Courchevel: A Tale of Two Villages

Courchevel’s lower hamlets may offer a laid-back, old-world charm, but it is the resort’s highest two towns that have become the brightest jewels in France’s fabled Three Valleys – so what sets the glitzy enclaves apart?

Courchevel has come a long way since I last skied there as a child during the 1980s. Now synonymous with all things bling, it has a reputation as being one of the swankiest ski resorts in Europe. Courchevel actually consists of four satellite villages – historically known as Courchevel 1330, Courchevel 1550, Courchevel 1650 and Courchevel 1850. During the 2011-2012 season, however, the resort decided to scrap the association with altitude and the villages were rebranded. Courchevel 1850 became simply Courchevel; Courchevel 1650 was renamed Courchevel Moriond; Courchevel 1550 is now called Courchevel Village and Courchevel 1330, aka Le Praz, became just Courchevel Le Praz.

Connected to the Three Valleys and its 600km of ski slopes, the Courchevel domain has its own 150km of pistes, where it’s possible not just to ski, but also to snowshoe, snowmobile and luge (Courchevel Moriond has a new 3km-long racing luge track). There’s also an entertainment programme that runs throughout the villages, comprising everything from giant snowball fights to nightly firework displays. While Courchevel might attract the global elite, you don’t need to be an expert to ski here. Thanks to an entire Zen zone, with 19 green and 35 blue runs, it’s fantastically beginner-friendly. Just as well for a fair-weather skier like me who’s always been more about the après.

It might be the sheer size of the skiable area, or the -12C temperatures, but, even in high season, the mountains are blissfully quiet. When the sun’s out, the views are jaw-droppingly beautiful and, despite the biting cold, I’m starting to realise why Courchevel is considered a must for real ski-lovers.

Courchevel (1850)

Courchevel is a surreal Alpine hideaway. Significant for being the first resort in France to be constructed from scratch, rather than based around an existing village, it has become a playground for the super-rich. This is where the likes of Cartier, Louis Vuitton and Chanel have stores. For the ultimate selection, and if you need a €3,000 (approx. £2,700) Fendi ski suit, pop into Bernard Orcel, the top-of-the-line ski gear supplier where you can also pick up some Swarovski-encrusted Uggs for a few thousand more. It’s worth a browse, because you have to see it to believe it.

In 2011 France introduced a new tier to its hotel ranking system, with Palace status awarded to five-star hotels that far exceed the requirements at this level. So far, only 25 hotels in the entire country have received the rating. Three can be found in Courchevel – Le K2, Les Airelles and the Cheval Blanc Courchevel. This, alongside a vast choice of five-star establishments, has ensured that top-rated service is the norm across the highest of the Courchevel resorts.

Want to arrange your transfer by Rolls-Royce? No problem – stay at the Six Senses Residence. Fancy a caviar and cryo treatment? Head to the Spa Diane Barriere at Les Neiges – it will only set you back €720 (approx. £650). There are a range of more affordable treats, however, which, given your surroundings, will make you feel like a million dollars. 1850 is home to eight Michelin-starred chefs. Head to family-run hotel Le Strato, where Jean-André Charial of L’Oustau de Baumanière fame runs the Baumanière 1850. Forget the traditional fondue, it’s all about the Provençal influence and very haute cuisine. Try the famous smoked egg white spaghetti or the Savoie pork with truffles. If you are a sucker for truffles, like me, the rather romantic Comptoir de l’Apogée also serves a mean truffle risotto. My top tip? Stop for a truffle-rich cashew nut moment with an apéro by the fireplace first.

Odd as it may sound, sushi is also big news in this alpine hotspot. For the most authentic Japanese experience, Nama at the Aman Le Mélézin guarantees a real change of ambiance. Nama means raw and the restaurant is run by master chef Keiji Matoba, who takes sushi to an art form with his washoku Japanese cuisine. Don’t miss the Maguro tuna tartare or the Tokusen Wagyu sirloin steak.

For cocktails, Bellini's Bar Grandes Alpesopez is an eclectic mix of funky contemporary art, Japanese food and the best barman in town. Let the kitchen take care of the food with an omakase menu chosen by the chef, while super-sommelier Stefano takes care of the wine pairings. He’s also an expert mixologist and his Bellini is, as they say, to die for.

Courchevel Moriond

Two hundred metres lower, Courchevel Moriond, while still chic, is an altogether more down-to-earth, and affordable, offering. A quick drive, or free ski shuttle transfer, transports you to another world completely. For one thing, here you can sample authentic fondue and crêpes – all but extinct in 1850.

Moriond is not as chocolate box pretty as 1850. Its grey slate and wooden chalets remind me of American resorts. That said, it’s sleeker and sexier than your usual French village, clearly developed with taste to appeal to a certain clientele.

There is more self-catering accommodation ‘down’ in Moriond, but also a good choice of restaurants, ranging from the fancy Manali to the more local Le Petit Savoyard (excellent for fondues) and the family-friendly La Table de Marie. The village also has a lively bar scene. You’ll find the seasonaires celebrating at Le Bubble and the Funky Fox, making the most of the mulled wine and warming génépi liqueur shots. A handy spa in the town centre even stocks Marmite and Cheddar cheese.

We stayed at the swanky, newly built Le C – the first and only residence in Courchevel 1650 to boast a restaurant, spa and a ski room. It’s a design fiend’s dream, from the warm mocha sofas covered with heavy fur throws and scattered with leather and faux shearling pillows to the giant TV screens in each bedroom.

A small but well-equipped kitchen proves highly convenient, especially when travelling en famille, and there’s room service if you have a sudden urge for frites, foie gras or tiramisu. Downstairs, the offering at Bistrot Le C stretches from gourmet tapas to full-on slow-cooked confit pork with truffled chorizo and basil scallops – more than enough to compete with 1850. The apartment is just a stone’s throw from the Ariondaz gondola.

A final tip? Forget the ESF (English-speaking French ski school) and instead book the New Generation instructors, who teach small English speaking groups or offer one-on-one tutoring. Definitely a vast improvement on my experience in the 1980s – even if some outfits seem to have come full circle.

Le C, from €2,250 per week for a two-bedroom apartment with Alpine Resorts, alpine-residences.fr; Book group lessons with New Generation from €199 for five days, skinewgen.com