Meribel (1,450m), a firm British favourite, is also known as ‘Little England upon the Alps’. Brits make up almost half the total visitors and if you were to go into a bar and ask for un verre de vin rouge , you’d probably be greeted by the blank faces of British season workers. The annual influx of Brits means you can easily get by without speaking a word of French, but it also means prices are high, British voices are everywhere and nightlife can be a little boisterous – shots of toffee vodka and dancing on tables at the Le Rond Point bar isn’t uncommon. Although a purpose-built ski resort, Meribel doesn’t allow high-rise developments, instead insists on chalet-style architecture so has grown out rather than up, extending more than 10 kilometres across the valley floor. The local ski area has enough varied terrain to keep all abilities happy. It also has the enviable location of being in the centre of the Three Valleys, the biggest lift network in the world.
Meribel is located slap-bang in the centre of the largest lift-linked ski area in Europe - the Three Valleys (600km). The majority of Meribel's local slopes (150km) are above the treeline, but there are also sheltered runs for bad-weather days. The resort has enough varied terrain to keep all abilities happy: good, steep freeriding, plenty of long cruising reds and blues, as well as gentle tree-lined runs for beginners. Meribel's well-groomed runs are served by a fast, modern lift system (mostly chairs and gondolas). Advanced and expert skiers who want to stretch their legs can invest in a Three Valleys Pass and hop over to Courchevel or Val Thorens to cover some serious ground.
Meribel offers a good choice of powder faces. Mont du Vallon - the highest point in the Meribel Valley - has some of the steepest and freeriding which manages to stay relatively untracked. A short walk between two peaks off the Mont Vallon bubble will lead you to a huge off-piste bowl with some big drop-offs. Beware of avalanches here. Alternatively, take the Olympic Express chair to Roc de Fer then get off and ski straight until you drop into a 845-metre off-piste descent towards St Martin de Belleville; for the best snow, stay left. First-time off-pisters should head to the freeride learning areas - off-piste zones which are avalanche-controlled and made safe where necessary, such as the Moon Ride.
First-timers/Children: Families will find a small nursery slope at Rond-Point, often used by the children's ski school. Mottaret also has three enclosed beginner areas ‘Zen Zones' served by a covered magic carpet and the free village gondola. In the Altiport area, a new family fun park (Acticross) has been created.
Beginners: The tree-lined green run at Altiport is ideal for beginners. Not only is it sheltered, but it's long and wide, perfect for practising turns, and now a green run link has been created from the mid-station of the Saulire gondola so novices can ski all the way down from this point. The main slope is served by a fast chair and a free drag. After a few runs at Altiport, head over to the green and blue runs at Mont du Vallon.
Intermediates: For morning sun, heading up to Tougnete or Mont de la Challe are the best bets. Here you'll find relatively quiet red and blue runs leading back down to Meribel. Some of the best slopes in the resort are just south of Mottaret, in the Plattières-Vallon sector at the head of the valley, with its good choice of long reds and blues. The Côte Brune fast quad from near here goes up to Mont de la Chambre, giving direct access to Val Thorens. For afternoon sun, take the gondola from Meribel or Mottaret up to Saulire, for a good choice of long red runs leading back down to Meribel.
Advanced/Experts: In the Meribel valley, head to Mont du Vallon for its long, steep red Combe Vallon run. Alternatively, take the off-piste run in the neighbouring valley, next to the main pistes, which leads back to the bottom of the gondola. From Tougnète, there's a good selection of steep runs back to Meribel - particularly the black upper Ecureuil piste and red Combe Tougnète. The Face run on the north side of the valley is served by a fast quad and is a good cruising slope. Mogul fans should have over towards Mont de la Challe for the mogul run down the side of the double Roc de Tougne draglift.
New to 2012, a DC Area 43 snowpark was set up in Meribel-Mottaret. This 1,200-metre-long snowpark is equipped with 24 snow canons and served by two lifts. Here you'll find one mini-skate ramp, three street lines, 220 metres of rails and an airbag for beginners.
Watch the first shred at the DC Area 43 in Meribel-Mottaret:
The Moon Park, Meribel Alpina's snowpark, is accessed by the Arpasson chairlift and offers lines for beginners, intermediates and experts. You'll find an intermediate boardercross (red), whoops, tables, rails, boxes (all made from wood) and a Chill & Grill area.Freestylers can purchase a three-day Moonpark pass for €50 (days don't have to be consecutive).
Le Grand Café des Pistes, Rond Point des Pistes (+33(0)479-084-767). Bar-restaurant at the top of Méribel. Tuck into a buffet-style mountain breakfast on the large sun terrace or in front of the open fire. Open 8-10 a.m.
Bibi Phoque Creperie, La Chaudanne (+33(0)479-003-093). Grab a takeaway pancake or crepe on your way to the lifts or eat on the south facing terrace. Open 8:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. (winter only).
Le Coeur de Cristal, Rhodes gondola mid-station (+33(0)479-224-609). Located at the crossing point of the Rhodes and blue Marmottes run, 300 metres above the Rhodos gondola mid-station. This traditional mountain restaurant serves fresh pizzas and Savoyard specialities for lunch. Also open for dinner Thursday and Friday evenings (transport by snowcat in the evening).
Lodge du Village, Meribel Village 73550 (+33(0)479-010-355). Authentic Italian restaurant with a lively bar upstairs. Enjoy pizzas, panninis, salads and bruschetta for lunch on the large sunny terrace. Open from 10 a.m to 1 a.m. (live music in the evenings).
Grand Coeur, Chemin du Grand Coeur - 73550 Meribel (+33(0)479-086-003). This fine dining establishment, set within the four-star Grand Coeur hotel, offers an innovative take on Savoyard cuisine. Choose something from the gourmet fixed or a la carte menu, but leave room for dessert. The dessert trolley offers a dizzying choice of pastries and beautifully decorated cakes.
Kouisena, Hotel L'Eterlou, Chaudanne (+33(0)479-088-923). This rustic, intimate restaurant serves up traditional, local dishes in a real Savoyard atmosphere, complete with open-fire cooking. We recommend the entrecote steak with roasted potatoes.
Orée du Bois, Hôtel L'Orée du Bois , Route du Belvédère, Rond-point des Pistes (+33(0)479-085-752). This is the all-French experience. Tuck into bold, refined fare made from fresh, local produce in an elegant dining room. The wine cellar is a voyage through the vineyards of France - ask the waiter to recommend a bottle to complement your meal.
Zig Zag, Mottaret - Chatelet, Meribel (+33(0)479-004-740) is a good cheaper option, tucked away near the Plattières lift. Open for lunch and dinner, this small, friendly restaurant serves simple, tasty dishes. The set menu changes every day, but a firm favourite is the steak and chips.
Rond Point, 73550, Meribel (+33(0)479-003-751). The Rond Point, or the Ronny as it's known, is the place to go for live music and a piste-side beer. It's famous for its raucous dancing and partying, as well as spectacular views from the sunny terrace bar at 1,600 metres. Be sure to try the staple - toffee vodka - but avoid bar queues by heading to the top-floor bar where waitresses will fetch you pitchers of beer for no extra charge. At closing time (7:30 p.m.) you can ski down from here to the Chaudanne or (if a little too wobbly) take the bus.
Le Pub, Meribel Centre (+33(0)479-086-002). Le Pub, although rather unimaginatively named, is actually one of the liveliest bars in town and one of the most spacious. Because of its size, it offers a good choice of live music. It also offers special promotion nights and regular happy hours. You can play pool, watch any big live sporting event or just dance the night away on toffee vodka. There is also a nice sun terrace out the back for a relaxing après-ski drink. Live music is on seven nights a week.
Advanced and expert skiers should consider staying in the village of Mottaret, just up from Meribel, which is better placed for access to the huge off-piste bowl in Mont Vallon, the DC Area 43 snowpark, and lift access to Val Thorens.
Those aiming to cover a lot of ground should bear in mind that the six-day Three Valleys Pass (€244) is only €45 more than a six-day Meribel Vallee Pass (€199) and offers four times the ski area.
A few downsides to Meribel’s ski area: snow on the west-facing side of the mountain suffers in the afternoon sun; lower runs leading into the resort can lack snow due to the altitude and tend to be icy especially at the beginning and end of the season; and runs can become crowded especially close to the resort during peak season.
Going out for a beer can be stupidly expensive in the Three Valleys (well you are in the largest lift-linked ski area in the world!). Expect to pay £5-£10 for a pint, unless you hit the bars at happy hour (usually 4-7 p.m.) or shop at an out-of-town supermarket.