The French don't ski. They play les sports d'hiver. And winter sports can mean anything from a leisurely slalom—with frequent stops for hot chocolate and fondue—to an afternoon of strenuous boutique-hopping. Few places on earth provide a playground as beautiful as Megève in the French Alps.
A town of narrow, cobblestoned lanes in the mountainous Savoy farming region near the Swiss and Italian borders, Megève retains a small-town feel even during the holiday season. In December some of the 5,000 full-time residents, many of them farmers,work as ski instructors or give sleigh rides. In the 1950s, the winter population of movie stars, artists, European royalty and politicians earned Megève the nickname of Paris's "21st arrondissement." Although the town fell out of fashion in the 1960s and '70s as vast concrete resorts sprang up all over the Alps, it is enjoying a comeback. Playing an important role in the resurgence are Jocelyne and Jean-Louis Sibuet, owners of four of Megève's most exquisite resorts (Au Coin du Feu, Les Fermes de Marie, Hôtel Mont-Blanc and Le Lodge Park) and a growing mini empire of properties throughout France that have become known for their food. The Cour des Loges in Lyon, for instance, has a Michelin star.
Having spent most of the year preparing to launch Villa Marie in St. Tropez, the Sibuets are spending this Christmas in their chalet on the grounds of Les Fermes de Marie with their two children, 15-year-old Marie and 19-year-old Nicolas, Jean-Louis's parents and a few close friends. The Sibuets, who both grew up in Savoy, opened Les Fermes de Marie 14 years ago. The resort was one of the couple's earliest projects and probably the craziest. To create the hotel—a collection of eight wooden, Swiss-style chalets with shingled roofs—Jean-Louis bought run-down farmhouses and barns, disassembled them, numbered every piece of wood and had them rebuilt over concrete frames. "A month before we opened, one of the chalets still hadn't been built. The stress was terrible," Jocelyne remembers. Although both Sibuets come from families of hoteliers, Jocelyne had decided she wanted nothing to do with the hotel industry, until she met Jean-Louis: "I realized that if I didn't work with him, I'd never see him." Inspired by her father, a chef, she's even done a stint as a cook at one of the properties, to understand how a professional kitchen works.