If you had told us a year ago that at this time next year we would know how to ski, we would have laughed. Hard. Skiing has always felt like something that is reserved for the rich and famous, something so far fetched and unattainable that when the opportunity arose for us to do this we actually didn’t know how to react ! A cousin of mine, having lived in the US for a while, has over the years developed a love for the sport, something she most graciously wanted to share with her close family and friends. And so we all trooped to the French Alps to celebrate her 30th birthday in style.
To be quite honest, Pavan and I were pretty sure we would come back saying, yes we tried. We failed. But we had a great holiday anyway. Man how wrong were we. The week we spent in Courchevel, France was, to say the least, surreal. And we learnt to ski ! We fell in love with this little ski town from the moment we stepped into it, lugging our unnecessarily large bags along snow filled pathways trying to find Chalet Le R.
Courchevel is not the easiest to get to but with a little planning it can be figured out. The closest airport to Courchevel is Geneva. There is a small airport in Courchevel itself, reserved for those who have the money to hire a chartered helicopter/small flight and the stomach to brave the treacherous landing. But for us mere mortals, Geneva it is. We took the KLM flight from Bangalore to Amsterdam, stopped here for 3 days (read all about it here), and then took a short flight from here to Geneva. Courchevel is still several hours away from here and these are the varied ways of getting there.
- Private car/taxi– This is the most expensive option but makes up for it in convenience and speed. There are several operators and it takes about 2.5 hrs to go by car to Courchevel. This could cost about 700-900 Euros for a round trip for an entire car for 4 people.
- Bus – This is what we took to get to Courchevel. The bus departs from the airport itself and it is a 4 hour journey to get there. The scenery is gorgeous and the bus, comfortable. Not a bad deal at all. Keep in mind though that the bus goes only upto a point (Moutiers) and from there they transfer you into a smaller car to take you up to Courchevel (included in the bus fare). This (https://www.altibus.com/) is the bus we took and can cost between 150-180 Euros for a round trip per person. Tip : The buses always leave on time. Sometimes before time. Be there at least 15-20 mins before departure time unless you want to miss the bus like us !
- Train : There is no direct train from Geneva to Courchevel. You could take the train from Geneva to Moutiers, which is the closest station to Courchevel. Bear in mind ,this is not non stop and there is a change on the way. Click here to book train tickets (https://www.trainline.eu/) The train costs about 60 Euros for a return trip. To get from Moutiers station to Courchevel, there are several buses a day – (see http://www.mobisavoie.fr for bus times). Alternatively you can take a taxi. The 25km – 30 km taxi ride takes about 35 to 60 minutes door to door and can cost between 50-100 Euros one way.
- Bla Bla Car – This is the cheapest way to get from Geneva to Courchevel. It’s basically a professional car pooling service that operates in various parts of the world. Sign up and you may find someone driving their car to the destination you want. On our trip, two of our friends managed to find a ride from Courchevel to Geneva for just 25 Euros per head ! Go here (https://www.blablacar.in/ )for all the details.
Ski season usually lasts from December beginning to April end. We went in January 2018. We were initially considering February but it turned out that since most of UK schools have their break around then prices dramatically increase February -March. January is cheaper, less crowded, and not as cold ! Sounds like a win-win to me.
There are a number of options when it comes to staying in Courchevel from the decadent to the simple, budget options. Choose from apartments, Air BnB, hotels, and of course the traditional Chalets.
Courchevel 1850 : Luxurious. Glamourous. And Expensive.
This is where you head to if you have the money and a penchant for some decadence. Courchevel 1850 has 11 Michelin Star restaurants, two 6 star hotels and number of restaurants and nightclubs to keep you entertained after a day’s worth of skiing. With the best access to the slopes, you are definitely paying for the convenience.
Pros : Glamourous. Convenient. Easy access to the slopes and nightlife.
Cons : Expensive. Can get crowded.
Courchevel 1650 :
With 1850 getting expensive and crowded, lots of people are opting to stay at 1650. It has a number of hotels and chalets and also a vibrant nightlife and restaurant scene without being too heavy on the wallet, relatively speaking.
Pros : Got all the conveniences of 1850 without being as expensive. Easy access to slopes up at 1850 plus has it own separate slops.
Cons: It can be a bit isolated.
Courchevel 1550 :
A quiet village suited to families or large groups whose main agenda is to ski and on a budget. We stayed in a traditional Chalet here. 1550 is quiet, beautiful and has some local restaurants where you can grab a good cheese fondue !
Pros : Quiet. More affordable. Easy access to the ski slopes up on 1850.
Cons : Difficult to get around at night if you want to go up to 1850 or elsewhere. Taxis are exorbitant and there isin’t much else for a late night on the town.
Courchevel Le Praz 1350 :
This is the one which is most populated by locals. Good budget accommodation and lots of small restaurants and bars to keep you going. It is slightly more tedious to get to the slopes up at 1850 but makes up for it in its price.
Pros: Budget friendly. Not too touristy as it has a large local population.
Cons : Lugging your skis up to 1850 can be a bit painful. Again, taking a taxi upto 1850 at night is very expensive.
Ski: Skiing is of course what you primarily go to Courchevel for. Never ending slops of white powdery snow. Crisp, fresh air. And a sport which is thrilling. It doesn’t get better than this. You hear about it but until you actually experience it there is no way to truly understand it. If you are a beginner please do not think twice about taking ski lessons. It could be the difference between loving and hating skiing. We had a really incredible instructor for our entire stay there and it made all the difference.
Hot chocolate on the mountains : We discovered on day 1 itself that a day on the slopes is always interspersed with hot chocolate breaks. And it is probably one of the most incredible feelings ever. Definitely a big highlight of our ski days.
Live in a chalet : Chalets makes sense if you are going in a large group. These are beautiful big houses with 4-5 bedrooms and various amenities like an in-house chef, an indoor/outdoor hot tub or a heated pool, house keeping staff and stunning views. Cozy up next to a fire with wine and the most delicious meals every evening and go skiing every morning. You have to stay in one to experience this. There are various sites you can book this through and we used Scott Dunn (https://www.scottdunn.com – our chalet was called Chalet Le R). And we cannot recommend them enough.
Aquamotion : So if skiing in the French Alps wasn’t enough, Courchevel 1550 has its very own indoor water park and spa. Yes you read right. Complete with water slides, pools, outdoor heated tubs, indoor surfing, saunas, steam rooms and massages. It is heaven. Another big pro to living in 1550. https://www.aquamotion-courchevel.com/en/
Have a Fondue dinner – Whether you enjoy a good cheese or no, a fondue dinner must be part of you list of things to do in France. Dipping various meats or vegetables into hot cheese is not only fun but delicious as well ! Also try the Raclette, just for the experience of it.
The Nightlife : Courchevel has a vibrant party scene. There are several nightclubs in Courchevel 1850. Our favourite ? Le Namos 1850. This is on the slopes ! You can ski to this bar, stop to have a drink and dance a bit, before resuming skiing, if at all !
Take the cable car (they call it the bubble!) all the way up to the viewing point – It takes you right to the top and you can even see Mt. Blanc in the distance. Beautiful views greet you along with some rather strange animal sculptures you can pose with!
Tubing : One of our favourite experiences here. So once you learn to ski a little, you can ski to this point where you sit on a tube and slide down a slope, up a slope and onto an airbag ! Exhilarating to say the least !
Our first trip this year of our #12months12trips challenge. Our first time in snow. Our first time skiing. Courchevel you will always be special.