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Megeve vs Saas Fee vs La Thuile

 Poster: A snowHead
Poster: A snowHead
Hello, 1st post so apologies if I've posted this topic in the wrong place.

I'm traveling with my wife and two young children (4 & 9 months)the 3rd week in March. We're flying from the US to Milan for an 8 day stay. My wife will likely only ski two days and doesn't want to be burdened with childcare for the entire vacation. I've been searching for locations using three main criteria:

-hotels with kindergarten/playroom & indoor pool
-Transfer time from Malpensa under 3 hrs
-relatively snow sure resorts as the 3rd week in March might be close to the end of the season at some lower altitude resorts.

I've narrowed my search to Les Fermes de Marie in Megeve, Farienart in Saas Fee or Nira Montana in La Thuile.

We stayed at Nira Montana last year for a few days as part of a trip to Chamonix. We both enjoyed it but I fear, that we get bored there for an entire week, especially having been just last year. Honestly, we're both biased toward returning to Italy, because we enjoy the hospitality and food, but can't find a suitable accommodation. Am I missing any kid friendly options in Courmayeur, Sestriere, Cervinia or Champoluc? Are there kindergartens or play areas in any of these resorts that are independent of hotels?

Having spent a day in Megeve last winter, my primary concern are the low altitude and hospitality or lack thereof. How likely is it that there's still decent snow in Megeve the 3rd week in March? Also, walking around last year I got the vibe that non-French tourists are merely tolerated. Is this off base? Also, can anyone recommend any kids care options?

I've never been to Switzerland, but of course have heard that it is generally very expensive. How much more expensive is Saas Fee for food & drink than Megeve? It also seems that ski hire and passes are significantly more expensive as well.

Thanks in advance for your comments.
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 Obviously A snowHead isn't a real person
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Just a suggestion that you look at a company called ski esprit. they are focused on families and childcare.Famille ski is another company.
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Thanks for your response. I was going to ask about chalet operators as a separate question, so I'm glad you brought it up. I use the Where to Ski & Snowboard books as my primary resource for European trips. The books are authored by two Brits and they have an entire chapter focused on these companies for family travel. In fact I've looked at both of the companies that you mentioned. But, as an American I can't wrap my head around the concept.

Could someone explain exactly how it works? Is the lodging similar to a hotel or my like a shared house? I read on one company's site that you were expected to clean up the kitchen and take out the garbage on the staff's day off. Are you forced to socialize with everyone in the house at dinner/at night? Most places seem to be half board, don't you miss out on experiencing the local food/culture? Also, all seem to quote prices that include flights from the UK, is it possible to decouple the airfare? So many questions...it just seems a little hippie communish to me. I guess in the US we call this vacation structure all-inclusive, although it's typically not applied to winter sports vacations. This type of travel never appealed to me, but now that I have two small children I really see the benefit.
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@goweje, Can't help with the kiddie-kare issue but Saas Fee is a charming resort and the skiing is high - important in mid-march.

Food and drink prices are not significantly different from those in Megeve
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Anyway, snowHeads is much more fun if you do.
@goweje, hello and welcome to snowheads.

You posted in the right place. I think you will get lots of replies. You've asked some great questions- to which there are no perfect answers!

I'm a Brit with three children (now 15, 12 and 7) we have skied quite a bit with the kids- since the eldest was 4 months. We have mostly skied in France- but also Austria, and little in Italy and we have traveled in Switzerland a lot with our family in summer including a couple of weeks in Saas Fee. Never been to Megeve.

"Chalet" holidays: A British concept with archaic origins and an odd semantic bubble. What it means now is quite variable depending on the exact holiday you book and with which operator.

