Charming, friendly and full of Alpine tradition, this makes a wonderful base for a winter holiday.
For guests’ purposes, the name Saint Martin de Belleville effectively refers to this village and the cluster of tiny hamlets that surround it, including Villarabout, Saint Marcel and Le Châtelard. These only started welcoming guests in 1982, and the canny local community have developed their home carefully, understanding that its authentic traditional aesthetic and gentle pace are what make it exceptional. Today, world-class luxury is plentiful here, but without pretention or exclusivity.
Instead, the deep, dramatic valley’s proud heritage sets the scene. Rustic timber and stone chalets overlook tranquil cobbled streets where you can still find a medieval washing trough and communal bread oven. Sober on the outside, the handsome 17th-century church, with its rich baroque interior, and the cute farmhouse museum are just two ways to discover the colourful history of this hardy and welcoming community.
Rental chalets and apartments together make up far and away the most popular lodging option in Les Belleville, with an emerging trend for luxury catered chalets adding some ravishing new addresses in recent years. Some original buildings have had lavish makeovers, powered by niche operators like White Mountain Chalets, Cimalpes, Snow Trippin. and Self-catered St Martin, for example, have lovely self-catered properties in the village. Meanwhile, some tasteful new-builds in traditional style have popped up on the slopes. The deep of pocket can go full rock star in Cimalpes’ Chalet Pure Black Crystal, Chalet Pure White Crystal or its stunning, new-this-season Chalet Quebec, with its cinema and gaming room, gym and views that even money can’t buy. Dialling down the decadence slightly White Mountain Chalets offer seven sumptuous properties, trimming both pampering and prices slightly without sacrificing style, comfort and the all important chef’s table-style dining. Cimalpes also offers several other more accessibly priced and seriously dishy chalets and apartments around the village, while the resort’s official Saint-Martin-de-Belleville Booking Service features more than 150 other options to suit every budget and taste. And if you like to travel in a tribe, new-this-season Chalet Edelweiss has reinvented a former hotel as a rental for a whopping 34 guests.
If you prefer a hotel, you’ve two alluring four-star ski-in/ski-out options – Hôtel Saint Martin (www.hotel-stmartin.com), which puts a sleek, contemporary spin on the traditional Alpine design palette, and the brand new, and frankly drop-dead gorgeous Lodji. This 47-room beauty on the site of the former Alp’Hôtel blends quietly bold modern lines and muted tones with traditional forms and materials, and is a daring but harmonious addition to the village. Then there’s La Bouitte, a stunning five-star boutique affair attached to the famous restaurant of the same name, steeped in the region’s heritage and tucked away in the hamlet Saint Marcel.
Saint Martin also has two résidences (holiday apartment buildings). We’ve loved staying at the four-star Chalets du Gypse, whose spacious, immaculate apartments are complemented with a nice indoor pool with mountain views, sauna, steam room, hot tub, massage room and super-helpful staff. Great-value apartments with fewer extras can also be found at the two-star Balcons du Bettex, where the on-site food store and daily bakery service delivering divine breads, pastries and cakes are very welcome touches. One of the newest additions is Caseblanche, a tasteful development of 34 chalets.
If deep wilderness immersion is your thing, St Martin’s mountains have three charming refuges, converted shepherds’ shelters far from the village’s (not very) bustling streets. Three-bedroomed Refuge le Trait d’Union opened in 2017 close to the top of the main local piste, in a ‘montagnette’ building typical of the valley. Also open for a drop-in lunch, the refuge offers overnight guests treats including a wood fire-heated Nordic bath under the stars, one of an impressive range of wellness activities and packages. Rooms start at €70 a twin. The large, recently renovated Refuge du Lac du Lou with its breathtaking Alpine lake view, offers Savoyard comfort food and dormitory beds at seriously low prices — and is no less alluring. Back in the valley, La Trantsa farm and guest house offers a uniquely pastoral option in the hamlet Le Châtelard. You can take a tour of husband and wife Jay and Suzanne’s sheep farm and sample their legendary tomme-style cheese.
And here’s a convivial Covid comforter – you can cancel any accommodation booked for between 12 December 2020 and 16 April 2021 through the Saint-Martin-de-Belleville Booking Service at no cost should new travel restrictions or a case of coronavirus in your party stop you from travelling.
You’ll find everything you need to hit the slopes – and snowshoe trails – in Saint Martin. Both the village centre and the Les Grangeraies neighbourhood have Intersport branches, Sport 2000 also has two stores and the convivial Gaby and Martine Jay’s 3 Vallées Ski-Location is the local spot for guests staying in the Les Places part of town.
If one of your party is a non-skier, or if you just fancy a day off, you can still get out and about in nature and raise your pulse a little. The Saint Martin official tourism website has a downloadable map with 21 snowpacked and marked trails, many of which use ski lifts so you don’t miss out on eye-popping high-altitude views. It also details nine snowshoeing routes, and you can hire a guide through ESF. Or add after-dark atmosphere and set out on one of ESF’s Trapper Evenings, lighting your way with torches and making a stop for a warming Savoyard dinner.
There are plenty of other ways to discover your surroundings too. Have local musher Dany introduce you to his fine team of huskies and take you for a sled ride – you can contact him through the Maison du Tourisme. The village’s Service des Pistes also offers rides in their mighty snow groomers – with a cheeky aperitif thrown in, naturellement. And if that all feels a little too earthbound, you can always take to the skies in a microlight, or try paragliding – the Maison de Tourisme can tell you how.
Spa bunnies have a couple of well-appointed options. The résidence Chalets du Gypse’s sizeable Spa Leen Paô, boasting indoor pool, two saunas, two steam rooms, hot tubs and a cardio room, is open to the public by appointment and offers a muscle-melting menu of massages and beauty treatments. Or luxuriate in the rustic-luxe surroundings of La Bèla Vya in Saint Marcel’s La Bouitte hotel, whose signature treatments take inspiration from the region’s natural resources. You can take a yoga class in the village too – the Maison du Tourisme keeps updated timetables. They can also put you in touch with local forest therapist Sabrina, who promises to reenergise and reconnect you with nature in her two-hour sylvotherapy sessions, an original twist on forest bathing that also draws on yoga and meditation.
And if walking the village’s atmospheric and beautifully preserved cobbled streets whets your appetite for local culture, there are plenty of ways to discover Saint Martin and the Belleville valley’s history and traditions. Set in an old farmhouse, the cute Saint-Martin-de-Belleville Museum offers a handy potted history of local life, and the recently restored Notre Dame de la Vie Sanctuary is well worth a visit. The Maison du Tourisme can hook you up with a number of guided cultural and heritage tours. And you can even take a little local culture home, thanks to shops stocking traditional charcuterie, cheeses and wine.
When it’s time to park the littl’uns for a grown-up day on the mountain, ESF’s Club des Piou Piou provides both ski instruction for kids from three to 18, and ski-free fun and games in the snow for those between 31 months and four years in Les Grangeraies. Childcare services are available at the nearby Mini-Pouss Nursery for kids from 18 months up, and Maxi-Pouss for the older.