Late-season highs in 3 Vallées

two hikers look out over the crest of a hill in a big mountain landscape, layers of huge mountain ridges silhouetted against another

Katie Bamber goes in search of some off-season thrills in Courchevel in the 3 Vallées


6:30 I’m feeling smug, with no time wasted (or to spare), arriving at St Pancras 35 minutes before my train departs, waking up just half an hour before with the five-mile commute by city-sharing e-bike costing me a fiver and very little energy. Unencumbered by ski boots or bulky baggage, it’s the obvious mode of transport for stage-one of this journey. Smug, that is, until the third member of our group arrives carrying his Brompton, having cycled 92 miles through the night from Peterborough. Talk about self-sufficient…

9:20 Location: Paris Gare du Nord.

We’re en route to the French Alps by Eurostar and TGV, to Courchevel in the 3 Vallées. The group splits for leg three of the journey: a dash across the city to Gare de Lyon, for no real reason but competitiveness. One takes the RER, I walk the 5km, stopping for an espresso en route and feeling very free and unhindered by usual travel constraints, while the Brompton bikes it.

The mountains need a breather too… but there’s plenty going on if
you know where to look

14:30 With time to catch up on the train bound for Moûtiers, I confess it’s the first time I’ve been to the Alps outside of winter, where I spend most of the season.

16:10 The final leg is a 20-minute taxi up to 1650. While Courchevel has carved out quite the niche in winter for the upmarket skier, summer, or certainly shoulder season, which it is now at the end of August, appears a different ball game; All the big, beautiful, multi-million-Euro residences and hotels lining the road to Courchevel Moriond are shuttered. It’s so quiet, in fact, it’s slightly eerie.

16:20 We check into 5* Hotel Manali (more affordable now than in winter), unpack, and make a beeline for Aquamotion– Courchevel’s fancy-meets-fun spa-leisure centre – before dinner at Bistrot Le Praz overlooking the Olympic ski jumps.

Writer Katie Bamber walking uphill on a route, high above the green-brown valley below
Writer Katie Bamber, on trail


09:05 Hiking boots on for a day à pied. Cloud is hanging over us, threatening trouble, so instead of taking on Via Cavo del Mey, Courchevel’s new six-hour ‘vertiginous hike’ peaking at 2,845m, we head off downhill to Lac de la Rosière, our guide Florent leading the charge.

This road is closed in winter. We pass a few campers parked on a platform overlooking the lake, and set off on a sheltered trail through forest, across streams, up the valley to Biol in the direction of Vanoise National Park, another area inaccessible in winter (except for ski tourers).

09:56 We’ve been walking for almost an hour and not spied one other hiker. I question Florent on why slack season starts so early here, with lift operations slowing (or stopped) by the end of August and restaurants mostly closed.

Sure, locals and season workers need a break a great deal more than I need an uplift and more cheese; but with schools back in session and cooler weather in September, aren’t they missing a trick with the non-family crowd?

“The mountains need a breather too,” Florent tells me. “And anyway, there’s plenty going on if you know where to look.” Currently, instead of all restaurants open full-time, they’re working on rotation, a couple serving each day. And who really needs lifts spinning when we have e-bikes to power us uphill and summertime views to boot, even down low.

10:30 Marmots are out, trilling, and the sun’s trying its best, as we look towards the moody Col de Mey.

12:10 Florent pulls out a wild card, taking us to Chalet de la Rosière at the foot of Dent du Villard, a converted farmhouse serving crêpes and piled plates of cheese and ham.

15:00 A low-key afternoon is called for: an easy, local trail run followed by a spa session, with drizzle on and off at 1,650m.

Writer Katie Bamber on a bike
Katie Bamber on Courchevel soil


08:45 The cloud just won’t shift, putting pay to ideas of a via ferrata. It’s Irish rain – that heavy mist that hangs around without any real precipitation. It’s atmospheric, to say the least, and my enthusiasm is undampened. Used to biking the moon dust of Idaho that turns crazy-good when it rains (rare), creating traction, I convince Brompton buddy it’s perfect weather for a ride, and we go in search of mountain bikes.

