History of the Three Valleys
A visitor to the Three Valleys of Meribel Les Allues, Courchevel St Bon and St Martin de Belleville just fifty years ago would have looked in vain for signs of the modern ski resorts that today attract skiers from all over the world to ski Meribel and the 3 Valleys. Only a collection of small isolated hamlets and chalets would have been found nestling in the high open pastures that were the result of over seven centuries of deforestation by farmers trying to scratch a living from the mountainside.
An ideal resort for winter sports
This began to change in 1941 when a government commission was set up with a brief to study scientifically the essential requirements for 'an ideal resort for winter sports'. The 83 page report published in 1942 proposed the development of purpose built resorts perched in high snow fields, an innovation in Europe, in order to compete with the then fashionable resorts of Sestrieres in Italy, Sun Valley in the USA and Davos in Switzerland.
The report proposed development in the Three Valleys on the edge of the Vanoise National Park. The area offered a high annual snowfall on north facing slopes to ensure good conditions. There were also many slopes whose aspect allowed one to 'ski in the sun on pistes in the shade'. The terrain was relatively even and uniterrupted allowing a variety of pistes of differing grades. There were suitable flat areas for the construction of villages.
The original plan was to commence in the Belleville Valley where Les Menuires now stands with later development around Meribel and finally Courchevel in the St Bon valley. However local opposition prevented building in the Belleville Valley and the initial development in Meribel collapsed from a lack of funds. The first operational ski lifts opened in Courchevel in 1946.
Tourism in the Three Valleys
There was in fact a history of tourism already in the region. The latter half of the 19th century saw the growth of alpinism and also the opening of fashionable spa towns. Both Brides Les Bains and Salines Les Thermes located at the bottom of the valley gained their reputations during this period. Higher up the mountains the first hotel in St Bon was opened in 1908. As with alpinism throughout the alpine region, the British were never far away. One of the first on the scene was Arnold Lunn who had already had much to do with the establishment of winter sports in Austria and Switzerland. He settled on the Allues valley when touring France to study the possibility of winter sports programme in the Savoy Alpes
The development of Meribel
The development of Meribel as we know it owes much to two French architects, Christian Durupt, and Paul Jacques Grillo, and a British ski enthusiast called Peter Lindsay. They felt it essential to maintain the existing authenticity of the Savoyard resort. Only wood and stone were used for the main body of the Meribel ski chalets and mountain slate for the sloping roofs. To this day Meribel chalets owe their beauty and charm to such foresight, and it is this above all that sets it aside from the majority of purpose built resorts.
A village atmosphere
Today in Meribel you will find something for everyone, although maintaining a village atmosphere Meribel has developed into a cosmopolitan and friendly resort, with many fine bars, regular live music and a couple of nightclubs, numerous shops, relaxation spas, and a great selection of restaurants. Of course it enjoys a wonderful setting in the heart of the Three Valleys ski area.