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Meribel Chalet

The History of Meribel Chalets

| | Ski Resorts

Meribel ski chalets have been built since the Second World War in the traditional style of the region which makes this central ski resort in the 3 Valleys the most attractive. The reasons for its development as one of the quintessential chalet-style ski resorts of the French Alps goes back to the 1950s. We look at the history of Meribel chalets and how the resort grew to become one of the prettier resorts in the French Alps.

The early years with Peter Lindsay

It is widely understood that Meribel as a ski resort was first established by an Englishman: Colonel Peter Lindsay. He first visited the area in the mid-1930s and then returned there after the Second World War to pick up from where he had left off. However, Peter Lindsay’s son, David, explains that some of the credit for discovering Meribel as a ski resort should be given to Arnold Lunn, “the most famous of pioneers” who had been commissioned to visit and survey the Savoie and Dauphiné regions in 1925. He had reported that the three valleys of St Bon, Les Allues and Les Bellevilles had enormous potential with well-exposed slopes and controllable avalanche risk. David Lindsay was also advised to seek the advice of Emile Allais, the great French ski champion and instructor. Emile Allais helped design the pistes and lifts that were to become Méribel

Below is an extract from David Lindsay’s blog post, to see the full version click here.

“Not long after this [1950] Peter met Count Jean Gaillard de la Valdenne and they discovered a joint interest in developing a ski-resort. I remember someone telling me that my father had the idea and Gaillard de la Valdenne had the money. Whatever the truth Jean Gaillard de la Valdenne deserves more credit for the early development of the plan than he receives as it was he who oversaw much of the purchase of the land during the war. Being born in 1895 and having been a French air ace in World War One he was possibly just too old for World War II. La Valdenne had been married to Lily Alvarez the Spanish tennis star who was a three times Wimbledon finalist in the twenties (losing to Helen Wills Moody in 1927 and 1928). The money raised for the development of Meribel came from a mixture of French and English capital. Jacques Manceau, who made his fortune manufacturing artificial flowers, was a significant early investor and became President of Meribel Alpina – the ski-lift company. The SFVA (Societe Foncière de la Vallée des Allues) owned the land. The accepted model in ski-resort development has been that the land makes the money and the lifts make none. Peter’s approach was that the sale of a plot by the land company could provide the finance to build a ski-lift. As he never became a property developer neither company made much money and because he did not sell land to other property developers Meribel developed slowly and charmingly into a resort of chalets and small hotels all built in the stone, wood and slanted slate roof style that had been defined and enshrined in the building style that had to be adhered to – the ‘cahier des charges’. The process of chalet building followed a set formula; visitors arrived in the resort, they would be put up by Marie Blanche in her guesthouse in Musillon, and later in her charming hotel aptly named, the Marie Blanche. If, in time, they developed an interest in building a Meribel chalet my father would possibly sell them a piece of land and Christian Durupt (the local architect) would design their chalet. The Front brothers (Eugene, Maurice and Dédé) would build it.”

Meribel vs Courchevel

During the 1950s and 60s, Courchevel was also being developed as a ski resort. However, unlike the land in Meribel that was sold off piece by piece to private individuals the development of Courchevel was controlled by the local government in Chambery. Courchevel was designed and initially developed as a ‘ski resort for the people’. Hence why the public buildings of the principal Courchevel resorts followed the rather brutal architectural style of municipal buildings being erected around the world at that time. How ironic that Courchevel 1850, a ski resort created from a ‘socialist’ dream, should now attract the richest ‘capitalist’ players the world has ever seen. Contrary to the functional building style that was being adopted over the hill in Courchevel the individually designed and built Meribel chalets were creating a resort with an entirely different feel. Much of this chalet-style development can be attributed to the chief architect of the region, Christian Durupt. He commented in 1966:

“Contrary to some theories there is no need to build higher and higher [a reference to the architectural influence of Charlotte Perriand who designed Arc 1600 in the fashionable Le Corbusier style]. By staying in the wooded area between 1,500m and 1,800m you have the advantage of creating resorts which are viable both in the winter and summer."

Many of the early Meribel chalets have now been redeveloped into the finest luxury chalets in Meribel. They sit on the largest plots of land and have the best views and easiest access to the home pistes. The other notable family that have contributed much to the Meribel skyline is the Dallery family. However, rather than building chalets in Meribel, they built hotels. In 1962 Marius Dallery opened the doors to the Chaudanne Hotel and in the early 1970’s Claude Dallery opened the Tremplin and Eterlou hotels which are sited directly opposite the Chaudanne. In 2013 Aurelia Dallery extended the empire still further by opening Meribel’s premier 5-star Hotel Le Kaila.

The Oldest Chalets in Meribel

Meribel is still considered one of the prettiest of the French ski resorts and this is largely a result of the way in which the early chalets were built in the resort during the 1950s. Meribel was not developed by the local government as Courchevel was and instead grew piecemeal, property by property, as interested parties visited and fell in love with the resort. The original stone build chalet from the early years has been knocked down and rebuilt. So this means that the 2nd chalet to be built, Chalet Chouan, is now the oldest of the Meribel chalets! Like all the early chalets this one is located on the Route des Chalets which follows the route of an old goat track which lead up from the centre of Meribel to Meribel 1600. This street is the smartest and oldest address to have – all the chalets in this part of Meribel have easy access to the home slope and have been built on larger plots of land than modern chalets giving each property privacy from its neighbour.

Simon Hoskyns

I completed my 1st winter ski season as a ski bum after leaving school. Travelling out to Sauze d'Oulx, Italy, (not knowing one ski resort from another) and with just a basic Italian phrase book in my rucksack I found a job in a hotel as a pot washer. However, I was also trained as a barista (before anyone knew what they were) which was enormous fun. After graduating from university I headed back to the Alps for a 2nd season. I was a handyman for Bladon Lines in Meribel, looking after their chalets and also those of sister company, Ski West. This was the best ski resort job ever. The 2nd season was followed by three fun but ultimately unrewarding years in a London advertising agency before I returned to the Alps yet again. A season for the Ski Club of Great Britain in St Anton was followed by another season working for Powder Byrne in Flims and Klosters, Switzerland. Returning to London I joined the fledgling Alpine Answers in 1995, becoming partner in 1997.

Read all of Simon Hoskyns posts