, where local residents gather today to organise pizza nights.
At 1400m altitude culminating at 2400m at its summit, part of the Savoie department and in the Auvergne Rhône-Alpes region, the village has easy access to Les Menuires, Méribel, Val Thorens, and the rest of the Trois Vallées Courchevel, Méribel, and Belleville.
There is even a museum, Musée de Saint-Martin-de-Belleville, housed on a former farm, which revisits two centuries of the Savoie valley’s history, from the peak of agro-pastoral civilisation to its position as a prime winter tourism destination. Read all about the 1992 Winter Olympics, held in February 1992 in Albertville, France. Albertville ’92 was the fifth Olympic Games held in France and the country’s third Winter Olympics, after the 1924 Winter Games in Chamonix and the 1968 Winter Games in Grenoble.
Where to stay: Hotel Lodji
Stay at the newly renovated 4* Hotel Lodji, (formerly the Alp’Hotel), which has 47 rooms, three luxury apartments and three chalets in an integrated complex as well as a wellness centre with a swimming pool, shop, bar, and brasserie. Owned by a Belgian, René Baudinet, and his family (René, his sons Laurent and Pierre, and his partner Stéphanie), who has recreated the iconic ‘Bull Tamer’ from his hometown in Liège with a 2-ton Torè sculpture outside the building and used it as the logo for his restaurant.
The impressive wooden exterior of the hotel has stunning views of the mountains and the 1,000m² terrace serves up to 150 guests with a ‘Volle pétrole’ (Belgian expression for ‘full throttle’ – to arrive quickly) snack bar, open at lunchtime and in the evening serving crêpes, Belgian waffles (from Liège), and takeaway pizzas. Chef, Jean-Sébastien Prijot, at Au Torè restaurant creates fusion dishes with local produce from Savoie and specialities from his hometown of Liège, Belgium, using local, seasonal produce. Rooms €150 B&B in the summer.
What to do
Some of the most exciting activities to try include Soirée Nocturne, an evening hike with stargazing and traditional Alpine dinner at the Refuge du Lac du Lou. Organised by the Bureau des Guides, prices start at 45€/adult and 41€/child (discounted price with a Bureau des Guides card). This includes the guide, a meal in the refuge, and an astronomy guide.
The more adventurous can have a go at mountain karting on the Roc’n’Bob toboggan run in Les Ménuires (€29/descent) followed by lunch at Chez Pepe Nicolas or Le Setor (‘dairy farmer’ in Alpine dialect). Chez Pepe Nicolas is a family-run business, founded by the owners’ grandfather Nicolas Jay. His great-grandson Valentin, takes care of the livestock while his great-granddaughter Margot, the chef, delivers mouth-watering dishes, all made with locally sourced food. After lunch, you can visit their on-site mountain ecosystem, where they grow their own fruit, herbs, and vegetables and buy a homemade ice cream from the outside stand.
Finally, la pièce de resistance – don’t miss taking a mountain bike VTT (Véhicules Tout-Terrain) or electrically assisted bike VTT AE (Assistance Électrique) on the new Via 3 Vallées starting at Menuires going up to Méribel, tourists expect the last part of this track between Méribel Mottaret and La Tougnète (St Martin de Belleville) to be completed next year.
Opening for the first time this summer, the project started in 2019 in Col de la Loze. Now, the mountain pass connects Courchevel to Méribel on a dedicated 34km long bicycle-only road. It reaches up to an altitude of 2,304 metres with some parts having hosted stages of the Tour de France.
Les 3 Vallées is also the perfect base from which to explore other classic mountain passes including the Col de la Madeleine, the Col de l’Iseran, the Cormet de Roselend, and the Col du Petit Saint Bernard.
New Sports Centre at Val Thorens
Europe’s highest altitude ski resort, Val Thorens, will unveil its €40m indoor sports centre, aka ‘Le Board’ this December, comprising an aqua wellness centre, auditorium, spa, exhibition hall, conference space and gym, connected to Caron commercial centre as well a new bus station, baggage storage, and welcome centre in Place des Arolles.
The former sports centre has been restructured and extended to around 4000m² and will be in the shape of a snowboard, where it will become a multi-purpose space, used all year round to host concerts, a Christmas village, ice rink and open-air cinema.
This winter and next will mark a turning point in the history and development of Val Thorens, which will celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2022/2023. The first lift opened in Val Thornes on December 18, 1971, so this December marks the conclusion of the resort’s 50th anniversary celebrations. The construction of the modular sports centre will become a part of this new chapter in the history of the resort.
Lead photo credit : Stunning scenery is found throughout the 3 Valleys © Vincent Lottenberg