A "Chalet" can be a freestanding house- or even a traditional Chalet, or perhaps an apartment in a large block, run by one or more Chalet Girls or Chalet Boys (cHalet host is the PC and gender neutral term). The chalet hosts are usually young people between University and life or may be on a career break. Occasionally there will be a much older couple. Some companies tend to recruit posher chalet hosts than others. They are paid a small amount but are mainly remunerated by way of travel, board, lodging, skis, ski pass and time off to ski. They are not usually travel or hospitality professionals. They will cook, clean and generally do. Food will be quite British- breakfast and a three or four course dinner party style meal in the evening- with unlimited and quite possibly undrinkable wine (until coffee is poured). They may or may not be particularly helpful or good cooks. Some are fantastic, some are pretty awful. They usually have one day off a week (ie a Wednesday) when you have to tidy yourself and eat out. Guest eat together at one sitting, apart from children who get 'high tea' at 5-6ish. Guests will likely bring back beer and stock a fridge- or there chalet staff may run an honesty bar- bottles of beer and mixers for €1 each or so. On holiday Brits tend to socialise quite a bit- this usually involves a) beer, b) wine c) taking the wee wee out of people they have only just met, especially Yanks- especially now (because we love you so much). Chalet holidays aren't really hippy communes. It's just that on the staff's day off the staff are well, off. Just like if you have a butler and a maid- one day a week they wouldn't be there to iron The Times and you'd have to go without or do it yourself. Childcare might be available- either in the Chalet with a private nanny for your kids through the Chalet company or at a location nearby.

There are variants. A "Chalet Hotel" is a closely related but distinct concept. A hotel in a ski resort (usually somewhat past its prime) is rented from the owner by a UK ski company. A fairly large staff is available- multi chalet boys and girls, remunerated and selected as above. There is usually / always a professional or two (or more) in the kitchen. This is a crucial difference. The food will be much more reliable (not so the wine). There will almost certainly be a bar. Guests may have several sittings to choose from. Seating may be arranged by the hotel, you may be able to eat on a separate table. Since most of the guest are British- no kids at adult meal times. You won't be forced to socialise but people will interact on the basis described above (i.e. beer and wee wee taking). There may well be child care available in the Chalet Hotel. This will mean qualified and professional childcare staff with experience with children in the UK in a nursery type setting- often in a basement (AKA an Austrian cellar (that is a sick joke btw)). Staff usually have a day off a week.

Flights- for non UK resident customers the flight cost is deducted.

Switzerland and Italy- have new rules regards employment which mean that the traditional UK style chalet boy / girl is almost extinct in these countries.

When we had smaller children we went on multiple holidays with Ski Esprit- the childcare was very good / caring / friendly / reliable/ fun/ the kids enjoyed themselves. The accommodation and food were variable from very good to mediocre. We went many times because we thought it was worth it. All the other guests had children of similar ages and they all played a lot.

Switzerland- is expensive but good. It is a lot more expensive than almost everywhere else. Wages are very high and there is a very high standard of living. For example-in summer 2014 we cycled from St Moritz in Switzerland to Innsbruck in Austria. Swiss pizza in a restaurant- approx €16 each or a cordon bleu (a bit like a chicken kiev but with ham as well) and fries €35 in a small cafe. Austria €6 for a pizza in a restaurant. Ow.

Saas Fee- is incredibly beautiful. Many of the restaurants are exquisite. Have a look at this one- an easy walk through the forest www.waldhues-bodmen.ch and in fairness a hot chocolate and cake here are similar to what you'd pay in a UK Starbucks. But a main course with no sides is a pricey CHF 30-50.
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@ed123, Thanks you, excellent explanation of chalet lodging. Gill & Watts should include some version of your description in their next edition.

As for Saas Fee, I've looked at a half dozen or so dinner menus. Looks like you're right on target, if you want meat for dinner you're looking at close to 50 CHF per entree. So, throw in a bottle of wine and a kids meal and you can budget 200 USD/CHF each night. Is wine in restaurants significantly more expensive than France or Italy? We're used to expensive drinks living in nyc, $15-20 per glass of wine, bottles usually start from $40+.
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@goweje, Yes- wine in Swiss restaurants is painfully expensive. Although this is not always a bad thing- I quite often go for 1dl (a tiny glass of wine) good for my health. In France and Italy wine is a fraction of the price- ie half.

