In the French Alps, Luxe Stargazing Is the Ultimate Après-Ski Activity

Come for the slopes and stay for the stars in Megève, France.

Courtesy of Four Seasons
Courtesy of Four Seasons

Make your way through Megève, France’s cobbled medieval streets and high-end shops, drive passed its multi-million euro chalet-style homes in the surrounding hills, and ascend to the snowy heights of Mont d’Arbois, and you’ll find some of the best ski slopes in the French Alps—if not the world. It’s what this fairytale-like mountain town is known for. But if you walk a short distance from the gondola lifts near the summit, you’ll also find a seemingly unlikely structure standing squat against the stunning panoramic views: an observatory. That’s because Megève isn’t just a destination for powder hounds—it’s also a helluva place to take in the wonders of the night sky, in part thanks to next-level stargazing experiences offered by the Four Seasons Hotel Megève.

Perfectly located in the heart of the Alps—and easily accessed via Geneva—Megève is a world-class winter adventureland with nearly 250 miles of slopes. In fact, the village of about 3,000 residents was originally created as an alternative to the Swiss resort town St. Moritz by the uber-wealthy Rothschild family in the 1920s. Long story short, the Baroness Noémie de Rothschild wanted France to have a St. Moritz-caliber ski resort of its own. And by the 1950s, it was held court as exactly that, attracting not just the rich, but the famous, too, including Hollywood stars Audrey Hepburn and other A-listers of the time. Today, Megève remains a bucket list destination for winter sports enthusiasts, who regularly push its population to some 100,000 during peak ski season (and if you hang out with a local for long enough, you’ll hear about the stratospheric real estate prices to match).

This tony part of the world also excels when it comes to the timeless tradition of après ski. And due to Megève’s elevation, low light pollution, and overall tranquility, you can take your post-cardio relaxation to the next level at nightlife spots like Rendez-vous club, a centrally located disco open until dawn, or the swanky—yet cozy—Bar Edmond at the Four Seasons Hotel Megève, among others. And later, Megève offers the ultimate après-après ski, if you will, in the form of luxury stargazing experiences and educational events powered by a burgeoning community of local astronomers.

There’s a bit of irony in seeking out a travel destination for something as terrestrial as skiing and then finding yourself drawn to something as celestial as stargazing, but here—perhaps unlike anywhere else in the world—these pursuits complement each other swimmingly. Come for the slopes, stay for the stars.

ski slopes in megeve, france
JARRY/TRIPELON/Gamma-Rapho/Getty Images

Observatoire du Mont D'Arbois, the small but mighty observatory between Megève and Saint-Gervais-les-Bains, is advantageously perched 1,800 meters atop its eponymous mountain, making it privy to unobstructed views of the sky and, of course, killer views of the surrounding resorts. You can actually spot the humble structure from the grounds of the area’s only ski-in, ski-out resort, the aforementioned Four Seasons Hotel Megève, which also boasts its own stargazing platform by way of a close relationship with local astronomers.

No one knows the vantage point better than local astronomy organization Mont D'Arbois Astronomie, its members occasionally hauling a trove of heavy telescopes and stargazing equipment to the hotel to share with guests. The group, led by Jacques Amsellem, hosts stargazing workshops and other activities for locals and visitors alike, promoting their stated mission to further “the development of the scientific and cultural spirit, especially with regard to astronomy, the discovery of the stars, the study of the deep sky, the universe and cosmology.” They’ve been operating out of the observatory since the building opened in 2015.

four seasons hotel megeve
Photo by Tony Merevick for Thrillist

The Four Seasons, in turn, has also embraced the stargazing bug. One night, a member of the hotel bar staff overheard a couple talking about their love of stargazing, and quickly mobilized a massive behind-the-scenes effort to surprise them with a dreamy night of sleeping under the stars. The company recently launched an ad about the story, “Based on a True Stay.”

Now available to all guests, the aptly titled A Night Above the Clouds package transports hotel-goers to the exclusive Suite Idéal, a super-secluded mountaintop retreat accessed via a scenic 15-minute cable car ride from the hotel. The special includes a night in the suite complete with a dedicated butler, a sunset Champagne toast, and dinner for two featuring regional specialties and French wines, followed by stargazing. For the main event, a powerful telescope perches on the suite’s panoramic terrace.

Thrillist recently got a taste of this delightfully over-the-top approach to enjoying the wonders of the night sky, when I traveled to the hotel for a short trip filled with activities, including a special dinner followed by stargazing in the Mont Blanc Suite.

