How the other half lives

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - TRAVEL & INDULGENCE - VIC­TO­RIA LANE

The last time I stayed in Courchevel it was in a tatty road­side chalet a long way down the moun­tain. One de­tail sticks — pick­led cock­les piled high on a plat­ter at the clos­ing ban­quet. That was more than a decade ago.

This time, we are stay­ing at 1850m, which is an­other world. The re­sort, al­ways chi-chi up top, has un­der­gone a kind of whole­sale re­brand­ing in re­cent years and now the high end of Courchevel is ridicu­lously high-end. There’s Prada and Chanel and Gucci and Cartier. Three of France’s 16 palace-des­ig­nated ho­tels are here. There are 12 Miche­lin stars (more per square me­tre than any­where else in the world), dished out among seven restau­rants, in­clud­ing two for Pierre Gag­naire at Les Airelles. And the seafood is not vine­gary cock­les. It is driven from sea to moun­tain daily so that if you are a Hol­ly­wood star on a no-carb diet, you can pick at top-notch sashimi up here in the clouds, at the newly opened Koori restau­rant at L’Apogee ho­tel.

Courchevel was the first pur­pose-built re­sort in France, and the first de­signed to be ski-in, ski-out. Un­til 1945, there was only pas­ture and a barn in the vil­lage cen­tre at 1850m, where three bub­ble lifts now con­verge. Ho­tel des Trois Vallees was put up, and a sin­gle ski shop next door, and thus be­gan the trans­for­ma­tion of the moun­tain­side and the for­tunes of its prop­erty own­ers. A treach­er­ous al­ti­port was built in the 1960s for use by pri­vate jets, and the Win­ter Olympics in 1992 con­firmed Courchevel as one of the world’s top snow re­sorts. It is part of the largest ski area in the world, 600km of pistes, much of which is very high, so that even last De­cem­ber when so many French re­sorts are curs­ing the lack of snow, con­di­tions are fine here.

In the past 15 years or so, it has be­come the win­ter play­ground for Rus­sian bil­lion­aires, which is re­flected in the prices in shops and restau­rants and ho­tels at the top — €50 ($74) for a plate of spaghetti is nor­mal. A few years back Lacroix started mak­ing di­a­mond–en­crusted skis aimed at the Rus­sians (yes, Russkis!). How would you en­joy your lunch with those parked out­side in the racks?

We stay at the afore­men­tioned L’Apogee, perched over­look­ing the high vil­lage. The air wafts notes of cedar and vanilla. The fires roar silently in the log-burn­ers. The walls are dark and muted and warm, and the staff are the per­fect level of cheer­ful and at­ten­tive.

In the morn­ing you go down­stairs to the ski shop, where your feet are coaxed into sheep­skin-lined boots. You go out­side with your group to find your skis laid out, ready to be clipped into.

Off you swish into the Trois Vallees, and when the light fades and you re­turn to the ho­tel, an es­ca­la­tor trans­ports you up the last tiny slope back to the ski shop. There are none of the bor­ing bits. No stump­ing about on numb feet with clob­ber over your shoul­der, no lurch­ing on the bus.

This must be how the other half ski.

• courchevel.com • la­pogeecourchevel.com

THE SPEC­TA­TOR

Up­mar­ket Courchevel is part of the ex­pan­sive Trois Vallees ski area

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