Value for Money 54%
Careful now: Courchevel may be one of best resorts in the world for beginners and intermediates. But you’ll pay a premium for all those beautifully-groomed pistes.
Table of Contents
- 1 Essential Advice for the Perfect Trip
- 2 Guide to the Mountain
- 3 Where to Learn
- 4 Where to Stay
- 4.1 Courchevel 1850 is the epicentre of the luxury ski industry
- 4.2 From sublime to over-the-top hotels
- 4.3 But you can still find cheap(ish) accommodation in 1850
- 4.4 Moriond (1650) is noticeably cheaper than 1850
- 4.5 …and there are decent chalets and apartments here too
- 4.6 Courchevel Village (1550) is for ski convenience
- 4.7 Choose Le Praz (1300) for its atmosphere
- 5 Where to Eat
- 6 Where to Party
Essential Advice for the Perfect Trip
No doubt about it, God made Courchevel for skiing. At the top, He created three great mountain bowls, and pointed them north, so the snow was almost always soft and squeaky. In the middle, He smoothed a bunch of long, perfectly pitched slopes so that beginners and intermediates would have fun too. And at the bottom He planted lots of trees so that everyone had somewhere to go when the clouds came down.
When He’d finished, He’d created one of the most preternaturally well-endowed ski resorts in the world.
Problem is, everybody knows it. Word-of-mouth recommendations, enthusiastic guide-book reports, websites like this one: together, they’ve created a huge demand for Courchevel’s slopes, and these days it’s groaning under the weight of its own popularity.
It’s not in the lift queues where you’ll see it at its worst: those are extraordinarily short, given how many people come here. It’s on the pistes themselves, especially the sensational Combe Saulire red and the Verdons green beneath it. Together, they form the spine of the resort’s on-piste skiing, and all day they’re covered by a moving carpet of humanity. Unless people-slalom skiing is your thing, you’ll hate them when they’re like that.
Consider staying lower down
The other symptom of Courchevel’s popularity is the pricing. For years, back in the days when France’s economy boomed, this was where the Parisian elite went to ski. Then rich Russians took over in the best hotels and chalets – 7% of the clientele counted for 50% of the resort’s income – and prices went through the roof. Now the figure has halved but resort prices still haven’t dropped. There are chalets here that cost over £100,000 a week to rent, not including travel.
The most stratospheric prices have always been up at the highest village in the resort, formerly known as Courchevel 1850, but now rechristened simply (and confusingly) as Courchevel. Lower down the mountain, in the less fashionable villages, the prices are less indigestible.
Courchevel Village (1550) is the best budget alternative – thanks to some magnificently bargain-basement apartments – but you’ll also find more affordable digs in Courchevel Moriond (1650), Le Praz (1300) and La Tania. That said, accommodation here is stil more expensive than comparable stuff elsewhere outside the 3 Valleys.
Guide to the Mountain
On their own, Courchevel’s slopes would rank amongst the best in the Alps, especially for beginners and intermediates. But add in rest of the 3 Valleys lift system, which includes the resorts of Meribel, St Martin de Belleville, Les Menuires, Val Thorens and La Tania, and you can see why the appeal is irresistible for so many.
Admittedly, this is a resort that should be skied mid-winter, from Christmas through to the end of February, rather than the beginning or the end of the season – because all the local pistes lie between 1100m and 2738m. But aside from the moderate altitude, the only real drawback is how busy it gets.
A no-brainer for beginners
Two of Courchevel’s villages are brilliant for beginners – 1850 and Moriond. Not only are their home runs gentle, they also come well-equipped with excellent British ski schools. (See our “Where to Learn” section below for details.) However, they have very different personalities. 1850 is ritzy and can be eye-wateringly expensive, and in peak weeks its pistes can be hectic. Moriond is more low-key and always quieter. On a busy week like New Year or February half-term, beginners are going to be happier in Moriond.
Superb skiing for every kind of intermediate
Courchevel’s popularity with the super-rich is no accident. They love the flattering effect of its wide and super-smooth pistes: and you will too, if you’re any sort of intermediate skier.
The central section of slopes is where the resort’s reputation has been forged – home to an array of soothing blues and greens that’ll give even the most cautious of second-week skiers the confidence to experiment, and push themselves. Both above and below that mark the terrain is steeper, and this is where you find the reds and blacks. Combe Saulire in particular, is a classic – among the most enjoyable pistes in France, and, indeed the Alps.
Knit the whole lot together into one mighty top-to-bottom run, and you’ll have skied through a muscle-melting 1600 vertical metres.
Generally speaking, in the mid-winter months of late December, January and February, the skiing is so good here that many piste skiers rarely venture over into the next sector of the 3 Valleys – Meribel. That’s especially true if their first experience of Courchevel’s neighbour is the long, sunny descent from the Saulire down to Mottaret. It’s often icy on top and slushy down below, and freaks out scores of intermediates on a daily basis. If you are going “over the back”, you may find skiing down to Meribel centre from the Col de la Loze less traumatic.
It’s not hard to avoid the crowds
Overcrowded pistes are a problem in the peak weeks of New Year and mid-February. The worst offenders are on the central spine of skiing from the Saulire down to Courchevel 1850, and at times you can barely see the snow for skiers and boarders.
But avoiding the crush is easy if you take two simple precautions. First of all, you need to ski the most popular runs at the beginning, middle and end of the day – just after the lifts open, just before they shut, or when everyone else is sitting down to lunch.
Second of all, you need to explore the outer reaches of the piste map. The tree runs above La Tania are a good target on busy days. So too are the pistes above Courchevel Moriond (formerly 1650) at the eastern end of the resort.
Moriond is linked to 1850 in both directions but to most skiers the key lifts and pistes are far from obvious. As a result, even in peak weeks, it can be blissfully quiet. In fact, for the wobblier kind of intermediate, and families with small children, it’s possible to spend most of the week on the Moriond pistes without ever needing to explore further afield.
The slopes above Courchevel Le Praz (formerly 1300) are worth targeting too – especially if you like your slopes a little steeper. This is where Courchevel’s career as ski resort began, back in 1947, but it’s never quite shaken off its farming past. Cows still winter in Le Praz barns, and sometimes you smell the effect on the final piste down into the village.
Plenty of challenges for more advanced skiers
The most famous is Le Grand Couloir, the most benign of the infamous trio of chutes accessed by the Saulire cable-car. It’s actually marked as a run on the piste map, and as a result ranks as one of the steepest blacks in Europe. Like all such iconic runs, the degree of difficulty is largely dependent on the snow. In icy conditions the access route can be demanding. Take a look at the video below…
You’ll find a chute of similar pitch on the other side of the ridge, above Meribel – called the Couloir Tournier.
The high, treeless terrain at the top of the ski area offers lots of entry-level off-piste to be nibbled at – especially above the Creux red, and under the Chanrossa and Roc Merlet chairs. But the best policy – as always – is to hire a guide to help you unlock the area’s potential. Guides Courchevel offers over 100 backcountry itineraries. Among the best is the hike to the top of Aiguille du Fruit, the highest point of the resort, to ski a steep, narrow, 300m couloir.
Meanwhile, on a bad-weather day, hit the tree-lined pistes over Le Praz. Jockeys is a good long black, underused, intimidating for the intermediate, and therefore a great place to find powder while it’s still snowing. The tree-lined pistes above La Tania also provide some of the best skiing when the light is flat.
Not a resort for serious freestylers
Want to work on your jumps and tricks? Then stay in Meribel, next door. The high price of accommodation and Courchevel’s glitzy, intermediate image has stunted the growth of a freestyle scene, and its main offering these days is the Family Park next to the Verdons green. That said, it’s the perfect place for children – and their parents – to make their first jumps.
Where to Learn
It’s great to see that the revolution wrought by English-speaking ski schools in Courchevel is showing no sign of letting up. It all started with Supreme Ski and these days schools such as BASS Courchevel and New Generation are also flying the flag. In fact, thanks to the presence of New Generation’s ace instructors, as well as its laid-back atmosphere, and gentle slopes, we think Courchevel Moriond is one of the best places in the Alps to learn to ski.
Why do we rate learning with an English-speaking ski school so highly? It’s not just the fact that the instructors share the same language, which makes the whole business of skiing seem less strange and unsettling. They instinctively understand the way most Brits want to learn, too: and the fact that they have had to jump through so many hoops to qualify to teach in France, means that they’re almost always highly-motivated.
Admittedly, this kind of tuition is priced at a premium. But the feedback is overwhelmingly positive.
Meanwhile the Ecole du Ski Francais (ESF) is the main French school. Each Courchevel has a separate – and rival – branch of the ESF, but they are expected now to slowly come together and work as one. The school is anxious to update its France-first image, and is now trying to present a more international face to its guests. However, the recent drive to eradicate the British practice of ski-hosting has set this campaign back several years.
On the whole, this is a good resort for children
Courchevel has the French government’s P’tits Montagnards award for childcare. However, the ESF runs non-ski and ski kindergartens that come in for strong criticism during peak holiday times when they are stretched to capacity.
Courchevel was the first place in the world to solve the problem of how to keep small children safe on chair-lifts. Children in ESF classes are issued with a special waistcoat with an electro-magnet on the back. This locks on to a similar magnet on the chair for the upward ride, making it impossible for the child to slide beneath the safety bar. On arrival at the top station it releases automatically. Several years ago all chair-lifts in the resort were fitted with them.
Bear in mind that Esprit, a British tour operator specialising in child care and family holidays, runs a programme in Courchevel, and has its own chalet-hotel near the top of Courchevel, the Crystal 2000. As well as an in-house creche and kids clubs, it offers exclusive ski school lessons for children in collaboration with the ESF, which works hard to present a Brit-friendly front, and keep its clients happy. Not surprisingly, the Crystal 2000 sells out months in advance for the school holidays. If you’re new to skiing, it’s worth checking it out before trying to put together a family holiday on your own.
Lessons and childcare in the separate Courchevel villages
In 1850, Le Village des Enfants provides all-day care and an introduction to skiing from three years. Magic in Motion runs English-only classes for four- to six-year-olds. Supreme has classes for children aged six to 12 years during school holidays.
In Moriond (1650), Les Pitchounets is a dedicated play area for small children. The Garderie cares for children under 18 months. In Village (1550), Le Club Piou-Piou takes children from three to five years for a mix of lessons and snow fun.
Where to Stay
Courchevel is made up of four separate villages with significant differences in character and price. To make things confusing, the resort recently renamed them all, doing away with the simple and effective system of labelling them by altitude (Courchevel 1850, Courchevel 1550 etc). Courchevel 1850 is now simply Courchevel, 1650 is Courchevel Moriond, 1550 is Courchevel Village and 1300 is Courchevel Le Praz. We’re trying to work with the new names, but we’re using 1850 to describe what’s now officially “Courchevel” because it would otherwise be impossible to distinguish between it and the resort as a whole.
Courchevel 1850 is the epicentre of the luxury ski industry
Courchevel 1850 is home to its own altiport, suitable for private jets and helicopters. It takes around half an hour to fly here from an international airport like Geneva – and it sets the scene for what has become the ritziest ski resort in the Alps.
The smartest hotels and the most hedonisitic chalets are hidden away amongst the trees, up from the village centre. Shemshak Lodge epitomizes the kind of sleek top-end chalet that gives 1850 it international reputation for luxury. It’s on the edge of the piste and has its own lovely swimming-pool.
Another comfortable property is Chalet Montana, which sits right beside the Bellecote piste and has lovely rough-hewn wooden interiors. Chalet-Hotel le Coq de Bruyere has a great location, close to the main La Croisette lift station, and prices are low by Courchevel 1850’s standards. Provided your expectations aren’t too high this will be a great base for a hard-skiing, out-every-night kind of trip.
From sublime to over-the-top hotels
1850 is home to three five-star “palace” hotels and 14 “ordinary” five-stars. Over the last few years, they’ve done a fantastic job of attracting the world’s financial elite – wealthy Brazilians, Swiss, Eastern Europeans, and – most famously – Russians, and for the most part rode out the recent economic crisis in style. Whether or not the souring of relations between Putin’s Russia and the West will affect them significantly remains to be seen. But, for now, the prices remain stratsopheric.
Incidentally, the most expensive pair of skis ever made came as part of the Limited Edition Lacroix Courchevel Exclusive Skiing Kit in 2008. The cost was 50,000€ (about £36,250), only ten sets were ever made, and they were as exclusive as the resort they’re named after.
More discreet is Hotel les Airelles located in the exclusive Jardin Alpin district, with a good spa, and its La Table du Jardin Alpin restaurant has a fine sun-trap terrace discretely tucked away in the trees. They don’t come any sleeker than Le Melezin It’s part of the Aman group – famous for building zen-like resorts in tropical destinations – and there’s something almost religious about the pursuit of luxury here.
New in 1850 a couple of years ago was L’Apogée, whose sister hotel is Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc in the South of France. Apart from the rooms and suites there’s a spectacular penthouse with a private whirlpool and terrace. The hotel is ski-in ski-out and houses a large kids club.
Hotel Kilimandjaro is another offering in the Jardin de Neige enclave – this is almost a mountain hamlet in its own right. Some 11 chalets are grouped around a central building with a Michelin- starred restaurant – La Table du Kilimandjaro – and an Art of Beauty centre inside. Its sister hotel, Le K2 is also built around a cluster of five chalets.
In the heart of 1850 is Hotel le Saint Joseph, offering understated luxury. It has 14 rooms and suites, and two apartments – all of which are decorated in fine fabrics, with four-posters and ornate bathrooms.
Le Chabichou is a large chalet-style building close to the Chenus lift, which became a hotel some 50 years ago. It houses the famous Michelin-stared restaurant of the same name and there’s also a good in-house spa with a Dead Sea bath and salt cave among its watery offerings.
But you can still find cheap(ish) accommodation in 1850
Looking for Courchevel accommodation that won’t break the bank? Then focus on self-catering apartments. The Pierre & Vacances Premium Les Chalets du Forum is twice the price of similar accommodation in the likes of Chamonix – but all the same, by Courchevel 1850’s standards, these apartments are good value. They’re also very close to the lifts.
Even cheaper is the Residence Les Ecrins – probably the ugliest building in the resort, but virtually ski-in, ski-out as well as being near the centre of town. So who cares about aesthetics?
Moriond (1650) is noticeably cheaper than 1850
Stuck out on a limb it may be, away from the main ski area, but this means quieter pistes – especially during high season. It’s the best place for beginners, provided they’re not looking for vibrant nightlife.
Until a few years ago it was all chalets and apartments and a couple of mid-range hotels. But then delightful and unassuming Le Manali opened its doors. It has themed rooms (Indian, Canadian and Swiss), a lovely outdoor terrace right on the slopes, a spa, and a large party room with comfortable sofas. The restaurant is an exceptional find.
Neighbouring British-owned Le Portetta has a warm and stylish oak interior and an impressive spa. The property also has four separate ski-in ski-out chalets – sleeping between two and 12 people in each. They are all very woody with lovely fabrics.
…and there are decent chalets and apartments here too
Le Ski has a complex of five smart chalets offering exceptional value – you couldn’t possible find accommodation of this quality at anywhere near this price in 1850. There’s even a chalet for two people here – called Les Marmottes. But if it’s self-catering accommodation you’re after than you won’t find anywhere better than the swanky lofts at Le Portetta, which have the added virtue of being at the foot of the slopes.
Also good are The Montagnettes-Les Chalets de la Mouria – just over the road from a chair-lift, but a five-minute walk from the centre of the village. This is one of the most sympathetic and unassuming developments in the resort.
Courchevel Village (1550) is for ski convenience
This is a ribbon of cheap(er) developments situated directly beneath 1850 with easy access to Courchevel’s main skiing. Newly-named Courchevel Village has always been the bargain basement of 1850 but is currently being entirely redeveloped and is poised to get more of an identity in its own right. Catch the low prices here while you can – they won’t last.
Ski-in ski-out Chalet Barragiste sleeps 12-14 people. It is located at the top of the village on the edge of the Luge track, adjoining the gentle Provères piste. Its six bedrooms are spread over three levels, with a spacious living area and separate dining room, both of which open onto large balconies with access to the Jacuzzi.
Les Brigues apartments are the last word in cheap Courchevel crash pads. These are tiny apartments with limited storage space, set well away from any decent bars. Sounds nasty? Well, if you were planning to spend all week indoors, then yes – but you’re not, are you? The heating works, the showers are powerful and there’s just enough space for everyone at dinner – provided you don’t all get up from the table at the same time.
Choose Le Praz (1300) for its atmosphere
Le Praz is at the bottom of the lift system and the bottom of the Courchevel pricing structure. Its modest altitude means limited snow-cover for part of the season and it’s a long gondola ride up to the heart of the ski area. Lots of tour operators have chalets here and sometimes neglect to state how far away they are from the main action in 1850 or even 1650. Don’t stay down here unless you’re paying significantly lower prices.
That said it’s a quaint old farming village with cobbled lanes, oodles of atmosphere and one notable hotel, Les Peupliers. The hotel has an excellent restaurant and is still owned by one of the families that originally developed Courchevel.
Where to Eat
Courchevel has a glittering spangle of restaurants both on and off the mountain, where you can eat superbly – provided the prices don’t spoil your appetite. However, if you know where to go there’s a whole culture of good food at (almost) reasonable prices. The trick is to discover where the locals lunch and dine. We don’t know of any other destination in the Alps where it is more important to have insider knowledge.
Lunch or dine in 1850
Hotel Pomme de Pin stands head and shoulders above its many rivals. Four-star Hotel Le Chabichou has a similar double-Michelin-starred accolade. Prices for both are of course high. But they’re not ridiculous when compared with some of their glitzier high-profile rivals and until recently used to cater primarily for the Russian oligarch market.
Le Chabotté is Hotel Le Chabichou’s bistro, accessible from the slopes, with open-plan dining that means you can watch Michel Rochedy or Stephane Buron or sometimes both these Michelin-lauded chefs at work. At night it becomes a party venue until 1am. What sets it apart is that you can eat exquisite food here for an extremely reasonable price either at lunchtime or in the evening.
La Saulire, also known as Jacques’ Bar after its charismatic owner, is one of our favourites in 1850. It has an impressive menu and wine list, intimate surroundings and impeccable, friendly service.
The higher you go, the higher the price
The lunch scene in and above 1850 is largely aimed at the super-rich and lacks the off-the-cuff simplicity of the best Italian mountain restaurants – where the quality of the raw ingredients (rather than the snootiness of the staff) matched to a non-iniquitous pricing structure sets the tone. Many of the big names don’t get a mention here because we consider that their standard of cuisine is out of all proportion to what they charge.
Two notable exceptions here are Le Panoramic on the top of La Saulire and La Soucoupe on the Col de la Lauze. Lunch at either can be a second mortgage affair, but the combination of setting, cuisine, and service make the price just about justifiable. A third, Le Bouc Blanc (+33 479 08 80 26), at the top of La Tania gondola, is one of the best value eateries in the whole of the 3V, with plenty of tables and cheerful service.
Pilatus (+33 479 08 20 49), near the altiport, has a good ambiance and is next door to the exorbitant Cap Horn, but that’s where the similarity ends. Also piste-side is the Courcheneige, which has a good sun terrace and is part of the hotel of the same name.
A recent addition on the mountain is La Cave des Creux, owned and managed by two brothers who are also ski instructors in the resort. The brasserie is at 2112m, and has an extensive wine list including local wines and grand crus.
Eat well for less in and above Courchevel Moriond
In 1650 we recommend Hotel Le Portetta at the foot of the slopes, a couple of minutes’ walk from the gondola station – expensive but high quality food in relaxed surroundings, and a great sun terrace at lunchtime. We also recommended Hotel le Manali, which has Himalayan influences. L’Alambic (+33 479 082 545) is a cosy little place opposite Le Bubble Bar serving good pizzas and tartiflette. Le Petit Savoyard (+33 479 08 27 44) is particularly welcoming and has great pizzas.
On the mountain, Le Bel Air (+33 479 08 00 93) at the top of the gondola has the most relaxing atmosphere. It has a lovely south-facing terrace and large picture windows to take in the view. It’s far from cheap, but is value for money by Courchevel standards.
…and in the lower villages
For the moment there’s not a lot of choice in Courchevel Village. L’Oeil de Boeuf (+33 479 08 22 10) is in an old mountain barn serving meat grilled on an open fire.
In Le Praz, Azimut is an intimate and unpretentious little place tucked away at the end of cobbled lane a three-minute walk from the piste. You are unlikely to stumble upon it by accident. When he was awarded his Michelin star chef Francois Moureaux vowed not to raise his prices. You can eat extremely well and economically here both at lunchtime and in the evening.
We particularly like La Table de Mon Grand-Pere in Hotel Les Peupliers, still owned by the Mounier family who helped found the resort in 1947, and offers traditional cooking using fresh ingredients. La Cave d’A Coté is Les Peupliers’ newest eatery and serves tartiflette, fondue, and other mountain dishes.
Where to Party
Frankly, for a resort of this calibre Courchevel is a flop. If you were hoping for the excesses of Verbier or the effervescence of St Anton you will be in for a huge disappointment. Admittedly this is partly due to the disparate layout of the resort overall and the fairly appalling bus system that doesn’t encourage night-time migration from one village to the other.
1850 should, by rights, be buzzing with its well-heeled visitors happily being parted from their money. But the wealthiest seem to hide away in their hotels or party behind closed doors in private chalets.
They only appear in public after dark for the occasional late-night foray to Les Caves, or Le Kudeta, a couple of outrageously over-priced nightclubs much loved by Parisian haute monde. If you are the kind of person who needs to know the price of a bottle of Louis Roederer Cristal or Grey Goose before ordering, it’s not for you.
There’s no natural focus to a night out
Most of the young-ish bars are in the big multi-layered mall behind the Croisette. These include: La Luge – a hip snowboarding shop-cum-bar, which has a fiercely loyal following. It tends to be busy after dinner, rather than before.
Then there’s Le Milk (+33 494 97 21 23) which is a Mexican bar with live music after skiing and a DJ later on. It has lowish prices and attracts a young crowd.
Bars for those who don’t want to shout to make themselves heard are scattered about the centre. These include Le Mangeoire – probably the slickest bar in town, complete with doormen. Dress up and look as rich as you can to have a chance of getting in.
In Moriond (1650) Le Bubble is the best bar by far, with live music and is the rallying point for the many Brits (and seasonaires) who stay here. So too is Rocky’s, in Chalet-hotel Les Avals, run by British tour operator Ski Olympic.
In Courchevel Village (1550) the choice is pretty thin. The Chanrossa bar is the pick of the spots, with live music twice a week until midnight. The bar is downstairs at the chalet-hotel of the same name and open to the public. The Caterail Vodka Bar hosts live bands and DJs.
Families can focus on the new Aquamotion water park in Moriond, offering myriad watersports – including aqua biking, surfing, indoor and outdoor pools – as well as a spa, climbing wall and gym.