Courchevel is the most fashionable and convenient resort in one of the worlds largest ski areas.
Courchevel is part of the Trois Vallees or Three Valleys ski area which bills itself as Le plus grand domaine skiable du monde (the largest ski area in the world) and contains 14 separate settlements, 600km of marked pistes, 200 lifts, 1,300 snow guns, 1,100 ski instructors and goodness knows what else. Strictly speaking, Frances Trois Vallees may not actually be the largest ski area in the world that distinction probably goes to the Sella Ronda in the Italian Dolomites but all round it is certainly the most impressive, with a brilliantly designed and very modern lift network and excellently maintained pistes. Agreed, the ski terrain is mostly intermediate but then, if we are being totally honest, so are most skiers and boarders. In any case there are also plenty of easy areas for beginners and tough runs for experts. So it is small wonder that collectively the Trois Vallees is the most popular destination in the world for British skiers and boarders.
Twenty five years agoCourchevel 1850 was predominantly a French resort and was jokingly referred to as the 21st Arrondissement of Paris, but more recently the Parisians have lost their stranglehold and it is now very much more cosmopolitan, with many of the rich and glamorous clients coming from, for example, Russia, Japan and Brazil. Whereas once upon a time Courchevel 1850 could afford to be pretty condescending towards its British visitors, these days it treats them with much more respect, since they have grown in number and now form a very significant part of the resort's clientele. Several of the smaller hotels in the very centre of the resort have been taken over by British chalet-hotel operators in recent years and now there is even a British-run ski school. (In the middle of January these days, however, Courchevel really earns its new sobriquet of Moscow-on-Snow.)Courchevel comprises four separate settlements, each defined by its altitude in metres. Courchevel 1850 is by far the largest of the four and is the focal point for all the best skiing, shopping and nightlife. Courchevel 1650 is a less glamorous and consequently more reasonably priced purpose-built resort with its own ski area which links up with 1850. This used to be a relatively inconvenient place to stay if you want to make the most of the Trois Vallees area, but newer, faster lifts out of 1650 have changed this situation. Courchevel 1550 is a smaller purpose-built settlement directly below 1850 and linked with it by pistes and a telecabine. It is very quiet by night. Courchevel 1300, or Courchevel 1350 as it is increasingly styling itself, is also known as Le Praz and is at heart a real old alpine village of great character. It has two telecabines: one links with Courchevel 1850 and one goes higher into the ski area at Les Chenus. The car-free satellite village of La Tania (1350m) is located on the road that runs from Courchevel 1300 towards Meribel. Having initially been a bit of a ghost village originally built to house the Press in the 1992 Albertville Olympics, La Tania has developed its own character and atmosphere.
Courchevel 1850 is one of Europe's most sophisticated ski resorts, with nine luxury four-star hotels, five regular four-stars and 13 three-star properties, many of which are far more luxurious than their star rating implies. Accommodation prices are high and four-star hotels here will often charge significantly more than those in top Swiss resorts such as Zermatt and St Moritz. But then Courchevel 1850 is the definition of skiing convenience. You can ski to and from the door of almost all the hotels, as well as to and from many chalets and apartment blocks. However those who want to make the most of the nightlife would be best advised to choose accommodation located within easy walking distance of the resort centre, rather than up in the exclusive Jardin Alpin area. This is where many of the smartest hotels are located, but after 8.00pm the only liaison with the centre is by hotel shuttle bus or taxi.
Originally begun just after World War Two, Courchevel 1850 is now well over half a century old. The original buildings were architecturally undistinguished, being mostly bare concrete structures with flat roofs. Happily the original architects would not recognise the place today, since over the past 20 years or so the resort has been transformed. Now everything is clad in wood and most hotels have taken advantage of various grants to add sloping roofs and extra floors. At last, the entrance to the village is being re-developed and the tourist office is now housed in a more alpine chalet next to La Croisette. (The Forum complex, built for the 1992 Winter Olympics, was sadly ill-conceived.) Traffic still flows through the centre of the resort, but rigorously enforced parking restrictions mean that a car is frankly more of a hindrance than a help here.
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