Haute Savoie / France
An elegant mountain spa town that also offers great skiing, St Gervais les Bains in Haute Savoie has been attracting holidaymakers since the 1900s.
Its long history as an Alpine commercial hub, and later a centre of tourism, has left a legacy of stunning architecture, with several beautiful baroque churches and ‘Belle Epoque’ buildings. Still today, many of the area’s hotels offer spa treatments, thanks to the mineral-rich thermal waters that run from the Mont Blanc range.
St Gervais is also a great starting point for those wishing to climb Mont Blanc, which towers over the town. But if you’d rather take it a little easier, hop on the Mont Blanc tramway - the highest mountain railway in France. The 13km track opened in 1907, and takes visitors from St Gervais through stunning scenery, including the Bionnassay glacier to the Nid d’Aigle mountain refuge. Many use this as the start of their ascent of Mont Blanc, but it’s also a wonderful place to enjoy a drink or something to eat on the terrace, particularly at sunset.
St Gervais has ‘Famille Plus’ status, meaning that there’s always plenty for children to do, summer and winter. And if you don’t fancy cooking, there’s a great choice of places to eat out, from tea salons to mountain restaurants, fine dining and takeaways.
St Gervais is known as the gateway to the Evasion Mont Blanc ski area - more than 450km of pistes suited to all abilities and 135 lifts. The domain’s ski pass covers seven resorts: Saint-Gervais Mont-Blanc, Megève, Saint-Nicolas de Véroce, Combloux, La Giettaz, Les Contamines Montjoie and Hauteluce.
There’s a new novice ski area in St Gervais, at Mont d’Arbois, accessed by the Bettex-Mont d’Arbois gondola. With a drag lift and covered conveyor belt, even those just finding their ski legs can appreciate this wonderful setting.
Freestylers can hone their skills at the Waidzai Park Megève, or at the Mont-Joux fun park, and there are 45km of trails for cross-country skiers.
Those looking for more adventure should consider the Mont Blanc Unlimited ski pass, which adds the 870km of pistes in the Chamonix-Mont-Blanc, allowing you to cross into Italy and Switzerland.
Skiing and boarding are the main activities that bring guests to chalets in St Gervais les Bains in the winter, and in the summer, hiking, biking and climbing are the most popular. But when you stay at an OVO Network property, there is so much more to see and do.
Here are some of our favourite things to do in St Gervais:
Mont Blanc tramway - You’ll enjoy stunning views from this wonderful rack and pinion railway, which takes you from St Gervais up to the Bellevue Plateau. In summer, it’s a great starting point for hikes and in winter, you can ski back down (and your ski pass will cover the cost). There’s a mountain restaurant at Bellevue where you can take in the views over a coffee.
Casino night - If you fancy a bit of a flutter, head to the casino in Le Fayet to try your luck on the 75 slot machines, blackjack table or roulette. Complete your evening with a cocktail and a snack from the bar and enjoy some live music.
Spa day - Make the most of the natural thermal waters of St Gervais at Les Thermes - after a morning skiing, relax in the indoor and outdoor baths, saunas and steam room before sipping a herbal infusion in the tea room. Massages and treatments can be booked, as well as medical treatments.
Meet the goats - Young children will love being able to stroke the baby goats and watch the milking at this farm near St Gervais. When they’re done, you can pick up some of the farm’s produce in the shop, including cheese, yoghurt and soap.
Via ferrata - This Alpine adventure is a great day out for families with older children - it combines hiking and climbing on a trail cut into the rock face. You’ll wear a helmet and be clipped to the trail at all times to ensure your safety, but you’ll still need a head for heights! The course at the thermal park in St Gervais has three levels of difficulty, but they are all a bit of a challenge - this is definitely one for the physically fit.
Snow fun - Young families can join Charlotte the marmot at this play area at the Mont d’Arbois gondola, which can be reached on skis or by foot. As well as games, there’s a picnic area, sledging and sofas where you can relax and enjoy the view while the children play.
A day at the museum - Discover the history of the Compagnie des Guides (mountain guides) at The Maison Forte du Hautetour, right opposite the tourist office. There’s also an interesting exhibition on climbing Mont Blanc and regular shows of local art.
Summer fun - Make the most of the great weather with Pass Loisirs or leisure pass. For a one-off payment, you get to use the Evasion domaine lifts, the swimming pool in St Gervais, mini-golf, skating rink, the library and the museums. You’ll also get a discount on attractions such as the Mont Blanc Tramway and the highly recommended Thermal baths. Check the website for the latest rates and conditions.
Take to the skies - Get a totally different perspective on the mountains from a paraglider! Various packages are available, with special rates for groups, and even children as young as seven can enjoy a tandem flight. It’s a good idea to book early in your holiday so that there is time to reschedule in the event of bad weather.
Canyoning thrills - Children looking for adventure will find it canyoning - scrambling, climbing, jumping and swimming down mountain streams, rivers and waterfalls. You’ll be accompanied by a mountain guide, who will ensure your safety at all times. This thrilling experience is open to children over the age of 10, as long as they can swim and are not afraid of a 4m jump.
