The One Minute Guide To... Courchevel

Continuing our occasional series on travel-worthy locations, Chris Leadbeater explains the ups and downs, the ins and outs, the toboggans and tartiflette, of the French ski resort of Courchevel...

What: A name that stands out on the bumpy skyline of the Alps – a ski resort in the Savoie region of eastern France that comes with a certain whiff of elegance, glitz and glamour. That Courchevel is also part of the wider network of pistes that is Les Trois Vallées – a mega ski-zone that includes Meribel and Val Thorens – has also traditionally added to its appeal. As a whole, Les Trois Vallées can claim to be the biggest ski area in the world, proffering 400 miles of slopes and over 180 lifts.


Chocolate box: Courchevel is part of the network of resorts that make up The Three Valleys

For its own part, Courchevel itself can barely be described as small. It spreads across 1300 acres of mountain – to the extent that it sits divided into four distinct enclaves. Courchevel 1300, the lowest, is the original village of Le Praz. Courchevel 1550, a little higher, is home to a cluster of hotels and restaurants. Courchevel 1650 repeats this trick in the former village of Moriond. Courchevel 1850, meanwhile, is the largest and liveliest of the quartet – a purpose-built slice of accommodation, eateries and bars (such as the famous watering hole Le Tremplin – that gives the resort a distinct element of bounce once downhill duties are done for the day.

As you might have guessed, each enclave’s name lists its altitude – with the sneaky exception of Courchevel 1850, which actually lurks lower than expected at a ‘mere’ 1747 metres.

Where: Close to the Italian border (so much so that those with sufficient skill can ski into the neighbouring country), and perched in the midst of some rather picturesque scenery. The protected expanse of the Vanoise National Park lies near at hand, while Mont Blanc, Europe’s cloud-bothering tallest mountain home to the roof of the continent at 15,781ft is visible from the slopes.

Why go? Because the wealth of mountain on offer makes for a range of pistes and gradients that suits all abilities. Ten black and 38 red runs cater for those who consider fear an unwelcome and distant acquaintance, while the 27 green and 44 blue runs look after those who know that nervous sensation in the pit of their stomach a little better, thanks very much. Furthermore, many of the pistes are decidedly roomy, giving plenty of space to those who want to pick their way at their own pace.


Wide open space: Courchevel's slopes offer plenty of room for skiers of all abilities

Random fact: Courchevel has a toboggan run for less stylish (but arguably more fun) slip-sliding. It plunges some 300 metres in altitude over the course of its snaking mile-and-a-half route, starting out from the edge of the Tourets piste in 1850, before grinding to an eventual halt in 1550 (where the Grangettes gondola returns riders and their plastic chariots back to 1850). And it isn’t just for excitable children. In fact, it makes for an alarmingly fast couple of minutes, hairpin turns rearing up at regular intervals as snow-shrouded trees flash past on each side. Not that you will have time to marvel at the frosty scenery as the world whizzes by in a pale blur. Toboggans can be hired from Bernard Charvin Sports in 1850 (Rue du Rocher, 0033-4-7908-2530,

Best bit: In skiing terms, the long journey down from Sauliere, which, at 2738metres, is the highest on-piste point in Courchevel. From here, black and red runs escort you to 1850. In food terms, perhaps Restaurant Le Pilatus (, which earned its name due to its proximity to the airport (see below for more on this aviation oddity). This eatery does excellent Savoie specialities, such as cheese-heavy tartiflette, and also, depending on the weather, views across to Mont Blanc.

Dali sculpture, Courchevel

Art-pres ski: This season, Courchevel is dotted with Dali sculptures, which add a surreal air to to the slopes

Downside: There are cheaper resorts than Courchevel, which has built up something of a reputation as being a magnet for the Russian super-rich. And it is busy too, its popularity played out in occasionally crowded pistes. But equally, there is plenty of powdery terrain to explore away from the main runs. And you can generally find better value for money the lower in the resort you venture. For example, eaterie Le Caveau in 1550 is a good option for gooey fondue at decent rates ( A six-day adult ski pass, meanwhile, comes to €190 (£172) for the Courchevel area. A six-day adult pass for the entire spread of Les Trois Vallees costs €232 (£210).

When to go: Round about now. The Courchevel ski season officially gasps its final breath on April 25th – although consistent snowfall over the last few months (this winter has been especially flake-friendly in the Alps) should ensure that the pistes remain open until the last-orders bell chimes.

How to get there: If you are feeling brave and full-of-wallet, the resort has something rarely seen in high-altitude ski areas – an airport. Not that this transport hub resembles Heathrow. It has one of the world’s shortest runways – a mini tarmac strip of 525metres, armed with an upward gradient of 18.5 degrees, which slows incoming aircraft on touchdown. Cessnas and helicopters are its main traffic.

Chalet Chamois, Courchevel

Wide open space part two: Chalet Chamois sleeps up to 16 and has its own sauna

For the less intrepid traveller, the international airports at Geneva and Lyon are roughly two hours away by (winding) road. Three Vallee Transfers ( provide door-to-door rides from both airports, with a return journey from Geneva for five people coming to €580 (£525) in total. British Airways (0844 4930787, does returns to Geneva from London Gatwick from £85.

Stay: Le Portetta, a hotel nestled at the base of the slopes in 1650 (00 33 479081623,, offers double rooms from €145 (£130) per person per night, including dinner and breakfast. It also has a subterranean spa for muscle-resurrecting apres-ski massages.

For larger groups, Chalet Chamois perches on the edge of one of the outer pistes, just above 1650 (meaning guests can ski down to the lifts from the back door). It sleeps up to 16 people via seven ensuite bedrooms, and also comes equipped with a sauna and a vast dining area. A week’s rental starts at €13,000 (£11,800), including breakfast service. For cosier stays, next-door chalet Petite Marmotte sleeps two, and comes at a cheaper starting price of €800 (£725) for a week’s residence. Details on both properties via Chalets De Vanoise (0033-6-606-12845,

Petite Marmotte chalet, Courchevel

Hideaway: The Petite Marmotte chalet offers a hideaway for two just off the slopes of 1650

Further information: Try the official Courchevel site at Or visit the official online guide to Les Trois Vallées that is

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