They do say that once you ski in Europe, it is hard to go back and it is true.
We flew the easy overnight flight into Geneva and were met by a car and driver. Within two hours, we pulled into the gorgeous Alpine Village of Courcheval, a tiny French hamlet that boasts no less than 17 5-Star Hotels and 5 Michelin Star Restaurants.
There simply is no shortage of chic – from the international clientele to the genuine warmth of the French hosts. Gorgeous shops, special hotels, luxury chalets, and award-winning restaurants seamlessly blend into the mountain village atmosphere with out taking from its authentic French Alpine character.
Courchevel is only open in the winter as the clientele is much happier to be on the French Riviera during the summer months. While prices are certainly high, it has never been a better time for the American Dollar to take advantage of nearly on par Euro.
Les Trois Vallées (The Three Valleys) is a ski region in the Tarentaise Valley, Savoie département of France, where it has been possible to ski the interlinked valleys using a single ski pass. Les Trois Vallées is the largest ski area in the world connected solely by ski lifts and slopes. It claims to have about 370 mi of ski slopes and 183 ski lifts, which can transport 260,000 skiers per hour. The charm is being able to breakfast in Courchevel, ski in Val Thorens, and apres-ski in Meribel. All in a days work!
With many hotel visits to make during our week in Courchevel, my initial thought was that we may have spoiled the rest of the trip by arriving first to the charming and perfect Les Airelles, a five star Palace Hotel des Charmes in Courchevel 1850 (1850 is the name of the prestigious area of Courchevel built at 1850 meters – other areas might be called 1350 or 1550, or example).
From the beret clad bellmen greeting us at the front door, to the warm receptionists, to the perfectly poised servers in the restaurant, we felt immediately at home (well, honestly, a whole lot better than at home).
At Les Airelles, there is no detail left unchecked. The intoxicating signature perfume can be discreetly picked up at every turn, the traditional mountain uniforms of the staff are endearing, the hand-painted design and detail on every ceiling, door, and mirror, and the hand-selected antiques and artifacts throughout the hotels are of a fine home, not a hotel.
Lunch itself is an affair to remember – oysters, lobster, salmon, and trout, whole roasted chickens, lambs and beef. Charcuteries, cheeses, pates, foie gras, and every color of vegetable imaginable – marinated fungi, tomatoes, asparagus, aubergine, artichokes, arugula – all paired with crisp French white wines made for an other-worldly arrival to France. Who can remember jet lag with this type of introductory affair!
The General Manager, Jacques is one of those hotel heads who is omni-present, speaking to all the guests, staying with you for an extra glass of wine, telling a joke and simply making you feel right at home. His attitude and genuine care is reflected by each employee throughout the hotel.
The town of Courchevel is so chic and inviting!
For a village that is oh so chic, one might think that it is a play ground for the adults, but honestly it is the kids who rule. I have never in my life, nor in my 20 years in the hotel business, seen such over-the-top kids clubs, the latest and greatest, and never at an extra charge.
The Kids Kingdom at Les Airelles:
Dinner and site inspection at Les Grande Alpes Private Hotel was an incredible experience. With fantastic multi room suites and apartments, this is a great option for families and groups of friends seeking modern luxury.
After a glorious stay at Les Airelles, we were transferred a few meters down the road to the warm and more contemporary L’Apoggee, part of the distinguished and exclusive collection of it hotels in the Oetker Collection (think Hotel Cap, Chateau St. Martin in the South of France, Le Bristol in Paris, and Isle de France in St. Barts). Again what makes the hotels here pop, is the perfection of the staff; they always seem to be right on queue and anticipating your every need.
The warm welcome we received by the entire team as we entered L’Apogee set the tone for another wonderful experience. The 30-something room hotel will be the perfect solution for those wanting something a bit more contemporary but still with a very plush and comfortable vibe. Welcome gifts for guests staying in their suites include a down parka in signature garnet or navy with their logo and a box of silky chocolates driven in weekly from the South of France. Somehow the ski room, always knows when you are coming and has your boots and shoes ready. Everyone always knows your name. Whoever says the French are not friendly, clearly has not been to Courchevel!!!
The dinner we had, served by the expert assistant sommelier and the Chef Jean Luc Francois, was one of the most delicious meals of the trip!
The absolutely best perk of Alpine skiing is stopping into family-run restaurants for an incredible lunch. Le Cave du Creaux was opened by two former instructors and we were lucky enough to catch them on a Thursday when they fire pit roast lamb – absolutely gorgeous meal!
There are many wonderful chalets to take over in Courchevel – ideal for a big family or a group of friends. The Chalet run by Les Airelles was my favorite however. With 9 bedrooms, a staff of 12, along with all the bells and whistles, this chalet was completely cozy with a sense of place. This is my top pick for 3-4 families traveling together.
Another gorgeous ski in lunch!
Some of my other restaurant suggestions:
- Chalet de Pierre
- La Mangois – For dinner and a late night out, does not get going until 2am. Plan to dance on the tables.
- Chabichou – For a fantastic value Michelin star lunch or dinner – around EUR 70 for 3 courses is just about the best value in town and this chef has held his Michelin star for 30 years
- Annapurna – Ski in lunch on the terrace on a sunny day
- Les Caves – Late night cocktails
Where else does the mountainside Apres-ski party get going at 2pm? La Folie Douce is an absolute must but remember you still need to get off the mountain. Many end up helicoptering down!
What makes Courchevel different than any other ski resort, and perhaps any other part of the world, is the very high quality of everything. I am not talking about being a location with hotels the caliber of Trump, Four Seasons, Park Hyatt, Ritz-Carlton, even Belmonde and Aman – while all wonderful brands that would make most travelers very happy. The caliber of hotel you find in Courchevel is a step beyond. It may be that most of the hotels are around 30 rooms but have incredible numbers of staff – like 4 staff for every guest. And even though these are boutique hotels, they have Michelin star restaurants, sumptuous spas, elegant boutiques, gyms, ski rooms with staff galore, chic bars always with live music, and absolutely every hotel has ski in-ski out access directly onto the mountain.
Some of my other favorite hotels:
Because Courchevel is only open 4 months a year, the summer is spent updating and refreshing everything – nothing looks worn or out of place. The design, art, color, furnishings, beds, cutlery, china – all eye candy. Courcheve is very tiny yet every hotel has 24-hour car service to anywhere you want to go. The walk to the “croisette”, or town center, is easy and we probably needed to walk, but with a dashing young driver always at the ready, we really did not get much walking in.