10:00 No grip issues out here on this shale-rich, gritty mud. Nor problems with visibility in the forest. Setting out from the base of Verdons, we head over towards La Tania, which has a (free) gondola still running. Somewhere near the top of Foret lift station we dive into flowy singletrack.

12:15 I manage to stay rubber-side down until I find a banana-skin-like tree root that causes a heavy smackdown and the sudden realisation that we’re late for lunch at LaTable de Mon Grand-Père in Le Praz.

12:45 Traipsing into the white-tablecloth restaurant, we’re feeling underdressed for the occasion, caked in mud, but it’s all smiles as we settle in for a slap-up meal of Arctic char and île flottante (meringue floating on crème anglaise – a delicious sugar bomb). I’m digging this summer version of Courchevel.

the alpine village of St MArtin de Belleville, photographed in summer
St Martin de Belleville © Vincent Lottenberg

18:00 We’ve transferred round to the charming village of Saint-Martin-de-Belleville: the until-now quiet corner of the 3 Vallées that’s fast updating with two new luxury hotels, a three-Michelin-star restaurant and many more, equally as excellent, un-starred places to eat. Our base is the Hotel Lodji, with wicked views up (and down) the Belleville Valley.


08:00 Sunshine, hurrah! Outdoors beckons.

10:15 Our Brompton man is in charge of activities this morning, and signs us up for mountain karting on the Roc’n’Bob toboggan run – an incredibly bumpy, adrenaline-inducing descent over 4km and 500m of vertical.

three adults wearing heavy duty helmets sitting on trike-like go carts in the high mountains
Roc n Bob

12:05 Yes, this is more my thing, I think, my nausea from the Roc’n’Bob only easing one beer down, another on the way, in the sunny, sheltered garden of Chez Pépé Nicolas – a small dairy farm and restaurant located towards the end of the valley. The modern Savoyard-Bellevilloise meal is pretty much sourced exclusively from this 50 sq/m made up of vegetable garden, trout pond and fruitière.

18:00 Sundowners on Lodji’s deck, which catches the last of the sun and seems to be hosting everyone left at this end of the valley at the start of September, before shoulder-season-proper kicks in and the valley really empties.


09:00 Without lifts turning, we rent e-bikes – VTTAE in French – and head onto the pristine Via 3 Vallées, a paved cycle loop connecting Courchevel to Val Thorens via Méribel and Les Menuires. Started in 2019 with the paving of Col de la Loze, this large-scale project allows you to cycle through the entire 3 Vallées along a single, sinuous route of about 35km, at altitude.

Just one link is missing (with plans to complete it this summer), a short stretch between Méribel Mottaret and the summit of Tougnète.

a big mountain landscape, dry with summer sun, with a solo biker on a sinuous paved road
Via 3 Vallées bike path

09:50 I switch up to turbo-mode as the gradient builds, now too steep to peel off onto the pump tracks that run off thes ide of the tarmac on the lower, mellower slopes. Hardcore cyclists labour up this serious incline I can hardly believe a Tour de France athlete would make. Which is, after all, how Via 3 Vallées came about, with Tour stages returning here this summer.

At this time of year there’s hardly any bike traffic.

three cyclists heading uphill on a paved route
© Marine Vernaz

10:00 Towards the top of Tougnète is a gate into the treacherous-looking Downhill Tougnète Rocket course, Méribel just a model village below. I’m finding it hard to think of a biker that this beautiful, motor-vehicle-free path wouldn’t serve – even those with groms in tow.

11:30 We make it up top, climbing at least 600m in altitude, to check out the gravel section waiting to be paved, above 2,400m, which is totally passable on VTT. Running low on juice, using full throttle e-power all morning, we decide to turn back to Les Menuires, instead of making the loop, travelling at terrifying speed back to La Croisette.

13:20 Off-season is certainly the time to visit, I think, ensconced on another alpine terrace as we squeeze in one last lunch at out-of-the-way Le Setor. While there might not be the noisy hub or action you find in peak summer, there’s more than enough to discover – and that’s before you get stuck into the trail running, climbing, via ferrata, even stargazing evenings at Refuge de Lou in the Belleville Valley. And all minus the crowds and peak-time prices. I think I might just prefer here in summer than in winter…