Your post-powder guide to the French Alps
The French art of good living meets Michelin gastronomy in the piste-perfect Alpine resorts of Courchevel and Val d’Isère.
The French alpine resorts of Val d’Isère and Courchevel in the southwest Savoy region are pioneers of French winter tourism. Founded in 1888, Val d’Isère is one of the world’s most famous winter holiday destinations, while younger Courchevel – the first ski resort to be built from scratch – has established itself as an A-list destination for international guests seeking luxury and indulgence.
Courchevel’s five distinct villages are named after their altitude. As a rule of thumb, the higher the village, the posher the atmosphere – and prices also tend to rise the further you go up the mountain. In Courchevel 1852, the poshest and the highest of the five villages, the snow reaches roof level, while the art of alpine dining is taken to new heights of sophistication.
Visitors can splurge on the finest caviar, oysters, and champagne at Piero TT, a new restaurant opened by Michelin chef Pierre Gagnaire at Les Airelles, a five-star hotel housed in a traditional wooden chalet. Piero TT replaces Gagnaires’s previous two-star establishment in Courchevel – but there are still plenty of Michelin restaurants left at the resort (a total of 12 stars, to be precise).
One of them is L’Azimut in Courchevel Le Praz, an unpretentious bistro run by chef François Moureaux and his wife Sandrine as manager. Keeping its star for eight years running is convincing proof of consistent quality, while a four-course menu comes at a very reasonable cost of 55 euros – a wallet-friendly alternative to the sky-high prices of many other restaurants in the resort.
The mountainous Savoy region is not famed for its wines; however, local vintages seem to be well represented in every restaurant.
“Ten years ago they were practically unknown. The quality of the local wine was poor and was mostly used for fondue. Now it’s a completely different story. Local wines are respected and so fashionable that many of the best producers sell out their whole production to local restaurants,” explains local tourism expert Natalie Faure.
If Courchevel represents the posh peak of ski dining, more down-to-earth options await in Val d’Isère, where venues like La Baraque offer a wide array of savoury options from oysters and seafood to hearty meat dishes throughout the day. Popular among locals, the reasonably priced brasserie hosts live music in the evenings. A stylish lunch can also be enjoyed at La Fruitière, which serves contemporary French comfort food and cheeses from all over the country. The place is usually packed, so come early or make a reservation. Les 5 Fréres is a nice option for lunch, dinner, or brunch, specialising in casserole dishes served family-style en cocotte, in crockpots.
Although the two resorts are only 80 kilometres apart by road, Courchevel and Val d’Isère are very different in character. Purpose-built Courchevel has more to offer in terms of Michelin gastronomy and high-end shopping, while ski-focused Val d’Isère tends to attract a younger clientele with its lively after-ski scene.
Offering great snow and 150 kilometres of local slopes, Courchevel is part of Les Trois Vallées, the world’s largest ski area, comprising 600 kilometres of pistes linked by 165 lifts in total. The resort caters to beginners too, and there are free lifts in each of the five villages.
If skiing is not your thing, there is a brand-new toboggan run with a 450-metre vertical drop and average gradient of 15 per cent, as well as 18 kilometres of marked snowshoeing trails. Courchevel 1850 also has its own ice-skating rink.
Val d’Isère’s 300 kilometres of pistes are linked to the neighbouring resort of Tignes, an 11th-century village towering on a plateau at 1850 metres, offering slopes as high as 3400 metres and outstanding piste grooming. For non-skiers there is array of activities from paragliding to dog sledding, as well as an ice-skating rink in the centre of the village and a gondola ride up the mountain.
From slope to steam room
After an active day outdoors, many skiers welcome an evening of pampering at a wellness spa, which are in plentiful supply at both resorts.
A variety of treatments are available at the Aquamotion centre near Courchevel Moriond, which has several indoor and outdoor pools, saunas, steam rooms, a salt water grotto, caldarium, and a centre with diving pools, water slides, rapids, and even a climbing wall and surfing area. Courchevel 1850 has a public fitness centre with a gym, sauna, and steam room. Most hotels offer spa facilities, some of which are open to the public for an entry fee.
Ski pass holders enjoy free entry to Val d’Isère’s Aqua Leisure Centre. The modern complex is centrally located in the village and easy to reach by foot from most hotels, many of which offer in-house spa facilities.
And there’s nothing quite like the fresh mountain air to guarantee a good night’s sleep. One of the newest of Courchevel’s nearly 50 hotels is Fahrenheit Seven, a relaxed four-star, 44-bedroom hotel with a small spa, elegant bar, and a restaurant with an open wood grill. As the hotel faces south to the slopes, the perfect spot to take your afternoon sunbath – or nap – is on your own balcony.
Text Kalle Kirstilä
Photos Robert Seger
Finnair flies to Lyon twice a week during the winter season!