The 3 Vallées bills itself as the world’s largest ski area, with over 600 km (370 miles) that are easily skiable from one to the other. This ski domain in the heart of the Alps in Europe consists of several top ski stations and village resorts that offer activities in the winter and summer.
Pronounced “les trois vallées” (the 3 valleys), this is also one of the most accessible ski domaines in the world. It is right next door to Paradiski, which is the 2nd largest ski domaine in France.
At the foot of the 3 Vallées is the Moûtiers – Salins – Brides-les-Bains” train station which has high-speed trains coming in wintertime from Paris, London and other major cities in Western Europe.
It is also easily accessible by airplane and road from the nearby towns of Lyon, Chambèry, Geneva, and Grenoble. Being one of the most popular ski domaines in France, let’s have a look at its ski slopes, different facilities and resorts, shall we? Allons-y!
The Ski Slopes
The 3 Vallées ski area is has about 375 miles (600km) of ski slopes. There are approximately:
- 48 green slopes
- 135 blue slopes
- 119 red slopes
- 33 black slopes
In terms of ski lifts and cable cars, much of the equipment is relatively new with multiple queues helping skiers and snowboarders get to their slopes without too much waiting around. There are approximately 3 cable cars, 37 gondolas, 69 chair lifts and 74 surface lifts across this vast domaine.
You can buy a ski pass either for your own ski resort or for the full 3 Valleés, the price difference is usually around €50 more for the week. (Note: when I say easily skiable, I mean for a decent skier, not a débutant!)
1. Courchevel (1100 – 1850 m)
Courchevel, a high-end luxury ski resort well-liked by royalty and celebrities, is located within the 3 Vallées. If you are looking for Michelin-starred restaurants for your après-ski, this is where you will want to base yourself, particularly in Courchevel 1850.
Six villages make up the resort, and each one has easy access to the ski lifts. Their altitude is indicated by the numerals in their name:
- Courchevel 1850 – Luxury resort, aimed at the high-end where the sky is the limit, in terms of prices. The highest concentration of 5-star hotels in France, outside of Paris. (There is even an Altiport on the resort so that the super-rich can fly in.)
- Moriond 1650 – large resort, ideal for families who are not going to be visiting nightclubs. Better for beginners as the slopes are quieter and further away.
- Courchevel Village 1550 – Plenty of shops and restaurants, ideal for families.
- La Tania 1400 – car-free, and in the middle of the forest. It is midway between Courcheval and Meribel resort.
- Le Praz 1300 – a traditional mountain village.
- Saint Bon 1100 – the original hotel resort built in 1908.
These individual villages will be very accessible on skis, but if you are looking for things to do après-ski and nightlife, you will have to choose which ambiance you want.
At night-time, going between the different villages will only be possible by car, not on foot. (You can reserve there by clicking in the links above.)
From Airport to Courchevel – Approximate times with no traffic:
- 2 hours from Chambéry airport
- 2 hours 15 minutes from Lyon or Grenoble
- 2 hours 30 minutes from Geneva
2. Val Thorens (2000 m)
The French ski resort at the highest altitude is Val Thorens in the 3 Vallées, situated above 2000 m. Val Thorens says it guarantees snow, with its artificial machines. It is a very large resort, with just one epicenter village, and has plenty of restaurants, bars, and nightclubs.
It is more of a mid-level resort and may lack the small-town charm of the Courcheval or Meribel (no Michelin star restaurants here). But the facilities are excellent.
Since everything is in one place, it is often referred to as a “go-to resort” and is expected to usually have good snow conditions. There are a few great lodging options, such as:
- €€€ – Résidence Montana Premier – close to the ski school
- €€€€ – Fahrenheit Seven Val Thorens – with spa facilities
- €€€€ – Résidence l’Oxalys – within 100m of ski lift, with indoor pool
- €€€€€ – Altapura – within 100m of ski lift, with indoor pool
You can read more about skiing at Val Thorens here.
From Airport to Val Thorens – Approximate times with no traffic:
- 1 hour 40 minutes from Chambéry airport
- 2 hours 30 minutes from Geneva, Lyon or Grenoble
3. Méribel (1400 – 1700 m)
A luxury resort right in the middle of Les 3 Vallées. If you are pretty decent on your skis, within 20 minutes you can be in Les Menuires, Val Thorens or Courchevel.
The problem with being so central, of course, is that it is in the middle. This means that there tends to be a traffic jam of skiers at the start and end of the day, as everyone is trying to get to the other parts of the 3 Vallées.
