Can this playground of the rich be enjoyed on a budget? Will Robson investigates
As winter draws on, it’s impossible to know when, or if, any resorts in the Alps will welcome UK guests this season. But there are few skiers keener than Brits, so if there’s a way to ski safely before the spring thaw, we’ll be there.
The famous 3 Valleys resorts are doing their best to prepare for guests in a Covid world, not least Courchevel – one of the most prestigious ski spots in the French Alps, and a playground to the rich and famous.
Masking up, spacing in lift queues, and regular disinfection of public spaces are just some of the precautions Courchevel will put in place if it manages to open, as well as reducing the financial risk for guests, with ski pass refunds if the resort gets locked down before or during your trip. It may be renowned for attracting wealthy clientele, but like every resort right now Courchevel is keen to present itself as good value.
But is it ever possible to do Courchevel ‘on the cheap’? I went on a recent visit to find out.
STAYING SOLVENT IN 1850 AND BELOW
It’s many years since Courchevel was known as a priced-out playground for the rich. That said, even back then, there were always more budget places to stay if you knew where to look – even at 1850, the highest and therefore most pricey of Courchevel’s three villages.
For example, Hôtel Olympic in the heart of 1850, at £357 per person for a week’s B&B in a double room, is a bargain. It also offers €35 per day lunch/ dinner vouchers at partner restaurants in 1850 and Moriond 1650, which work out at about 10% cheaper than buying from the menu on the day. Other (non-voucher) ways to save would be to keep half of the pizza-sized Milanese chicken escalope at Alessandro’s in Le Forum shopping centre, and have it in a baguette for lunch the next day!
For après snacks, Stephan at the Olympic puts a tray of homemade pastries on each landing; or you could sample a hot chocolate and crêpe at L’Arbe café around the corner.
If you catch the bus to Moriond you can enjoy free pizza (4.30 to 7.30pm) with your drinks at the Fire and Ice bar at Portetta hotel.
Airbnbs are another way to save money. A quick search online and I found an apartment in Moriond 1650 near the centre of town, sleeping six, for just €150 per night. Self-catering means you can save money not eating out (nothing like a chairlift picnic!). There are several large Carrefour and Sherpa supermarkets in most of the resorts, and the products are the same price across France.
The type of ski holiday people take has changed over the past 20 years too. Regular, cheap flights to airports closer to the 3 Valleys (such as Chambéry and Turin) mean weekend breaks are more common.
THE SKIING IS ALWAYS FIVE-STAR
Courchevel, together with seven other neighbouring resorts, forms one of the largest connected ski areas in the Alps, with 600km of slopes and over 300 marked runs.
Most British skiers buy a pass to access every skiable kilometre of the 3 Valleys, even though Courchevel alone has over 100 runs and 55 lifts.
To be fair, there’s not much saving in a Courchevel-only ski pass – a three-day Courchevel pass is just €18 less than an adult 3 Valleys, which costs €191, while a six-day full area pass costs €321, only €35 more than a Courchevel-only pass.
The 3 Valleys ski pass price is just about comparable to other French resorts. For example, Megève is offering the mega Mont Blanc Unlimited pass (includes Verbier and Courmayeur) for €202/€336 (three days/six days), offering six days for the price of five.
The Portes de Soleil pass, covering 600km of slopes, is €160/€240. A Val d’Isère-Tignes pass is €132/€252, but with half the amount of marked ski slopes.
You can also bag discounts on the 3 Valleys pass if you buy in a group of two or more, purchase a Family Pass (everybody pays the child rate), or the Saturday day pass (20% off an adult pass).
FOLIE DOUCE ON A BUDGET, AND OTHER SURPRISES
Courchevel is home to some of the most top-end restaurants in the Alps. A gourmet burger and fries at La Cave des Creux at the top of the Aiguille de Fruits chairlift will probably be the best burger you ever eat – but it’ll cost you a cool €39. You can also blow a week’s budget on a pudding at Le Sarkara, the world’s only Michelin two-star desert-only restaurant.
To save pennies on the mountain, the key is to eat in snack bars, or places like the Bel Air restaurant above 1650: great for a panini on the terrace at about €12. For a proper lunch, Le Bouc Blanc at the top of the La Tania lift has good food and reasonable prices, where lunch will set you back about €12-15.
Over the back of the Saulire, admittedly just on the Méribel side, a steak frites-type of lunch at the famous Folie Douce brasserie can be had for a mere €12 a head. If you can, acquire a voucher that Folie Douce is known to give tour operators – the podium dancing and party atmosphere are free.
OTHER CHEAP AND CHEERFUL THINGS TO DO
Getting back into the mountains will be all about the skiing, but finding less crowded or bar-centric activities for après-ski or down-days could become the norm. Take snowshoeing; at first glance, it may seem excessively arduous, but local man Yann at Azimut Rando (seecourchevel.com) will take you on a 25-minute snowshoe into the woods, guided by your own flaming torch and the promise of Savoyard apple liqueur and a fondue in his specially-built 80-brick igloo. It costs €150 for a group of up to six people and includes snowshoe hire, guiding, drinks and fondue, which can work out as a great value après or dinner option.
When it’s safe to venture inside, the futuristic Aquamotion leisure pool complex near Courchevel Moriond (aquamotion-courchevel. com) is good value at just €9 for a two-hour swim, or you can bag five two-hour sessions for €35. For an extra €13-23 you can also spend three hours sessioning the 110m ‘wild water river’ and flumes – bargain!