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Ski review: Brides-les-Bains, France

Brides-les-Bains is first point of call in France’s Trois Vallees ski area. On the edge of the world’s biggest ski area the tiny town of Brides-les-Bains is a low-cost option with an admirable transfer time from Geneva airport.

by Nick Dalton
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On the edge of the world’s biggest ski area, France’s Trois Vallees, the tiny town of Brides-les-Bains is a low-cost option with an admirable transfer time from Geneva airport.

The resort

Fun on the snowy slopes above Val Thorens

The Trois Vallees is the humongous ski area, the world’s biggest, that encompasses the starry names of Meribel and Courchevel along with Val Thorens (the highest ski resort in Europe, at 7,500ft) on 370 miles of connected slopes in a never less than spectacular setting of majestic mountains. Brides-les-Bains is a spa town that you can’t actually ski to but which is connected by a 25-minute gondola ride to the heart of Meribel. Away from the party scene of the big names, it nevertheless has good restaurants and bars – and keen prices.

On a good day it’s less than two hours from Geneva airport, almost an hour closer than the lofty Val Thorens. On high-season Saturdays the time – and savings – can grow. There’s a pleasingly real feel to it – it’s only been a ski town since the 1992 Winter Olympics, centred on nearby Albertville, when the gondola was built to bring in the crowds. It also has the biggest spa in the Alps.

The skiing in Brides-les-Bains

The fabulous mountain vistas on the slopes in Les Menuires

The Trois Vallees is unbeatable, so much skiing that it’s impossible to cover in one holiday. Meribel is largely the centrepoint, Courchevel over the ridge to the left, and Les Menuires and then Val Thorens to the right. The Olympe gondola from Brides-les-Bains (BB as it often refers to itself) pops up in the middle, ready for exploring and travelling in either direction, as well as enjoying the big, fast pistes on either side of Meribel, slipping along the valley to the separate conurbation of Meribel-Mottaret.

There’s no way to sum up the famously wide pistes, the endless sweeps of above treeline off-piste, the superb grooming and the fact that you can ski almost anywhere. If there’s a danger it’s getting above yourself and heading off into the distance, not realising how long it will take to get back. The Olympe also allows for skiing until the end of the day.

Why go to Brides-les-Bains

The elegant Hotel Golf is a focal point of Brides-les-Bains

Brides-les-Bains is a pretty, relaxed spot, old-school French rather than Alpine. Half-timbered, chateau-like buildings line the hilly streets alongside the rushing, boulder-filled River Doron – and given that the town sits at below 2,000ft, it’s often snow-free, making the riverside path pleasantly walkable.

The daily commute might at first appear to be a grind but given that the gondola starts at 7.30 each morning and the ski lifts open at 9am it doesn’t have to eat into your day. And it’s open until 5pm in early season, 5.30 high season, so time for an apres-ski drink in Meribel before heading down. And there are a couple of bars in the main street that have a good atmosphere when you arrive.

For the 2024-25 season the unassuming gondola station is being rebuilt into something more dramatic with café and sports shop, along with escalators outside making for easier access up the small hill from the main street.

Transfers, too. At its best BB is an hour and 50 minutes from Geneva airport, while Val Thorens, the Trois Vallees’ highest resort, is another 50 minutes. Given that Saturday transfer traffic can double – on occasion, triple – transfer times, it can make a big difference.

The contemporary, riverfront Grand Spa Thermal is the largest spa in the Alps and one of the biggest in France. There’s a big, warming indoor pool where people wallow and chat; alongside is a 30m-long swimming channel. A rooftop hot tub gives views down the valley while in between are a collection of saunas and steam rooms. There are massages and other treatments along with multi-day slimming and fitness regimes.

Where to stay in Brides-les-Bains

The Hotel Golf  is very much not a golf hotel, with no course anywhere near. A five-minute walk from the gondola, the seven-floor Art Nouveau delight, all Art Deco style from the 1920s, gazes across town. There’s a sauna, gym and Table du Golf restaurant with panoramic windows. Double rooms from €102, B&B. Check availability.

Hotel Amelie is a simple yet pleasing place on the main street, 150 yards from the gondola. Balcony rooms and bar with piano and pool table. Check availability.

Hotel Altis has only 10 boutique rooms, with balconies, all white, pale shades and ancient wood. Check availability.

Eating and drinking in Brides-les-Bains

Le Bis ‘Trop’ Savoyard is busy every evening

Le Bis ‘Trop’ Savoyard is a wonderfully colourful and down-to-earth, part bar part restaurant, all chunky wood, not least the barrels with tabletops. Steaks, ribs, chunky fries and lots of cheese.

Le Val Vert is a cosy spot in the little Hotel Altis serving a daily local dinner special – the fondue sayoyarde with crunchy dipping bread, a decent salad and a pile of charcuterie, followed by stewed fruit and a sorbet for €38.

Hotel Golf’s Table du Golf restaurant serves fine mountain cuisine, from the lake-dwelling Arctic char with crispy polenta and mashed marrow to a four-cheese fondue and a dessert of frozen souffle with local firewater, genepi. The bar, high-ceilinged with dramatic pillars and chandeliers, has views over the town with French windows opening on to a terrace.

The casual chic of the slopeside Le Farçon

You’ve gone for the good value accommodation option so maybe indulge yourself in a Michelin-starred lunch at Le Farçon  at the bottom of the slopes in La Tania, one of Courchevel’s village outposts. Gorgeously kitted out in timber and stone in an unassuming modern building, next to a snack bar, the lunchtime tasting menu is a very reasonable €68, with wine pairing €45. Chef Julien Machet, a local hero, paints himself ‘the Savoyard peddler’, with dishes reflecting the cuisine of the Grand Duchy of Savoy, from the mountains to the Bay of Nice and Sardinia.

Fact file

There are regular easyJet flights from Gatwick and regional airports to Geneva. From there the rail journey to Moûtiers, a 20-minute cab ride from Brides-les-Bains, takes around three hours and costs from around £60 return. Crystal Ski Holidays (crystalski.co.uk); offers seven nights at Hotel Amélie from £797pp, half-board, and seven nights at the nearby Grand Chalet apartments from £597, self-catering, both including flights and transfers.


Also read Ski Resort Review: Le Gets, France


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