At the foot of Mont-Blanc, Courmayeur (1,224m) is a charming 17th-century spa town at the top of the Aosta valley. Pretty buildings with slate roofs line the traffic-free cobbled streets of the old town. The central Via Roma is bursting with bars and upmarket clothes and jewellery shops. You’ll also find some of the best restaurants in the Alps both on and off the mountain. Courmayeur is popular weekend destination for a chic Northern Italian skier. The ski area, although not that big or high, offers scenic views and good snow cover, due to the north and north-west facing slope. The resort is best suited to competent skiers who like venturing off-piste – a highlight is the famous Vallée Blanche. Courmayeur lies just beyond Chamonix and is 100km/90mins from Geneva Airport.
Relais de l’Ange (Via Roma 88; +39 0165 841829) is a centrally located café serving coffee and pastries every morning with an outside terrace.
Bakery la Spiga (Via Roma 19; +39 0165 842588) opens at 8am and serves great coffee as well as ham and cheese focaccia, rye bread with honey, cookies and sweet pasties.
Christiana (+39 0165 843572) this popular restaurant in Plan Checrouit is renowned for its delicious thin-crust pizzas. Enjoy lunch on the sun terrace and wash it down with an icy beer or glass of local wine.
Chiecco (+39 338 700 3035) is a small mountain hut located below Plan Checrouit. The varied menu features everything from wild boar stew to chicken curry.
Pizzeria du Tunnel (Via Circonvallazione 80; +39 0165 841705). Affordable family-friendly pizza joint with a wood oven and a great variety of beers.
Cadran Solaire (Via Roma 122; +39 0165 844609). This family-owned restaurant is the oldest tavern in Courmayeur. It features a 17th-centure stone vault, huge stone fireplace and wooden floors. Dine on seasonal specialities followed by a nightcap at the cosy bar.
La Clotze (Localita Planpincieux; +39 0165 869720). This restaurant is a gourmet institution easily reachable by skis or by taxi. This traditional stone chalet serves regional Italian dishes made with locally sourced ingredients. Perfect for an intimate candlelight dinner. Be sure to ask the waiter to recommended bottle from the wine cellar.
There are plenty of stylish bars lining Via Roma, the pedestrianised main street of Courmayeur; the best of them is Bar Roma (Via monte bianco). Leave your skis outside and go in the beautiful stone-walled bar and on the large antique sofas. Bar Roma is famous for its cocktails. Alternatively, try a lemoncello – a traditional lemon liquor. The bar is a hive of activity around 5 p.m and later into the evening when a lavish buffet of free nibbles 'aperitivos' is laid out. You can gorge yourself so much that you may not even need dinner.
For the best cocktails in town head to Prive (Via Roma 39; +390165 843681) or for live music checkout the American Bar (Via Roma 43; +39 0165 846707). The most popular and stylish nightclubs in town are Courmaclub (Via des Forges; +39 3450 408966) and Jset (Via Circonvallazione; +39 0165 843426).
Courmayeur has a relatively small ski area (36km) but is a great option for a weekend break, especially since its 90mins from Geneva Airport. Courmayeur’s ski slopes are mainly wide open and excellent for intermediates practising carving. There are also some wooded areas and some challenging off-piste. The skiing is divided into two main areas: the Checrouit area with its wide open runs and morning sun; and the Val Veny ski area with its wooded and open runs, afternoon sun and striking views of Mont Blanc.
Beginners: The beginner ski areas are found at Plan Checrouit and at the top of the Entreves cable car. A good first day can be spend at the top of Entreves where you’ll find a magic carpet and easy long runs.
Intermediates: Courmayeur is best suited to confident intermediates and has plenty of varied red runs (although not many blues). For morning sunshine, take the Courmayeur or Dolonne lifts to the Checrouit side of the mountain to practise carving on the wide open runs. Highlights include two great long runs: from Col Checrouit to Zerotta and from Cresta Youla to Dolonne. In the afternoon, follow the sun over to the pretty tree-lined runs of Val Veny with the mighty Mont Blanc towering above you.
Advanced/Experts: There isn’t an awful to entice the experts on the pistes, but there are a few blacks on the Val Veny side, where you’ll also find some moguls. Most confident skiers come to Courmayeur primarily for the off-piste.
Off-piste: There’s plenty of challenging off-piste from the Cresta d’Arp, at the top of the mountain, where you can access great steeps and trees. But if you’re heading up to Cresta, get up early to miss the queues. With a Mont Blanc Unlimited ski pass you can also access the ski areas of Chamonix and Argentiere – Chamonix has some awesome off-piste. Take the Mont Blanc cable car up to the 20km Valle Blanche with its 2800m vertical. Heliskiing is also an option, particularly the 20km run from the Ruitor glacier to near Ste Foy in France.
Courmayeur doesn’t generally suffer from bad lift queues, but a bottleneck has been known to happen at Zerotta so it’s worth waiting until late afternoon to ride the Youla cable car. If you’ve exhausted Courmayeur’s 36km of runs, head to the nearby slopes of Megeve or Chamonix. Megeve has a huge number of blue and red cruising runs while Chamonix is a giant of the freeriding world.
Don’t leave Courmayeur without trying the ‘grolla’ – coffee with grappa at the Caffee delle Guide in the centre of town or the hot chocolate at Zerotta, the longest piste in Val Veny.
For a break from the slopes, take an afternoon trip to the thermal baths at Pre-St-Didier or to the nearby village of Verrand with its old stone houses and piazza with picturesque alpine church.