Meribel by night. Photo Credit: J M Gouedard / Meribel Tourisme
Located in the best position of the 3 Valleys, the central valley with Courchevel on one side, Val Thorens the other. Originally created with British initiative, it remains strongly Anglicised and has grown in to to a bustling resort full of great restaurants and bars. A big investor in it’s ski slopes, the lift network is fast, comfortable and modern with more gondolas than anywhere else.
600 Km (linked with Courchevel, La Tania, Val Thorens, St Martin de Belleville and Les Menuires)
1,300 M – 3,230 M
Bouchet chairlift 3,230 M
Green 51, Blue 131, Red 107, Black 30
Chambery 2 hrs
Geneva 2.5 hrs
Meribel is quite a good choice for beginners, there are good nursery slopes close to each of its resort bases, then gentle blues to progress on to, and a choice of English-speaking and in some cases British-run ski schools.
Meribel has excellent family facilities with private nanny services offering day and evening care for children from as young as a month old. There are also several nurseries accepting children from 18 months of age and a choice of ski schools, several small British run operations, offering group or private lessons to children aged from three years old.
Meribel is one of the most popular resorts for Brits. Today the resort stands at the very heart of the huge lift and piste network connected to famous resorts Courchevel and Val Thorens along with half-a-dozen others (although for many skiers Meribel remains the most pleasing of them all). One important thing to note when planning your holiday to Meribel is that today, thanks to its success and in common with most famous French resorts, there are not one but four Meribels. The heart of the action remains the original Meribel, but there’s also ‘Meribel Village’ (a different Meribel Village to the original resort), Meribel Les Allues and Meribel Mottaret. Mottaret is the higher development with the most ski-in/out accommodation but it is also the least architecturally appealing of the four, originally built at the end of the French purpose-built resort building boom of the late-1950s to early 1970s when the traditional Savoyard architectural styles were temporarily shelved.
It is of course quick and easy to travel between the villages by road or ski but for ‘walking distance’ to the main bars and restaurants you’re best to be based in the original Meribel. That said some of the best Meribel catered chalets of the 100+ that now exist to choose from in the resort are in Meribel Village and Meribel Les Allues and may have better ski-in/out access too, so it’s a case of your personal priorities.
The original Meribel resort has a fantastic selection of Meribel luxury chalets and successfully combines a feeling of Alpine charm, consisting entirely of chalet-style wood and stone buildings, housing the facilities you would expect of a world-class ski resort including a great selection of bars and restaurants, some good shopping and facilities such as a large ice rink where you can make a few spins or watch a hockey matches, an excellent indoor swimming pool complex and a bowling alley.
Meribel Mottaret is located at the top of the valley above the original resort (about 4km away by road or skiing) and is the most snow sure of the four villages at 1800m of altitude. It has quite a few bars shops and restaurants but less than the main village. Meribel-Village is 2km from the original resort on the road towards Courchevel and at 1400m altitude. It’s much smaller and much quieter but has its own quick chairlift access in to the 3 Valleys. Finally Les Allues below the original resort at 1100m is linked to it by the Olympe gondola.
The Meribel Valley is the central valley of the Three Valleys that together form the world’s largest ski area. The valleys run more-or-less north-south so the Courchevel Valley lies to the west, the Belleville Valley with Val Thorens, Les Menuires and St Martin to the east. And it’s all on the edge of the Vanoise National Park with its stunning scenery.
The region has nearly 200 lifts, many of them big, fast chairs and gondolas. In fact the Meribel Valley claims more gondolas than any other ski area in the world. So getting around is normally quick and easy with Courchevel only about half-an-hour away and Val Thorens which has the highest skiing in the area at 2,300m in under an hour.
This huge area of course has terrain for all abilities and tastes. Lower slopes are particularly pretty with tree-lined runs (not so common at many famous French resorts which tend to be above the treeline, including Courchevel and Val Thorens). Further up the runs open up and there are plenty of steeper blues and reds and some blacks – although Meribel does not have the reputation of some other well-known resorts for tough skiing.
