Want a ski break with old-school charm instead of burgers and hip-hop? Try Megève

Horse-drawn carriages rattle on its pedestrian cobblestone streets - Simon Garnier

Horse-drawn carriages rattle on its pedestrian cobblestone streets – Simon Garnier

Not long ago, at a rather expensive Swiss resort, a ski instructor explained how the mountains had changed. “Last year this place was all schnitzel and tablecloths,” he said, referring to its old menu and decor. Now, street art gleamed confidently on the walls, and American hip-hop rumbled on the stereo. I looked at my hamburger out of the corner of my eye. I’ve never wanted a schnitzel so much before.

Heeding Joni Mitchell’s warning—you never know what you’ve got until you’re gone—this year I looked for a resort that proudly wears its legacy on its sleeve. Stylish, cosmopolitan and conservative; If you like a little old-school charm consider Megève.

rich history

Loved by its wealthy clients and – just over an hour from Geneva – perfect for a short break, the French resort claims to have a fair chunk of ski history. First, the pants. Namely, the tapered leg that has become a feature of the classic salopet. Loose golf tweeds were a must for skiers until 1930, when local tailor Armand Allard created a more modern silhouette at the request of Alpine world champion Frenchman Emile Allais. Her insurance Quick set up and Allard’s now third generation family-owned store occupies a prominent corner of Megève’s beautiful central square.

Allard's store - AFP

Allard’s store – AFP

Carriages hum along its car-free cobblestone streets, and Allard’s neighbors roll out roll calls from luxury brands: Hermes, Moncler, Bogner, Longchamp…I need any

It was never like this. Megève’s history dates back to the 13th century, and its history is largely written by the beautiful onion-domed church that towers above its centre. It was only with the arrival of the Rothschilds in the 1920s that the village truly became a holiday destination. Baroness Noemi was recovering at St Moritz and envisioned a French rival with views over Mont Blanc.

Megève dates back to the 13th century - Getty

Megève dates back to the 13th century – Getty

But who will build it? Come forward, Henry Jacques Le Meme. Le Meme, which is not well known outside of architectural circles today, can be considered the father of the local ski resort. Wooden and stone chalet with a large balcony and simple pitched roof? This is Le Meme. He probably stole the idea from countless farmers of disrepute, but the idea took hold and Megève didn’t look back.

stylish gift

Today, the jet set stay in their own private house a short drive from the village – there’s really no skiing in/out here anywhere. For the rest of us, there are some very smart options, including the grand Four Seasons (a newer Rothschild venture) or boutique businesses like Les Fermes de Marie or L’Alpaga.

The second is fun. Its 22 rooms and suites are spread over 10 independent chalets, with a small spa and a lovely bar designed around an open fire. Renovated during the pandemic, it feels like a luxury commune, even if the communes come with Michelin-starred restaurants and Diptyque toiletries. In their absence any gimmicks, cutting edge concepts or new age woo woo are remarkable. It was as if they had predicted that their target market would be (highly affluent) adults and catered accordingly. The seat is on chairs, not cushions. Service friendly, but discrete. Ping pong? No. Is it chess? Yes. There is is A flashy hybrid SUV that will take you uphill – but it’s a Land Rover, not a Lexus.

L'Alpaga by Charlotte Lindet

L’Alpaga by Charlotte Lindet

After climbing the mountain, the Evasion-Mont Blanc cable car pass covers three separate faces, including the villages of Saint-Gervais, La Giettaz, Combloux and Cordon. Megève’s lack of sheer altitude – the village sits at just 1,100 m and exceeds about 2,400 m – makes up for it with flat slopes and well-maintained snow. At a visit in mid-December, it was clear that track racers are well trained in making the most of the falls – which is reassuring in the current climate.

Purely by chance, I skied one morning with Pierre de Monvallier, owner of the independent ski school Oxygene, who came to town to check out the latest branch of his business. He told how his little daughter chose to ski here to their home in Val d’Isère, where the songs are always danced. Megève’s quieter, tree-lined slopes are decidedly less intimidating than the high-altitude slopes of Vanoise, and the clear view of Mont Blanc offers a fixed horizon. Perhaps a reassuring reference point for novice skiers. If derring-do requires it, consider the Unlimited version of the elevator pass. This includes access to the Chamonix drama, a 30-minute drive away.

It makes up for Megève's lack of sheer altitude with flat tracks and well-groomed snow - Marie Bougault

It makes up for Megève’s lack of sheer altitude with flat tracks and well-groomed snow – Marie Bougault

Naturally, there are many sunny terraces to appreciate the prevailing views of Megève, fortunately none of which seemed to specialize in hamburgers or hip-hop. I think this suits locals as well as me, but the resort is not entirely immune from the march of progress. Folie Douce is waving her flamboyant jazz hands on the Mont Joux track, and the new Tigrr Princesse goes even further with a short ski downhill to Mont d’Arbois. This was really a surprise to my traditional taste: the expensive, pan-Asian thing, a man in a suit with a gong announces your entry, and as soon as you walk in, the red, black and neon decor reminds you of some club in Soho.

Combloux and La Giettaz are generally more affordable (for example, the two-course plat du jour at the cozy Auberge Bonjournal is just £15). And for millennials, triggered by the kind of cultural appropriation that Tigrr Princesse is likely to blame, there’s the Le River below the village. Sitting beautifully on the babbling Planay river, it offers a youthful vibe and an Instagram-friendly brunch-type menu. I might have stopped to take a photo of my croque monsieur if it wasn’t so delicious.

All things considered, Megève is a delightful place to ski if you’re on a budget. Perfect as a luxury short break for those who appreciate good food, wine and trendy shops. Conservative? In some ways. But I prefer another C word: stylish. It can stay that way for a long time.

to go there

Return flights from Gatwick to Geneva with British Airways starting from £65 per person; Return transfers to Megève with ba.com.tr Megève Cab start from £80 per person; megevecab.com.

stay there

Two-night bed and breakfast at the five-star Alpağa Hotel, with prices starting from £521 per person; beaumier.com.

More information at megeve-tourisme.fr

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