Mountain biking - In the summer, the mountains become a magnet for cyclists. Experienced mountain bikers will find plenty of challenge, as many of the trails are steep and technical, but there are trails for all levels. Bikes can be taken on many of the lifts, and on the Mont Blanc Express train. Try the locals’ favourite run, from the top of the Prarion gondola down to St Gervais and Le Fayet. From St Gervais to Le Fayet take the Pipeline - the route follows a large water pipeline from the bottom of the Le Bettex cable car - expect tight switchbacks and wooden steps. The tourist office is a great place to start when looking for routes and advice.
Walk the gorge - Visit Les Gorges de la Diosaz for a stunning walk along suspended footpaths, past impressive waterfalls. It’s a great choice on a sunny day, as much of the path is in shade. It’s a bit of a climb, but with so much to stop and look at along the way, you’ll hardly notice it.
Rond de Carotte (50 rue de la Vignette, 74170, Saint-Gervais-les-Bains, tel +33 4 50 47 76 39) Good food, well cooked with an inventive twist is the aim of this Michelin-recommended restaurant. The menu changes weekly, according to the produce available - you can get a three course lunch for €30 and tasting menus are €60 for five courses or €75 for seven courses.
La Taniere (Plan du Crets, Les Houches, tel +33 6 83 42 93 43) Not your typical mountain restaurant, this restaurant offers quick lunches, French classics and Argentinian specialties. It’s only accessible by skis, snowshoes or in the summer, walking, but is somehow still busy - a testament to the great food.
Le Galeta (150 impasse des Lupins, 74170, Saint-Gervais-les-Bains, +33 4 50 93 16 11) Good meat cooked over a wood-fired grill, or at your table, is the speciality of this popular restaurant, but there’s plenty for those who don’t eat meat too. There’s a choice of three-course menus at €28 and €30, and a two course menu for children at €12. It’s a great place to try local dishes, such as tartiflette and fondue, but also the more unusual farcement - a bacon and potato loaf with dried fruit.
L’Edelweiss (44 rue de la Comtesse, 74170, Saint-Gervais-les-Bains, tel +33 9 83 24 75 86) This friendly restaurant in the centre of the village does Savoyard specialty dishes really well, in addition to the staples like steaks, burgers and great salads. On a sunny day, grab a table on the pavement and sit and watch the world go by. Make sure you book though, because the restaurant is quite small. A children’s menu is available.
Chez Steph (189 avenue de Geneve - Le Fayet, 74170, Saint-Gervais-les-Bains, tel +33 4 57 44 35 30) if you’re in a hurry or want to grab a takeaway, head for this friendly cafe for a sandwich, a crepe or a good home cooked meal at very reasonable prices. It’s a great lunch stop, but unfortunately isn’t open in the evenings.
L’Eterle (113 avenue du Mont D Arbois, 74170, Saint-Gervais-les-Bains, tel +33 4 50 93 64 30) When only a pizza will do, L’Eterle has the answer. The extensive menu is sure to have something for every taste, and at a good price. Of course, they also do risottos, burgers and tartiflette, but pizzas are what they do best!
Le Pasar (74 Avenue de Miage, St Gervais, tel: +33 6 99 26 18 89) If you’re looking for something a bit different to the usual offering of tartiflette and fondue, this Korean-inspired restaurant comes highly recommended. The menu is small, but changes regularly, and there are always veggie and vegan options. Prices are very reasonable, with main courses all priced at about €13. Their most popular dish is Cotton Candy - don’t be fooled by the name, it’s a delicious mix of pork, edamame beans and kimchi! The restaurant is based at the Hotel de tRois, and is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.
Like most ski areas, St Gervais has a good selection of ski rental and sports shops - try Unlimited and Ago Sport. You’ll also be spoiled for choice with bakeries too - it’s a good opportunity to try them all and find out your favourite! La Boulangerie d’Antan and Aux Petits Gourmands are good places to start. Local produce is championed at the French Alps Market, where you can pick up wine and food as well as art, books, home decor and accessories. Leon de la Savoie is the place to get your charcuterie and cheeses - they can prepare a platter for you to enjoy back at your chalet, or prepare a raclette or a fondue.
By plane: Geneva is about 70km from St Gervais. There are regular transfers by Geneva Airport Transfers and Altibus.
By train: If you’re travelling by rail you’ll need to make a couple of changes. From London St Pancras you’ll need to change in Paris (Gare du Nord to Gare de Lyon) and again in Annecy for the train to St Gervais. Alternatively, take the TGV from Paris to Cluses, and take a taxi for the last 35km.
If you are travelling by car, please make sure you have winter tyres or a set of snow chains for your car.
Once you are here the best way to get around is the free shuttle bus service which runs seven days a week during the winter and summer seasons.
If you're looking for accommodation in St Gervais, check out our hand-picked chalets - there's sure to be something to suit you. Whether you are looking for a hot tub with mountain views, ground floor bedrooms, a living room which opens on to a sunny terrace with a stunning view, we can help you find it.