You wouldn’t know it with all this lovely fondue and Burgundy flying about, but Courchevel used to be something of a dud in the culinary stakes. The grass here was so dry and rough in the middle of the last century that the cows refused to eat it — it scratched the calves tongues, rendering them, according to the mountain farmers’ dialect, ‘écortzevé’ (a word that would later morph its way into ‘Courchevel’). So the post-war government plumped for a ski resort here instead. They dubbed its upper reaches ‘1850’ (though it only really sits at 1,750m above sea level) to outsmart its haughty rival Val d’Isère. And the skiing, it quickly became clear, was excellent. (The piste here is the size of the five biggest North American ski areas combined.)
Soon came the hotels; then the residences; then even bigger hotels; then even bigger residences. Heliports, indoor spas, private night clubs — all the playthings of the competitive beau monde give this little idyll a uniquely oofy texture. Today, the calves aren’t hungry — they’re fatted, and enjoyed in veal form. The food scene here is absurdly smart. There are twelve Michelin stars in the tiny village of 2,000 residents— three one-star restaurants, three two-star restaurants and one three-star restaurant. The traditional Savoyard fare (think raclette, beef ribs, tartiflette) mingles with the international tastes of the helicoptered-classes. I had a crêpe at the top of a chairlift once that made me tearful. Perhaps it was the altitude. Or the butter.
L’Apogee Courchevel is, of course, the cherry on the whipped cream cake of this town. It is a kind of modern Grand Dame hotel for those that know. A true mountain king. It has the exquisite service of its sister Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc, say, with the understated chic of a terribly smart private house. (The gorgeously tailored reception staff say “welcome home”, even on your first visit.) There is a sleek confidence to the rooms, too — fur rugs over naked oak chairs; monochrome carpets offset by grass green velvet sofas. The spa is world class; a soothing idyll for those who have over exerted themselves on the slopes (and in the bar). Upstairs, each suite is a mini chalet — enveloping comfort, sharp design, and smart touches throughout, like underfloor heating on the balconies and baths deep enough to soothe a cow.
There are also two very, very good restaurants here: the French-ish Le Comptoir de L’Apogée and Koori, an inventive sushi concept. There’s even a fromagerie and a ham ageing cellar. But this is a ski town, after all — and the hotel’s effortless ski-in, ski-out facilities beg to be taken advantage of. So it’s cheering to see that the chaps over at the Oetker collection have put some thought into elevenses, too. (How many a black run has been darkened by a rumbling stomach, after all?
The playful, outlandish new ‘Ski and Gastronomy’ experience that the hotel is offering from this season sees Executive Chef Jean-Luc Lefrançois take his cuisine, quite literally, off piste. An accomplished ski-er (and what a name!), Jean-Luc will take you out through the famous Couloir and into the Three Valleys, before whipping up a slope-side picnic with a remarkable view. Forget that famous St Moritzian image of the waiter on ice skates — there’s nothing quite so grand as a chef in skis.
Back at the hotel, it’s more of the same from dear Jean-Luc, albeit in the decadent, exclusive environs of the L’Apogee restaurant — culinary creations that surprise and delight, and wines to make you weep. This humble town has come a long way. And so, it would appear, have you.
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