Feb 12th, 2020, 12:19 PM

Megève — Higher Than the Clouds

By Stefan Levchenko
Get a glass of hot wine and simply observe this tranquility, Image Credit: Stefan Levchenko
A weekend get-away to a less pricey ski resort in French Alps.

Have you ever been asked where would you go if you could travel back in time? I have a very precise answer to that question: I would go to a well-off Western European ski resort in the 70s. Just imagine: ABBA’s “Dancing Queen” is a number-one hit in almost every country on the continent; in the afternoon, groups of young and beautiful people are skiing like there’s no tomorrow and then changing into yet another bright sweater from their collection, smoking cigarettes in the wooden lounges, excessively drinking beer, grog, hot wine and whatever is accessible, plunging into the hot tub half-unconscious and finishing their night with the intercourse of intensity unknown to their modern counterparts. And in the morning, no matter how hungover they are, everything will start again — and this routine is likely stay the same for many days. In Megève, one of France’s biggest ski resorts, I was surprised to see that this idyllic image of the 70s winter holiday is partially alive to this day. 

Already on the train, a group of four early-middle-aged white French women opening up a bottle of champagne and loudly spilling the tea as well as a buffet car crowded with the quirky groups of young people with red faces and wide smiles became the initial elements of the journey to the past of my dreams. 

Upon arrival to the train station of Sallanches-Combloux-Megève, a talkative Italian driver of a non-licensed minibus (what an unmodern mode of transport, I could’ve been kidnapped, huh?) offered me to join the quirky young people from the train and get a ride to my hotel which is situated 300 meters above the railroad terminal. 

The train station of Sallanches-Combloux-Megève, Image Credit: Stefan Levchenko

The hotel (Les Chalets du Prariand) is the cheapest one I could find on Booking — and yet, as soon as one gets out of Paris, the service becomes significantly better, even in a secluded 3-star hotel. The hotel staff, once done with their shift, joyfully stays to play card games with the older guests. Even though smoking is not allowed inside anymore, the world gets a little smoky for anybody following the after-ski jacuzzi immersion. In the common area, women are flirting with the barmen like it’s 1976. And I think I saw some freckled tall men with the beard smelling of beer and their female companions with the blond bangs, remotely — only remotely — resembling those of Agnetha Fältskog. Hungover or not (hungover and period), the last above-described group will forcefully hit the slopes the next morning and the only difference between them and their fellow young lovers of ski culture from five decades ago is that the former will be wearing helmets. 

On the ski lift, I asked an older French visitor if there is a reason behind why those who chose Megève as a winter destination are mostly francophone. He praised my observation and said that the rich and international scene normally goes to Courchevel or Chamonix while the French and Swiss youth on the budget prefers more affordable Megève (the price of 1 day adult ski pass in Megève is 46 euros whereas it is 63 euros in Courchevel). 

A peaceful high noon in the valley of Megève. Mont-Blanc is just 26 km away, Image Credit: Stefan Levchenko

At dinner, I talked with a restaurant waiter Artyom from Russia about his salary and an apparent lack of tourists at the resort. Not announcing the exact numbers, he said that the work force from abroad costs about three times less than that of the French one. This is why restaurant owners see the advantage in inviting workers from outside of France. Artyom told me that now he has a relaxed schedule, because I came in the off-season period (mid-January) and crowds will arrive as soon as the French school vacations begin on February 8.

The center of Megève at night. Entertainment for all age groups is available, Image Credit: Stefan Levchenko

Megève offers a huge and very affordable (29 euros per person) spa center in Le Palais. It includes four pools (1 outdoor with warm water and 3 indoor used for different purposes such as relaxation, individual swimming and aqua aerobics), three herbal saunas with different temperature and free refreshing tea in assortment (I drank four cups, that is how good it was). The only downside of the spa complex is that in order to rent a towel, the visitor has to give one of their shoes as a collateral and severely wet one of their socks on the way to and from the cloakroom. But the possibility to get a first-class relaxation after an exhausting day on the slopes really crosses out this disadvantage.

The spa at Le Palais, Image Credit: Stefan Levchenko

In Megève, the night sky is so clear and the stars shine so bright that it appears as if the town is located higher than the clouds. Maybe, because of that the flow of time is partially curved there. At least, a drunk old man with crazy eyes loudly singing La Marseillaise to himself in the elevator, who, upon exiting and seeing me, said, “Sorry, I’m lost”, seemed like a true alien from the past. Maybe, from the 70s.