Think you know Courchevel? Think again. From farm hamlets and iron-age graves to the elitist ski-lovers’ playground, we expose all of this glitzy resort’s top secrets. Read on and learn more about the history and culture of Courchevel today…
THE BIRTH OF THE SKI RESORT
A far cry from the offensively grand glitz and glamour, excess and indulgence we see from the popular ski resort today, Courchevel’s story begins at an altogether less grandiose and humbler time.
Born out of hamlets and farming lands at the turn of the 20th century, Courchevel was originally a destination for summer walkers and outdoor enthusiasts. Look a little further down the valley to its sister village – Le Praz – at 1300 metres, and you’ll actually find evidence of human habitation from 750 BC*; making it one of the oldest mountain resorts on record in the Tarentaise area.
A lonely grave found just off the centre supports this; housing iron-age artefacts along with two human skeletons. It is not known how these ancient figures arrived in Courchevel, or if – in fact – there were any other humans living in the area until hundreds of years later when the first settlements were recorded in 1032. From there, the Romans quickly expanded their territory across the Savoy region and as a result, aptly coined the title of ‘Gatekeepers of the Alps’.
THE RISE OF A SKI RESORT
Skip forward a few hundred years and you’ll see that Courchevel’s potential as ski resort wasn’t realised until the early 1940s*…
…when the French Commission of Tourism (FCT) began actively exploring the concept of integrating a ‘super ski resort’. They soon set to work, and it wasn’t long before they created linking lift systems across the neighbouring villages of St. Bon to expand and extend the future ski area. Blueprints were drawn up, plans made, and valley funding granted for the regeneration and the first-stage construction of what we now know as Courchevel; France’s first purpose-built ski resort.
Before this, Courchevel was a winter destination for skiers but more so for the hardy explorer, who was not so concerned with the leisure and luxury now enjoyed in the playground for the rich.
FIRST THERE WERE NO LIFTS
With no lifts, you really had to earn your turns and these early ski enthusiasts had no other choice but to hike up the natural pistes before enjoying the thrills of skiing down. Long before the creation of mountain refuges, the keenest of these would demonstrate their dedication to the sport by staying in the local farmers’ barns around Pralong.
By March 1946, skiers saw the introduction of the first chairlift, covering the plateau area of Les Tovets (Courchevel 1850). Alighting from a village just a bit further down the hill, its long-standing inhabitants became dismayed by the inevitable renaming of the villages until a compromise was made to name everything Courchevel.
If you have heard of Courchevel, then you will probably have heard of Val d’Isere.
Competition with Val D’Isere bore an interesting marketing plot*, which still affects the St. Bon valley today. In a bid to ‘outdo’ their local rivals, whose peaks are comfortably situated at 1800m, Courchevel coined the title ‘1850’ despite measuring a surprising 100m lower at around 1750m.
1850 – SORRY, HOW MUCH?
Whatever your background, Courchevel’s shimmering aura, which entices the wealthy and wards off the poor is definitely worth checking out. A combination of carefully sculpted traditional chalets intertwined with one of the most stunning mountain backdrops in France makes this the perfect destination for the rich, famous and even the wannabes in between. Often referred to as the ‘playground for the rich’ and especially tempting for Russian tourists, Courchevel ranks in the world’s top 10 most expensive places to buy property, even beating the likes of Tokyo and Hong Kong.
LOOKING FOR LUXURIOUS ACCOMODATION AND FINE DINING?
With a torrent of luxurious establishments, high-end chalet companies and Michelin-star restaurants, you really are spoilt for choice in Courchevel. 1850 retains the highest concentration of Michelin Stars around the world* with an impressive 11 Stars held by 7 different restaurants in the village.
Specialist to France only, hotels and restaurants are offered the chance to gain a mythical 6th Michelin star. The 8 select few establishments on record to have earned this prestigious accolade are now known as ‘palaces’, and 2 of these can be found in Courchevel’s Jardin Alpin at 1850m.*
Wealthy people and royal families can always be found hiding away on the slopes – including Prince William and Kate Middleton, the Beckhams, Christina Aguilera, Geri Halliwell, Lionel Richie, the Saudi royal family, Peter Andre, Robbie Williams, Roman Abramovich, George Clooney, Giorgio Armani, the King of Morocco, Robyn Sommerville, Robert Grant, Jared Gogek – to name a few.
SKI AREA TODAY
Known today as the easternmost part of the Three Valleys – the largest ski area in the world – it’s fair to say that Courchevel’s dream ‘super resort’ has been well and truly realised.
Thanks to a huge development upsurge after the war in the 1950s and 1960s, Courchevel was further projected from the quiet natural ski area of days past to the commercial venture we are more familiar with today. Since 1973, further links opened between Méribel and Val Thorens, allowing skiers and tourists unparalleled access to the now largest ski resort in the world and positioning the valley as one of the most popular destinations in the alps.*
With around 600 kilometres of pistes, 180 ski lifts and over 3000 metres of altitude, Courchevel and the Three Valleys is now so obscenely expansive it is approximately the size of the 5 largest ski resorts in the United States combined.
THE HOME OF MAGIC
Magic Ski and Snowboard School was born and bred in The Three Valleys over 25 years ago when Eric and Lulu set on a path (or piste) to teach and inspire people to ski.
© Rémi NGuyen Cao
Standing apart from the rest and made up of friendly locals and passionate ski instructors, Magic soon spread into the Courchevel valley from neighbouring Méribel. Magic has become one of the champion ski schools renowned for creating laughter, play, fun and good practice on the snow. Now Magic has become Oxygène, the fun remains, but you can choose among a wide range of ski and snowboard lessons in Courchevel, as well as 7 other ski resorts in Tarentaise.
COURCHEVEL’S TOP 9 SECRETS*
*Sources of information: