Geneva: 3 hrs hrs 30 mins
Grenoble: 3 hrs 30 mins
40 mins (20 mins to Le Praz)
Courchevel ski holidays are to skiing what Marks and Spencers is to food shopping. Built on the perfect blend of good snow, varied terrain, fabulous accommodation, extraordinary food and a vibrant nightlife, Courchevel holds its own as one of the Big 4 ski resorts, without even mentioning its links to the mighty Three Valleys ski area. Although purpose-built, Courchevel accommodation and especially Courchevel ski chalets have in most cases been sympathetically constructed to complement the mountain. Made up of four separate village-resorts, each station has its own personality and patrons. The free bus service winds up from Le Praz (1300), the quaintest village, past Courchevel Village (formerly known as Courchevel 1550), through Courchevel Moriond (the old Courchevel 1650) to the highest village of Courchevel (formerly known as Courchevel 1850) – the most cosmopolitan village in the Three Valleys and one of the top luxury resorts in the world. In fact, glitzy Courchevel is probably more akin to the Harrods food court than M&S. Smart, sophisticated and expensive, with exceptional restaurants, shops and bars, this is the snowy playground of the rich and famous. Courchevel Moriond is quieter, with an old village centre, lively bars and cosy Courchevel chalets, while Courchevel Village and Le Praz are much quieter and more family-friendly with a handful of quaint bars and restaurants. Ski holidays Courchevel offer something for everyone, but one thing that does come with a resort of this calibre is prices as high as it’s peaks and in Courchevel (formerly 1850), pretty much everything will cost you an arm and a leg (and possible a kidney too), but the lower you go, the more down to earth the prices become. For lunch on the mountain it’s advisable to drop down into Meribel or Val Thorens for affordable eats, however gourmets will find that the sky’s the limit in the choice of fine dining. Of course, if you’ve heard of the legend that is Courchevel, then so has the world and his St Bernard, but for cruisy pistes and a taste of the high-life, you can’t beat a ski holiday in Courchevel.
Courchevel accommodation opens onto some of the best maintained slopes in the Alps. There are more than enough runs in the valley for a week’s ski holiday and the well-balanced mix of terrain makes it a great all-round resort. It all starts for beginners in the Evolution Zones – the best are at Courchevel (formerly 1850) and Courchevel Moriond (formerly 1650). From here you can take the Ariondaz chair to the top of Praline, one of the best greens in the Alps, or try the leisurely blue, Indiens, back down through the trees to your Courchevel chalet. More wide blues and greens take you down from Courchevel (formerly 1850) to Village (formerly 1550) – in fact, it is actually possible to ski the whole of the Three Valleys on green pistes alone. Intermediates will enjoy the well-pitched fast reds down through the trees from Moriond (1650) and the long, steep runs down from the top of the Chanrossa chair, which have good off-piste off the side. Tougher runs are found going down to Le Praz. Advanced skiers will want to hit the Col de la Loze for some of the best reds and blacks in the Three Valleys, the home of the extreme ski championships. The only railpark in the Three Valleys, complete with ‘Railpark Rangers’ to advise and assist, is found in le Plantrey and there is also a terrain park in Les Verdons. Freestylers can show off on the testing mogul course under the Biolley chair or give the racers a run for their money over the snowcross on the La Loze trail.
A few ski Courchevel tips: The early bird catches the powder in Courchevel so be sure to make first lifts after a big dump and head for the Suisse chair or Vizelle gondola before it gets tracked out. If you’ve got to get goggle-marks, definitely stay at south-facing Courchevel Moriond (formerly known as Courchevel 1650), otherwise known as the sun-lovers station. Parents can enjoy their Courchevel ski holiday that little bit more, safe in the knowledge that little ones in ski school will be wearing Magnistik packs, which hold them securely on chairlifts with magnets.
The range of winter sports on offer on a Courchevel holiday is impressive. If you prefer to get around minus the planks, why not partake in a spot of snowshoeing, a guided hiking tour or a trip round the winter walking tracks. The toboggan run down from Courchevel (formerly 1850) to Village (1550) is fast, fun and steep, and what’s more it’s free with your lift pass. You could also try snowmobiling, hot air ballooning or paragliding outside, or bowling, ice-skating, rock climbing or a good film in the cinema inside. If you’re looking for pampering, you could do much worse than joining the celebs in one of Courchevel’s spas or beauty parlours and of course, there’s always the shopping (just don’t forget the credit card).
On a Courchevel holiday, you’ll find a party for everyone. If you’ve got it, flaunt it up at Courchevel (formerly known as 1850) – start with cocktails at the Purple Caffe or a happy hour pint with live music at the Milk pub, then take your pick of the two clubs, Les Caves and La Grange, where the party atmosphere that lasts until 5am is almost as big as the prices. For a more down to earth night, try a ski holiday at Courchevel Moriond (formerly 1650). Start with a beer in the sunshine at Le Bel Air, where you can also sample the great Savoyard fare, before joining the seasonnaires at Rocky’s. After that, it’s on to the By Night Tavern where you can party til 4am. Sporty types should hit MC Games for live fixtures and electronic games, while culture vultures will enjoy the fine wines and terrific tapas at Le Maracas. Courchevel Village (the old 1550) is quieter on the nightlife but you can still enjoy a lovely pint of Guiness and some live bands in the Chanrossa pub.
If the first thing you think when you hear ‘Courchevel’ is skiing, the second thing should be gastronomy. If you’re staying in Courchevel accommodation, you have a choice of no less than six Michelin starred restaurants on your doorstep. The cream of the crop is 2 Michelin starred Le Chabichou, which will take you to gourmet heaven with its produits regionales. Other top end choices include Japanese restaurant Le Ten Kai or Le Bal for local roast game. If your pockets aren’t quite that deep, you can still sample the valley’s best at more economical prices by booking into La Cortona in Village (1550) for great value pizzas, or the Crêperie Titine and Lilou in Moriond (1650) for the valley’s best crêpes. Cheesy Savoyard specialities are not to be missed at Le Petit Savoyard in Courchevel Moriond or Les Flocons in Courchevel Village, where everything is made from fresh local ingredients.
The best mountain restaurants in Courchevel are all accessible to skiers of every ability (well plaster casts don’t work for celebs, do they?) so even your non-skier friends will be able to sample the delights of on-mountain dining. Be warned, though, that a meal in one of these sumptuous eateries is likely to set you back more than a lift pass. Savvy savers should join the bands of ski instructors down at the Hotel Les Grandes Alpes at the bottom of the Jardin chair in Courchevel (formerly 1850, after all, the locals always know the best places to eat). If you are planning a special meal, be sure to follow the Skiworld motto and book early to avoid disappointment, as getting a table at the best places can be as difficult as getting into The Ivy.