Courchevel was originally planned as a mountain playground to create jobs and skiing for the masses. But somewhere along the lines it morphed into the luxury resort for the rich and famous, complete with lavish lodging and Michelin-star restaurants.
The move by the French tourist authorities last year to bring their hotel classifications in line with international practice has reminded the world just how luxurious Courchevel really is. There are only 50 five-star hotels in the whole of France and nine of them are in Courchevel, with a tenth on the drawing board. By way of comparison there are only twelve in Paris.
To fuel this concentration of lavish accommodation there is a steady influx of famous stars and the super rich. From Beyonce to Beckham, the glitterati are there, but like it or not it is the Russians who attract the most attention.
The Russian New Year celebrations this year attracted a crowd of 3000. Then there was the much-publicised ‘misunderstanding' between Mikhaïl Prokhorov, one of the richest bachelors in the world, and the Courchevel police over the exact nature of the truly stupendous parties he gave for friends from Moscow. For two years, until the authorities apologised to the oligarch, there was a distinct and expensive fall in rich Russian visitors.
There are only 50 five-star hotels in the whole of France and nine of them are in Courchevel . . . As well as top hotels the resort now boasts three Michelin-star restaurants
As well as top hotels the resort now boasts three Michelin-star restaurants. The latest to acquire a star is the restaurant of the exclusive Kilimanjaro Hotel, where individual chalets (sleeping 12) cost €11,300 a night, but include a private butler who will warm your ski boots for you over night.
The two-star Le Bateau Ivre is on the sixth floor of the ultra modern Hôtel Pomme de Pin. Decorated in glass and timber, the restaurant serves a host of unusual delicacies, such as "sea urchin tongues' flan".
Le Chabichou is a luxury alpine retreat and restaurant, which has managed to hold its two Michelin stars for 20 years. It now offers the ultimate in child cookery: for a very modest €15 each, children can take cookery lessons and then eat what they have cooked. Adult guests can eat at the communal table d'hôte in the kitchen and watch the chefs at work.
There are of course, in addition, a wide range of restaurants catering for the many thousands of ordinary holiday makers. Courchevel can sleep 30,000 guests, not all of which are oligarchs and oil sheiks.
The multi-level resort with its heated pavements has more than 100 boutiques . . . and where else would you find invaluable works of art displayed at 2600m?
There is no shortage of nightclubs. Les Caves are happy to serve you a Jeroboam (3ltr) of Dom Perignon or if you are really thirsty a Nebuchadnezzar (15ltr) of Moët. At the heart of the establishment is LeVIP where hidden from prying eyes all the beautiful people, business men, models, show biz stars, and members of the jet set hang out.
The multi-level resort with its heated pavements has more than 100 boutiques. Apparently there are as many diamond dealers as ski hire shops. But Nathalie Faure press officer for Courchevel Tourist Office points out "Whilst it is obviously true that the top of the range is well represented with Hermès, Louis Vuitton, Valentino, and so on, we cannot run the biggest ski area in the world with just a small minority of very rich people. We have a lot of different shops and a wide range of accommodation. For example the resort has recently converted an old cheese dairy at 2300m into a refuge for €40 a night with half-board."
Nathalie added "the good thing about having a wealthy clientele is that it raises standards for everybody and attracts events and services to the resort that might not be there otherwise, such as the current exhibition Dali au Sommet." Indeed where else would you find invaluable works of art displayed at 2600m?
"The good thing about having a wealthy clientele is that it raises standards for everybody and attracts events and services to the resort that might not be there otherwise"
It is therefore a great irony that Courchevel and the Three Valleys - the world's biggest ski area - was born out of the dreams of Laurent Chappis, a modernist architect in a prisoner of war camp in Germany and the ambitions of Pierre Cot, ex-minister and hard left politician, to create jobs and skiing for the people.
By the 1960s, the result of their plan was a mixture of rather grim Le Corbusier style architecture, a dirigiste state project, and some peasant style private enterprise. In fact something of a disaster for skiers with huge delays at ski lifts. But the foundations of the modern success had been laid. Notably in 1946 the local authority bought most of the land in the area above 1800m, for 5 Francs a square metre - the equivalent today of 8 euro cents. Chalets at Courchevel are now reckoned to sell for between €9500 and €37,000 per square metre.
Starting with a development freeze in 1964 the resort began to think in terms of what the punters really wanted. To the horror of the original purist planners, the concrete began to disappear in favour of a more user friendly traditional style of architecture. As Michel Ziegler, one time mayor and promoter of the Altiport (high-altitude airport), put it "What they want is snowy pine forests, traditional wooden chalets with stone tiled roofs, real fires, and small windows to make it cosy inside, you can say it's stupid but its what people want . . . for our guests it is about escapism, living a dream".
Courchevel is now, with the Three Valleys, the biggest skiing area in the world and 90 percent of its accommodation gives direct access to the slopes. Adeline Roux, manager of Courchevel Tourist Office says "Courchevel's 1001 treasures could almost eclipse its true vocation: skiing! The true luxury of Courchevel is that you open the door of your residence, the slopes are at your feet, you put on your skis and off you go!"