Courchevel is one of Europe’s premier ski resorts known as much for its Michelin starred restaurants and celebrity skiers as it is for offering some of the most impressive, vast and challenging skiing in Europe. Sitting at 1850 metres and forming part of the Three Valleys, Courchevel is part of the world’s largest fully linked ski area and is one of its most famous. While it does have a reputation for being (and undeniably is) expensive, it is as possible to arrive by helicopter and lunch in a Michelin star restaurant and it is to arrive by coach and enjoy a €4 crepe budget lunch. Courchevel can offer everything and it is well worth taking the time to fully discover it.
Courchevel has a long history. Prior to its development as a ski resort it was a collection of small hamlets and farmers’ fields. Back in 1032 it fell under the rule of the Holy Roman Empire, and there is evidence of human settlements dating back to the Iron Age (750 BC) (a grave was found in Courchevel 1300 containing two human skeletons and jewellery a millennia old!).
The shift towards becoming a ski resort began in the 1940’s and was driven by the French government. The poverty of the region, known only for making cheese, prompted the government to create a new kind of high altitude resort, creating jobs for the locals and skiing for the masses. They decided upon Courchevel 1850. As a result Courchevel was the first place to develop winter sports seriously. It was also the first resort to provide snow patrols and snow grooming machines. ‘Jean Blanc’ was one of the first ever ski shops and still exists today in Courchevel 1850. The first hotel, Hotel de la Loze, was built in 1948.
Different districts have developed over the years, such as the pretty and private 'Granary District', where small chalets were built inspired by the old granaries of farmers where they kept their grain away from their houses, but Courchevel has always maintained a strictly controlled planning policy keeping houses and hotels low rise with a traditional and beautiful aesthetic.
Now split into 5 villages, each with very different personalities you have a lot to choose from. There is the glitz and the glamour of Courchevel 1850, the rustic charm of Le Praz, the vibrant nightlife in Courchevel Moriond, or Courchevel Village for those looking for affordable accommodation. Courchevel Le Praz is a real French village with a year round community and La Tania is perfect for families. All the villages are linked by an efficient and frequent free bus service and enjoy pretty woodland settings. From the slopes there are views over to the Mont Blanc and across the valley to Champagny and Bellecôte located in the La Plagne ski area. Courchevel is located in the Tarentaise Valley of French Alps, situated near Moutiers and Méribel.
Courchevel’s ski area ranges from the lowest village at 1260m up to 3230m, and much of the resort is ski in, ski out. Courchevel valley can be split into three main ski areas: La Tania, Courchevel 1850 and Courchevel Moriond. With 150km of piste skiing and 617 snow canons, you'll find terrain suitable for any skier. Courchevel is also part of one the biggest and most impressive linked ski areas in the world, the Three Valleys, offering over 600km of marked pistes, 200 ski-lifts, and over 130 km of Cross Country Tracks. The Three Valleys ski area is so vast that it is at times hard to comprehend but it’s been said that America’s six largest ski resorts could ALL fit into the Three Valleys!
Courchevel has excellent nursery areas for beginners in the villages of 1650 and 1850, and there are gentle slopes around Altiport with several free lifts for beginners. In Courchevel they are: Troika (La Tania); Envolée (Le Praz 1300); Roys (1550); Belvedere and Mickey (1650); and Cospillot, Bellecote, and Etoiles (1850). Ski instruction is also of the highest quality. The ESF (French Ski School in Europe) has a total of 800 qualified instructors in Courchevel 1550, 1650 and 1850.
For children there’s a Baby Skiing school, where children from 18 months old are taught in private lessons. The chairlifts are specially adapted for kids with the Magnestick Kids and Magnestick Bar which keep children in their seats with magnets and a special jacket, then automatically release them at the top. There’s also a special skiing area called the Family Park.
For intermediates and piste-skiers Courchevel is a dream. Early intermediates will probably never need to leave one valley all week. Red run skiers will love the long, sweeping Creux, Chapelets or the more challenging Combe de la Saulire. For the more advanced skiers the steep north-facing terrain is a skiers and boarders paradise. Skiers can test their mogul skills on Suisses, and will love Chanrossa. Off piste highlights such as the Les Avals valley offer over 1,000m of powder, and the Saulire couloirs and the Roc Merlet face will test the most advanced skiers. On a snowy day, the lower slopes are tucked in amongst the trees, allowing for skiing in even the heaviest white-out conditions.
During the high season, Courchevel operates an excellent and frequent bus service, which is free, between all the villages. It runs until after midnight.
The most convenient airport is Chambéry, 1.20hrs away, but this can close due to bad weather. Geneva is 2.15hrs, and Lyon 2hrs. All are serviced by transfer companies offering good value transport during the holiday seasons. There are a number of companies that offer a long-distance coach service. In winter Eurostar Direct Ski Train runs from London to Moutiers (no change) and there is also the Eurostar / TGV service from Kings Cross to Moutiers changing in Paris. By car, Courchevel is about 9hrs from Calais (without stops) and 600 kilometers from Paris. By helicopter you can fly into the Altiport Courchevel just above the main resort.
In terms of what’s available, it’s probably better to ask what’s not? Whatever you require Courchevel can provide. To put it in perspective there are 50 five-star hotels in the whole of France and nine of them are in Courchevel. As well as top hotels, the resort boasts Michelin-star restaurants, heated pavements and over 100 boutiques. You’ll find as many diamond dealers as you will ski-hire shops. But the tourist board does stress they offer a range of services for a wider clientele and its true that all the basics are also covered here. There are supermarkets (Spar, Sherpa etc.), newsagents, boulangeries and patisseries although some people prefer to go to Moutiers and stock up on food, drink, and petrol before arriving as it is less expensive than in resort. There are banks, physiotherapists, massage therapist, post office, bars and restaurants. There is an English-speaking Medical centre, hairdressers, there are people to film you skiing, take you skiing, teach you skiing, upholster furniture or book you a helicopter.
There is so much to do here besides ski. Off the slopes you can go bowling, climbing, ice skating or to the cinema, you can learn archery, play beach volleyball, as well as taking part in gourmet cookery classes. There are other outdoor activities including sledging, horse-drawn carriage trips or snowmobile rides. There’s a 2 km luge that is floodlit at night and 17kms of showshoeing paths. There are 39 hotel spas, of which 27 are accessible to non-residents. Between them there's just about everything you could want, from Jacuzzis and wave pools, to massage rooms and treatments using all the best international names. In summer there is also a whole range of outdoor activities from rock climbing, hot-air ballooning and mountain biking to horse-riding, white water rafting, Via Ferrata, to name just a few, ensuring that Courchevel really is a year round destination.