The love or hate resort in the world’s largest ski area

In the 1960s, Les Menuires’s ultra-mid-century modern developments surprised many – Getty

Les Menuires has never stepped back when it comes to moving forward; as they told me during my visit with refreshing candor “…you either love it or hate it.” And this year, the Marmite of the French Alps defiantly celebrates its 60thth birthday.

A classic example of modernist French Alpine architecture, Les Menuires was one of a series of ski resorts developed as part of the Plan Neige (Snow Plan), an innovative project launched in 1960 by the Pompidou government, which also gave rise to companies such as Les Arcs, La Plagne, Avoriaz and Flaine.

The architects chosen for the project were given free rein to convert the high, untouched mountains above the Belleville Valley from a “snow desert” to a winter playground for the masses, creating novel accommodations with direct access to the ski slopes to be found. adapts to all budgets.

From the archives: Women testing the Sunburn Roaster, which is said to allow you to tan at maximum speed anywhereFrom the archives: Women testing the Sunburn Roaster, which is said to allow you to tan at maximum speed anywhere

From the archives: Women in Les Menuires testing the Sunburn Roaster, which is said to allow you to tan at maximum speed anywhere – Getty

Les Menuires offered a new generation of less affluent skiers from France and beyond easy access not only to the slopes and lifts but to other fully integrated services. Shops, ski schools, equipment rental, bars and restaurants were built on the ground floor of the accommodation blocks; In Les Menuires you can get practically anywhere, from a red run to a bar, a supermarket or a ski shop, in your ski boots (if not your skis).

For skiers who couldn’t afford a traditional hotel or chalet ski holiday in the Alps’ biggest names, resorts like Les Menuires offered a cheap introduction to a sport that had previously been the preserve of the wealthy. I was one of them and, consequently, I have something of a soft spot for the resort that introduced me to a sport that became a lifelong passion.

Underrated tracks

At the start of the 2023/24 season, 32 years since my first visit, I could still access the slopes directly from my accommodation: the newly built four-star Higalik Hotel, a modern mix of traditional alpine chalet and Scandinavian style. – and head to the resort’s upgraded La Masse cable car, now one of the fastest lifts in France. It soars into the sky at speeds of up to 25 kilometers per hour, taking skiers to the 2,804-metre summit of Pointe de la Masse, where they can choose between blue, red, black or off-piste runs back to the valley.

Hotel HigalikHotel Higalik

The Higalik Hotel – Getty

Over the decades, Les Menuires has improved its lifts and opened avalanche-controlled freeride areas. As a result, large lift queues are generally not a problem outside of peak periods such as half-term holidays, and the skiing compares favorably to the wider Trois Vallées area, whether you’re looking for easy-to-run slopes. prepare or extensive off-piste; Many experienced skiers are surprised by what this underrated resort has to offer.

This variety is a characteristic that Les Menuires shares with its neighbors in the largest ski area in the world. I spent the day flitting between the slopes of Les Menuires, Val Thorens and Méribel, unable to choose which type of skiing to enjoy in the bright December sun. There was still plenty of unpiste powder, but the wide, winding pistes, like the red Campagnol down from Mont Vallon towards Méribel or the blue Jerusalem down to St Martin de Belleville, were just as appealing.

Prices are higher in neighboring Val Thorens.Prices are higher in neighboring Val Thorens.

Prices are higher in neighboring Val Thorens – Getty

Architectural identity

Not everyone supported the plan to create Les Menuires. But after World War II, increasing numbers of young people left the area in search of easier, better-paying jobs in the local towns of Moutier, Albertville and beyond. Developing the region for winter sports was seen as a way to prevent this exodus.

The valley’s population in 1835, of around 3,000 permanent residents, had declined to around 1,000 by the 1940s and did not rise above 3,000 again until the 1990s, a fact I discovered in the museum of the neighboring settlement of St Martin de Belleville, in Les Menuires.

The resort’s ultra-modern mid-century developments surprised many of the valley’s historic residents, who, like their ancestors, had for centuries lived a traditional alpine lifestyle, relying on raising cattle, sheep and goats, Going up and down. along the slopes with their animals as the seasons demanded.

The largest accommodation block, Le Brelin, consists of 700 apartments with 2,500 beds and is known as the “snow liner” due to its enormous size. It is now a 20th century heritage site, representing the very particular architectural style of the time.

Les Menuires has an impressive selection of slopes.Les Menuires has an impressive selection of slopes.

Les Menuires has an impressive selection of slopes – Les Menuires

However, at the time – and to some extent since then – the events were harshly criticized, with the left-wing newspaper comparing them to Release to the low-income housing complex in Sarcelles, a Parisian suburb with a crime problem. He daily mail he was so offended that he recommended that anyone skiing at Les Menuires “…pass very quickly with their eyes closed.”

It’s probably true to say that many first-time visitors (myself included) initially frown upon the resort’s uncompromising architecture, but when you’ve experienced how much easily accessible fun you can have on the slopes and how convenient the resort’s layout is, it’s hard to say. not feeling sympathy for the place; It is not in vain that it is promoted as “Friendly Menuires”.

here to stay

While the resort’s signature modernist architecture has seen the addition of more traditional chalets in recent years, the tower blocks are here to stay. Apartment owners are encouraged to renovate and update their properties by meeting several criteria, including using sustainable and environmentally friendly materials, and can obtain grants to do so. I visited one and found a quirky mix of ’70s-inspired orange and brown exterior decor with a contemporary interior of wood, tile and steel; Somehow it seemed to work.

Les Menuires remains popular with budget skiers, but the resort’s newer, more luxurious developments, such as the Higalik, mean that wealthier visitors will find something to suit their needs.

And if not, Les Menuires doesn’t worry, knowing that for 60 years many skiers have felt at home here and will continue to feel at home.


The Higalik Hotel offers a week’s stay from £1,527 per person, B&B, including flights from Gatwick and transfers, departing March 30. Free architectural tours of Les Menuires are offered during December and February and during Easter. Visit for more information and read our expert guide to resort holidays here.

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