Downhill in Courchevel

Barry Hook prepares for the ski season with recollections of previous holidays, hotels and chalets in one ofEurope’s most sophisticated ski resorts.

Courchevel 1850 is one of the loves of my life. For intermediate skiers, like me, it is paradise.

The downside of this downhill heaven is that it is a place for ‘les très riches’, so much so that I marvel at the number of times I have managed to ski there.

In recent years the value of the euro has compounded the problem. But, no matter what the size of your bank balance, when you are on the slopes, whether blue or black, simply forget the red shade of your bank statement . . . you’re skiing in Courchevel  . . . you can dine-out on that for years.

There are nine 5-star hotels in this resort and I have visited most of them – if only for après ski. They are the places to be to spot the celebrities.

I set myself three priorities when it comes to ski holidays and celebrity-spotting is not one of them.

Top of my list is location. Carrying skis long distances from hotel to ski lift is a chore, especially when there are reasonably-priced and comfortable hotels which are close to either a piste or a lift. These places do exist in Courchevel 1850.

Second priority is location followed in third place by location.

Potiniere bar

My first Courchevel holiday was spent at a 2-star hotel called La Potinière, just a 2-minute walk to the pistes at La Croisette lifts in the resort centre. It was comfortable with a superb dining room but no bar – hence the 2-stars. The hotel, in fact, owned the bar next door so it was no hardship.

These days, however, the hotel has been completely refurbished as a 5-star boutique hotel. The name has changed to Les Suites de la Potinière where the contemporary suites (there are 15 of them) are sumptuous. The service is 5-star and the boot room has an espresso machine and a staff member to help you take-off your boots. What used to be the bar next door has now been incorporated into the hotel as the dining room.

A swimming pool, sauna and ski shop are on site and you will also get a goody bag on departure.

Here’s the rub. My 2-star prices no longer apply. Today, a suite costs from 1,500 euros (approx £1.200) for 2-persons per day. Prices for a 2-person Paradis Suite in the high season start from 2,700 euros (approx £2,100 per day. (

Breakfast is extra and you have to make your own flight and transfer arrangements but if you can afford these prices, you can probably afford a private flight into the resort’s exclusive airport.

The runway is 525 metres long and looks highly dangerous. The airport also has a frightening approach through deep valleys which can only be performed by specially certified pilots.

The 3-star chalet hotel, Coq de Bruyère, is another affordable hotel in a great location. Turn right from the front door and you can walk 2-mins to the main Croisette lift area; turn left and 20-seconds later you are at the blue run behind the hotel.

Coq de Bruyere

When I stayed there 4-years ago the hotel was a little frayed at the edges but was in the throes of refurbishment.

Continental breakfast was ample and there was a limited choice of hot dishes. Return to the hotel before 5.30pm and you can enjoy plenty of hot soup, bread, cakes, biscuits and hot drinks.

Pre-dinner canapés were served in the bar (which becomes crowded) before an ample 3-course dinner including complimentary wine.

One evening during the week you will be required to dine-out as the staff gets an evening off. Yes it was noisy at night and the bedroom was small but hey! you’ll be living in the centre of the resort for less than £1,000 per person, depending on the date. (

Hotel Saint Louis bar area

On the other side of the resort, up the road past the church, you’ll find Hotel St Louis.

Located opposite the Bellecôte piste, you can ski down to La Croisette lifts. You have to remember to finish your day on the Bellecôte piste otherwise you will have to walk-up the hill, back to the hotel, carrying your skis.

I choose to rent my boots and skis (I gave up owning skis and boots years ago, preferring instead to rent the latest equipment each year) at one of the shops opposite La Croisette lifts. That way, I could leave boots and skis at the shop overnight and take a 4-minute walk to the hotel in my comfortable moon boots. Next morning I would walk down to the ski shop opposite the lifts. Doing it this way means that you can ski on the opposite side of the valley without having taking numerous lifts at the end of the day to get back to the Bellecôte piste on the other side of the valley.

Rooms are for 2 or 4 with a private bath and shower, bathrobes, phone and TV.

You’ll get a buffet breakfast with a hot option, complimentary ski snack and afternoon tea. Your evening meal will be a scrumptious 4-course meal plus a cheeseboard.

If you travel with Crystal Ski you will fly to Chambéry and you can arrange helicopter transfer for up to 5 people.

The hotel is a contemporary chic design, quiet, with an elegantly designed bar, comfortable lounge and a welcoming fire place. High quality service and friendly staff were a pleasure in this English run hotel.

Half-board for 2 sharing a room in February (departingManchester) will be around £1,045 per person. (

Almost opposite the Coq de Bruyère is the chalet St Christopher. I have stayed here twice so you can guarantee the piste is within easy reach. Chalet St Christopher is located below the Chalet St. Nicholas on the lower floor of the building. I would describe it as an ‘upside down chalet’. As you enter at street level, you find yourself in the boot room and then you go down to an open plan lounge and dining room off which are the bedrooms. It only accommodates 8 people so you will get to know all the guests on your first day.

Some of the rooms have balconies overlooking the piste. Due to the design of the chalet into the hillside, the smaller rooms do not have any natural sources of light; however, they are still light and airy. I was happy enough to accept there were no windows in return for the superb location and general comfort inside the chalet.

It is a catered chalet (the chalet hosts live out) and on the staff’s day off, you will have to dine out. It’s not a problem as bars and restaurants are only a 3-min walk away.  A hearty cooked breakfast, afternoon tea with cakes and wine with your 3-course dinner are all included.

Prices will vary between £800 and £1,200 per person depending on the date. (

Courchevel is a magnet for the wealthy and the Russians where only the contents of your wallet will go downhill faster than you. The only thing you can guarantee is you will enjoy it, no matter what your level your ski-ing has reached.


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