I can definitely hear birdsong. And there was definitely no birdsong before.
And I definitely hadn’t run a bath. And now a bath has most certainly been run.
The birdsong is emanating from a little wooden bird-house-shaped box with a speaker that’s been placed by the bath, which is swirling with lovely smelling oils.
I’d left my room for an hour or so and return to this mini-spa scenario in my bedroom’s en-suite delightfully surprised.
And yet perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised. After all, I’m in arguably the ultimate ski hotel in France’s Courchevel 1850 resort – Cheval Blanc Courchevel.
It specialises in being thoughtful.
Ted Thornhill checks into Cheval Blanc Courchevel – ‘arguably the ultimate ski hotel’
There’s ‘an eye-catching swimming pool worthy of a Bond villain lair, with striking blue tiles, stone walls, and a mirrored ceiling’
As I slide into the tub and idly browse, with a remote control, the movie menu on the wall-mounted TV just above my feet, I realise that I am ensconced in what we in the travel industry trade technically term ‘hotel nirvana’.
In the Cheval Blanc Courchevel press blurb I’m sent, the marketing department boasts that when you enter Cheval Blanc, you pass into another world.
Correct. A world run by convivial and gracious veteran manager Francisco Garcia you will not want to leave.
From the location to the rooms, and from the service to the spa and the restaurants (more about its three-Michelin-starred eatery later), Cheval Blanc Courchevel comes within a whisker of perfection, every time.
It nestles within a particularly enchanting spot next to the fairy-tale Jardin Alpin run, which winds through a section of woodland punctuated by five-star and ‘palace-rated’ hotels.
The latter are hotels deemed by the French government to enhance the reputation of France around the world. Cheval Blanc Courchevel carries this accolade.
My room – one of 36 – is a corner suite with two balconies, one offering stupendous views through the woods to the peaks beyond, and the other down the road past multiple luxurious hotels and Rolls-Royce SUVs.
During my January 2023 visit, there is winter-wonderland levels of snow, so the vistas are extra-magical.
While the hotel has an ochre-coloured Alpine-style facade, my suite is best described as sumptuously chic.
Dreamy: Ted describes his corner suite (above) as’ sumptuously chic’
Ted’s room (above) is one of 36 in the hotel and features a separate loo by the entrance with a nifty hi-tech heated Japanese toilet
The image above shows the incredible view from the rear balcony in Ted’s room
There’s a short L-shaped corridor adorned with a trio of burnished tree stumps. Are they for sitting on? I’m not sure. But I like them.
A separate loo by the entrance contains one of those nifty hi-tech heated Japanese toilets, with a dressing room further along leading into the exquisite, bird-song-filled en-suite.
This boasts a rain-shower-hammam, beautifully decorated in mosaic tiling, twin sinks, lots of marble and an oval mirror that glows with a soothing backlight.
Cheval Blanc Courchevel relishes a good glow.
The huge red fabric headboard behind the lavish bed has a glow running around the perimeter and the counter in the dark and inviting bar/lounge on the ground floor also glows.
The hotel bar has a glowing counter – and Champagnes by the glass that start at 38 euros (£33/$40). ‘But you get what you pay for,’ says Ted
Le Restaurant de Cheval Blanc Courchevel (above) ‘does very very good… just about everything’
The private dining room at Le Restaurant de Cheval Blanc Courchevel, which is overseen by Anissa Boulesteix, the hotel’s talented Executive Chef
The sci-fi-vibe dining room of the hotel’s three-Michelin-starred restaurant ‘Le 1947 a Cheval Blanc’
Post-soak, I prop myself up at the bar with my travelling companions, the glow illuminating the section of the wine list I’m most interested in – Champagnes by the glass.
The cheapest is a vintage 2013 Moet at 38 euros (£33/$40).
Cheval Blanc Courchevel is not a budget option, but you get what you pay for – practically a religious experience, as mentioned.
The ‘Transalpine Walk’, above, is ‘incredible’ – around 40 separate vegetables and fruits gathered over the course of an entire year that represent all four seasons in the Alps
Lamb chops from Sisteron – ‘the Pearl of Upper Provence’. These are served with a sauce made of shallots, confit lemon, black pepper and oyster juice that’s been whipped with hay butter; plus lettuce with basil and seaweed
Le 1947 head Chef Yannick Alleno with Executive Chef Anissa Boulesteix
The Moet is a fine fizz and even at the bar, the service purrs, with little dishes of nuts with wooden serving spoons and amuse bouche placed before us.