It has many small villages within it (which are skiable but not walkable from one to the other):
- Mottaret 1750 m – newer resort, built in the 1970s, mostly car-free.
- Altiport 1700m – Quiet area with one hotel and restaurant. Also some apartment accommodation.
- Méribel Center 1450-1700 m – the largest and liveliest part of the Meribel. Plenty of high-end shops, restaurants, bars and nightlife. This part of the resort is itself broken down into many neighborhoods.
- La Chaudanne – near the main ski lift and the liveliest part of the village.
- Le Plan du Moulin – short walk to La Chaudanne area.
- La Renarde – a quiet chic neighborhood that is close to La Chaudanne area.
- Les Chalets – At the foot for ski-lift Ardet, slightly further away from La Chaudanne, but still central.
- Morel & Altitude 1600 – on the outskirts of Méribel Center. A 15-20 walk to La Chaudanne.
- Le Belvédère 1600 m – a newer chic neighborhood that was built in 1990. Relatively far away from La Chaudanne (over 30-minute walk).
- Méribel Village 1400 m – a traditional hamlet-style village that is 2 km (1 mile) away from Méribel Center. Quiet atmosphere.
- Les Allues 1100 m – a Savoyarde style village connects to the other ski slopes by shuttle. There is one red ski run that connects to it, but they advise that this usually closes before the end of the season because of the low altitude of the village. (NOT SKI IN – SKI OUT)
Note, Les Allues is not ski-in, ski-out. You can book accommodation by clicking on the links above. You will need to take a shuttle or gondola to access the higher slopes of the 3 Vallées.
But they are part of Méribel, so I didn’t want to leave them out, since you would be confused if you saw those names later and accidentally booked there instead. A free shuttle runs in the winter between all the areas.
From Airport to Meribel – Approximate times with no traffic:
- 1 hour 20 minutes from Chambéry airport
- 2 hours 15 minutes from Geneva
- 2 hours 30 minutes from Lyon or Grenoble
4. Les Menuires (1850 m)
Les Menuires is on the way to Val Thorens at 1850m, as they sit on the same mountain, with Val Thorens being higher. It tends to be less busy and less pricy than the other three in the 3 Vallées, while still maintaining excellent connections to the other resorts, since the ski pistes and chairlifts all connect.
A very family-friendly resort for people with small children, since the slopes nearby are good for beginners. (Expert skiers need not worry, they can easily connect to rest of Les 3 Vallées on skis.) You can find accommodation options at Les Menuires here.
From Airport to Les Menuires – Approximate times with no traffic:
- 1 hour 30 minutes from Chambéry airport
- 2 hours 15 minutes from Geneva, Lyon or Grenoble
5. Saint-Martin-de-Belleville (1450m)
One of the smaller ski stations in the 3 Vallées is at Saint-Martin-de-Belleville. It is a station of quiet luxury that attracts rich locals looking for exclusivity and privacy. The village is home to one of the best restaurants in the French Alps, the 3 Michelin starred La Bouitte.
It sits at an altitude of 1450m at the heart of the Vanoise massif. The discreet wooden hamlets have a charm all of their own. Interestingly, Saint-Martin-de-Belleville is also the setting for a novel by the French writer Marquis de Sade.
The town’s location attracts visitors all year around with plenty of things to do in the summer as well as in winter. Some of the recommended accommodation in the area includes:
- €€€€ – Lodji Hotel & Résidence
- €€€€€ – Hotel Restaurant La Bouitte – Relais & Châteaux – 3 étoiles Michelin
5. Brides-les-Bains (600m)
Brides Les Bains at 600 m is more of a a spa town at the bottom of the mountain, rather than a ski resort. It connects to the Méribel resort by gondola life from where you can go skiing across the entire 3 Vallées ski domaine.
Because it is not directly on the ski slopes, any accommodation will not be ski-in ski-out. The town is a good compromise as a winter base, if you have members of your family or group of friends who are not alpine skiers or snowboarders.
You can find more accommodation in Brides-les-Bains here.
7. Orelle (900m)
The small village of Orelle is technically part of the 3 Vallées as part of Orelle-Val Thorens. However, it is not directly on the ski slopes.
It is connected by one of the longest télécabines in the world to Plan Bouchet, a skiing area near Val Thorens that is part of the 3 vallées. It is in the Maurienne Valley, bordering the Tarentaise Valley where Val Thorens is located.
Being only 1 hour from Chambèry, this is a resort that attracts visitors all year round. A good accommodation option in the area is:
Now I should note there are other ski resorts that are accessible from Moûtiers train stations, but these are the largest ones and most popular ones.