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Snow, fire and food

Courchevel has both gentle and demanding runs.
Courchevel has both gentle and demanding runs. / D. ANDRE
  • Discovering the relaxed casual, family-friendly face of Courchevel, in the French Alps

Once embraced by the deep, soft fireside sofa I begin to give into to that 'good tired' feeling one experiences after time on the slopes.

After the crisp mountain air, it's an indulgent pleasure to be cocooned in the salon of my alpine hotel. The oak floor is dressed with vintage woven rugs, blending with the rich furnishings; while in front of me the timber walls are decorated with antique skis, and wild game trophies.

    Alpine chic

    I'm loving the relaxed, chic alpine aesthetic of Portetta, an elegant yet family-friendly hotel in Courchevel Moriond 1650. The place captures the essence of an exclusive Courchevel mountain retreat, yet without the stuffiness.

    Escaping to the Alps is a magical experience. The pristine mountain landscape, the brilliance of the sunshine, the crisp snow, the pure air - and of course the skiing; but really who am I kidding?! The only reason I learnt the basics of skiing was for my love of winter holidays - it's a time to share such a great, sociable atmosphere, and more than anything, eat well! After all, a day on the slopes burning thousands of calories is the best way to build up a real appetite.

    INSIDER GUIDE
    • Where to go, stay and eat in Courchevel

    • Courchevel - in pictures

      Courchevel, at the eastern end of France's 'Les Trois Vallées' provides a forgiving environment for skiers like me. There are plenty of long, broad, gentle runs where you can build your confidence and enjoy the exceptional mountain scenery, whilst for those looking to shred the powder or carve a path off-piste, well, I'm told there's plenty of demanding runs too for intermediates and experts.

      Winter St Tropez

      Some might be put off by Courchevel's reputation as the St Tropez of winter sports, the favourite destination for mega-rich Russian oligarchs, European royalty and Arab sheikhs. Well, that's certainly part of the scene, especially at Courchevel 1850. Here, in the Jardin Alpin one finds some of France's most exclusive hotels, with the exceptional 'Palace' rating, a sort of 6-star recognition, with services (and prices) to match.

      Yet Courchevel is much more than just the small concentration of über upscale hotels and wildly expensive private chalets. It's in fact four villages, most of which are fairly-priced and family-friendly.

      Family-friendly 1650

      A favourite is Courchevel Moriond. Found at an altitude of 1650, it has the Courchevel upmarket style, without the prices. Visitors can typically be assured good snow conditions, and enjoy among the sunniest slopes in the Three Valleys. Plus, thanks to myriad lifts and gondolas and the excellent bus service, pretty much everything feels close.

      Moriond offers well-groomed runs - and one is never far from an excellent place to eat. In fact, the food scene in the Alps, especially here in Courchevel, is on fire. Eating well in France should come as no surprise but for a winter sports break, great cuisine is very much part of the Courchevel experience. Once out on the slopes there's more than a dozen mountain restaurants, making lunch a highlight of the day. The regional Savoyard gastronomy of course includes delicious favourites such as fondues, raclettes, and La Tartiflette, that warming gratin of potato and cheese with bacon. Yet there is a great deal more than just the classics.

      International flavours

      That's one of the reasons I'm here at Portetta. This ski-in/ski-out hotel has an unmissable restaurant, Cucina Angelina, by Angela Hartnett, MBE - one the UK's most loved chefs.

      Cucina Angelina maybe the creation of a Michelin-starred chef, but it's not at all pretentious. During the day, pizzas from the wood burning oven and tasty sharing plates are offered on the all-day Fire & Ice terrace.

      While in the evening the real magic happens. Chef Hartnett, a familiar face to many, thanks to her regular appearances on TV, has brought her award-winning Italian cuisine to the Alps. The resulting menu at Cucina Angelina sits perfectly within the Savoyard gastronomy, which is inherently a mix of Italian and French cuisines, with Mediterranean influences. Hartnett regularly makes the flight from the UK to Courchevel to visit the restaurant, nurturing the team, headed by Head Chef Colin McSherry from Northern Ireland; and to shape the menu where the authentic tastes of Italy meet Alpine rustic chic.

      Expect starters and sharing plates bursting with flavours, including the sea bream ceviche, with orange, chilli and fennel; and crisp croquettes with soft, melting centres.

      If you enjoy meat, then take a table by restaurant's open-style wood fired grill, and watch the expert chefs prepare dry-aged beef. Really, after all that exercise you deserve it surely? Just be warned though, once you finish your meal and slump into one of the over-sized sofas by the log fire, the chances are you won't be going anywhere in a hurry.