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Often referred to as the best European ski resort, Courchevel is the most eastern resort of Les Trois Vallées or The Three Valleys, the largest skiing area in the world.
If taking the fast train (TGV) from Paris, you won’t need more then 4,5 h to Moutiers Salins Brides Les Bains from where you can reach Courchevel by bus within an hour.
Courchavel is the first French ski resort, which was not built around an existing settlement, but literally in the middle of nowhere. It actually consists of four villages – Courchevel Le Praz, Courchevel 1550, Courchevel 1650 and the most famous Courchevel 1850. Upon arriving we learned that the numbers beside the names indicate the altitude of each village in meters, except Courchevel 1850, whose altitude is actually “only” 1747 meters. The village took over the name from Jardin Alpin (1850 m), in order to compete with the rival ski resort Val d’Isere. Luckily there is a free bus service running between all the four villages so we could easily access a variety of bars, restaurants, shops and other après-ski activities.
The fancy 1850
The largest and the most expensive, Courchevel 1850, is packed with 5 or even 6 star hotels with Michelin awarded restaurants that most can only dream of staying at, but if you haven’t been there you cannot really say you’ve been to Courchevel.
Each year the so-called “winter playground” for the rich and famous attracts some well known names, and royal blood. You might bump into Prince William and Kate Middleton, King of Morocco, Saudi Arabia’s royal family, David and Victoria Beckham, Christina Aquilera or George Clooney. However, we didn’t meet any of them on this trip.
Nevertheless, Courchevel can accommodate around 30,000 guests, not all of which are millionaires. So we discovered resort’s lower levels which are more affordable, but still impressive and much more authentic. Le Praz or ‘Courchevel 1300’ is a traditional Alpine village, small, quiet, but atmospheric. Courchevel 1550 and 1650 are more lively with plenty of bars, shops and restaurants. No matter where you sleep the good thing is that 90 percent of the accommodation give direct access to the slopes.
Les Trois Vallées, which beside Courchevele include Meribel, Les Menuires and Val Thorens, offer more than 600 km of ski slopes with amazing views. The Three Valleys are located at an altitude from 1300 m to 3230 m with 85% of the slopes above 1800 m. Ski passes are correspondingly expensive.
We took half-day passes and hit the slopes at noon. Here you can be really sure that you won’t spent your afternoon waiting in line, but actually skiing, even at the busiest of times thanks to the efficient and fast chairlifts and gondolas systems. Ski extremists can choose among 100 red and 30 black slopes, some of them are considered the most difficult in the world. We can only confirm that. Whether being a beginner or a pro, you can also discover skiing at night with just the light of a torch and with no other noise than the gliding of your skis across the snow and the crackling of the flame.
Even if you have never stood on skis before and have no desire to do so, you won’t be bored in Courchevel. We experienced some serious thrills at the longest sledge slope in France. The 2 km-long sledge run with its 300 m difference in altitude from start to finish with an average incline of 15% is located on the edge of the Tovets piste in Courchevel 1850 and ends in Courchevel 1550.
A bit less exciting, but still a lot of fun is ice skating and hiking. We were gliding across the ice at the Forum Olympic ice rink, discovered the surrounding hiking trails through woods and found some peace and quite time in the nature. Not to mention the views on the three valleys – amazing.
We were learning more about the history, archeology and ethnography of the Savoy region at Musée Savoisien, we visited the house of Jean-Jacques Rousseau which now hosts a literary museum called Musée des Charmettes. It has kept its Savoyard style and retained a romantic charm and atmosphere of the eighteenth century. Those less interested in literature and history among us visited Musée de l’opinel and found out how the famous opinel pocket knifes are made and what’s their history.
The best time to visit the ski resort might be the pre-christmas time when Courchavel lights up in festive colors and hosts a lovely Christmas market and a lot of magical events, like crazy ski shows for example.
No trip to Courchevel wouldn’t be complete without trying some of the delicious local specialties. The region is known for its brandy called Génépis and white wine – vin de Savoie, which is best served with local specialties such as raclette and tartiflette. This cheese based delicacies are the best way to gather strength for the next day’s ski tour.