Still trying to decide on a location for your winter ski break? Then look no further than VINGT Paris favourite, Courchevel, one of the most prestigious resorts in the world. Susie Hollands brings us her highlights
With its picture-perfect Alpine landscape, composed of vast powdery slopes, fragrant pine forests and impossibly pretty villages, it’s perhaps no wonder that Courchevel is one of the most renowned ski resorts in Europe. Throw in the state-of-the-art facilities, a buzzy aprés-ski scene and a medley of Michelin-Star restaurants – not to mention some seriously chic boutiques – and you have one of the most prestigious in the world.
Part of the renowned ‘Les Trois Vallées’, the largest linked ski area anywhere, the other great thing about Courchevel is that you’re spoilt for choice – with the resort comprising five separate villages each with their own special charm. The most exclusive of all, however, is undoubtedly the elegant eyrie of Courchevel 1850 – usually known these days simply as Courchevel. Often referred to as the ‘Saint-Tropez of winter sports’, this salubrious spot is a magnet for the rich, famous and even royalty – with Prince William and Kate Middleton both spotted here.
Given the resort’s international prestige, it’s perhaps no surprise that it can also lay claim to a pretty impressive sporting heritage. Back in the 1940’s, former Olympic skiing champion Emile Allais dreamed of creating a ski resort like no other. After the war years, he managed to achieve that – and then some. Not only did Courchevel become one of the most famous resorts in Europe, it also helped to drive winter sports across the entire continent.
Today, you’ll find an impressive expanse of some 600km of ski slopes, with something for every level – from supervised nursery slopes through to adrenaline-inducing black runs and off-piste options for the more adventurous. However, with its excellent range of easy ‘green’ runs and free lift access for newbies, it’s fair to say that Courchevel is particularly well-suited to beginners. There are also some excellent ski schools, such as New Generation and the ESF ski school, or, for a great private tutor, we can highly recommend Sebastien Libera (+33 6 86 67 83 15).
So, what type of accommodation to choose in this snowy Alpine paradise? You could, of course, opt for one of the irresistible wooden chalets – such as these – many of which are kitted out to five-star standards. A number of these also offer bonus extras such as roaring log fires, relaxing hot-tubs and fabulous home cooking at the end of a long day on the slopes.
For our part though, having enjoyed the chalet option before, we decided on a hotel stay this time. And it’s hard to think of anywhere that does the job more perfectly than Courchneige, a chic hotel on the slopes of Courchevel 1850. Definitely our top tip for the area, there can’t be many hotels in the region as friendly, stylish and affordable as this one – and it also has the all-important ski-in, ski-out access.
Whether staying in a chalet or a hotel, you’ll probably want to eat out at least a couple of times during your stay. With some 70 restaurants in the resort, including seven with Michelin stars, it’s fair to say that the level of dining in Courchevel is unsurpassed by any other ski destination.
For a daytime ski-stop, try the rightly popular Cap-Horn, a restaurant at high altitude with a friendly vibe. They also have a fantastic terrasse, which heats up with a DJ and great music, although it is only open during the daytime. The interior is cosy and rustic but the wine list will take your breath away. Another popular spot is Le Chalet de Pierres, one of the oldest mountain restaurants in Courchevel, though it feels less authentic – and the Bel Air restaurant, on the slopes of 1650, is another safe bet.
If you really want to push the boat out, there is also the double-Michelin starred restaurant of five-star hotel, Cheval Blanc, down on the lower slopes. Bear in mind, though, that you’ll need to book well in advance for that one.
Not surprisingly, there is also a buzzing après-ski scene, with a good choice of bars in both Courchevel 1850 and Courchevel Moriond 1650 – many of which have live music and are open very late. La Grange and Les Caves are two of the more hedonistic club options at Courchevel 1850’s higher altitude. Alternatively, La Mangeoire is one of the most popular with the local crowd who live and work here.
For those with any energy left after all that partying, there’s a whole host of other sports that can be tried here too. As well as a thriving snow-boarding scene, there is also ice skating, tobogganing and ice climbing, to name but a few. There’s even the opportunity to take a dip in the new Aquamation centre, in Courchevel Moriond, with its multiple pools – and, best of all, its own indoor surfing facilities.
For outdoor adventures, however, you can’t beat the excellent event planners, Chardon Loisirs, who organise activities ranging from midnight toboggan runs to “mot-neige” (a sort of motorbike that is not for the fainthearted). Their hidden log cabin, accessible by snowplough, is marvellous and they host a range of themed soirées in this location. The entertainment is always delightfully unpredictable; one night you might dine accompanied by an accordionist and crazed woodcutter who slams an axe into the tables! The menus feature plenty of traditional Alpine fare, fondue, beautiful regional charcuterie and Savoie wine.
Finally, don’t forget to make time to pick up a few souvenirs to take home. Tucked away in the narrow streets, you’ll find an array of local foodie specialities, ski wear and, yes, fridge magnets. Then, of course, there’s all the designer boutiques – ranging from Chanel and Louis Vuitton to Hermès. Certainly beats another plastic snowstorm anyway.
Just one word of warning before we leave you scrolling through idyllic Instagram pics – the resort can get busy at peak times, so if there’s any way you can avoid school holidays, so much the better. In particular, try to avoid the February holidays, which is one of the busier times, and also the Russian Christmas and New Year festivities, running from January 6 to 13, which is considered a peak time.
All in all, though, whatever time of year you visit, it’s no surprise that Courchevel consistently ranks as one of the best ski resorts in Europe. We’ll see you on the slopes!