Developed by Noémi de Rothschild as France’s more charming answer to St Mortiz, Megève has been described as a ‘sleeping beauty’ that is about to wake up. With miles and miles of gentle slopes, excellent restaurants from Michelin-star dining to hole in the wall bistros and more than enough to keep both skiers and non-skiers happy, Elle Blakeman finds an inviting resort that has something for everyone
Five-star skiing usually involves a choice between a big swanky hotel – high ceilings, Michelin-star food, a delicious spa to delve into at the end of the day – or a more traditional chalet, with alpine décor and friendly staff but a calorie-burning mission to the nearest lift. Guests at the new Les Chalets du Mont d’Arbois in Megève, a collaboration between Four Seasons and the Rothschild family, are relieved from this decision.
The three traditional wooden chalets overlook the glorious Aravis mountain range and are each named after Benjamin and Ariane de Rothschild’s oldest three daughters – Ève, Noémi and Alice (their youngest Olivia being left out in the cold for now). While the chalets offer cosiness in abundance, the steely polish of the Four Seasons is never far behind, from the low-lit black marble bathrooms and hidden large-screen TVs to the Mercedes shuttles on hand day and night to whisk you down to the town or up to the slopes.
In Chalet Ève, the main ‘hub’ of the three, Savoyard style reigns supreme. Large stone roaring fires, intimate corners and plush overstuffed chairs topped with cashmere throws create the feeling that you’re staying in a friend’s mountain home rather than a Four Seasons (a discreet reception bar being the only nod to hotel status). Here you will find the bulk of the rooms (25 out of 41), Prima restaurant, recently awarded a Michelin star, and a small but elegant Bamford spa complete with huge Hamman showers, extensive treatment lists and an in/out pool to take in the views of Aravis from the comfort of 31 degrees. There is also a snug outdoor sauna to take the edge off a long day on the slopes. For children, there is sweet little ice rink and an enchanting children’s club to keep tots entertained.
Chalet Noémi, however, is the one you really want to stay in. Originally the Rothschild’s private residence, it has stayed true to its original version (built in 1927 by the great French architect Henry-Jacques le Même) with large balconies, open fires and floor-to-ceiling windows to take in the spectacular mountain views. For families, the slightly more boho-style Chalet Alice, with large living room and own private spa, is ideal to hire as a well-heeled group.
Guests at Les Chalets also benefit from all of the facilities at the larger Four Seasons Megève, which is around 2km away (less than 10 minutes by shuttle). Here there is a much bigger children’s club and separate teen room, complete with cinema room, table football and every video game imaginable, and a large Art-Deco style La Prairie spa with relaxation pods and another spoiling in/out pool. When you’re ready, you’re whisked back to the more intimate Chalets, where a handsome Frenchman is there to welcome you back with mulled wine, hot chocolate and crêpes. What more could you ask for?
Megève is one of France’s prettiest villages so make sure to pop into town while you’re here. Unlike other high-end ski resorts such as Courcheval or Gstaad, you will not find a town stuffed to breaking point with designer shops (though there is a large Hermès next to the church if this concerns you), but instead a nice blend of local landmarks, little bistros and art galleries alongside well-known brands such as Ladurée.
Of course, if you’re a skier (although according to our ski instructor, up to 40% of visitors here are not) there are some 325km of wide, tree-lined, excellently served pistes to explore. The Four Seasons is the closest thing to ski in/ski out that Megève has to offer, but there is still around 500m of flat ground to cover to take you from (fabulous) boot room to slope. You can pole it with a bit of effort, or you can take the horse-drawn sleigh that is ready and waiting to escort you to the mountain like a major royal (it also meets you when you’re done for the day – heaven).
There are three main ski areas – Mont d’Arbois, where the hotel resides, Rochebrune, accessible by an easy cable car (with stunning views over the connecting valleys) from the bottom of Mont d’Arbois and Le Jaillet, which can be reached by bus or shuttle. Runs are mostly easy reds and perfect for intermediates, though there are some nice blues and greens for beginners and a couple of good black runs over on Rochebrune. For experts, there is brilliant off-piste powder all over the mountains.
For non-skiers, the horse-drawn sleigh is also available for a beautiful (and very Instagram friendly) ride. For those who want to experience the mountain, the hotel can arrange for a guide to take you snow-shoeing, or you can take the cable car up to Rochebrune and take in lunch at Le Super Megève restaurant at the top. There are also some fun sledding trails which helpfully bring you directly back to the hotel.
The food options in Megève are many and varied. Of course, there is your classic mountain fare – delicious gooey Raclette and hot, breadcrumbed meat, but you will also find a variety of one, two and even three Michelin-starred restaurants dotted around.
For an upgrade on traditional mountain cuisine, Bar Edmond serves delicious burgers, club sandwiches and smoked salmon blinis with epic views over Mont d’Arbois and a punchy wine list to boot. Sit outside under heated lamps and don’t rush.
On the mountain, there is ldéal 1850 perched at the top of Mont d’Arbois, directly facing Mont Blanc. This is no pizza and chips kind of joint, rather gourmet mountain food at its finest – spit-roasted chicken, fresh shellfish, orecchiette drowning in truffle and a serious desert buffet, with a wine list boasting the best of the Rothschild’s many estates alongside local wines. If it’s not too cold, book a table on the sundeck with stunning panoramic views (if it is cold then make sure to book a table inside as these fill up fast). There is even a single, superluxe suite here for those who like the idea of being ‘stranded’ on the mountain after the lifts stop.
For party people, there is the Folie Douce, not quite as bouncing as the Val d’Isere counterpart, but you will still find a hard-core few dancing on the tables. If you’re going for lunch, try the tartiflette, a delicious cheesy, bacony potato concoction you can only really justify on the slopes. Après-ski starts from 2.30pm and by 4.00pm things are starting to getting lively.
For dinner there is Kaito, the regions only Japanese restaurant, which blends wonderfully fresh sashimi and sushi with mountain produce – an oddly delightful combination – think Akami tuna with black truffle or a tartlet of chestnut and yuzu confit.
Back at Les Chalets, there is the Bar Mont d’Arbois for more truffle-filled burgers and the like, but the star of the show is the Michelin-starred Prima, presided over by maestro chef Nicolas Hensinger. Splitting the menu by Mountain, Sea and Land, Hensinger brings an impressive creativity to fine dining; a soft veal selection arrives in two totally different styles, cooked with ice cider, Barberine apple and turnip from Auvergne, while suckling lamb from the Hautes-Alpes is combined with cabbages, grapefruits and gentian roots. It’s rich yet perfectly well-balanced, allowing the locally sourced ingredients to take the lead. Meanwhile desert is a lavish affair with creamy soufflés, a rich chocolate pie to share and Ile flottante that Hensinger credits to his childhood. Save for an easy day on the slopes as this should be enjoyed over several hours.
In the town, you’ll find a nice mix of local bars and restaurants, Es bar is a sweet, unpretentious bar than many locals recommend. Stand outside (under heaters) or head up to the first floor for a great evening view over the town below. For something more upscale, try the Jazz Club des 5 Rues, one of the oldest jazz clubs outside of Paris (it opened just after the end of WWII), it’s fair pricey but the music is wonderful and they make a mean Negroni to savour by the cosy fire.
Rooms at Les Chalets du Mont d’Arbois, Megève, A Four Seasons Hotel, start at €580 (approximately £488.50)