by James Connington
Courchevel 1850 has long been notorious as a destination that attracts a super-rich clientele with every intention of flaunting their wealth. This newspaper has called it "a glitzy mini-Moscow" and reported rumours that Roman Abramovich once thought of buying the entire town.
But times are changing, and the French resort has started to take on a more reserved and family friendly tone. The high-end luxury remains: the slopeside restaurant Le Chalet de Pierres will still happily charge you €59 (£52) for a truffle pizza, and asking for directions in town will be met with "turn left at Prada". It is still a resort for those with heavy pockets.
But the visitors are increasingly working professionals, who are likely to feel more at home in the most exclusive of the four Courchevel villages than they might have previously. Restaurants are welcoming, children are prevalent and Britons in particular abound. "There are more professionals, more families and fewer people buying a property as a trophy asset," says Jerome Lagoutte of Savills French Alps. "People come up here for the good atmosphere."
The newly opened Six Senses Residences in Courchevel 1850 is a prime example of this. The development comprises 53 apartments, which are sold freehold, ranging from two-bedroom flats at 750 sq ft to five-bedroom penthouses. Though prices for the best homes run up to €8.8million, the cheapest apartments start from €1.5million, offering an entry-level option in the centre of an exorbitantly priced resort. Knight Frank is currently marketing a five-bedroom chalet for €11.5million (with plenty more price on application) while a seven-bedroom chalet is €17.85million through Prestige Property Group. For those willing to pay extra at Six Senses, the apartments can be bought fully furnished, with art on the walls and wine in the fridge. Customisations are also possible - some clients have bought multiple apartments and knocked them together.
The services rival a five-star hotel - with a 24-hour concierge, in-house equipment shop and extensive spa facilities - but the intention is clearly for them to be lived in, not shown off for a fortnight a year. The kitchens are small but smart, furnishings and fittings are high-end but practical, and some of the apartments offer specific smaller twin rooms for children. There are still extravagant features: larger apartments feature cinema rooms, balconies and steam rooms.
There will always be room for the bling end of luxury," says Bernhard Bohnenberger, president of Six Senses. "But our approach is to be very private and understated; we don't talk about who stays with us and families feel very comfortable."
The resort sits in the largest skiable area in the world - Les Trois Vallées - which boasts 370 miles of ski slopes, offering an array of runs to suit any ability. More than 1,000 ski instructors operate in the area, ranging from the familiar ESF to high-end private outfits such as Le Cercle, a private ski school.
Six Senses has historically been focused on Asia but is in the middle of a significant push into new markets, starting with Courchevel, its first residential ski development in Europe, with further Alpine resorts in progress in Switzerland and Austria. Bohnenberger says that a large proportion of visitors to its Asian hotels, residences and spas are from the UK and Europe, providing demand for options closer to home.
A room at Six Senses CREDIT: MATT PORTEOUS
As well as location, the services that these clients want has also changed over the past decade, with more demand for bespoke experiences and "wellness" offerings arranged through a concierge. A number of Six Senses residents who have already moved in to the Courchevel resort head straight from the slopes to the gym or spa, rather than the bars.
It's all part of the changing face of the area. "Courchevel has always been 'look at me, look how loud and amazing I am', but it has become a lot more family orientated," says Roddy Aris, head of sales in the French Alps for Knight Frank. And it's not just happening at 1850; its neighbour, Courchevel 1650, is also trying to lure in more families.
World-class ski resorts such as Courchevel 1650 have realised that they have this superb winter infrastructure that can be used to attract a much wider audience," says Andrew Beale, managing director of Free Spirit Alpine. "Huge investment has gone into building the Aquamotion centre - Europe's largest water park in the mountains - and non-skiing activities such as the new Luge XXL toboggan run."
Knight Frank's Aris says that Megève is another luxury resort playing the same game. It has historically been "totally understated and far more discreet," he says, but there are now "massive plans afoot" to spruce it up and offer more.
Megève is also much cheaper than Courchevel 1850, with prime prices per sq ft at €1,209 and €1,767 respectively - although the planned redevelopments could change that.