A magical experience to have with kids in Belleville Valley this summer

Last updated 16th April 2024

From homemade ice cream to flaming torch lit walks, Katja Gaskell makes unforgettable family memories in summery La Vallée des Belleville.


Soirée Altitude, Belleville Valley

The sun hung low in the sky as we started our ascent up the rocky mountain trail. On our way we passed clusters of bright purple fireweed, golden mountain buttercups and snowflake-like cow parsley, all growing defiantly among the otherwise lunar-like landscape. At over 2,000 metres, even trees were few and far between.

Despite the otherworldly vistas, however, my three children were not happy. Aged 15, 13 and 8-years-old, they took it in turns to question how much longer we had to walk, where we were going and, “what was the point in walking anyway?”. I marched on ahead, blocking out their complaints. We had been promised a unique evening experience in the mountains and I, for one, could not wait to get there.


Belleville Valley in summer © Vincent Lottenberg

Beautiful Belleville Valley switches it on for summer

We were in La Vallée des Belleville, a beautiful Alpine gully that stretches from the traditional village of Saint-Martin-de-Belleville through the ridge lines of 1970s Les Menuires and up to Europe’s highest ski resort, Val Thorens. During the winter months, these three resorts form part of the world-famous Les 3 Vallées, the Three Valleys, the largest ski resort in the world. Once the snow melts, however, this area is known as the Belleville Valley.

Our base was Les Menuires in the heart of the valley, a collection of concrete buildings constructed as part of the Pompidou government’s Plan Neige (Snow Plan) to drive development of the mountains. It may not be the prettiest of resorts but its loyal fans have a deep and enduring affection for its purpose-built towers and urban-style buildings and, as we discovered, it’s genuinely excellent for families with dozens of activities on offer.

Easy trails for novice mountain bikers

Day one saw us tackle one of the area’s more leisurely mountain bike trails, following the Doron river. Downhill VTT trails crisscross the area ranging from beginner-friendly to experts-only. We opted for the former and pedalled along an easy gravel path that runs alongside the milky blue river, the singular colour a result of limestone in the region. Gently undulating, it was the ideal trail for beginner mountain bikers and took us from Les Menuires to Saint Martin de Belleville.

Don’t miss market day in Saint-Martin-de-Belleville

We stopped on the outskirts of Saint Martin to try the Forêt des Aventuriers, a fun treetop adventure park and obstacle course, and then headed into town for market day. Perched at 1,450m, the resort of Saint-Martin-de-Belleville is undoubtedly the most photogenic in the valley, a cluster of traditional stone and timber houses and a small village square that was packed with market traders during our visit. Stalls selling everything from natural soaps and traditional digestifs to honey and cured meats jostled for our attention, but nothing could compete with La Ferme de Rose, a local artisanal ice cream maker.

The following day we returned to Saint Martin for a guided hike in the neighbouring Vallee des Deux Nants. Looping walking trails of varying lengths and difficulties wind their way through the Deux Nants valley, including the challenging Cheval Noir. We opted for a straightforward stroll along rocky paths, occasionally ducking into the forest in search of mushrooms growing among the spindly pine trees.


Chez Pepe Nicolas, Belleville Valley

Remote Deux Nants will refresh your soul

In contrast to the hustle and bustle of Belleville Valley (even during the summer season), the Deux Nants felt wonderfully remote and isolated, populated by only a handful of petit villages. For lunch we stopped in a recently opened refuge, Le Nant Brun, run by two friends, where we gobbled up their excellent, and excellent value, three course Menu du Jour.

This was far from our only good meal in the Belleville Valley. Another day we sat on the sun-soaked terrace of Chez Pépé Nicolas, a delightful family-run farm and restaurant that sits high above Val Thorens. Originally a small alpine farm, today the family still produces much of their own food including vegetables, milk, cheese and, crucially, ice cream. In the restaurant traditional Savoyard dishes are served alongside superb desserts such as blueberry shortbread tarts and candied peaches with home grown thyme.

Now for the unforgettable Soirée Altitude

But back to our evening hike. Tall, feather flags in a rainbow of colours signalled our arrival at Lac des Echaud, a mountain lake lying at around 2,300m. There we discovered long, communal wooden tables standing in rows, along with a dozen deckchairs strategically placed for soaking up the spectacular sunset, and a handful of wooden parlour-type games to keep children entertained.

Kids would climb a mountain for this experience, we have proof

The Soirée Altitude, an “evening at altitude”, is held four times during the summer months and combines a gentle 45-minute hike with an al fresco dinner by the lake. As the day began to slip quietly into a soft and pretty summer dusk, dinner was announced: a buffet barbecue of sausages, salad and baguette. Wine was served and a band started to play, the quartet weaving effortlessly between tables as we ate. After dessert, a magician performed before a delighted audience, magicking coins from behind ears and other old school tricks.

When it was time to leave, flaming torches were handed out and we all fell in line, navigating the route back down the mountain together. It was a highlight of our time in the Belleville Valley and one that even the kids said they would happily walk up a mountain for any time.

How to plan summer in Belleville Valley

How to get there

Direct UK flights to Grenoble from 1 hour, 40 minutes

Grenoble to Les Menuires from 1 hour, 40 minutes

Where to stay

Hôtel Higalik Family Rooms (2 adults, 2 children) from £229 per night

Book Hôtel Higalik

Good to know

For more information on Belleville Valley events

Les Belleville