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Sainte-Foy-Tarentaise: a cocooned jewel in the snow

Sainte-Foy-Tarentaise: a cocooned jewel in the snow

Anne-Laure Murier - 2012-02-14

A neighbour of Tignes, Val-d’Isère and Les Arcs, this resort has all the attractions of the big names, but without being overcrowded. There’s powder galore, no waiting for lifts, luxury accommodation in an unspoiled setting and a relaxed atmosphere... In fact it’s so good we’re reluctant to reveal this closely guarded secret of authentic Savoy. Welcome to Sainte-Foy-Tarentaise (but please, keep quiet!)

A traditional architectural heritage
It’s not easy to discern the age of the last-born of the French resorts but Sainte-Foy-Tarentaise is only twenty years old and already bears the marks of the highest traditions. Its chalets never have more than four floors and are adorned with wood and stone which blend in marvellously with the forest covered landscape. Ancient hamlets are adjoined to the site giving it a great deal of its character: they consist of listed sites such as 17th century Monal, or le Miroir, whose chapel is listed in the inventory of the Bâtiments de France. On the snowfront, at the foot of the slopes and next to the chalets you feel like you’re in a village square, but without the cars. And instead of the local square games there’s a free, mini sized ski tow that prolongs the slides for the little ones.
A growth that hasn’t outgrown itself
Whilst this cosy resort has an ever increasing number of aficionados its firm intention is to keep to a human scale. It is growing, but in the right way. Besides the charter preserving its architectural identity the resort has developed a sense of respect for the environment. For example, every year a spring cleaning operation is organised by the Mountain Riders ecological organisation and the very latest 4 star Club residence L’Étoile des Cimes has been run in line with ecological standards since its inception. This in no way means it’s held back in displaying its luxurious assets, like its indoor swimming pool at the Spa, which places it alongside the chic British chalets and other neighbouring lodgings of character.
For “Ski Sauvage” Enthusiasts
As much powder as you can get on your rocker tips, authentic mountain life, and a fun and friendly spirit – “it’s a perfect combination.” And you don’t have to be a pro to take great joy in speeding down its slopes. “That’s the pleasure of off-piste skiing” states Jeremy during one of the introductory Wednesdays for the French Ski School. There are ample turns along the valleys of the Vallon du Clou, acrobatic genuflections under the larches, taking it easy on snow-covered roofs in the hamlet of Le Monal, pushing your ski poles on excursions to the panoramic Echaillon and navigating the route which takes you to the summits. The experience is instructive too: suitably equipped with an ARVA (a device for finding avalanche victims), a shovel and a probe you learn all about the rules of mountain safety. For those who enjoy something more extreme, and more financially elitist, Heli-Skiing is a common practice in these parts. The sport is not allowed in France, so the take-off and landing take place on the side of the Italian boot. However careering through virgin snows and along the glacier Ruitor and the famous north face of the Fogliettaz all take place on the French side.
Skiing Beginners, Snow shoe enthusiasts or Telemark fans: everyone on the slopes
They may be free riders but the ski instructors are certainly free from any disdain towards beginners. “When you take your skis off, you take off your lower ski first. Carving skis? They slide by themselves when you lean into the edge with your knees nicely bent” Bruno explains in reassuring tones. He’s a childhood friend of Jeremy and an employee of Evolution 2 another Ski and Adventure School. There’s no competition between the two, at least no more than between the other ski instructors! In Les Brevettes mountain restaurant, at the crossroads of fifteen slopes, everyone drinks together, including the piste technicians that we greeted in the morning at the assistance point. On Thursday nights a good atmosphere is assured for the group fondue evening before descending together, on skis, toboggans or snow shoes. In Sainte-Foy those who are adverse to direct speed descents will have more chance of enjoying themselves along the spectacular waterfall itinerary which overhangs the glaciers of la Sache and Mont Pourri, to the chemin des drains, the famous stone open canals.  There’s no risk of getting lost here “The whole skiing area is on one side” the Tourist Office manager reassures us. “Even children on their own won’t end up getting lost in another valley.”
Après-ski facilities for unwinding
Sainte-Foy hasn’t neglected anything on the side of relaxation either! The resort now has three Well-being centres of which the last one, Les Balcons de Sainte-Foy, opened this winter. Its cosy décor and intimate atmosphere combines a Spa with luxury chalets. In the prestigious residence of Les Fermes de Sainte-Foy, Ô des Cimes, Spas d’Altitude immerses you in a decidedly contemporary style. The Olympic downhill champion Antoine Dénériaz is a fan of its massages for draining, pain relief and relaxation which have hence been renamed "Rituals for a Champion!" At the l’Étoile des Cimes spa, the treatments include organic products and Chromotherapy (a technique which uses colours to create a calming atmosphere.)
And once you’ve taken care of your body, how about updating your wardrobe with some winter clothes? In the village of Séez, the Arpin woollen mill revisits the timeless mountain tradition with a chic elegance. After two centuries of combining tradition and innovation, the eighth generation continues to ply this trade that carries a heritage status - working with sheep wool harvested from raw fleece. This exceptional craftsmanship is a pride of the French nation and the famous Bonneval woollen sheet “Made in Sainte-Foy” is an example of their unique expertise.
Getting There
The nearest train station is at Bourg-Saint-Maurice. You then have to take a shuttle bus, which can be reserved either 7 days before by internet or 48 hours before by telephone.
Tel: +33 4 79 07 04 49
Transport between Sainte-Foy and the adjacent hamlets (Sainte-Foy village, La Masure et Le Miroir, etc.) is free.
En piste
Ski area from 1 520 to 2 620 m, open until  22nd  April ; The pass costs  26.50€ per adult per day, half that of large resorts; ski maps and Snowshoe routes are available in the Tourist Office.
Between two skiing sessions, two restaurants at Plan Bois at the landing point of the chair lift will charm you with reasonably priced meals: les Brevettes with its specialities of Savoyard ravioli and omelettes and Chez Léon withits excellent ‘plats du jour.’
Accommodation for Luxuriant Cocooning
Résidence Club MMV L’Étoile des Cimes : www.mmv.fr
Les Balcons de Sainte-Foy : www.balcons-ste-foy.com
Les Fermes de Sainte-Foy and its Spa Ô des Cimes, Spas d’Altitude: http://www.cgh-residences.com/hiver/residence/residence-les-fermes-de-ste-foy.html
A number of the British-style, top of the range chalets combine well-being areas, room service and laundry, served cooked meals, a replenished bar, light meals with champagne for groups and personalised services:
Good Deals
There are numerous offers available (catering also for families on a tight budget) through the resort’s reservation office: www.saintefoy.net

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