This five-star Alpine chalet style hotel offers a luxury ski holiday – without any pretension
Courchevel, one of eight ski resorts found in the prized “Three Valleys” region of the French Alps, has a reputation for luxury.
In the midst of the largest ski area in the world, and with the added convenience of its own altiport (commercial flights can be such a chore), Courchevel’s credentials are impressive. It boasts a total of 14 Michelin stars, 17 five-star hotels - not including three elusively-named “Palaces” - and countless spas, piano bars and fashion boutiques. Not bad considering the resort is, essentially, a collection of villages.
The most prestigious village, Courchevel 1850, named after its altitude, is home to luxury chalet L’Apogee Courchevel, one of ten hotels run by the Oetker Collection, a portfolio of elite accommodation amassed by the family behind the German food brand Dr Oetker.
Ironically, this everyday label couldn’t be further from the luxury of the collection. Unlike many of its other offerings, which have remained within the family, L’Apogee is managed by Oetker but privately owned by an investor. Not that you could tell this by visiting the chalet, which displays the same regard for perfection that the group is renowned for. No, this information was prized out of L’Apogee’s affable general manager, Duarte Bon de Sousa.
Having arrived at the chalet feeling somewhat drained after a delayed journey from London City Airport, The Week Portfolio was greeted by Sousa’s charm, chilled champagne and a spread of delicious cheeses.
Of course, the setting also helped. L’Apogee is nestled in the woodlands of Le Jardin Alpin, overlooking brilliant white slopes that are accessible from the hotel itself. Indoors, the work of architect-designers Joseph Dirand and India Mahdavi creates a perfect balance between opulence and warmth, making L’Apogee feel like a home that has slowly morphed into a hotel.
The junior suite is no different. The bath and shower rooms (yes, there are both) combine the grandeur of Fior di Bosco marble with the softness of kohl-black African stone and brushed brass tacks, while offering generous supplies of Bamford organic toiletries – Lady Bamford, Sousa says, is a regular at Oetker’s legendary Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc.
As for the bedroom and living area, these afford – in the words of Mahdavi – a “snug cocoon” from the icy outdoors. Tactile fabrics such as wool, sheepskin and velvet are paired with alpine colours, gingham designs and, refreshingly, a total absence of high-tech gizmos.
There’s a self-assuredness about this – a sense that these add-ons are unnecessary when you have a balcony offering the beauty of the Alps. Just one inhalation of the fresh Alpine air is enough to leave the smog, and stress, of city life behind you.
In the UK, Courchevel is largely depicted as the terrain of Gucci-goggled billionaires, dominated by chic Parisians and Russian oligarchs. While these accents are overheard, the hotel prides itself on having a diversity of guests – as much as this is possible at an establishment where prices begin at €950 (£839) per night.
Certainly, though, there is nothing stuffy about the atmosphere at L’Apogee. The hotel’s slick Koori restaurant, which is devoted exclusively to Japanese food offers an exquisite five-course tasting menu, the headline act being flash-fried wagyu, served with crisp beansprouts and caramelised sweet potato.
Pairing strips of the world’s most expensive cut of beef with a staple root veg, Paris-trained head chef Jean-Luc Lefrancois sums up what is best about a stay at L’Apogee: the balance between indulgence and humility. This was no less apparent in Jean-Luc’s second restaurant, the traditionally French Le Comptoir de L’Apogee.
Here, as our table got going on a delicate starter of foie gras, an exhausted five-year-old boy next door tucked into a plate of duck, all the while dressed in Thomas the Tank Engine pyjamas and doted upon by the waiters. “Quoi? C’est normale,” says Sousa, before reflecting on the joy he witnesses when the little ones return from ski school to find a decorated Christmas tree in their living room, all courtesy of L’Apogee’s in-house florist, Roni Fleurs.
Courchevel, it turns out, is more family-friendly than Gucci-goggled. Yes, there are the dazzling boutiques – the likes of Chanel, Dior and Louis Vuitton – but they’re next to the village’s petting zoo, hot chocolate vendors and urban art displays. There’s also Aquamotion, the largest water leisure centre built in a European mountain resort, not to mention a string of child-friendly events, including marshmallow parties, firework displays and torchlit descents. To an outsider, it’s fully deserving of its Famille Plus rating, one given by the French Ministry for Tourism.
“It’s definitely more family and less party,” agrees Maxence, a twenty-something ski instructor at the resort, who was born and raised in Courchevel. After a morning of refresher lessons – all arranged by the hotel – we’ve stopped for lunch at the mountain restaurant La Cave des Creux. With breathtaking views of Mont Blanc, it’s the perfect spot to indulge in sumptuous and truffle-infused la fondue aux trois fromages. Towards the end of the season, its south-facing terrace makes it the perfect sun trap, too.
Eventually, we return to the hotel, where there is a conveyor belt to help guests overcome the slight incline to the entrance. Within minutes, the ski-room staff have traded ski boots for fluffy sheepskin slippers, whisking us off to Le Spa de l’Apogee.
Comprising a swimming pool, Jacuzzi, steam bath, sauna and salt cave, the spa is an oasis of serenity. Inside, an immaculately presented masseuse awaits, clutching an array of Sisley products to add to Lady Bamford’s offerings. Pressure levels are tested along with a choice of therapeutic oils, each with a distinct aroma and purpose: “soothing, revitalising or invigorating, Madam?”
Thinking that skiing provides enough vigour, I opt for soothing – and am not disappointed. Like everything at L’Apogee, the masage is the perfect post-piste experience. The attentiveness of the masseuses is shared by everyone working at the chalet, from the driver who collects passengers from Courchevel village one day – sparing visitors the horror of a seven-minute walk in ski boots – to the waiter who rustles up a medicinal orange and ginger smoothie to heal a guest's sore throat.
At the end of the trip, Sousa lets slip that he doesn’t stay in five-star hotels while travelling. The accolade gives rise to a certain expectation, he explains, which creates disappointment when an establishment falls short of this, as “so many” do. Guest houses can be much more personable, he says.
It’s a telling comment that underscores L’Apogee’s drive for homely perfection.
Rates at L'Apogee Courchevel start from €990 (approx £868) for a deluxe room on a half board basis including Courchevel