There are two types of skiers – the package holiday skier and the independent traveller. Both have their advantages. With a package holiday everything is done for you- you turn up at your UK airport, get on the flight, get a bus at the other end, get to your accommodation, get your ski passes, get taken to the ski shop, and off you go. The downside is you get very little say in the process, so the flight might depart at 4am, the bus to the resort could stop at 3 other resorts on the way to yours, the ski shop will be full of every package holiday customer getting skis fitted at the same time.
Which leads us to the alternative – the independent traveller. You arrange your own travel, at times and from airports/ train stations that suit you. You arrange your transfer to resort (more on that in a minute). You book your accommodation – catered, self-catered, hotel, tent, whatever…And then in some cases your accommodation provider will sort out ski passes, ski hire, ski lessons etc. In other cases, you’ll sort that out yourselves. More control, and more to think about, but if you do it well, the whole process can be smooth, efficient and hassle-free.
If you are making your own way to resort, then you need to think carefully about your travel plans. Getting to resort can be a headache, or it can be as smooth as the proverbial…
How to get to Meribel, in 3 easy steps:
Fly to a nearby airport, get a transfer to resort.
Take the Eurostar to Moutiers, get a 25 minute transfer to resort.
Drive yourself – takes about 8 – 10 hours from Calais to Meribel.
There are 4 airports within 2.5 hours of Meribel. The closest is Chambery, which on a good day is 75 minutes from resort. The downside of Chambery is that in bad weather, flights can be diverted to Lyon, and secondly it has a small apron for only 4 flights, so if this is full then incoming flights will not take off until their slot is ready. The upside is the short transfer time and the small airport.
The most popular airport is Geneva. On a good day this is 2 hours from Meribel. On a bad day it could be 3 – 3.5 hours.
The other two airports are Lyon and Grenoble, both about 2¼ hours to resort. On a really bad day this can take 4 hours.
To be honest flying is the easy part. The transfer to resort is where it gets tricky.
Transfer to Resort – the options:
Private minibus transfer – there are several companies that operate airport transfers. You need to make sure that the one you use is legit, has all the necessary licences in place, and (for Geneva passengers) has the Swiss paperwork sorted too. There have been incidences of passengers being turfed out at the Swiss border because the driver wasn’t allowed to drive in Switzerland. You will also want to use a company with a large fleet of vans in case one of the vans is delayed from a previous job. The beauty of private transfers is it’s just you in the van, and you get taken straight from the airport to your chalet or hotel (or tent).
Shared minibus transfer – most of the transfer companies also offered shared transfers. These are cheaper, but it means waiting at the airport for one or two other flights to arrive, and it means going via other accommodation (and sometimes other resorts) dropping off the other passengers.
Hire car – if there’s not too many of you in the group this can often be cheaper than private transfers. You’ll need to make sure the car has winter tyres, and that you get snowchains (normally you’ll pay extra for them). Also make sure you can fit in all your luggage (and skis / board if you have them.) You can order a roof rack too. You’ll need to be happy driving in snowy conditions up mountain roads, and putting on snow chains. You’ll also need to ensure there is somewhere to park the car in resort, and to be aware that if you park it outdoors, to allow time to clear away any snow before leaving – best to do this the day before, and make sure the car starts.
Coach – all airports run coach services to Meribel. These take longer than the other options, but again for small groups can be cost effective. If you’re landing late in the evening, or have an early morning flight home, this won’t be an option for you, because of the coach timetables.
Fluid Car – this is a brand new service, and is like the hire car without the hassle. They meet you at the airport and you jump straight into a brand new 4×4 SUV with full fuel tank and Sat nav (all included in the price). You drive to resort, and then a Fluid Car rep meets you at your accommodation to take away the car, so you don’t have to worry about parking. At the end of the week, the rep brings you a car to drive back to the airport. Simples.
One other point about airport transfers is traffic. On busy weekends (New Year, and most of February), the motorway into Moutiers (the town at the bottom of the valley), can be nose-to-tail, as the French police use a traffic control system. If your minibus driver is using a locally registered minibus, you may use the backroads. This will speed things up. If not, or if you’re in a hire car, you have to sit in traffic. My advice if you’re travelling on a busy weekend is use a local transfer company (3 Vallee Transfers is great), or take the train.
This can be a very straightforward option. You board the train at St Pancras or Ashford, and it takes you straight to Moutiers, either overnight Friday, or during the day on Saturday. The beauty of the overnight train is you get to ski on the Saturday. The downside is they don’t have sleeper carriages, so you are in a chair all night. From Moutiers it’s just a 25 minute ride up to Meribel in a minibus. Couldn’t be easier. The flight and transfer option is usually quicker than the train, but if traffic is bad, then the train wins.
The alternative option is having a stop-off in Paris for a bit of sight-seeing, and then taking the day or overnight train (with sleeper carriage) from Paris to Moutiers.
Driving in France is very straightforward. Motorway tolls will cost you about €60 each way. Then there’s petrol, the ferry / Eurotunnel. Don’t forget to pack your red triangle, fluorescent jacket, breathalyzer pack (if the police stop you, they expect you to provide this, not them), and of course snow chains.
Once you’ve made it to Meribel, then you can sit back, relax, and enjoy all that this beautiful mountain paradise has to offer. Happy holidays, and safe travels.