The bar, for the record, also does a very very good carbonara, and the vibrantly red-hued ‘casual’ restaurant next door – Le Restaurant de Cheval Blanc Courchevel – does very very good… just about everything.
Food offerings in both spots are run by Anissa Boulesteix, the hotel’s talented Executive Chef and a former contestant on the Top Chef TV show, France’s equivalent to MasterChef: The Professionals.
In Le Restaurant I enjoy superb oysters with caviar, a beautifully cooked steak (with a choice of steak knives, distinguished by the wood used for their handles), ridiculously creamy, yum-some mash and expertly engineered mille-feuille, all delivered by polished waiting staff.
Their burnished charm returns in this venue for breakfast, too. A magnificently indulgent affair that includes fruits and meats delivered on cake stands – and actual cakes wheeled to tables on a trolley. Actual cakes.
But it’s the three-Michelin-starred ‘Le 1947 a Cheval Blanc’ where guests have their taste buds tickled most thoroughly.
It’s outrageously good.
It’s a restaurant that screams to be plastered liberally all over your Instagram feed. Before a single dish is served.
It’s like the set of a Star Trek episode, to be frank.
Guests sit around striking round white tables on modish white chairs with white faux-fur rugs draped on them, and beneath huge porcelain ‘lampshades’ with diameters even larger than the tables.
The hotel’s spa features this outrageously inviting hot tub, positioned by the piste
We’re told that these are partly decorative, and partly an acoustic device that helps direct conversation between guests but tempers the wafting of chit chat – and the inevitable exclamations of joy at the food – across the room.
The staff uniforms – arrestingly chic white-and-red outfits – add to the sci-fi vibe.
Wonderfully, the restaurant – overseen by creative culinary powerhouse Yannick Alleno – has a kitchen so open that as you enter, you practically get to mingle with the chefs, with guests filing past the end of the kitchen and around a circular prep station to get to their tables.
Head chef (in Mr Alleno’s absence) Vincenzo Tirelli greets my banterous party of four with a warm smile as we stroll to our seats.
He looks very young – and we wonder jokingly if his mum knows he’s out cooking meals for people (though for the record, he’s actually 29).
The table is almost bare, save for a mesmerising cluster of glowing tree-like lights in the middle, cone-shaped earthenware cups for water and paperweight magnifying glasses – for perusing the paper a la carte menu.
Ted says that he can ‘vouch for the expertise of the massage department’
This image shows the reception area at the spa, which is located on the ground floor
But it’s the tasting menu, presented snow-globe style in a square Perspex block packed with glitter-y water that must settle before it becomes legible, that gets our vote.
Then it begins, a four-hour-long culinary odyssey that wows, that surprises, that intrigues. And occasionally confuses – there are a few comedy close calls when we reach out to put something in our mouths thinking it’s a dish, only to discover it’s a decoration of some sort.
There is also a hypnotic pleasure to be had from watching the waiting staff glide around the restaurant, self-assuredly laying out dishes and explaining the ingredients.
But it’s the food – and wine – that takes centre stage, and there are a bewildering number of acts.
We’re served two bottles of outstanding wine, a Chablis by renowned producer Gilbert Picq and a Fugue de Nenin Pomerol red from 2016, an excellent year.
The menu lists six main dishes, but there is a huge supporting cast of extra bites, nibbles and curiosities.
And the standard? As you might expect, consistently between very good indeed and absolutely divine.
Cheval Blanc Courchevel nestles within a particularly enchanting spot next to the fairy-tale Jardin Alpin run, which winds through a section of woodland punctuated by five-star and ‘palace-rated’ hotels
The boot room, above, matches the rest of the hotel for chicness – and the staff marshall all your equipment for you
One delight is a little cup of quince and pepper extract that has an astonishingly intense flavour. Then there’s the gorgeous homemade vanilla butter, the out-of-this-world smokey bread, presented before being sliced on a gnarled block of wood, and the dough balls placed on the table that we’re told will rise before our very eyes and be fashioned into brioche bites later on.
The ‘Transalpine Walk’, meanwhile, is incredible – around 40 separate vegetables and fruits gathered over the course of an entire year that represent all four seasons in the Alps.
This edible ‘walk in the woods’ looks like a work of art on the plate – and the flavour experience is unique to each diner, with the ingredients mixed in myriad ways from person to person.
Another ‘lean back and sigh with contentment’ moment comes with the ‘Ennobled Consomme’, made from beef, caviar and winter vegetables such as Jerusalem artichoke, beetroot, carrot, celeriac and onion. And served in a small bowl.
This image shows the hotel’s terrace dining area and the adjacent Jardin Alpin run
This is magic-potion-pleasant, immediately ranking among the best flavours I’ve ever tasted.
Two main courses follow, and both impress.
There’s char cooked with Colonnata lard, laid on top of the fish like a veil. And there are two melt-in-the-mouth lamb chops from Sisteron – ‘the Pearl of Upper Provence’. These are served with a sauce made of shallots, confit lemon, black pepper and oyster juice that’s been whipped with hay butter; plus lettuce with basil and seaweed. A waiter finishes the dish off by serving two nutty oysters from France’s Belon River, enveloped in a Villeroy sauce that’s been ‘breaded’ with minced mushrooms and onions.
Ted writes: ‘In the Cheval Blanc Courchevel press blurb I’m sent, the marketing department boasts that when you enter Cheval Blanc, you pass into another world. Correct. A world run by convivial and gracious veteran manager Francisco Garcia you will not want to leave’
The bathrooms at Cheval Blanc Courchevel are furnished with plentiful marble
The delightful children’s kingdom, which features a slide with a hidden staircase
Movie magic: The cinema room, above, is aimed at slightly older children
‘If you’re getting the impression that one could take a ski holiday at this hotel and have a wonderful time without even leaving the property,’ writes Ted, ‘you’d be absolutely right’
The epic breakfast cake trolley
Gourmet cheeses arrive before desserts of caramelised butternut squash ravioli with honey butter, and jelly flavoured with fir extraction, coffee and warm chocolate cream.
I just about manage the exquisite hand-crafted chocolates before raising the white flag and exiting past a still-joyful Vincent in a deliriously euphoric daze – almost as if I really had been to another world.
If you’re getting the impression that one could take a ski holiday at this hotel and have a wonderful time without even leaving the property… you’d be absolutely right.
There’s an incredible spa, too, with an eye-catching swimming pool worthy of a Bond villain lair, with striking blue tiles, stone walls, and a mirrored ceiling. Plus, I can vouch for the expertise of the massage department.
Children are not forgotten either – there’s a delightful mini kingdom for them with a slide and cinema room.
Last but not least – there’s the skiing. And for me, snowboarding.
Courchevel, above, is part of Les 3 Vallees ski area, which boasts 372 miles of runs
The boot room matches the rest of the hotel for chicness – and the staff marshall all your equipment for you, get you in and out of your boots, and place your skis or board on the snow for you.
My stay is short, and I only cover around 20 of the 372 miles (600km) of stunning runs available here at Les 3 Vallees ski area, comprising seven resorts that include Courchevel, Meribel and Val Thorens.
I see a bit more of the stunning landscape during an exhilarating last-day dog-sledging excursion arranged by the hotel that loops through pristine forest and past some of the pistes.
I half expect a cake trolley with birdsong boxes attached to form part of our little convoy.
Ted is hosted by Cheval Blanc Courchevel, where rooms start from around £1,650. Visit www.chevalblanc.com/fr/maison/courchevel. It’s 415 euros (£371) for the tasting menu at Le 1947 a Cheval Blanc, 195 euros (£175) for the classic wine pairing (without the cheese) and 230 euros/£205 (with the cheese).
PROS: Incredible dining options, stunning bedrooms, perfect location, top-level service, wonderful spa and pool.
CONS: Hotels like this don’t have them. Whether you want to stay here is simply a matter of personal taste. Perhaps you don’t like a bar counter that glows? Perhaps you’re a millionaire who prefers the ‘almost ultimate’ ski hotel? The choice is yours.
Rating out of five: *****