High luxury: Les Grandes Alpes Private Hotel review
With 17 five-star hotels and eight Michelin-starred restaurants, Courchevel is the most luxurious ski resort in the French Alps
Back in 1948 one of the first hotels to open in Courchevel – then a fledgling resort hoping to grab a slice of the nascent ski boom – dared to give itself a very grand name indeed. Rightly so. After all, Les Grandes Alpes, at the very centre of Courchevel 1850, was not just the resort’s original grand hotel. In the early days, it also served as its post office, bank, tourist office, ski-school headquarters and much else besides.
Today, Courchevel has expanded to become the most luxurious ski resort in the French Alps, boasting seventeen five-star hotels, three even-swankier “palaces” and eight Michelin-starred restaurants. There’s an “altiport” so that helicopters can whizz the wealthy in from Geneva. There’s a vast new swimming and sports complex (Aquamotion) and a new 3km toboggan run to keep younger visitors happy. And there’s still some of the best skiing in the Alps.
Les Grandes Alpes remains at the heart of Courchevel – but when I visited recently there wasn’t a mailbag to be seen. Instead, there’s a small but tres chic lounge bar, Bellini’s, and a frankly magnifique new restaurant, Le Bizan (more on that later). There’s also an intriguing conundrum in the mountain air. Is this place a five-star hotel or a vast luxury chalet? Answer: it’s both.
As part of a full refurbishment overseen by designer Jean-Marc Mouchet in 2012, the venerable hotel reinvented itself. Rather than lots of small bedrooms, it’s now made up of luxury apartments – consisting of sitting rooms, dining areas with professional kitchens, and three or four bedrooms (all with en suites). A few smaller suites and luxury rooms are available, too.
The idea is that this “private hotel” has all the amenities of a five-star hotel, including an in-house spa by Valmont with massage treatment rooms, a sauna and swimming pool. But it combines all that with the extra privacy, space and convenience of a chalet-type set-up. Does it work? Beautifully so.
The apartments’ sitting rooms have ample sofas for a large group to relax in, and vast woodburners should they be needed to achieve an extra-toasty cosiness. On arrival guests discover a complimentary bottle of Dom Perignon 96, among many other treats to help them settle in. The bedrooms and bathrooms have everything you might expect at this level, from jacuzzi baths to heated lavatory-seats to Hermes toiletries and perfumes. And dining rooms are easily large enough for a big group to all dine together in the apartment – with full table service arranged by your private butler.
Ah yes – the butler. A key benefit at Les Grande Alpes is that each apartment has a dedicated private butler to look after you. It turns out that’s just as nice as it sounds. Indeed, if I were to conjure up the Platonic essence of a private butler, then our butler, Gael, would be it. He knew when to spring forward with help or a suggestion; when to take polite refuge in the apartment’s kitchen; and when to vanish discreetly. And he made a mean espresso and scrambled eggs to accompany the vast breakfast spread of local cheeses and charcuterie, smoked salmon and fruits.
Of course none of this is cheap. But then Courchevel is not for the faint of heart or slim of wallet. This town is unashamedly the playground of the well-to-do, where it’s hard to find a burger that isn’t Wagyu, and the streets are lined with outlets from Fendi to Bulgari via all points luxe. Traditonally Courchevel was the favourite of the French elite. Today it’s a cosmopolitan mix, with sizeable Russian, Turkish and Middle Eastern contingents along with the French, Brits and other Europeans.
Very large groups or those including very young children might crave the extra space that comes with a large chalet. But the Grande Alpes concept will certainly suit couples, groups of friends and extended family groups. The hotel has the ski-in ski-out access that is de rigeur at this level of accommodation, and it has the added advantage of prime location. Walk out of the hotel’s ski atelier (complete with staff to help you boot up), snap into your skis, and you are a matter of moments from 1850’s three main cable cars.
The central location is also a big plus in the evenings, should you wish to take advantage of the range of nightclubs, bars and cabaret venues that Courchevel has to offer. Try La Mangeoire, if glow-in-the-dark bottles of Dom Perignon and basque-clad table-top dancers are your idea of fun. Or for a more sophisticated cabaret-style evening, give Le Nokken a whirl.
Wherever you’re staying, I would strongly recommend seeking out the Grandes Alpes’ restaurant Le Bizan, where Paolo Bianchi is brilliantly melding his background in Japanese cooking (at Zuma in Rome) with Mediterranean cuisine. Before tucking into a ten-course tasting menu our bouches were well and truly amused by a remarkable oyster tempura with yuzu apple foam and ponzu mayonnaise (which, as luck would have it, went perfectly with the Bellini I was sipping).
This was followed by a range of fish dishes of thrilling lightness and zing (such as yellowtail tartare with red pepper sorbet and ponzu jelly); imaginative, zesty salads; and meat dishes that were somehow both delicate and hearty (such as venison fillet with Sicilian pistachios, a miso and chestnut reduction, and mixed Japanese mushrooms).
But what of the reason the wealthy flock to Courchevel in the first place? What of the skiiing? As a rookie, I was in the very safe hands of Veronique from the Ecole de Ski Francais. Within hours, she had me gliding with confidence down (easy) green runs. Too much confidence, it turned out. Pride came before a fall on more than one occasion, as I insisted on bypassing the basics in favour of racing off down the hill.
More experienced members of my party took full advantage of the more advanced skiiing higher up the mountain, and came back brimming with tales of off-piste adventures on some of the best snowfalls of recent years. Truthfully, I was just as excited by the lunches. While on the slopes be sure to stop at La Cave des Creux, a classy new alpine restaurant founded by three former ski instructors.
Apres-ski, my forty-something muscles were protesting loudly at the day’s unusual punishments, and I can honestly say that the 50-minute deep tissue massage at the hands of Marie, the senior masseuse at the Les Grandes Alpes spa, was nothing short of miraculous. I was recusitated, rejuvenated and transported by her divine skills. Afterwards, I wandered from the treatment room for a dip in the next-door pool bearing such an air of woozy contentment that my companions fell about laughing at me as I joined them poolside. Did I care? Not a jot. Here, at Les Grandes Alpes, I was in a kind of heaven.
A three-bedroom apartment is from €3,950 (£3,524) per night, including breakfast; grandesalpes.com