Two of my dearest friends (who conveniently live in NYC and LA) and I have a travel pact – we do an annual girls trip to a different place each year. Occasionally boys are allowed but not often. Anyway, they decided on Courchevel this New Year which was 6 days of ab-blast for me (rolling on the floor laughing, as only close friends with long-standing in-jokes that probably aren’t really even funny can do to each other). I wish I could share the personal stories and photographs but then you might not take my very serious important credible blog seriously enough. So swiftly back to Courchevel and useful facts. I have spent a lot of time in the Alps over the years, and know many of the major resorts pretty well now. I think Courchevel 1850 might in fact be the most absurd, more so than St Moritz or Gstaad. Don’t even think about going unless you are very comfortable with spending a small fortune on anything. Caveat over, we had an incredible trip despite a severe lack of snow at the time! If you can afford it, it is a great ski spot, a really pretty chocolate box town with some insanely fabulous shopping and hilarious people watching. Here are some of my trip tips.
Both these restaurants are mountain restaurants, lunch spots. In the evenings we either ate in friend’s chalets, or quickly in our hotel to allow for work, spa or nap time before going out. I read somewhere that Courchevel has the most Michelin starred restaurants of anywhere outside of Paris. You will not want for delicious food.
Le Chalet de Pierres
I absolutely love this place! The menu includes all the ski resort usuals like raclette and fondue, which they do very well, but there are some amazing salad options too. Ski restaurants don’t tend to do salads well; the lentil and egg salad here is actually memorable. The most remarkable thing about Le Chalet de Pierres (other than perhaps the Moncler shop inside the restaurant up the slopes) is its dessert table. Every dessert imaginable from fresh cherries to chocolate mousse, cakes and tarts and slices of every kind, waffles and a fresh crepe station where a yummy pastry chef will crepe away to your order. Oh and a chocolate fountain. And jars of candy. Thank goodness I had skied up and skied down.
The Caphorn is my favourite lunchtime spot in terms of people watching and atmosphere. The food is great, but somehow the alcohol got my attention more here. I think I’m relatively unshockable at the excesses of the super-rich, but the champagne and wine menus at Caphorn are pretty impressive. Some of the walls are lined with magnum, jeroboam and methuselah sized bottles of anything you might want if you’re a wine aficionado with the budget of an oligarch. Think Petrus, Chateau Margaux, etc. all in the best vintage. I took a photo of a bottle of vintage Cristale priced at EUR 19,000. There are very happy people everywhere. People are drinking champagne and having fun like it might be their last day on this Earth. If you’re in the right mood and with good friends: So. Much. Fun. It is also one of the mountain restaurants that you can be driven to, which means the Fendi brigade who hang out in ski resorts but don’t actually ski, can be spotted there in their full glory, sipping vintage champagne in Jimmy Choo wedge heeled diamond encrusted snow-boots. No judgment; I have some pretty absurd snow-boots. I am mocking myself as much as anyone else!
As a committed adrenaline junkie who has been skiing (fast and furious, minimal style) since the age of about 5, the idea of anything other than downhill skiing has never appealed. I once tried cross country in Aspen. I got slope envy and lasted about two hours. Downhill skiing is one of those sports that you get addicted to, truly addicted. It makes you get up really early in the morning when you are not a morning person, just to check on the snow or be the first through fresh powder. Unfortunately, in the Alps this year, there was apparently the worst snow cover in 60 years in late December. On approach I asked our driver “how is the off-piste” and he laughed saying “off-piste?! There is barely a piste!” Rather than get frustrated at the poor conditions for downhill, it seemed like the obvious time to try touring. This is a form of skiing where you can ski both uphill and downhill. Specialist ski-skins, bindings and boots allow for free movement of the heel on going uphill, with the use of sticky wax climbing skins to grip the snow. When you reach the top of the mountain, you peel off the skins, fix your heel in the binding and ski down as normal. I really loved it actually. It was beautiful and calming, just as you would imagine a snowy mountain hike in the sun to be. I spotted scenery that I wouldn’t normally notice because of course you are going up at a walking pace. It was an incredible workout, a real burn in the legs and bum. My tips? Ideally take specialist touring clothes. Wearing my regular ski outfit meant that I was boiling and kept peeling off layers as we ascended. You also need a specialist human with you. I would not trust myself with being able to adjust the kit as required (settings on boots/skinning and de-skinning the skis etc), not to mention knowing how to remain safe around all the various mountain hazards (ice, avalanches, other skiers etc.) Any ski school will be able to recommend a good guide. I really encourage you to try this on your ski holiday, even just once. You will come back fitter and might really love it! I cannot wait to be able to do this with my kids when they are a little older and stronger as skiers.
This is not strictly in Courchevel 1850, but rather in the valley below. Well worth a mention because it is brand new and I have never seen anything like this in the Alps or anywhere near a ski resort. Admittedly I am an overgrown child in many ways but I could be happy in Courcheval for a week without snow just having fun in this place. It is a really luxurious waterpark basically, but on speed. There are 11 swimming pools (indoor and outdoor obviously, heated to perfection), a wave surf zone, river rapids, water slides, an aqua-gym, a children’s pool garden and an amazing climbing wall. I’m not really a spa-goer (I love spas but love other stuff more) so can’t accurately comment on this part but there is also a relaxation zone with hot-tubs, massage rooms and a long menu of spa treatments. Sigh. I want to be there now.
We stayed at Le K2 Palace. It is a Palace. I cannot really do justice to the luxury of this place with a few pictures. I certainly cannot capture the warmth of the staff and the calibre of their service. The food was exceptional. Plenty of healthy options and even the non-French cuisine like sushi was perfect. I was especially happy to see a Lomax-style squat rack in the well equipped gym. Fancy hotel gyms don’t normally have a TRX set up and an array of serious weights. The spa is breathtaking. Huge windows with a mountain back-drop behind a beautiful pool, steam room, sauna, outdoor hot-tub. Oh, and it is ski-in/ski-out from the hotel’s own ski rental room… Perfection.