Megève: Meanderings Through France 6
Megève, a pearl at the foot of Mont Blanc
In wintertime, many are those who want to go skiing for a week or even for an enlarged weekend. Obviously French Alps seem to be a great destination for winter sports, not too far and easy to reach, offering a huge choice of resorts, each one having its own qualities in term of ski activities, landscapes, accommodations and atmosphere.
Although having a mythic name, the resort of Megève remains as a little charming mountain village settled around the old church with its bulb-shaped clock tower proudly standing up high in the blue sky. The centre of the village is totally pedestrian and it gives visitors the feeling to be back to the old time when cars didn’t exist.
Megève was the first French village chosen to shelter a quality ski resort. During the WW1, Noémie de Rothschild, the wife of the Baron Maurice de Rothschild was having holidays in St Moritz, in the neutral Switzerland, and was upset to bump into German officers also on holidays. At that time only Switzerland could offer luxury mountain resorts able to receive European aristocracy. So she decided to find such a place in France and to invest money to create it out of the blue. Megève already known at that time as a sunny place for ski was her final choice.
Just after the end of the WW1, the Rothschild family brought large pieces of land around to built luxury hotels to host upscale visitors. In 1921 the Hôtel du Mont d’Arbois was open and soon welcomed Albert I, the king of Belgium, who made Megève a world-renowned resort, attracting the French high-class society: the Citroën, Michelin, Hachette families, artists and celebrities. Megève became so ‘chic’ in the thirties that Jean Cocteau, the famous artist who loved the place, called it “the 21frst quarter of Paris“. To keep the resort almost open all year round the Baroness created the Megève Golf Club with a 9 hole course in 1923. Nowadays it’s a beautiful 18 hole course. And from the fifties it became fashionable for ski-lovers from all over Europe.
Today Megève is still one of the most popular place to be not only in wintertime but also in summer when it’s time for hiking, biking, paragliding, horse riding, golfing or even just enjoying the French art de vivre, a great brand of Megève.
The name of Megève came from the ancient Celtic language, “Mageva” meaning “built on water”. It was actually built at the meeting point of several mountain streams which are still there today, running between the old stone walled houses, filling the air with a thunder-like sound in spring time when the snow melts. Although these houses have been turned into luxury shops, hotels and restaurants, they have kept their authenticity.
To visit the close surroundings of the village where now hundreds of classical wooden chalets have been built in a beautiful landscape, the only thing to do is to seat in one of the numerous horse-drawn sledges that await clients at the foot of the church. Warm blankets are at guests’ disposal in each sledge. Cars being forbidden in the village centre, you will have to walk to discover its charm, but that won’t be hard work, but sheer pleasure. During this short stroll, the centre is not too big, visitors like to also do window shopping, looking after all the trendy brands that have gathered there. A fashionistas’ paradise!
One of these brands was originally created in Megève, when Armand Allard, a young tailor designed in 1930 a special ski pants for Emile Allais who, wearing it, won an Olympic golden medal and then became a triple World Champion. That famous “fuseau Allard” quickly became a must for all skiers. The two Allard shops in Megève now provide up to date sportswear and all elegant accessories.
In winter apart from those coming only to visit the shops, visitors mainly look after the best attractive aspects of Megève, the diversity, the beauty and the great number of ski runs around. The 220 ski runs linked together by 107 ski lifts, for a total length of 445 kms, are displayed over the mountains’ amphitheatre facing the Mont Blanc. The ski activities will fit everyone’s taste and level: Alpine ski, Nordic ski, skicross, free style, snowboard, sledge, ski touring and even snowshoes tours. Cherry on the cake, a few ski runs are kept untouched to give the opportunity to free ride adepts to ski powder snow with total safety.
There is also a small but very busy mountain airfield not far from the village where, all year round, touristic flights are scheduled to fly over the ice fields of the so close Mont Blanc. A breathtaking show that is worth seeing! And so much to tell to friends when you will be back home! Another option is to try a dog sled tour with a professional musher to lead the huskies for an hour or more, for a day or even for a tour by night.
After having spent so much energy in any of these sport activities, it will be time for you to recharge your own batteries. Then your main problem will be to make a choice. Megève is proud to offer to its guests a great selection of restaurants for all budgets, from simple mountain inn to the Megève Michelin 3 star restaurant (“Flocons de Sel” by Emmanuel Renaut). But all of them offer a cuisine made with a maximum of delicious local produce coming mainly from the 45 farms of the village.
Not far from the village and easy to get to by horse-drawn sledge, the “Ferme de Joseph” is a restaurant with-a-view, built over the Joseph’s cowshed and dairy where he makes dairy produce for the village. And before leaving his family restaurant, guests can buy local products from the surroundings.
You will find a wide range of accommodations including rented rooms and apartments, plus numerous hotels. Notice that in such a small village there are now seven 5 star hotels.
The last one, opened last December, the “M de Megève‘ is perfectly settled in the centre of the village and had also two restaurants offering a gastronomic cuisine in a very friendly atmosphere. And if a week stay at the “M de Megève” is over your budget, you can come to visit the welcoming bar and seat in one of the cosy sofas near the fireplace, to try the Mojito chaud (hot Mojito) of the chief barman who obtained an award for it, a rare experience.
Then you will be ready for a pubs crawl or some disco’ visit, unless you want to try your personal luck at the casino. But maybe, if you intend to be ready next morning for a full day of ski, you will get back to your comfortable bed. What ever you do, Megève won’t disappoint you.
Text © Annick Dournes and Frederic de Poligny
Photos © Frederic de Poligny
About Annick Dournes & Frederic De Poligny
|Annick Dournes and Frederic de Poligny are two French tourism journalists who travel the world for many years. They will share with you their very favourite experiences of worldwide travels. Those about France, their native country, will be found on a regular basis in their chronicle “Meanderings through France”. Web|