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Megeve is one of the most stylish resorts in the alps, with a very pretty, if low altitude, ski area.
Just over an hour’s drive from Geneva airport, Megeve in the French Haute Savoie is both pretty and chic, with a pedestrian zone around the fine medieval church, outside which stands a huge pine tree, tastefully decked with white lights. Smart boutiques and alluring bars and restaurants abound. There is a huge choice of well-appointed hotels and most of the taxis are horse-drawn sleighs or carriages rather than diesel-puffing saloon cars.
As far as the skiing is concerned, Megeve has three ski areas of its own and although the maximum vertical drop is not much more than 1,000 metres, the wider region can boast an impressive 300km of pistes in total. For the most part it is promenading skiing below the tree-line and the slopes are littered with cosy chalet-style mountain restaurants.
To understand the Megeve of today, it is first necessary to know something of its history. The story goes that in 1916 Baroness Maurice de Rothschild became disenchanted with St Moritz and its German visitors and so decided to create an equivalent resort within her own country. On the advice of her Norwegian ski instructor, Megeve was chosen as a site with potential and the Baroness duly opened the resort's first luxury hotel, the Mont d'Arbois, in 1921.
In its heyday in the 1950s and 1960s, Megeve was in the same league as Gstaad and St Moritz and used to claim more crowned heads of state among its guests than any other place in Europe. Visitors included the Aga Khan, Rita Hayworth, Roger Vadim and Brigitte Bardot. Megeve became the winter equivalent of St Tropez, but by the early 1970s it was already loosing that title to the purpose-built resort of Courchevel 1850 in the Trois Vallees. With its brand new hotels, its higher, more snow-sure slopes, and its bigger ski area, Courchevel effectively stole Megeve's mantle. But today the mood is changing and Megeve is regaining its popularity, not to mention its fashionability.
Megeve is perhaps best understood as a resort that happens to have some good skiing, rather than as a ski resort. Many of the winter visitors coming here have no intention of skiing – they just enjoy being in these pretty but relatively low altitude mountains and appreciate the luxurious hotels, the walking, the shopping, the eating and the drinking. In an average season for snow, the pistes will probably only be in peak winter condition for eight weeks or so, but this is not something that worries most of the visitors since they are not obsessive skiers. However it should be stressed that with the help of a high-mountain guide, skiers will be surprised to find how good and extensive the off-piste possibilities are.
Megeve does good business in summer as well as winter and for this reason it has the reassuring ambience of a year-round small mountain town, as opposed to a seasonal resort.