Courchevel isn’t just the ultimate ski resort. It’s also the perfect playground – and the last word in glamour, says Sean Newsom.
The pinnacle of chic – Courchevel slope style fuses comfort, function and glamour
When Mother Nature created Courchevel, she was in a generous mood. At the top, she scratched deep scars in the rock to create one of the most eye-catching ridges in the French Alps. In the middle, she smoothed out long, gentle slopes that are perfect for intermediate pistes. And at the bottom she added plenty of trees, so everyone could carry on skiing if it snowed. Finally, she pointed the whole thing north – to keep the snow cold and grippy when other mountainsides have turned to slush.
Proper, iron-willed experts may scoff. For them, the raw, untamed mountains above Chamonix and La Grave represent the true peak of skiing perfection. But for everyone else, Courchevel is a kind of heaven. If you can’t ski backwards down a Winter Olympic half-pipe, and thigh-deep powder isn’t your cup of tea, Courchevel’s slopes are exactly what you need. They’ll settle your nerves and boost your confidence, and give you the courage to ski harder. By the end of a week’s holiday, you’ll be feeling so fast and feisty, you’ll wish you’d packed a ski-racer’s catsuit. It’s no wonder, then, that Courchevel has become so fashionable. It was Le Tout-Paris who first fell in love with its happy mix of easy skiing and spectacular scenery, back in the 1950s and ’60s. The Brits weren’t far behind, especially after Courchevel joined forces with its neighbours to create the world’s largest ski area – the Trois Vallées. But it was the arrival of the Russians in the late 1990s that really put the resort on the map. That’s when “prices caught fire” as the locals will tell you, and it became a global symbol of affluence.
“A kind of heaven” for skiers, Courchevel is part of the world’s largest ski area, the Trois Vallées
These days, Courchevel attracts a truly international crowd: not just Russians, but Brazilians, Israelis, Arabs, Australians and – just lately – Americans too. And it has developed an infrastructure of luxury that no other ski resort can match. Among the many five-star hotels that dot its slopes is the sumptuous Alpine flagship of Oetker Collection, L’Apogée Courchevel, while up on the mountain every imaginable dining experience awaits in the ski area’s restaurants. Just above the resort’s own airport, the Cap Horn is the undisputed catwalk of the lunchtime scene, complete with a red carpet on the sun deck and DJ sets in the afternoon. It’s the place to see and be seen – preferably ordering a magnum of champagne and the Wagyu beef spare ribs. Meanwhile, beside the broad boulevard of the Verdons piste, the jeunesse dorée kicks back in Nammos and watches the world ski by.
More discreet (and more gastronomic) options are available too. In the satellite village of La Tania, built to house athletes in the 1992 Winter Olympics, you’ll find the secret little restaurant of Le Farçon. Here, chef Julien Manchet, who has been awarded a Michelin star every year since 2006, offers treats such as celeriac velouté with a pineapple sorbet on his three-course, €42 lunch menu. Drop down to Le Praz at the bottom of the lift system and you’ll find similar quality at l’Azimut.
One of the key features of many of these restaurants is that you don’t have to ski to be able to reach them. They’re the perfect way to rendez-vous with non-skiing friends and family who will be in the midst of their own busy days – because the range of activities beyond the pistes is mind-boggling. Dog- sledding, ice-climbing, hot-air ballooning, snow-shoeing: the list goes on and on, with the odd spot of shopping in between. Need something new to wear in the bar tonight? Blu&Berry stocks Céline and Dries Van Noten. If you’re peckish, the irresistible macaroons at Ladurée are calling. Then, as the sun goes down, skiers and non-skiers can reunite over two recently-opened attractions that have significantly deepened Courchevel’s appeal, especially for families.
Enjoy magnificent views from L’Apogée Courchevel, Alpine flagship of Oetker Collection
The first is Moriond Racing, a high-speed toboggan run of banked turns, tunnels and hell-for-leather straights, which offers 3km of helpless laughter and the occasional tangle with the crash netting. The second is Aquamotion, which threw €63m at the concept of a ski-resort swimming pool, and turned it into the kind of waterpark you never want to leave. Surf simulators, side-by-side water slides, a wave machine, yoga, massages, climbing walls – they’re all here. You can even go swimming, if you must.
Young or old, skier or non-skier, it adds up to a holiday that’s the perfect antidote to our sedentary, 21st-century lives, where all the action seems to take place in computer games or in someone’s life on YouTube. And if, at the end of the day, you feel like raising a glass to money well spent, well, there are plenty of venues in which to do it – starting with cocktails and live music at Le Bar de l’Apogée.
More information here.