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Meribel is an attractive chalet-style purpose-built ski resort situated right at the heart of the world’s largest ski area.
The Meribel valley is the middle one of the three that make up the massive Trois Vallées ski area. Depending on how you classify things, it comprises five different settlements. The first and lowest is Brides-les-Bains which lies at an altitude of just 650m. Frankly it is hard to think of Brides-les-Bains as a ski resort, since it was originally a spa resort and it is on treatments in thermal waters and suchlike that much of its economy still depends. However it is linked to Meribel itself by a three-stage telecabine and so is a base from which one can ski the Trois Vallées area. But the days when one can return to Brides-les-Bains on skis via the off-piste itineraire are the exception rather than the rule and there is not much in the way of après-ski life down here. Nevertheless, for a combination of cheap accommodation and access to a world class ski region this place is hard to beat.
Next comes Les Allues, a sleepy old Savoyarde village with one modest hotel and a handful of privately run catered chalets. A little further up the hill lies Meribel-Village (1,340m), a tiny old village that has grown in size thanks to the ‘Les Fermes de Meribel-Village’ development of chalet-style apartment blocks. Nowadays Meribel-Village links into the main Meribel ski area via a four-seater chair-lift.
The principal Meribel settlement is simply called Meribel and sprawls up a west-facing hillside from 1,400m to 1,750m. The key parts of Meribel proper, which are linked by a free shuttle bus service, are, in ascending order, Centre, Altitude 1600, Plateau de Morel and Belvedere. (Another separate group of buildings is clustered around the Altiport at 1,700m.) This is the place that most people think of when they talk about Meribel ski holidays and it is arguably the prettiest post-war purpose-built resort in Europe, largely thanks to its Scottish founder, Colonel Peter Lindsay. Before World War Two Lindsay had skied extensively in the Austrian Tyrol and had been much impressed by the pretty wooden chalets he found there. Consequently, when he became involved in the early development of Meribel, he modelled much of it on what he had seen in Austria. So while other new French resorts were being built in rather unattractive raw concrete, Meribel began as a collection of wooden chalets and it is to this style of architecture that it has fortunately remained faithful right up to the present day.
Visitors to this main cluster of Meribel settlements, however, do need to bear in mind that they are situated one above the other on a mountainside. Getting between them all during the day using skis and lifts is not too hard, but by night you can face a lot of steep walking unless you use your car (but parking is hard to find) or the shuttle bus service (never quite frequent enough). By contrast Meribel is an ideal place for those who prefer to remain in a chalet of an evening and make their own entertainment.
At the end of the road up the Meribel valley, past the pretty little village of La Rosiere, lies Meribel-Mottaret, or simply Mottaret, as it is more usually referred to these days. It is at an altitude of 1,700m, which means it gets better natural snow-cover than Meribel itself, but it is architecturally much less distinguished, being a collection of large hotels and apartment blocks.