Courtesy of Four Seasons

The suite, which spans the entire fifth floor of the hotel with its five bedrooms and seven balconies, boasts contemporary decor and alpine finishes that give it both style and warmth. And the food that night was equally fancy: Lean Fish Carpaccio served with green tomato gazpacho infused with tagetes, Red Mullet with Zucchinis in Three Ways with verbena and bouillabaisse sauce, and dessert of Hogweed-Flavored Fig Flowers with Savoy wine. The food was good, but the stargazing experience is what drew me halfway across the world to this lavish dinner where, for a moment there, I found myself Googling what a “tagete” is under the table.

The meal concluded with additional pour of wine and samples of the local digestif, Génépi, just as members of Mont D'Arbois Astronomie filed into the room with a trove of heavy telescopes and stargazing equipment they brought just for us. Although they presented to us mostly in French, the group’s passion for stargazing was on full display when they gave us an overview of their work in the area, highlights from their events, and several selections from their extensive library of astrophotography (you can check out some of it yourself on their website). The real fun came when we took our remaining nips of Génépi outside to a balcony where they’d set up some of the biggest telescopes I’ve ever seen for our night of stargazing together. We didn’t get to see as much as we’d hoped thanks to some truly bad luck with cloudy weather, but the overall experience was nonetheless memorable thanks to the food, the people, and the unbeatable setting—a night of stargazing befitting a town like Megève.

In addition to the A Night Above the Clouds package, the concierge is always happy to arrange other bespoke stargazing experiences for guests, an evening at the observatory, according to a spokesperson for the hotel.

tent under the stars in french alps
Adrien Ledeul/Moment/Getty Images

Of course, you can find plenty of other ways to take advantage of Megève’s dazzling night sky beyond luxury hotel offerings. For a more local feel, area rental companies like Camping Bornard can hook you up with your own vacation chalet stashed in the heart of the mountains. And if you really want to rough it, the warmer months are ideal for pitching a tent and soaking up the night’s magic with little between you and the cosmos. There are also a surprising number of igloos and yurts that you can reach by snowshoeing through the woods in the winter months for intimate dinners, nighttime hikes, and stargazing.

Between skiing and stargazing, you might not have time for much else. But if you’re looking for a break from the slopes, head into the village for a leisurely stroll through the cobblestone streets cluttered with shops, boulangeries, and cafes. While there, don’t miss Le Hibou Blanc—famous for its prized fondue, it’s also a great place to pause and take in a mug of utterly life-changing hot chocolate (seriously). Each cup comes with a mound of fresh whipped cream that towers out of the glassware like Mont Blanc itself, plus a small square of dark chocolate on the side for good measure.

And that’s just the beginning. Megève is absolutely obsessed with food, and it really shows at standout restaurants like Nous, Indie Mountain, and the Michelin-starred La Table de l'Alpaga and Flocons de Sel. For something unexpected, try Japanese-fusion specialist Kaito at the Four Seasons, where you can give in to your craving for fresh sushi and pound crispy slices of peking duck in the same sitting.

christmas tree in megeve, france
ARRY-TRIPELON/Gamma-Rapho/Getty Images

Christmastime in Megève is particularly special, when the entire town transforms into a magical life-sized snow globe. Things kick off the first week of December with the lighting of a massive Christmas tree, a decades-old tradition that routinely draws thousands of revelers to the town square. The rest of the month is filled with festive events, including a Christmas market, musical performances and caroling, parades, reindeer visits, and much more. The big holiday celebration culminates with Soirée du Nouvel An, a New Year’s Eve celebration where those same revelers return to the square for free mugs of mulled wine served from a giant cauldron and a night-long bash fueled by DJ performances and live music.

But don’t let all the partying distract you from Megève’s best feature—for that, all you have to do is look up.

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Tony Merevick is the Managing Editor at Thrillist, where he's served in multiple editor roles on the James Beard Award-winning team since 2015. He's a journalist, editor, and creative content strategist with more than a decade of experience in digital media, including at top digital publishers Vox Media, Group Nine Media, and BuzzFeed. Over the years, his reporting has appeared in publications such as The New York Times, Time Out Chicago, the Chicago Free Press, among others, and his coverage of the national LGBTQ+ news beat at BuzzFeed led to a GLAAD Media Award Nomination in 2015. Merevick is the former editor-in-chief and co-founder of LGBTQ+ news startup, Chicago Phoenix. He's a graduate of the ASME Magazine Internship Program and holds a degree in Journalism from Columbia College Chicago. He loves wine, making homemade pizzas, and trying too hard at Instagram. Read more.