Airelles Courchevel review: glitz and glam both on and off-piste
Skiing may be the only reason to leave this chic French five-star hotel
Most agree that Courchevel in the French Alps is the world’s ski capital and 1850, in the Jardin Alpin where the Airelles Courchevel, Les Airelles is located, is its most glamorous neighbourhood. The setting is fairytale-perfect with its backdrop of lofty, snow-draped pines against the backdrop of gargantuan rocky peaks.
From Courchevel you can access the largest ski area in the world, Les Trois Vallées, with more than 600km of ski slopes, 80 green and blue and more than 140 red and black ski runs – something to keep skiers of all levels occupied for days on end. The largest artificial snow system in France ensures there is snow all season-round.
There’s plenty of glitz and glam both on and off-piste with chic designer boutiques and fancy restaurants and bars. If you’re at Airelles, however, you might find yourself just luxuriating in your slippers until it’s time to hit the pistes. It’s a ski-in, ski-out affair and you might find that is the only reason for leaving.
Why come here?
Airelles Courchevel was built in the 1990s but it feels far older, with 19th century Austro-Hungarian charm, lots of aged wood, antiques, hefty stone fireplaces and plenty of quiet, cosy nooks. It has “palace status”, an award bestowed by the French Ministry of Tourism to five-star hotels that achieve “excellence”.
The enchanting hotel is peak chalet chic with its 48 spacious rooms and suites, full of old, well-loved wood, deep red carpeting and huge beds; bathrooms feature deliciously scented toiletries and hammam showers, ideal after a day on the pistes. Minibars stocked full of delicious treats like Alain Milliat nectars and Fouquet chocolate are complimentary. Suites stretch outside with wide, wooden balconies that have spectacular views of the picture-perfect Alps and ginger-bread chalets.
In-room tech is no afterthought; a bedside iPad will tell you the weather as well as allow you to order room service. TVs are artfully hidden in wood-framed mirrors.
Service is brilliantly efficient with no task too big or small and a slightly unnerving knack for mind-reading; professional, courteous and charming without falling into the trap of obsequity. Men dress in the all-white uniform of the Chasseurs Alpin with their oversized berets or in suits; Alpine milkmaids make up the majority of the wait staff. In the on-site ski room, you’ll have your warmed ski boots put on for you whilst you sip a cafe au lait and nibble on a croissant. Stroll outside to find your skis and poles waiting for you, cordoned off on the piste.
Eating and drinking
We’ve never seen a breakfast set up like Airelles’. A table laden with all manner of baked goods: classic viennoiserie, loaves of brioche feuilletée, chouquettes, tarts and cakes; poached dried fruits sit alongside delicate slices of tropical fruit and a hot station for eggs. Bowls of stunning sourdough are served to the table alongside shots of fresh green juice for a cursory nod to health.
La Table Des Airelles is infamous for its “Festin”, a remarkable buffet featuring piles of fresh seafood, lobsters, oysters and sea urchin, sushi to rival the best Japanese spots, piles of salads and meats from the rotisserie. Don’t miss out on the hot sides – typically decadent treats like tartiflette.
Desserts are a signature of Airelles, a groaning table of sweet, sticky and zesty French classics – tartes de fruit or chocolate, creme brulée, chocolate mousse, Paris Brest, St Honoré, rum baba, strawberries with creme chantilly and our favourite, rotisserie pineapple bathed in rum syrup.
The hotel has another couple of tricks up its foodie sleeve; Le Coin Savoyard features a range of warming mountain classics: fondues, raclette, charcuterie and great piles of french fries are perfect post-slope fodder, executed deftly and deliciously. Get your fondue with ceps and morels for a touch of decadence.
Italian Restaurant, Piero TT, has a new chef this season, Marco Garfagnini, who previously worked at the hotel’s St Tropez outpost. Truffle pizzetti, crudos dressed in silky olive oil with fresh, zippy jalapeno and more truffle, snow crab salad and decadent lobster spaghetti are star attractions.
Slopeside, there’s Le Chalet de Pierres. Swap out your ski-boots for some slippers and sip on some fab wines from the hotel’s winery in the south of France. The food varies from lighter bites like seared tuna and steak tartare to full-on mountain fare like gnocchi with truffle and pecorino; truffles are the order of the day here, piled onto french fries, on their famous “burger à la truffe du Chalet de Pierres”. There are seafood platters and various large cuts of meat and whole fish on offer. That signature dessert table makes a second appearance – remarkably with a swathe of different choices from the main hotel.
The SmokeHouse Bar is all plush velvet, low ceilings and open fires, harking back to 19th century gentlemens’ clubs; well-balanced cocktails demonstrate real showmanship: for example, served on wooden boards with bell jars full of smoke whipped off tableside, a final spritz of something delicious sprayed on just before serving. On Thursdays, the bar staff wheel around a cocktail trolley to mix you up a treat. There’s also a smoking room for those partial to a cigar. For the oenophiles among you, the cellar is extremely well-stocked with rare and interesting wines.
What to do
Skiing and snow-shoeing aside, there are plenty of things to keep you entertained within the walls of the hotel. Perhaps most importantly, there’s the Salle De Jeux, a space for children with dedicated staff to entertain; it’s got toys, games and even a mini-cinema.
Take advantage of the peace and quiet to visit La Mer Spa for a tailor-made treatment from the celebrated brand; it’s the perfect spot to relax those aching, ski-worn muscles. The spa has both an indoor and an outdoor jacuzzi, a stunning pool with waterfalls and two saunas; our favourite was to warm up in the steam room and then cool off in the icy indoor snow cave. A nail salon and barbers round out the offering.
Airelles Courchevel, Les Airelles, Rue du Jardin Alpin, 73120 Courchevel, France. Rooms from £1,000 per night; airelles.com