Perfect playground: Exploring new luxury product in Courchevel

The French ski resort is synonymous with glitz and glamour

At the top of the mountain, I’m certain: skiing doesn’t get better than this. The valley is bathed in bright, white sunshine beneath a spotless, cerulean sky. After a night of heavy snowfall, the powder under foot is fluffy and fresh, carpeting the peaks and pistes around me in a thick layer of snow that glints and glimmers in the sunlight, like thousands of tiny diamonds are nestled amid the flakes.

I’m not the only one enjoying the spectacular weather. Hundreds of skiers descend the mountain before me, weaving in graceful zigzags across the snow. After three disrupted winter seasons due to the Covid-19 pandemic, skiing is back – and more glorious than ever. It doesn’t hurt that my return to the slopes is taking place in one of Europe’s best and most glamorous ski resorts.

The easternmost resort of The Three Valleys – the world’s largest ski area – Courchevel is a perpetual powerhouse in the French Alps. Spread across six villages at various altitudes, the resort is a magnet for skiers from across the globe, beloved for its sprawling maze of connected pistes, snow-sure slopes and enviable and ever-growing clutch of high-end product.

The pandemic clearly hasn’t dented consumers’ desire to ski – and ski well. Slopeside restaurants heave with skiers quaffing Minuty in the sun. Bubble lifts are occupied by elegant women wearing heated gloves and Fendi ski suits.

Reservations are still imperative to get into one of Courchevel’s seven Michelin-starred restaurants – the highest concentration of any ski resort – while the main drag, La Croisette in 1850, remains lined with luxury shops from the likes of Hermès, Cartier and Dior. Courchevel’s collection of high-end hotels has also never looked better.

Big-hitting brands such as Aman, Cheval Blanc, Oetker Collection and Six Senses have all snapped up a slice of this salubrious resort alongside glitzy independents, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for more.

New kid on the block

Among the new entrants to the market is Ultima Collection, which didn’t let the pandemic deter its plans to open a 13-chalet property in the neighbourhood of Belvédère, sandwiched between the upscale area of 1850 and the fringes of the La Rosière Forest.

The property’s opening was inevitably delayed but, as we enter a discreet underground car park and pull up outside a sleek entrance, I get the feeling it’s been worth the wait. Inside, I feel as if I’ve stepped into James Bond’s private mountainside enclave. Ultima Courchevel Belvédère is a palace of polished pine, with chic accents of black marble, Italian nubuck leather and bronze.

Flickering fires warm cosy corners, bookshelves are heartily stocked with Assouline books and quirky works, sourced by the Geneva outpost of art gallery group Bel-Air Fine Art, adorn the wall. We’re whisked to our residence, a palatial four-bedroom lodge arranged over three floors, and take a silent lift up to the top floor, which opens up to an open-plan kitchen, living and dining room.

It’s alpine heaven: pitched roofs; exposed, uplit beams; gleaming floor-to-ceiling windows; and pretty wooden balconies overlooking snow-capped peaks.

In the bedrooms, cosiness plays out in large thick-pile rugs, Chesterfield-style headboards on the beds and faux fur throws. The star of the show is the en suite bathroom, every corner of which is clad in white-veined black marble.

There’s underfloor heating, heated towel racks and even heated toilet seats. Ultima’s four and five-bedroom residences are spread across two camps: the south resort, housing eight chalets; and the north resort, boasting five. Chalets in each section are inter-connected via a ground-floor corridor, meaning clients can enjoy all the exclusivity of a private lodge, but needn’t step outside to reach the facilities.

Each resort features a marble-clad spa offering a sauna, hammam and steam room. The spa in the north resort features an indoor pool and an outdoor hot tub, while the south resort has the added benefit of a heated outdoor pool, perched above the forested slopes.

The south resort is also where the restaurant, bar, cinema room and boot room are located, while the north resort features a ski shop stocked by luxury skiwear brand Bernard Orcel. The food at the property is decadence defined, focusing largely on three key ingredients: wagyu beef, truffle and caviar. The restaurant, equipped with an outdoor deck and après-ski bar, is open only to residents and offers an ever-changing menu.

During our visit the theme is Japanese Nikkei cuisine, and we enjoy plate after delicious plate of truffled tuna tartare on fried rice, crispy prawn sushi and wagyu beef and mushroom gyozas. The meals in our chalet are no less indulgent.

Each residence comes with a private chef who can cook all manner of delights according to guest preference. One evening, we’re treated to a five-course tasting menu that culminates in a huge tomahawk wagyu steak sliced tableside.

On another, it’s fondue on the menu – but, of course, Ultima has an ace up its sleeve. Our chef arrives with not one, but two fondues, one of which has been generously infused with – you guessed it – truffle.

Venturing out

For all its creature comforts, Ultima Courchevel Belvédère knows its biggest draw is its slopeside location. Located at an altitude of 1,750m, the ski-in ski-out property offers prime access to the region’s vast network of impeccably groomed pistes.

From Courchevel, the playground that is The Three Valleys awaits, boasting nearly 400 miles of slopes, more than 180 green to blue runs, and 140-plus red to blacks. Beginners can bask in the wide and shallow slopes of the Easy Rider areas, while those with kids can enjoy the family snow park and zipline.

Courchevel is also incredibly snow-sure. Not only is the resort known for its north-facing slopes and high elevation (more than 80% of Courchevel is above 1,800m), huge investment has been made by S3V, the managing company of The Three Valleys, to ensure the resort stays ahead of the game.

As such, Courchevel is home to the largest artificial snow system in France, featuring more than 600 snow cannons covering 60% of runs. We spend our days hopping between chairlifts and whizzing down wide reds and cruisey blues – cold wind whipping at our cheeks; cool, clean air filling our lungs.

When our legs are tired, we take the familiar, pine-tree[1]lined run back to Ultima Courchevel Belvédère, where our ski butler awaits, ready to replace ski boots with sumptuous slippers and usher us upstairs for steaming mugs of hot chocolate. Skiing definitely doesn’t get better than this.

Book it: A week in a four-bedroom chalet at Ultima Collection Belvédère starts from €43,890.

Erica Rich

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