With its quiet pistes, relaxed village atmosphere and English-speaking ski schools, Courchevel 1650 in the French Alps is great for beginners – but its varied terrain thrills expert skiers too
The small village of Courchevel 1650 is much more down-to-earth than its sophisticated higher-altitude – and higher-attitude – neighbour, Courchevel 1850. Nevertheless, it has high aspirations, offering almost the same ease of access to the vast ski circus that is Les Trois Vallées. The slopes that this resort can call its own are, in many respects, a secret snow paradise uncharted by the majority of skiers who visit the area.
Courchevel 1650 is a family-friendly village – less expensive than 1850, but with excellent links to the same slopes and a more relaxed, less self-conscious atmosphere. Most skiers who go there are attracted by the authentic "mountain village" experience, a refreshing contrast to the pomp, excess and inflated prices of 1850.
What it lacks in glitz, 1650 makes up for with great skiing – the same vast choice of interlinked runs across the three valleys as from 1850. The only difference is that you access them 200m lower down the mountain – and, in poor visibility, the quiet, tree-lined runs around 1650 can actually be the more attractive proposition.
Courchevel comprises four villages at different altitudes (from 1,300m to 1,850m), named according to their height in metres. The highest, Courchevel 1850, is the internationally renowned resort in the Trois Vallées, offering fantastic skiing and a sophisticated après-ski scene that make it one of the most popular ski resorts in the world. Should you want them, the sights and sounds of 1850 are a stone's throw away from 1650 – albeit uphill – and you can also access the other major resorts of the Trois Vallées: Méribel and Val Thorens. Of the ski areas within easy reach of 1650, Bel Air, Chanrossa and Signal are highly rated.
Courchevel 1650 is reknowned for its varied terrain and quiet, well-groomed pistes. Being 200m lower than the main ski area, its slopes tend to be a lot less busy than those higher up at Courchevel 1850. However, it has three lifts leading up to 1850, providing fast, convenient access to the more challenging Trois Vallées terrain – including the Ugly Sisters couloirs, off-piste.
Much of the skiing in the immediate vicinity is along pretty, tree-lined routes – but with more than 100 runs and 150km of dramatically different terrains to explore, there is plenty for skiers of all abilities, even without using the full Trois Vallées lift pass.
Courchevel 1650 also has excellent English-speaking ski schools, plus its own free lifts and beginners' slopes. This makes it an ideal choice for a family holiday. There is also night skiing on the floodlit slope above the village every day until 7pm – free with a valid lift pass.
COURCHEVEL 1650 AT A GLANCE
Highest lift 3,200m
Lowest lift 1,300m
Number of lifts 198
Number of slopes 275
Total piste length 600km
Longest run 5km
Cross country 120km
Beginners' pistes 54 per cent
Intermediate pistes 35 per cent
Expert pistes 11 per cent
Pros and cons
Massive and varied slopes to suit everyone, from beginner to expert
Lots of chalets offering good value for money
A fantastic lift system
Excellent for families
Affordable entry into Trois Vallées area
Little to do away from the slopes
Expensive mountain restaurants
If dialling from the UK, prefix all numbers below with 00 33 and ignore the first 0.
Bel-Air (04 79 08 00 93) Located at the top of the 1650 télécabine. Alternatively, you can ski down the Col de Chanrossa to build up an appetite for the fine Savoyard cuisine and friendly service. Great value and splendid views, plus pedestrian access from 1650.
Le Pilatus (04 79 08 20 49) Just below The Cap Horn, by the Altiport, this restaurant has a large sunny terrace. Excellent food; a sensible alternative to the Cap Horn.
La Souçoupe (04 79 08 21 34) Renowned restaurant located at the top of Col de la Loze lift, on the run down to La Tania. Offers both self-service and table service (book ahead for the latter). Excellent food and great value.
Le Kalico (04 79 08 20 28) At Le Forum, on the last leg down from 1850, this ski-in bar/restaurant/club is always lively from lunchtime onwards, attracting a young crowd. Serves Tex/Mex food; open until 4am.
La Montagne (04 79 08 09 85) Situated at the far end of 1650, opposite the Marquis building, this restaurant specialises in mouthwatering Savoyard dishes.
L'Ambassad'or (04 79 08 24 04) Located next door to Sport Gliss, near the Sherpa supermarket, this is the only restaurant to open out of season. In fact, it is open every day of the year – serving excellent pizzas and more traditional Savoyard specialities.
L'Albaron (04 79 08 24 87) One of the best eateries in 1650, serving traditional Savoyard meals such as raclette and fondue.
Petit Savoyard (04 79 08 27 44) This has affordable local cuisine and wood-fired pizzas served in a traditional mountain setting.
La Maracas (04 79 01 14 49) Wine and tapas bar.
There is a small but lively après-ski scene in 1650, very popular with Brits. The bars are less sophisticated – and the prices far lower – than in Courchevel 1850, which attracts its share of oligarchs these days. Come January, it can resemble a suburb of Moscow with road signs conspicuously written in both French and Russian!
The Bubble This British-run pub, with its comfy sofas, Sky TV and internet access, is one of the most popular meeting places in 1650. Snacks are available all day – and there is a "Double Bubble Happy Hour", daily from 4-6pm.
Rocky's Live music twice a week and cheap beer, too. Dancing until late.
Signal Bar This popular central bar, serves the infamous 8 per cent Mutzig brew! Shuts at 9pm.
Pace Bar Late bar (open 4pm-4am) with a games room, lots of big screens, live music and dancing.
In 1650, the après-ski mostly takes place in bars. There is only one nightclub, which seems to change its name every year. Originally called La Godille, it then became Moulin Blanc and is now La Taverna.
S2D= ski to door
Hotel Seizena 3* Stylish boutique hotel opposite the main lifts, owned by the same people as Kilimanjaro in 1850, but a fraction of the cost.
Hotel Manali 4* Luxe Rue de la Rosière. Wonderful hotel at the foot of the slopes. S2D, fantastic food; eat here for your lunchtime piste stop.
Hotel Du Golf Rue du Marquis. S2D; well-positioned on the slopes – and clean.
Le Portetta 3* Rue de la Croisette, Saint Bon. S2D; modern-style hotel on the slopes, indoor pool, good food and service.
Hotel Edelweiss 2* Place du Marquis. Affordable hotel, located in the centre of Courchevel 1650 – just off the main square. Excellent access to the pistes.
Tourist office (04 79 08 00 29, www.courchevel.com)