Expert guide to Megève
France’s medieval beauty
Megève is a traditional winter sports resort, founded in 1916, that has attracted the rich and famous since the 1920s. Its clientele these days are still mainly affluent and French and are looking for an all-round winter holiday, not just pounding the slopes. If Courchevel attracts the flash new cash, Megève draws in the old money in spades.
The resort’s core is a beautiful, traffic-free medieval centre which is now bordered by sprawling suburbs. But it remains a charming and delightful place to stroll around with cobbled streets, a central open air ice rink, a splendid church (prettily lit at night), horse-drawn sleighs and lots of galleries and shops selling smart clothes, watches and jewellery to look around.
Inside the resort . . .
Founded in 1916 by Baroness Noémie de Rothschild, who decided that France should have its own St Moritz and set about transforming the farming village of Megève. Today, restaurants and hotels line the town square and ancient cobbled streets, and with the annual twinkling Christmas tree, it’s the epitome of aristo chic.
Glittering boutiques and galleries line the traffic-free medieval centre and ancient cobbled streets, and mean, along with an outdoor ice rink, splendid church and horse-drawn sleighs, that Megève suits those looking for an all-round winter holiday, not just pounding the slopes.
Megève is home to a whole constellation of five-star hotels, as well as Michelin-starred restaurants (including one with the maximum three-star accolade), as well as several of the world’s finest mountain spas. There are also some first-class mountain restaurants. At the top of the Mont Joux lift, in Saint Gervais, there’s table-top dancing at the Folie Douce restaurant and après bar, with spectacular views of Mont Blanc. For later on, the three-Michelin star Flocons de Sel just outside the village serves delicious food but the ambience is relaxed and not too formal.
Megève is ideal for a short break as well as a week’s holiday as it’s just 75 minutes from Geneva airport and most hotels are geared up for taking short-break bookings.
The resort’s state-of-the-art Le Palais leisure centre has a sports area with separate indoor pools for adults and children, saunas, a steam room, indoor hot tubs, an Olympic standard indoor ice rink, indoor tennis, gym and more.
The scenery is magnificent too, with stunning views of Mont Blanc from much of the ski area.
The skiing area in Megève is extensive and best suits intermediates who want miles of easy cruising on well groomed pistes. And after a fresh snowfall, the off-piste is delightful because most of Megève’s pampered clientele stick to the pistes (or have a day off the slopes if they see snow rather than sun in the sky).
The ski area is rather fragmented. One major lift leaves from the centre of town. But others are on the fringes and reached by efficient and free ski-buses which run every 20 minutes (every 10 minutes at peak times).
The local Evasion Mont Blanc ski pass covers all the local Megève skiing plus the neighbouring resort of Les Contamines, Saint Gervais and Saint Nicolas de Véroce. Really keen skiers and experts with a car might want to consider the more expensive Mont Blanc Unlimited ski pass which covers the whole of the nearby Chamonix valley, plus Courmayeur in Italy and Verbier in France.
On the slopes . . .
Navigate Megève’s ski area with our insider’s knowledge of the local slopes and beyond, on and off piste, ski schools and terrain parks.
Megève’s skiing is extensive and spread over three separate mountains, two of which are linked by cable car but not by pistes. The Chamois gondola from the centre of town goes up Rochebrune, arriving at a point where another gondola, the Caboche – which has undergone renovation and redesign for 21/22 – starts. At the top, it meets the Rochebrune lift, originally built in 1933, and with cabins renovated to their original iconic red colour in 21/22. A cross-valley cable car (which you can ride both ways) goes across to the Mont d’Arbois ski area. Mont d’Arbois can also be reached by a free bus from town and is by far the biggest sector of the skiing, spreading over several valleys and going down to the neighbouring resort of Saint Gervais.
The third mountain, Le Jaillet, is completely separate but covered by the lift pass and reached by a free bus or a horse-drawn sleigh. Le Jaillet is linked to the slopes of the small village of Le Giettaz and Combloux.
The combined area of the three mountains will keep most intermediates and beginners happy for a week. Almost 50 per cent of the pistes are classified green or blue and there are beginner areas at valley level and up each of the three mountains.
There are few resorts better for easy cruising, with long easy runs on all mountains and some of the red runs could easily be classified blue. The best areas for genuine red and black runs are Côte 2000 in the Rochebrune sector, down to Le Giettaz in the Le Jaillet sector and the Mont Joly and Mont Joux areas of Mont d’Arbois.
But the main attraction for expert skiers is the off-piste, which is tremendous if you are lucky enough to be there during or just after a fresh snowfall. Nearly all the runs are treelined, so visibility in a snowfall remains good, unlike the white-outs that are common in high above-the-treeline resorts elsewhere in France, such as Val Thorens or Avoriaz.
Megève’s slopes are low by French standards, with very little skiing above 2,000m, so there is a chance of poor snow. But the slopes here are pasture land and don’t need much snow coverage compared with the rocky slopes of higher resorts and there is extensive snowmaking. Good piste grooming keeps the snow quality up too.
Perhaps surprisingly because of Megève’s affluent and old school image, the resort has four terrain parks with something for all standards, a couple of snowcross courses, a half-pipe and a couple of Big Air jumps with air bags to cushion the landings.
Who should go?
There are few resorts better for easy cruising – Megève will keep most intermediates and beginners happy for a week. The resort is ideal for a short break as it’s 75 minutes from Geneva airport and most hotels are geared up for taking short-break bookings. Luxury hotels and gourmet dining is where the resort comes into its own. While there are plenty of glittering five-star hotels and Michelin starred restaurants catering to the affluent, there are places that are much more affordable to stay and eat in too.
Know before you go . . .
Ambulance (samu): dial 15
Police: dial 17
Fire (pompiers): dial 18
Emergency services from mobile phone: dial 112
Tourist office: See megeve.com, the website for the Megève Tourist Board, for weather reports, lift status, webcams, traffic details and local event listings. Pick up maps, leaflets and other information from the office on rue Monseigneur Conseil in the centre of the resort.
Telephone code: from abroad, dial 00 33, then leave off the zero at the start of the 10-figure number.
Time difference: +1 hour
Local laws & etiquette
- When greeting people, formal titles (Monsieur, Madame and Mademoiselle) are used much more in French than in English.
- The laws of vouvoiement (which version of “you” to use) take years to master. If in doubt – except when talking to children or animals – always use the formal vous form (second person plural) rather than the more casual tu.
- When driving, it’s compulsory to keep fluorescent bibs and a hazard triangle in the car in case of breakdown.