Ski 2014/15: Eat, drink and be Meribel...
"You could spend an entire season in Meribel and probably still not ski every slope."
"It's so vast," my ski guide informed me as we sat on the lift overlooking a small section of Les Trois Vallées, the biggest inter-linked winter sports area in the world.
With 200 lifts and 600km of slopes, endless après possibilities and beautiful villages in the heart of the French Alps, this is the best ski resort I've ever experienced.
Les Trois Vallées was born out of a dream by modernist architect, Laurent Chappis, to create jobs and skiing for the people in 1925. It comprises of eight villages in total, the three biggest being Meribel, where we stayed, Val Thorens and Courchevel.
Meribel offers a beautiful town centre and fantastic nightlife. Val Thorens is the highest resort in Europe with some of the best views in the Alps and great snow activities, while glitzy Courchevel has a staggering nine five-star hotels, Michelin star restaurants, exceptional slopes and a large quantity of people in fur-trimmed onesies. They complement each other beautifully.
The Abramoviches, Beckhams and numerous members of European royalty like to winter in the region alongside wealthy Russians. You can't blame them. The skiing is incredible and the hospitality is second to none.
But back to Meribel. We travelled with Irish company Highlife, who offer a range of luxury chalets in the region. It's the ideal option for large groups and families with children. Although the chalets can also be booked on a room-by-room basis.
Our group chose Chalet Carine, which has beautiful rooms, a sauna, hot tub and log fire. The chalets are extremely cozy and the staff ensures you'll want for nothing. Sandwiches, water and cakes were packed into our rucksacks before we set off each morning while our boots rested on heated hangers overnight. Highlife staff even drop you to and from the village, where you can hire your skis at the Espace Gliss Ski Shop.
When we arrived home after a day's skiing, a warm welcome of coffee and cake awaited and after a pleasant soak in the outdoor hot tub we were treated to aperitifs and a fantastic meal. Everything was delicious - from the delicate salmon starters to the lamb and duck mains. I undid all my hard afternoon work on the slopes, but what matter.
It wasn't within the realms of my capabilities to send back the chocolate mousse half-eaten, or the Irish coffees and cheese boards for that matter.
Each day an ample and utterly delicious breakfast was served at a lovely wooden table overlooking the snowcapped peaks and village, after which we took a four-hour guided ski tour. Our experienced instructor came from The Magic School, which provides teachers for students at every ski and snowboarding level.
We covered some nice reds, blues and the odd black, too. As a self-taught skier, I was delighted to receive a few new tips from an expert - although it's better to embark on these tours with people who are at the same standard, otherwise you'd find yourself waiting around all morning, or lagging behind.
Depending on what time of year you're skiing, you may need to go a little higher to get the compact snow. The Combe Vallon in Meribel, which can be found on the 2,952 meter high Mont Vallon, is one of the most popular and famous runs and lovely for a late afternoon sojourn.
If you're skiing in springtime, I would suggest an afternoon jaunt to Val Thorens. Ninety-nine per cent of the ski area is situated above 2,000 meters and it offers some of the best snow in the region.
For views, you can't beat the legendary Glacier de Péclet from the Cime de Caron, which has "the most beautiful view in the Alps", according to many a guidebook. The breathtaking 360° panoramic view of more than 100 Alpine summits is hard to beat on a sunny day.
For lunch I would suggest Le Panoramic, which is between Meribel and Courchevel. It offers a bar and outdoor restaurant downstairs and a fine dining terrace upstairs at 2,732 meters. It's pricey, but you get fantastic food with a sublime view of Mont Blanc.
Back in town, there are numerous après ski spots to enjoy. An afternoon's skiing followed by dancing in ski boots is a must, though it can be hard work on the old ski legs. The Lodge du Village is often packed and extremely popular, especially on Tuesday evenings for the legendary Après Ski Experience with band Bring Your Sisters.
Scotts Bar and Restaurant has a chilled atmosphere with big sofas, live bands and pool tables, while Barometer is a stylish and sophisticated bar with a relaxed atmosphere and great music.
Elsewhere, O'Sullivan's has live music, DJs and the obligatory themed parties while Le Rond Point is extremely popular. You can sit and relax on the large sun terrace and enjoy live bands with a hot or cold beverage.
If you don't want to bar dance, a walk through the pretty chalet styled village at night can unearth a few quieter spots. Alternatively you could enjoy a candlelit drink in one of the hotels.
As an avid skiier, I can safely say that Meribel offers one of the best all-round ski experiences in the Alps. The slopes are second to none, whether you're trundling down a green slope at a snail's pace or flying down a black mogul.
The ease with which you get from the bottom of the mountain to the top, coupled with well prepped runs and excellent staff and instructors, make for a smooth experience.
I enjoyed a real skier's holiday and left knowing that there is so much to discover when I come back.
Barbara McCarthytravelled to Meribel with Highlife, an Irish ski chalet company that provides a personal chef, a thoughtfully stocked wine cellar and just about every other creature comfort you could possibly imagine.
The Highlife season runs from November 30 to April 19, 2015. The award-winning ski holidays are available from €840 per adult and €686 for a child under 11 per week. Short breaks are also available from 3 to 4 nights from €529. Prices include: minibus transfers to and from your luxury chalet to the airport, chalet stay and all food and drink at the chalet.
Highlife will also organise flights from any point of departure. For full details on Highlife's range of ski chalet holidays in France, check out highlife.ie or contact the team at 01 677 1100, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Aer Lingus fly daily from Dublin to Geneva and once weekly during the winter months (starting 20 December) from Cork to Geneva. Fares start from €65.99 one-way including taxes and charges. Aer Lingus fly six times a week from Dublin to Lyons. Fares start from €69.99 one-way including taxes and charges.
Lift passes for the entire region for the 2014/2015 season cost €283 for 6 days and €58 per day. Ski hire costs around €150 for the week. There are cheaper offers if you book early. Family and group prices are also available.