With its designer boutiques, top restaurants and luxury hotels, Courchevel 1850 is the winter playground of the rich – and a people-watching paradise for the not-so-rich. Here's how to enjoy it…
Hit the slopes with the rich and famous in the largest linked ski area in the world: Les Trois Vallées ("The Three Valleys") in the Rhône-Alpes, France. The three valleys in question are Saint-Bon, Belleville and Les Allues – not the three resorts of Méribel, Val Thorens and Courchevel, as is commonly mistaken.
The crème de la crème of the resorts is undoubtedly Courchevel – in particular Courchevel 1850, with its designer boutiques, luxury hotels, exclusive restaurants and fashionable nightclubs. With 1,400 square kilometres of accessible mountain terrain and 600km of pisted runs, there is enough to ensure all tastes are catered for – and at 1,850m, there’s a good chance of snow cover throughout the season.
Where to stay
Accommodation ranges from the exclusive chalet "hideaways" in the Jardin Alpin area, costing thousands of pounds per night, to the more affordable hotels and apartments closer to the centre of town. For cheaper deals, try one of the lower villages of 1650, 1550 or 1300 ("Le Praz"). A good mid-range hotel in 1850 is La Pomme De Pin, which has good-sized rooms, a fitness centre/spa and a "ski-on" roof terrace – well, who wants to walk back to their hotel after a hard day's riding? The price during high season, for two persons sharing a double room, starts at €400 per night.
For those on a tighter budget, the three valleys are also home to the lesser-known (and less expensive) resorts of Brides-les-Bains, La Tania, Les Menuires, Saint Martin and Orelle, all with good links to the main ski areas. However, if a lively après-ski atmosphere is de rigueur, most of these may be too quiet.
On the slopes
Beginners and families can enjoy the many tree-lined green runs, such as "Indians", where you can stop to meet Chief Grey Wolf in his teepee village to share a pipe, have your face painted and practise your archery on the target range. Those who wish to push the envelope a little further can tackle the steep and challenging couloirs dropping off from the top of the Saulire chair lift.
Lift passes are not cheap, so plan your skiing in advance – particularly if you are a beginner. If you’re not going to explore the full three valleys every day, it might be cheaper to buy a two- or three-day local pass until you get your confidence up, then go for the full three valleys pass for the rest of your stay.
Stop for lunch at the mountain restaurant at L’Altibar (+33 4 79 08 20 49, www.altibar.com), right next to the airport, to watch the helicopters and light aircraft ferry in the celebrities; or take panoramic photos from 3,000m at another fabulous mountain restaurant, Le Panoramic (+33 4 79 08 00 88; see www.lepanoramic-courchevel.com for directions). Failing that, just head back into the resort for some people-watching. Be on the lookout for Chanel ski suits and Dior sunglasses – it might just be someone famous!
For the obligatory 4pm vin chaud, the most popular après-ski bar is Bar Le Jump at the Hôtel de la Croisette in the centre of town. There's a lively atmosphere and it's popular with "the Brits" – and a good b&b option as well. Finish your après-ski at Le Milk, on rue du Forum, a quirky underground bar with a young crowd and some great music.
Start your evening with cocktails at the Purple Caffé (Porte de Courchevel) before heading for dinner at one of the many upmarket restaurants – some Michelin-starred. Do not leave town without trying the chocolate and caramel spring rolls (yes, it’s a dessert!) at the exotic Asian restaurant Le Grand Café at Le Saint Joseph hotel. Expect to pay about €140 per person for a three-course meal – and that’s excluding wine!
What about non-skiers?
For non-skiers, or if you just need an afternoon away from the slopes to recuperate, a shopping trip is highly recommended. In addition to the usual sports outlets, Courchevel has plenty of designer stores to keep you busy. You’ll find all the ranges from the likes of Alexander McQueen, Dior, Gucci and Armani, among many others.
As with any of the three valleys, getting there requires just a short drive from Chambery (109km/1.5 hours). Grenoble (175km) and Geneva (189km) are popular alternatives. If you’re struggling to find cheap airport transfers or car hire, why not board the Eurostar from London St Pancras to Moutiers? The train takes approximately 10 hours and leaves you with just a €12 bus ride (or €30 taxi journey) to the resort. Still not satisfied? Then how about flying directly to the mountain airport? Landing on the extremely short (525m) runway – which even slopes upwards to help the planes stop – might just be the scariest thing you do all week…
When to go
The new season starts on 5 December 2009. See you there!