St Martin de Belleville is a very special resort indeed. High in the French Tarentaise mountains, this improbably pretty village enjoys an impressive panorama from its valley-side perch. At its heart are a cluster of ancient stone buildings which are gathered around a fabulous Baroque church. Its cobbled alleyways are home to a sprinkling of atmospheric bars, cafes and shops.
We soon discover that St Martin is also a serious foodie resort with a disproportionate number of highly rated dining spots. These include La Bouitte, a 3 star Michelin establishment, as well as chalets from specialist Ski Talini, where the catering can genuinely claim to compete with the very best restaurants in the resort.
You could just come here just to experience all of these attractions – as many actually do – but for skiers it also has the additional fortune to be directly connected to one of largest ski areas in the world: The 3 Valleys (Les Trois Vallees).
This mega-system incorporates heavyweight resorts like Courchevel, Meribel, Val Thorens and Les Menuires, and although these international players attract big hotel brands and top tour operators, they are largely purpose built and for us play second fiddle to their pretty neighbour St Martin de Belleville.
For chalet specialist Ski Talini this is their one and only resort. Its British founder Daisy Mitchell, only originally came for a winter season, but found the lure of the resort too strong. Soon she moved here permanently, quickly joined by an equally enthusiastic canine mascot – a labrador-cross called Balloo. She told me “We found our dream location and just couldn’t ever imagine being anywhere else.”
Ski Talini offer a small selection of chalets each named on a ‘heavenly’ theme. We picked Chalet des Anges, a modern eight person property built in traditional local style. Sitting just a snowball’s throw from a gondola that whisks you directly into the main ski system, it is also just a short stroll down to the village centre.
The chalet’s bedrooms are modestly sized but nicely fitted with plenty of wood and traditional fabrics. The ensuite bathrooms have sizeable rainforest showers, lots of hot water, robes, slippers and a generous supply of Cowshed products.
Living and dining areas are located upstairs in order to take advantage of impressive views that extend over village rooftops to the craggy mountains beyond. Deep sofas sit before a log fire whilst dinners are served at a long farmhouse table.
Daisy is particularly proud of the top quality catering created by Ski Talini’s qualified chefs. Hand made canapés are served by a crackling log fire before a three course dinner which for us included dishes like seared scallops with gooseberry and coriander flower and sea bass with roasted cherry tomatoes and capers.
There are carefully selected upgraded wines whilst petits fours, local cheeses, coffee, port and dessert wines are taken back by the fire.
A buffet breakfast and chef’s hot choice are served in the morning whilst apres ski a fresh cake is always ready. Dietary requirements and preferences are happily catered for and staff get one night off. A free shuttle service is even available to the slopes when you dont feel like walking.
With almost every whim seemingly catered for by our staff it’s not long before the relaxed routines of the Ski Talini chalet holiday seems to blend with the easy rhythmns of this historic mountain village. Like Daisy we were very tempted to stay a lot longer!