But of course what is expensive or not really des depend on what you are used to. Compared to NY Switzerland is I think expensive for food, cheap for service, about the same for wine, about the same for hotels, very very very quite and polite, not so friendly. If you are curious about Switzerland read the book Swiss Watching.
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Suggest you take a look at Madesimo. It's around 2.5 hours from Malpensa and it's family friendly. Not the biggest resort in the alps but great Italian atmosphere and very good value for money. We've stayed at hotel Andossi for the last few years and it's family run and they have child care I house and can sort our sitters if required. I have been to both Saas Fee and Megeve and Madesimo has a more laid back atmosphere if that's what you like and much cheaper. Espressos on the mountain are still at EUR1 and private lessons are EUR40/hour.
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Quote:

wine is a fraction of the price- ie half.


Think a third or a quarter! (depends on the wine of course, but Swiss red table wine is, to my taste, somewhat light and thin until you start paying serious money.)

Ski Esprit, for example, operate to Gressonney and run an apparently good childcare system.

Or Ski2 to Champoluc http://ski-2.com/ski-holidays/family-ski-holidays/
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What is your budget? I think I could better advise you if I had some sense of how much you plan to spend, as different options are best depending on cost.
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Postscript - We ended up doing Saas Fee and stayed at Ferienart. Loved the village. We got unlucky with the weather again, with afternoon temps above 50F the entire week. As a result, everything below Morenia was complete mashed potatoes by mid morning. Also, it wasn't as expensive as I feared.

But now I'm again looking for advice as we've once again been seduced by Emirates, having managed to book round trip flights from New York to Milan for $450 a person for the 3rd week in March.

As a reminder, I have two children nearly 5 and 1.75 at time of travel. Always like trying new places and really prefer accommodations with dedicated child care on-site. I'm looking at Val Gardena as there is a hotel there dedicated to childcare. But, I'm worried about snow conditions there so late in the season and it's quite a distance from MXP.

I'd really like to give France a try, but all the places that have the kind of childcare we're looking for seem to be very expensive. The euro exchange rate has moved against us significantly from last year.

Any advice on hotels (especially in high altitude French areas) with on-site creche and even organized children's activities would be much appreciated.
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@goweje,

I'm only partly helpful here because if the three I've only skied Megeve. Much as I like it, I'd go somewhere higher in mid-March. Skiing can be great in Megeve at that time but the snow can also be threadbare and slushy on the southerly slopes.

I've always wanted to go to Saas Fee but not managed it yet.
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@goweje, look at the Ski Esprit chalet hotels. They get great reviews for childcare. Val d’Isere or Courchevel 1850 are world class French high altitude resorts
https://www.espritski.com/resorts/val-disere/
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In theory I love the idea of the British chalet holiday. Especially the embedded childcare. For But, have a number of concerns:

1. As Americans, experiencing the local culture, especially through food and local restaurants is a very important part of our holiday. What's the joke? Hell is chefs are British? Why would you go on vacation and not eat French or Italian food?
2. Wouldn't we be the only non-UK folks in the chalet? I feel like this could be a reality TV show. American family meets British ski Chalet. Separated by a common language, comedy ensues. Trying to come up with a useful example. Would you book a vacation to Barbados and go out of your way to stay in a hotel that caters to Americans?
3. Are these places overly familiar? We're friendly people and open to meeting new people on vacation, especially through our children. But communal meals? What if you're booked with boors and louts for the week? Why add that variable to the vacation equation?
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I get why you might think Chalet holidays are a bit odd. Skiing for us Brits has always tended to be a bit of a party-we have to go "on holiday" to go skiing and having a place to stay that is more like a home makes for a nice place to chill in the evening. You get dinner without having to think about it, plus the traditional tea and cake from 4pm when you get back from a day on the slopes.
The eating in for the evening makes it a lot cheaper. However, because european skiing is very foodie, you just get to eat all the yummy stuff in lovely mountain restaurants for lunch during the day! You have to eat out one night because of the staff day off anyway, and you can always opt out of dinner to go out if you like.

There are some VERY posh chalets out there, with proper fine dining chefs. But I think they would be less likely to have the childcare you seek.
You would be highly likely to be the only Yanks in the chalet. I think you would be very welcome, given you are stepping out of your comfort zone. There would indeed be a bit of mickey taking however. You would be very unlucky to find you were sharing with boors and louts. I worked a season as a chalet host (aged 40!) in a chalet that catered for up to 19. Every week the guests were different, but almost without exception they were a friendly bunch.

As you are flying into Milan transfers into France will take a few hours-and France is pretty much the only place where you find catered chalets.

We had a great Christmas trip 3 years ago with Ski2 in Champoluc, Italy-British run, they have their own child care and ski school. They are a very slick operation and can fix you up with accommodation of all sorts in the village. They pick you up from the airport and it all works really well. Champoluc is pretty, friendly, great skiing, great on mountain grub and is high enough for the skiing to be good in March.
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 Poster: A snowHead
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jedster wrote:
@goweje,

I'm only partly helpful here because if the three I've only skied Megeve. Much as I like it, I'd go somewhere higher in mid-March. Skiing can be great in Megeve at that time but the snow can also be threadbare and slushy on the southerly slopes.

I've always wanted to go to Saas Fee but not managed it yet.


I agree, Megève is a good ski area, lovely runs, reasonably well connected and not too busy. Its problem is that its low, meaning its season is short. I skied there at the end of Feb 17 and it was great. Got lucky with a fresh dump of snow. 3 weeks later it was basically brown fields.
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@FrediKanoute, can you expand on where the "brwon fields" were?

I'm headed there 3rd week in March 2018, but according to the snow / depth history charts it wasn't bare... does it depend on where they measure / south facing slopes /etc.? Will we be okay if we stay "up top"?
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Don’t wish to hijack or subvert the thread but any comment/ recommendations for La Thuile would be appreciated as am there next weekend, weather forecast looking fine and dandy!
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@EarthWindandWater, the south facing slopes from mont Arbois down to megeve can get bare but they are on megeve golf course so only need a few inches of depth, cotes 2000 keeps it snow as does les contimines which is covered by same lift pass but you'll need a car to. Get there from megeve.
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Thanks @Jonny996 =0)
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@goweje, Hi- glad you enjoyed Sass Fee- weather excepted- that was unlucky as it is one of the highest and most snowsure 'proper' mountain villages in Europe.

Chalet hotels- what I said last year- but also I think you would be very warmly received by Brits. You are right in that it is possible that there would be one or two louts or bores- but I'd expect the vast majority to be wonderful and friendly people.

Food wise Chalet food can be variable YGWYPF (and sometimes not). Chalet Hotel food better but not for certain. As others have said very lovely lunches to be had on the mountain.

Think about Courchevel 1850 (and Ski Esprit)- but not so good if your wife isn't skiing.

What about Courmayeur?

If you liked Sass Fee- what about Zermatt? (although it is more expensive).

Chamonix? But you have been there before- it is magnetic / hypnotic though.

Selva / Val Gardena is a little low and snow might be not so good. The scenery however is world class, the food delightful.

Cortina?

Have fun whatever you do and please let us know how it goes.

Best of luck Ed
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@goweje, Esprit is more chalet hotels than chalets (i’m pretty sure) so yes you’d have other Brits in the hotel (lucky you!) but you’d have your own table for dinner versus a chalet where you’re at the same table. Fair point on eating out, although you’ll save a fair bit and can use it for dining on the mountain which is high quality and varied in both the places above. Friends and family who’ve done Esprit have raved about the childcare which has meant freedom for the parents. I’d suggest they’re at least worth a call to see if they have a hotel option that fits your requirements snowHead
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