A favourite with the rich and famous, Courchevel 1850 is the ultimate chic resort at the heart of the vast and varied Three Valleys, offering fabulous skiing for all levels, as well as superb shopping and dining.
Courchevel 1850 is France’s premier ski resort and with good reason. While it may have a reputation as one of the most glitzy resorts of the Alps (and there is no denying it is expensive), this has only been earned with the help of what is probably the world’s best all round skiing area. From complete beginners to the world’s top freeride skiers, including local legend Manu Gaidet, Courchevel has skiing to keep everyone entertained.
Over the past ten years, Courchevel has attracted skiers with ever increasing budgets from around the world and this has had a profound effect on the resort. Prime weeks such as New Year and February holidays now command a significant premium. However, there has been an interesting side effect in that, as hotels have turned standard rooms into vast suites and property prices have become some of the highest in the world, the other weeks of the season have become quieter and quieter. As a result, those skiing in January (after the Russian New Year) and March (even at Easter) will be delighted to find that Courchevel’s pristine pistes are surprisingly quiet.
Courchevel remains the ski resort of choice for the rich and famous. It even has its own airstrip, with the largest area for private planes in any ski resort in the world. The heliport is soon to be extended, as people’s choice of transfer by helicopter has increased over the last few years. Superb skiing for all levels, Michelin-star restaurants and fabulous shopping make this the perfect upmarket ski experience.
Resort altitude: 1850m
Highest point: 2738m
Vertical drop: 1438m
Ski areas: Part of Les Trois Vallées, the largest ski areas in the world. Includes 6 other resorts: Méribel, La Tania, Les Menuires, Saint Martin de Belleville, Val Thorens and Orelle
Pistes: 150km (600km for the Trois Vallées of which 52% beginner/intermediate, 38% advanced, 10% expert)
Best for: All levels of skier. Easy runs close to the village, steeper runs and plenty of off piste terrain further up the mountain. A wealth of blue and red runs make the Courchevel area great for all levels.
There are a whole combination of factors that make Courchevel such a good ski area. As part of the Three Valleys (Trois Vallées), Courchevel is one third of the world’s most extensive ski area. The Three Valleys is mind-bogglingly big and to really ski the whole area would take years.
Given that so much terrain is almost gratuitous for a week’s skiing, perhaps the more important things are the exposure and the variety of pitch. The slopes are predominantly North facing meaning that the snow in Courchevel stays in great condition. The mountain is “concave” so the lower slopes around the chalets and hotels principally comprise confidence building green and blue runs below the tree-line which means that visibility and exposure to the wind are never much of a problem. The further up the mountain you go, the steeper it gets and wide red runs perfect for huge carving turns are topped with steep mogul runs and narrow couloirs to challenge the most expert skiers.
It would be a big mistake to start each day by taking the lift to the top of the mountain though. The central ski area beneath La Saulire draws the crowds and much of the best (and less busy) terrain lies lower down. Courchevel 1650 is characterised by immensely wide blue runs in the sun making it perfect for intermediates. When it is cold or the visibility is poor, the tree runs down to Courchevel 1550, Le Praz and La Tania are the places to head. On top of that there are some thigh-burningly long descents including the two black runs, Jockeys and Jean Blanc, which are true classics.
Of course, once you have explored the Courchevel valley from end to end, the Meribel valley is only 2 ski lifts away and the Val Thorens/Les Menuires Valley is the largest of the three, if not the prettiest.
Courchevel prides itself on the way it maintains its pistes and every night, the arsenal of piste bashers go to work to ensure that there are endless miles of perfect corduroy the next morning. The perfectly prepared pistes, variety of green, blue, red and black runs, plus the easy ski home, mean that Courchevel 1850 is probably the best resort in the Alps for families or groups of varying standards. Added to this, Magic Academy is among the very best ski schools with an innovative approach to learning to ski.
Lunch on the mountain is the second favourite activity (for some it is arguably the first) and is serious business. The most notorious mountain restaurants are the Chalet de Pierres, the Cap Horn, La Soucoupe and the Bel Air on the 1650 side. Sunny terraces and big wine lists abound and non-skiers can reach them all by gondola or by road. If lunch for you is more about enjoying a good meal which retains some sense of value for money, there are plenty more options including Le Roc Tania, Le Bouc Blanc and any number of restaurants on the “fronts de neige” of Courchevel 1550, 1650 and Le Praz. The Adray Telebar near the Meribel altiport also has an excellent reputation.
Courchevel has the highest concentration of five star hotels in France outside Paris so there is a wealth of choice. Ski in/ski out is de rigeur and the hotel restaurants compete for gastronomic honours. La Sivolière is one of our favourites and for those seeking something a little more relaxed and family friendly, Les Sherpas is a perennial favourite which can be a real winner when combined with our childcare.
As you would expect, there is plenty to keep non-skiers occupied. The Forum has an Olympic ice rink, tenpin bowling alley, a climbing wall and a small gym. The village at 1850 is well known for its range of designer boutiques. The selection of haute couture and jewellery is as wide as the choice of skiing equipment.
You may recognise Courchevel’s spectacular altiport from the James Bond film, Tomorrow Never Dies and pilots need to have a special rating to be able to land there. Scenic flights are a great way to see the Three Valleys though if you have the stomach for the hair-raising take-off.
Eating out in the evening is a treat for any gourmet as Courchevel boasts an impressive eleven Michelin stars. Although not a winner of any stars, we recommend La Mangeoire which combines fabulous dining with cabaret and once service is finished, the party really gets started.
Unless there is a blizzard, take the Plantrey chairlift instead of the main gondolas first thing in the morning. There is rarely a queue and the first run down is a wonderful fast and wide blue, which offers incredible carving turns.
Don’t miss the Chapelets run in Courchevel 1650. It is usually overlooked and one of the most fun in the valley.
Think like a local when planning your skiing. Most people head for Courchevel 1650 on day 3 or 4 and plan to ski the Three Valleys on day 4 or 5. Turn this on its head and you should find that you rarely wait in a queue.
In a whiteout, ski the runs on the Loze side down to La Tania and Le Praz. The tree cover gives you much better visibility.
Le Chabichou, the double Michelin star winning restaurant usually seen as an evening venue, has a wonderful sunny terrace right next to the piste and a “plat du jour” menu that offers surprisingly good value at lunch time. The rich and famous are too busy being “seen” at the other big name mountain restaurants to have noticed.
Try lunch at La Bouitte, the starred restaurant in St Martin de Belleville. The run down to St Martin, Jerusalem, is an epic way to build up an appetite.
Le YaCa in Le Praz is well worth the trip down the hill. This tiny restaurant has bags of character and superb but unfussy food. Another good option is the Bistrot du Praz, which specialises in foie gras. A less expensive option is the Oeil du Boeuf in Courchevel 1550, which uses the open fire as a grill for superb steaks and other cuts.
The toboggan run from Courchevel 1850 to 1550 is free (with a lift pass) and is a real highlight - great fun for adults and kids.
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