Ski and spa in St Gervais

PUBLISHED: 18:58 26 February 2011 | UPDATED: 18:57 20 February 2013

Skiing in St Gervais

Skiing in St Gervais

After more than 30 years of skiing, Phil Griffin found himself on a voyage of discovery to St Gervais, part of the Domaine Evasion Mont Blanc

After more than 30 years of skiing, Phil Griffin found himself on a voyage of discovery to St Gervais, part of the Domaine Evasion Mont Blanc

St Gervais has never figured in my favourites list for the French Alps. The giant, well-known resorts of Tignes, Val dIsere, Val Thorens and the like have always dominated but, for me, this smaller, traditional small town has just crept into the top ten rankings.

So what is it that has allowed St Gervais to muscle in with the big boys?

Its simples. Take a beautiful, archetypal French town boasting classic architecture and striking views, add in kilometres of tree-lined skiing interspersed with weather-worn wooden chalets and small restaurants and top it off with reasonable prices and family-friendly facilities.

Not only that. Instead of two to three-hour transfers up the mountains, St Gervais is less than an hour from Geneva Airport, making it also ideal for a long weekend on the pistes.

Ski and spa

The St Gervais ski area sits above the town and is linked by cable and bus, which means one can enjoy all the convenience of staying on the slopes or take advantage of all a typical French town can offer.

Full name St Gervais les Bains, its no surprise that its well known throughout France as a spa town, becoming popular from the 1800s.Thermal waters from the surrounding mountains are still used in various treatments for health and ailments.

Its probably the towns fame as a spa resort which has helped St Gervais evolve into the attractive place it is today.

I stayed at the Arbois Bettex, which sits at the foot of the slopes, offering ski-in ski-out luxury. An attractive wooden hotel, its rooms boast spectacular mountain views, some looking straight at the majestic Mont Blanc.

The three star Arbois Bettex has 33 family rooms and has plenty to occupy young and old. Theres a new kids play area equipped with games, TV and a choice of DVDs , while teenagers can use the free wi-fi or take a dip in the pool. Mums and dads can relax with a drink in the bar, which boasts super views, or enjoy a massage in the spa.

Perfect for families

The domaine offers great skiing for all the family. The ski school is directly opposite the Arbois Bettex and there is good selection of family-friendly pistes ideal for youngsters taking their first steps onto the snow.

The domaine offers a total of 219 slopes covering 445km, 107 lifts and 650 artificial snowmakers. St Gervais links with Combloux and also Megeve known as the St Tropez of The Alps, attracting weathly skiers who like to enjoy some of the finer things in life!

A short drive away is, of course, Chamonix and other notables such as Argentiere, Les Houches (famous for the Kandahar downhill course) and Les Contamines.

But, to be honest, theres probably more than enough to keep your average skier occupied within the St Gervais ski area.

Wide, flattering pistes down through wooden areas and clear signposting make the St Gervais attractive to most levels of skier or boarder.

There are some challenging runs and, when theres fresh snow, some amazing off-piste, especially around Mont Joly (2525m) and towards Saint Nicholas de Veroce.

Get a guide

My friends and I took advantage of hiring a guide for the day. Costing around 300 Euros between us, it worked out a good way of racking up some miles without having to look at a piste map.

An affable chap, Roland Higuera quickly sussed out our capabilities and guided us swiftly through the best runs the area has to offer. We have already agreed that the next time (and there will be a next time) Roland will be given a freehand to take us to the best snow in the area perhaps even to one of St Gervais bigger, more famous neighbours.

One of the nice things about skiing with a guide is that he knows the best places to stop for a drink or a meal. The sort of eateries you can only dream about when sitting back in the office.

Lunch at Sous Freddy was truly memorable. From the outside, it seemed little more than a small, wooden barn, but inside was something else: the two attentive owners had created a magical alpine environment using traditional wooden features and tasteful decorations.

It did not come as surprise that Sous Freddy offered some of the best meats and cheeses the area could offer. Served with potatoes and green salad, the meal was made even better thanks to local wines by the jug - and finished off with a type of apple brandy, reminiscent of the Trou de Normande.

In the evenings, St Gervais has a wide choice of alpine restaurants, serving up great food, such as venison and mash with red wine gravy, as well as rather smart modern venues, like the Pur cocktail bar which has a reputation for its unusual amuse bouche, bite-sized hors doeuvre.

Time to spa

After all that skiing, and perhaps over-indulgence, a visit to the towns historic spa seemed a must do, or so I was told!

Something Id managed to avoid over the years, it was argued it was time to try something new.

Sitting in a rather clinical waiting room and dressed in a white cotton robe, I must admit to a little trepidation.

When I heard the words Monsieur Griffin, my heart skipped a beat. Id rather be at the top of an icy black, I thought.

I was led off to a small room and told to lie on the plastic-covered bed. Wearing only trunks, I felt somewhat vulnerable, especially when a woman walked in with a bucket of green smelly mud

As she covered me in muslin cloth, I learnt my fate. I was to be smeared with volcanic mud, from central France, which had been mixed with thermal waters.

A few minutes later, I found myself being wrapped in cling film and a blanket and then left for 20 minutes for the treatment to work its wonders.

Finally, the woman returned, hosed me down and led me to my next treatment.

Sitting in a large, deep bath and up to my neck in warm water, it came as a shock when water jets pummelled my body for around 20 minutes. A hydro massage.

What could be next? Quelle horreur, a full body massage. For a start, I am ticklish and, for seconds, I hate being touched. Not the best of starts.

However, half an hour later I was a convert. Not only did I smell nice, I felt totally relaxed and, even better, the next day I did not have one ache or pain from my previous days piste bashing.

So, Monsieur Higuera, you will be hearing from me again shortly for another flying visit around this truly special area.

Oh, and Ill be booking myself in for another rejuvenating session at the spa. even though I did let out more than the one chuckle mid-massage.

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