Meribel’s attractive ski area and abundance of gentle terrain close to its resort bases make it a great choice for first-timers. Some of the best beginner runs are located around the Altiport. There’s also a choice of English-speaking and mostly British-run ski schools to teach you the basics.
Meribel is also extremely well endowed with childcare service and facilities. Around a dozen different nanny agencies have a presence in the resort with Merinannies one of the largest and most experienced in the village. They’ll look after children from one month to 14 years old. In addition, the tourist office will provide a list of baby sitters available locally. There are also several public nurseries in the resort taking children from 18 months old.
Once your child is old enough for ski school a number of schools, several British-run, will take children from age 3 or 4 for group or private lessons. There are several ‘snow garden’ play and early snow learning centres in the slopes. Off slope facilities are great for kids too with an excellent swimming pool complex with a giant water slide. Finally, there are tutoring agencies offering British school accredited academic studiers to children in the resort.
Meribel has a very lively après ski scene, and it’s pretty much obligatory to sample a Thunder Toffee Vodka at some point during your stay in the resort. The evening kicks off for most as the lifts close either on one of the bar terraces at Le Rond Point (happy hour from 3.45 to 4.45pm), or at the Folie Douce up on the slopes where you’re pretty much certain to end up dancing on the table in your ski boots.
Other popular spots include the Barometer bar and O’Sullivans (formerly the infamous Dick’s Tea Bar) which stays open very late. If you’re looking for a more sophisticated soiree there are plenty of places too, one of the most popular being Le Grand Cafe des Pistes (lespistes.com) or try L’Abreuvoir for cocktails.
Le Bistrot de l’Oree (Rond Point Des Pistes; +33 4 79 00 31 29; meribel-oree.com) is conveniently situated close to the main downhill piste to Meribel at the Rondpoint and gets the most favourable reviews for food quality, selection and service in the resort.
Rond Point Meribel (Rue de Belvedere, +33 4 79 00 37 51; ) is one of the main lunchtime then apres ski stops with live music and djs. Fast food and there’s the legendary slide down to the toilets.
La Folie Douce (+33 4 79 00 58 31; ) located on the mid-station of the Saulire Express lift over to Courchevel may be a ‘chain’ establishment based on the Val d’Isere original but the combination of great food, fantastic music and cabaret acts works just as well here.
Le Cepe (Le Plateau, +33 4 79 22 46 08) tops the table for the most highly regarded of Meribel’s 90 or so eateries. Sublime French cuisine, with the soup a signature dish and lauded as “the best in the world” by multiple reviewers.
Part of the five star Le Kaila hotel, L’Ekrin (route de la Montee, +33 4 79 41 69 35, lekaila.com) serves unique, modern French and European food to a wonderful standard, with perfect service too. The taster menu is a good way to dive in on your first visit.
Evolution (Route de La Chaudanne; +33 4 79 00 44 26; evolutionmeribel.com) is a café bar and brasserie that’s a good choice if you’re looking for something a little different to regular ski resort food. Lots of fresh culinary ideas in a lovely setting with excellent service.
New Generation Ski school (skinewgen.com) was established twenty years ago by four British instructors with an emphasis on fun learning that’s tailored to you. The idea proved popular and they’ve spread across the Alps keeping the same philosophy. Adult and child group and private lessons available for all abilities from complete beginner to the most experienced.
Snow Limits (www.snowlimitsskischool.com) is British-run with fully qualified, British instructors who are hugely passionate about what they do – which is private and small group lessons for adults and children at all levels. Offers video recording using GoPros to analysis and improve technique.
The Snow School (www. thesnowschool.co.uk) is a British-run ski school specialising in skiing and snowboarding lessons for groups or private instructors in the Three Valleys, with highly trained instructors offering progressive and enjoyable lessons.