When you think of alpine ski hotels, it’s hard not to think of acres of orange pine, unfortunate decapitated animals looming on the walls and an overwhelming whiff of fondue.
And what the hell’s wrong with that, you might ask?
Well, firstly, nothing.
I adore traditional alpine hotels and have spent 30 perfectly happy years surrounded by orange pine, deceased animal heads and melted cheese.
There’s something charming about the timelessness of ski resort decor which, along with the stunning scenery make ski resorts so appealing year after year; a home from home, whichever mountain you pick.
But perhaps it’s time to ditch the more drab elements of alpine style and add a little luxe.
When it’s done right, updating alpine tradition and adding luxury while retaining the cosy atmosphere can have wonderful results.
Hotel Courcheneige has made that leap, transforming a traditional ski hotel high on the slopes of Courchevel 1850 into a chic boutique hotel that combines the best of alpine charm with modern design flair.
Over two summers they have renovated every room and public space in this original ski-in-ski-out hotel to make it a completely fresh prospect while retaining its family friendly values.
On the enormous terrace there is a brand new restaurant with a wood-fired pizza oven – the newly renovated and renamed De Laroche – ensuring that after 40 years perched on the edge of Bellecote piste, Hotel Courcheneige is still the number one lunch destination in 1850.
There’s a cocktail bar fresh out of London – Waikiki, from the team behind Tonight Josephine and our favourite rooftop spot, Bar Elba – bringing a tropical taste of cool to the slopes.
Oh, and there’s a hot tub perfectly situated on the terrace to overlook the valley.
And there’s a new, fully-stocked ski shop that means you can arrive, hire your gear, ski in, ski out and otherwise never leave the hotel again.
Bliss, if that’s your kind of thing.
If it’s not, it’s within snowball-throwing distance of too many Michelin restaurants to count – not least, the two-starred Les Airelles with chef Pierre Gagnaire, Le 1947, run by Yannick Alleno, La Table Di Kilimandjaro and Le Chabichou, as well as apres-ski options and activities galore in the vicinity.
Despite its stylish makeover though, Hotel Courcheneige is still one of Courchevel 1850’s more affordable options – the early booking offers this season started at 2,275 euros full board for 2 people for 7 nights including ski hire and lift pass, making it incredible value – and it has lost none of the comfortable touches that have made it so welcoming decade after decade.
Rather than rip up the rulebook entirely, the designers cherry-picked the warmest, most desirable elements of alpine decor and blended them with chic, contemporary designs and lines that fuse legacy with modernity.
Textiles are richly textured and patterned, luxurious wool throws are hung across every beautifully designed piece of furniture, warm leather Chesterfields fill the bar and baskets of logs fuel the open fires.
While it is no doubt sophisticated in its design, it is relaxed and warm too.
The hotel continues to appeal to all – from families to couples or singles – and the design flourishes in every corner suggest that the hotel was redesigned with the Instagram generation never too far from the mind: the rooms are decorated with insta-friendly ski art; the reception and bar areas with more photo-friendly art works.
The piste-side rooms have wall-to-wall glass doors that overlook the valley where each morning, a brightly coloured hot air balloon rises against white snow and cirulean sky before gliding noiselessly over the slopes to the valleys beyond.
It is photogenic travel at its finest.
Unlike so many alpine hotels too, Hotel Courcheneige is flooded with light.
Up in De Laroche, bordering the extensive terrace that you’ll find packed during lunch and apres-ski, the views are picture perfect.
The west side of the room is floor-to-ceiling glass, affording a brightly-lit breakfast with a view of the first skiers taking to the slopes.
Lunch and apres-ski overlook the sunny valley and dinner faces sunset skies tinged with pink and orange that give way to inky black, studded with the headlights of piste-bashers working their way across the mountainside, clinging impossibly to seemingly vertical slopes.
Thanks to the fact there’s a bit of a captive audience – although it’s just a short taxi journey, an extraordinarily fun toboggan ride down the piste or a 20-minute walk into the main town of Courchevel 1850 – the restaurant is bustling every night and you’ll soon begin to recognise familiar faces.
For all its chic makeover, the hotel still feels like a home from home.
Fellow guests soon begin to feel like family – particularly, as you find, with most half board, you end up breakfasting and dining with the same people all week, padding into the dining room in skiwear and the cute grey cable knit and orange pom-pom slippers left in the rooms – a nice touch that perfectly chimes with the decor.
Breakfast is buffet style and the evening meal (35E per person, per night, if it is not included at booking stage) is a three-course meal, starting with an extensive salad buffet, main course to order and a pudding buffet.
For lunch, Brasserie De Laroche comes into its own. As the place to lunch in 1850, you will find the sun-trap terrace packed until the sun dips behind the mountain at around 4pm.
The slope-side half of the terrace is now home to Waikiki – another welcome addition – I mean, who doesn’t want to sip piña coladas or warm Negroni in the snow?
It’s all very self-sufficient if, like us, these days you quite fancy just not going down to town after a day on the slopes.
You could merrily get by for the entire week without venturing any further than the piste by day and the restaurant and bar by night. In fact, we pretty much did.
If you do venture out though, Courchevel 1850 has it all.
It’s devastatingly luxe now, with Chanel boutiques and Michelin-starred restaurants – there are almost too many to count with multiple stars – jostling for room with the usual crèperies and cafes.
But, for all the Russian-friendly glitz, the six-figure price tag designer furs and the diamond-studded ski poles, Courchevel 1850 has retained its alpine charm – albeit gleamingly polished – and world-class ski standards.
Sure, it will set you back 18 euros for a crepe on the snowline, but 1850 is a lively people-watchers’ paradise – and a plane watchers’ too, with private jets and light aircraft landing at the airport all day. It’s quite something to watch them from the chairlift take off from the tiny runway too – soaring off up and climbing the craggy mountainface into the blue.
Being the Three Valleys, you have 170 lifts. 600km of piste. And this year, better snow than they have had in decades that looks to last until way beyond the Easter holidays.
And, of course, it’s the preferred ski destination of royals and stars. Brigitte Bardot helped put it on the map in the 60s. David and Victoria Beckham are regulars. Kate and Wills took Charlotte for their first family holiday there. Pippa is a regular face. Roman Abramovich, who was once rumoured to be trying to buy the entire thing, is practically a resident. Steve Redgrave. Even Ranulph Fiennes says it’s his preferred ski spot.
There is no question that as a ski resort, Courchevel 1850 has it all.
And the renovated Hotel Courcheneige, with its alluring mix of luxury, comfort and design, is a very fitting renewed, repolished and more affordable jewel in its crown.
See you in the hot tub.
Visit courcheneige.com to find out more, see all the pics, the prices and to book. The hotel is taking bookings now for the Easter holidays as well as 2018 season.