You are walking along a path. It is covered in snow. The sky is blue and all you can hear are birds tweeting. You look down. The snow is glistening in the morning light and you hear the crunch of the snow under your boots. You turn and notice a stream running past you. And further ahead there is a waterfall.
You breathe in and smell the sweet clean air and stretch your arms wide and open yourself to the beauty of the mountains. This isn’t a headspace app. This is a small part of what you experience on a yoga week in the friendliest French resort of Les Menuires.
I got burnt doing yoga. I got sunburnt doing a sun salutation. To be fair, the sun burn was unintentional. I was at Les Menuires (pronounced ley men-weir) a hill top village of 3000, the gateway to the largest ski region in the world Les 3 Vallees, well beloved ski resort of the British who have now entrenched themselves so fixatedly in parts of this phenomenally beautiful region that there are villages which are not only all English speaking but they do not know how to speak French.
Les Menuires is different. Les Menuires is French, from the language spoken – they do speak and understand English but everyone speaks to you in French because, they are. This is one of those purpose built resorts the English consider ugly because not every building resembles one of those wooden chalets which weather dolls enter in and out.
There are large tower blocks, and purpose built shopping centres with covered heated runways, which may not look as attractive as the snow coated pavements you find in Austrian and Swiss resorts, but are far more comfortable and user friendly to navigate. As for the apartment blocks, they offer incredible views over the valley and to the mountains and are always on the piste, making it a genuine ski-in/ski-out resort.
It is also predominantly French, with French speakers, the next nationality being Belgian, German then British. There are British in nearby St Martin de Belleville but they tend to keep themselves to themselves, with a three star Michelin restaurant ‘La Bouitte’ (which means pig sty in the local patois).
I learnt all of these facts from the taxis driver who collected me from Lyons – a quick and attractive two hour drive away, although you are able to fly into Geneva, and into Chambery (there are direct flights from Manchester). For the third year running, the town hosts a yoga week, which maligns what is packed in. Thanks to a very busy Easter, I was only able to sample a few days here, but managed to squeeze in pilates, yoga (where I got sunburnt on the terrace overlooking the mountains), shiatsu (excellent – I found out I have issues with gall bladder, must take burdock, too many years of being a people pleaser and not punching people I should have).
Qi Gong (becoming aware of my own energy – which is I am told, a lot like that of the mountain, powerful and transcendent!), and a (MMM) Morning Meditation Mountain silence walk in the snow, making my own version of a ‘headspace’ app, with waterfall sounds, tweeting birds, gentle rivers glistening in the morning light, crunching snow under foot albeit occasionally interspersed with snow tractors and helicopters lifting supplies to the local refuge. I’ve got so many more inspirational visualisations to share with my yoga groups following the walk.
All the fitness instructors are French but do speak English and there are talks on nutrition, feng shui, Sophrology (relaxation therapy), how to make your own massage oils, reflexology, nutrition, (how to live a healthy happy life), as well as yoga for kids and Qi Gong, Tai Chi, and various types of yoga (hatha, iyengar, vinyasa).
Much of the action was held in the central sports centre, although many of the hotels offer their own excellent spas, and there’s indoor swimming pools and gyms, all with exceptional views over the mountain range, as well as indoor squash courts. The skiing, which was not my focus on this trip, is excellent, as the resort, purpose built as it was in 1964 (and therefore as old as me), offers a wide range of blue and red runs, ideal for families, and because of its location, easy access to the other slopes on offer in the Trois Vallees region.
Les Menuires has heart, with its striking iron clock tower, designed by renowned artist Yves de Préval who felt the town needed a spire, to crown the village’s glory (ironically it does have a crown on top of it). The central area of the village forms a basin into which all the snow appears to be trapped – as does the sun. There are mountains on all sides and a slope for tobaganning for the young children.
If you like sun with your ski, French speaking in France, and the best meditation with your mountains, I would wholeheartedly recommend this place. Its strap line is ‘Friendly Menuires’. I would say of all the ski resorts I’ve visited over the years, it is without doubt the friendliest.
Sarah visited Le Menuires, flying to and from Lyons. She stayed at
www.ho36hostels.com/en/es-menuires-3-vallees. And visited Le Comptoir restaurant. For more information about Les Menuiers visit www.lesmenuires.com