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Travel: Sleep like an everyman and ski like a millionaire in Les Trois Valleys

Les Trois Valleys resort.
Les Trois Valleys resort.

There are no red lights or bad tempers on the morning commute out of Brides-les-Bains. The journey to the 9am start does something funny to perception of time, when rush hour is a gentle 30-minute glide through the mountains 30ft up in the air.

The Olympe cable car is something of a hidden gem in these parts, and in these parts, gems, if you have them, aren’t generally hidden.

The Trois Valleys is the inter-connected apex of Europe’s top-end snow sports areas, the largest connected ski terrain in the world, attracting snow-lovers with bank balances to match in luxury ski-in-ski-out digs in chi-chi resorts like Meribel and Courchevel, where Michelin-star restaurants glint at the side of the pistes and the world’s glitterati ski incognito behind Buffs and ski masks.

On the slopes. © David ANDRE
On the slopes.

Around 600km of slopes are accessible from the unassuming spa town thanks to the gondola, which benefited from a £4.6 million upgrade in 2022, giving year-round access to the jewels in the Euroski crown. This is going up in the world, literally and figuratively.

What the high-rollers don’t know – or let’s face it, need to know – is that there’s the equivalent of an own-brand option just over the hill, which allows budget travellers to indulge in the proverbial Champagne lifestyle on a Tennent’s lager budget.

Sleep like an everyman, ski like a millionaire – if you’re willing to get out of your bed half an hour earlier.

This little alpine town in the Savoie, which was an Olympic village in 1992, is to gold-standard skiing what those supermarkets with the funny names are to the weekly shop: the same, but cheaper.

Realistically, the compromises are few. After a 90-minute drive across the Swiss/French border from the snow-hub of Geneva Airport, we checked into the town’s well-situated (if confusingly named) Golf Hotel, (whose sunrise balcony views up the valley are another reason to get up early) and headed out to explore the environs, as they say en France.

Our first orientation activity was a mini gorge walk via an elevator built into the cliffside peering down on the River Doron, whose clear, freezing Alpine snowmelt waters rumble alongside the town’s streets before heading down the valley.

The confusingly named, but nevertheless excellent Golf Hotel.
The confusingly named, but nevertheless excellent Golf Hotel.

We hired our skis, poles, boots and helmets at Intersport, a hire shop and locker room below the gondola terminal which is – to these eyes anyway – pleasingly old-school. Word is it’s to be refitted soon, but the throwback to the pre-digital age of wooden lockers and rickety racks adds an unintended rustic charm long since smoothed away in the five-star Trois Valley resorts up at the other end of the gondola ride and pay-scale.

Our visit coincided with St Patrick’s Day weekend, which included a free open-air concert down at the bandstand in the town’s park. The celebrations continued in the bars along Brides Les Bains’ main streets where we discovered we weren’t the only canny Scots saving a bob or two on their digs when we joined them to watch Scotland play Ireland in the Six Nations. We even encountered an Edinburgh man who loved it so much he moved out, hitched up with a local, and runs a small brewery in the hills.

Après-ski options are plentiful too, with the offerings playing more to the grungy end of the snowsport’s clientele spectrum. Think more urban graffiti and cool dive bars than the ice sculptures and foie gras hors d’oeuvre over where the money is. Picnicking on the slopes is another way to keep the euros in your pocket, but there’s high-life in these parts for those who want it, of course, and saving the moolah by not staying in these resorts means a lunch at Le Farcon in Courchevel La Tania, sampling chef Jukien Machet’s tasting menu, is an unforgettable one-off.

So, too, a massage and late afternoon loaf around The Thermal’s hydrotherapy suite, with its bubble benches, steam rooms and saunas, and the exquisite sensation of sitting in one of the two outdoor hot tubs looking up at the snowy peaks.

Paul English in Les Trois Valleys.
Paul English in Les Trois Valleys.

We found the 30-minute gondola commute to be a similarly reflective experience, a restful buffer between a morning and afternoon of leg burners working our way across as much of the vast three-valley terrain as we could in two days, and heading out for a bite.

Those lucky enough to catch an empty car on descent are best advised to keep phones in pockets, resist the compulsion to scroll, and take stock in the moment of sanctuary – flying gently over the treeline, descending the mountain in the golden-hour light, sharing the perspective of the Griffon vultures who live around these peaks.

There are surely few finer ways to count life’s blessings.

P.S. One of Brides-les-Bains’s key features is its thermal spa water, which has long been recognised for its beneficial effects. With dedicated facilities and treatments provided by qualified therapists, it provides a relaxing addition to the skiing, helping to sooth tight muscles and improve circulation.


Paul English was a guest of Les Trois Vallees Info: & Stay: Eat: Loaf: