Courchevel – oh la la. A high-end Experience in the French Alps

March 6th, 2024
Timy Theaux with plenty of  room to move on a sunny spring-like day. Photo: Tony Harrington

Mountainwatch | Rhylla Morgan

Courchevel in Les Trois Vallées is a purpose-built ski resort and has all the things you’d expect to find in the ‘ultimate ski resort Lego kit’ including snow-covered chalets, an airport, glades of neat pine trees, Moncler and Gucci gondolas, glossy black Mercedes Benz taxis, horse-drawn cart rides and more than a sprinkling of fur coats and plumped lips at Michelin star-spangled dining tables. 

If you want to see how the other half ski Courchevel 1850 is worth saving up some euros and experiencing; find a sunny table, order a ‘salade de chevre chaud’ (classic Savoyarde goats cheese croutons in a crisp green salad) and an espresso and sit back to soak in some of the most glamorous people-watching anywhere.  The tiny main street here is teasingly referred to by locals as Les Champs Elyseés because, like the famous shopping strip in Paris, you’ll find every exclusive fashion brand here selling designer fanny-packs, cashmere and bling to add a little je ne sais quoi to your ski ensemble.

No shortage of prestige brands for those with cash to burn. Photo: Rhylla Morgan

Courchevel 1850 is the sparkling centre that you’ve probably heard of, however it’s only one corner of this expansive valley where you’ll find six unique villages – all with their own particular style – and effortlessly connected to one another by a top-notch lifting network. There are plenty of aspects to this beautiful valley and whichever you pick for your base, you’re never more than a few steps or a short gondola ride to fun skiing.

Courchevel La Praz is nestled down at 1300 with a good mix of accommodation at a slightly less-steep price tag and the Le Praz gondola delivers you up to 1850 in no more than 8 minutes.  Advanced skiers will love the new Eclipse piste for a black run down and if you’re lucky you’ll see some action on France’s only giant Olympic ski jump.  As storms roll in this is the place to head for powdery tree skiing with visibility when the wide-open bowls above are a white out.

Early February saw high pressure dominating the weather in the French Alps, the result sunshine and  corn snow. Timy Theaux making the most of both. Photo: Tony Harrington

Courchevel La Tania is the newest enclave in the valley and offers relaxed vibes away from the fashionable higher villages.  Sledding, hot chocolates and simple fun are the priorities down here in a fun and car-free corner of the forest.  Another perk in La Tania is the fine dining experience at Michelin Star restaurant Restaurant La Farçon, and the option to try chef Julien Machet’s food at his near-by and more affordable Bistrot Machet.  There is a little less foam and flourish to the menu at the Bistrot however it’s locally sourced, superbly crafted and carries the flair of chef Julien.  The menu here pays homage to his grandmother with meals that reflect the culinary traditions and produce of the region.

No Aldi options here. Photo: Rhylla Morgan

Courchevel Village – again just a few minutes up the bubble to 1850 – stay down here for a more local vibe and to unlock more accommodation options. Get in a swim and a soak at the superb Aquamotion pool and spa or top up your adrenaline levels with a super fun 2.5km sled run.

Courchevel Moriond sits on the sun-soaked southside of the valley and is a short ski or free shuttle to put you into the thick of the ski area. Popular for its après and dining options with everything from classic French to an English pub and oyster bar.  Check out the Spanish tapas at Copina – a tasty little spot to mix up your dining, just steps from the ski area.  There’s even a weekly street market with an overwhelming range of local cheeses and sausage direct from the makers.

Relax at Bistro Machet. Photo: Rhylla Morgan

Sainte-Bon is the little village that dates back to the 11th century when farming and cheese were the focus, well before the vision for ski lifts was in anyone’s imagination. This little pocket is another place to explore for a heritage and culture fix and is yet another place to stay with shuttle connections up to the ski area.

From the moment you click in and start skiing around this spectacular valley you quickly realise why the French government decided creating ski tourism here was a seriously good idea.  There is tonnes of fun terrain to explore and with a generous chunk of enjoyable blues and reds most skiers are going to be très contente with the balance of pitch and playful groomers.  Look upwards to La Saulire topping out the valley at 2738m and towards the ridge lines all around and the blacks and couloirs quickly come into focus.  After a fresh snowfall head up to Les Pyramides for endless playful pow runs and long poma rides, and make sure Chanrossa is on your list if you’re riding blacks.

Courchevel is BIG and for most part the tourists stay in piste or near it. There’s always fresh lines to be had that might be just over a hump or round the corner. But you need you need to be backcountry smart, have the gear, know how to use, make sure your ski partner knows how to use it and make a plan. Terrain traps are everywhere. Ski smart. Photo: Tony Harrington

If you’re ready to turn on your beacon and go adventuring there are more than enough challenges waiting including the grand-daddy of this valley – the Grand Couloir.  Connect with a local guide if the conditions are good and go get it!

We loved the reminders around the ski area that this place is so much more than a winter ski playground.  At the top of the Loze lift there is an oversized bicycle parked on the top of the mountain… and the penny dropped, this is one of the high points of those dramatic mountain climbing stages of the Tour de France!

Make sure you take the ski run called Altiport and stop for a few minutes to take in the comings and goings of private jets and helicopters buzzing around this phenomenon in aviation.  It’s rated as one of the most extreme airports in the world due to its short runway measuring only 537m on a slope of 18 degrees.  There is no ‘go around’ procedure, no lighting or instrument approach so it’s only a handful of experienced pilots that attempt landings and take offs here.  You can book a scenic helicopter flight, or if your bank balance allows, save time and book a short heli transfer* back to your Geneva flight.

*Mountainwatch took one of the many shuttle vans each way – around two hours and it’s a beautiful drive through the valley up to the resort.

Timy Theaux cruising in Courchevel. Photo: Tony Harrington

Nerdy fact – The name of Courchevel 1850, with the altitude included as part of the name of the village apparently came about for a couple of reasons.  One was to appease the community of Courchevel proper, so they retained the name of the traditional town and the other is a spot of healthy rivalry with nearby Val d’Isere which clocks in at 1800m above sea level.  If you’re splitting hairs the accurate altitude is 1847m but if you’re trying to trump your competitor, why not round up a little?