I recently had the excellent fortune to visit a charismatic, cozy, alpine bolt-hole named Les Fermes de Marie, nestled within the charming cobblestoned town of Mègeve, high up in the mountains of the French Alps. If you fancy going on a little ‘last-minute spring skiing weekend’, then perhaps read on to discover a little of the magic behind this outstanding traditional mountain destination!
HITTING THE TOWN OF MEGEVE
This ultra-picturesque town runs rich with charming authentic Savoyarde architecture as if you’ve time-warped back to a magical place where you’re riding in a horse-drawn carriage whilst church bells echo around the surrounding mountain shoulders. Unlike many ski resorts, some of which feel as if they were purpose-built in the 1970s, this entire town feels authentic, genuine and understated but is by no means sleepy! There is a pleasing blend of superb slopes, compelling hospitality options, countless boutiques and at the end of the day you can retire to Les Fermes de Marie by the fire in the coziest of chalets with all the modern amenities to make skiing enjoyable, deeply enrobing mattresses and possibly the best mountain spa I’ve encountered.
LES FERMES DE MARIE…
There are nine chalets, forged from reclaimed timber, sprawling across four acres of alpine garden. Whilst people may know Mègeve predominantly for skiing it’s active throughout the whole year, and is perfect as an active escape in summer for hiking and yoga, or likewise as relaxing spa retreat amidst the fresh spring air. The site was founded in 1981 by Jocelyn and Jean-Louis Sibuet, and as the name would suggest, the building was traditionally a farm. Jocelyn’s daughter is called Marie, and she feels it was a lucky name, so has since named many other hotels in their collection after her daughter as well. Jocelyn Sibuet designed Les Fermes de Marie and in many ways pioneered the distinctive chalets style across this region. If you get the chance to visit, you can expect large rustic properties decked in distressed wood from mountain farmhouses, plus beautifully detailed hand-painted ceilings, dim cozy lighting, fluffy fur blankets, and aromatically invigorating log fires all hidden under a blanket of deep snow. Throughout my time, I felt that the service was confident, super friendly and professional but not overbearing; instead, it boasted genuine warm French charm, often notable for its absence in the hospitality industry.
This is a place for complete wellbeing. During my stay, I slept plentifully on a vast bed, woke to a classic healthy breakfast, would head out for a full morning of hard skiing, take in the crisp, fresh alpine air scented with pine, grab lunch, dispatch some more skiing and then return to base. The experience leaves you quite drained, but feeling superbly energized.
Megève’s ski domain spans a monstrous 300km of slopes with and 80 perfectly integrated ski lifts within three areas – the Rochebrune Cote 2000, Jaillet and Mont d’Arbois. It’s comfortably suitable for all levels – you’ll find a good mix of green, blue, red and black, such that you should find it hard to get piste-fatigue here within a week! Megève also links the ski areas of Combloux, Saint-Nicolas de Veroce, and Saint Gervais completing the Evasion-Mont Blanc ski area.
BENEFITS OF SKIING?
•THRILL: Skiing as a sport is simultaneously thrilling, exhausting, exhilarating, uplifting, and perilous. If nothing else, it is a workout for all of the emotions! The thrill of tearing down the slopes means worldly troubles could not seem further away; adrenaline and endorphins flow freely in this pursuit!
•CORE BURN: You’re engaging the muscular ‘core’ to stabilize yourself, for hours on the trot. As a result, this activity hones and refines the agility and balance.
•CARDIO: It is a superb aerobic workout; an hour of skiing clocked up c.450 calories of energy consumption for me, though it would be more than double that should you go cross country skiing! Poling along on the flat, something I did quite a fair bit of, is a real leg-burner, and I loved it!
•LEG BURN: The entire leg complex benefits from the lunging and squatting silhouettes adopted during a day’s skiing; the glutes, the quads, the hamstrings and the calves all feel the benefit of moving on plains they rarely otherwise do, and bearing stresses as you go; you feel it after day 1, no matter how much you prep! Likewise, the joints and bones take the impact of the shock absorption required to navigate the piste, so are being strengthened too.
•FLEXIBILITY: Given that you’re constantly stretching and moving at extreme ranges of motion, skiing naturally improves your flexibility as the week goes on.
•MOOD BOOSTING: The mood is elevated; soaring amidst vast majestic mountains just fills you with renewed life. The air is crisp and pure, restoring strength to the lungs and constitution; the colors are divine, with an inky darkness of blue possible only at extreme altitude, cutting deliciously against the fresh white of the groomed snow, and the contenting effect of the sunshine amplifies it all with a sprinkling of vitamin D.
•CONCENTRATION & FOCUS: It’s also a mental workout, focussing the mind on spatial awareness as there’s a complex radar to monitor; other skiers, your own immediate and future path, your speed, pitch, altitude, incline, and overall technique! It’s a proper challenge for cognitive function.
•REST & RECOVERY: Sleep gets a huge boost, for, at the end of the day, you’re utterly shattered, leaving no alternative but to seek restorative shut-eye!
RESTAURANTS AT LES FERMES DE MARIE…
There are 3 restaurants that I think seem to offer a suitable breadth of flavor for every palate…
1) Restaurant Traditionnel
Per the name, they serve up traditional Savoyarde cuisine centered around natural local flavors. The dishes work in harmony with the seasons: fish is sourced from local mountain lakes, the herbs are from Les Fermes de Marie’s alpine gardens, fruits and vegetables are grown locally, and cuts of meat are signature Metzger, whilst the cheese platters stem from the master Cheese-monger Boujon.
2) Restaurant Alpin. In summer and autumn, Les Fermes de Marie offers a table d’hôtes in a magical natural setting, high among alpine fields, looking out across the peaks and directly at snow-capped Mont Blanc.
3) Le Bar – A relaxed affair which suits the purpose after a day of skiing; perfect to sit down for a game of chess, read a book or enjoy a hot chocolate in the cozy sofas.
There are a total of 70 rooms and suites, each decorated with the simplicity of the traditional chalet style, and each with its own story, uniquely designed by Jocelyne Sibuet. There is an atmospheric and mysteriously cosy sensation in each of the rooms I visited, quite unlike anywhere else I’ve visited. It all promotes a sense of ease and comfort after a demanding day of exertion!
Pure Altitude Spa at Les Fermes de Marie
To counterbalance the daytime active pursuits, I found 100% Alpine Wellness at the hotel’s spa. It’s a superbly well invested facility with some serious diversity of spa features to keep you coming back in every evening! There are 17 gorgeous spa treatment rooms, an indoor swimming pool surrounded by bay windows opening slopeside, with a choice of indoor or outdoor jacuzzis in which to relax, and likewise, indoor/outdoor saunas. As well as a wet sauna, steam room, Japanese-style Ofuro baths both hot and cold, and a terrace relaxation area looking out across the alpine gardens!
My time here was characterized by an overwhelming sense of ease and comfort, in contrast to my historic memories of skiing of old. There are comforts at every turn, with cozy, family-run individuality running through it as a constant thread. I returned more relaxed than when I left, in spite of the heavy physical activity – a key measure of a worthwhile escape!