* I was invited to Courchevel as part of a Press trip
There is something about winter that lends itself well to an escape, isn't there? We often chat about it in our house - where would we go? - although we are still bound by school holidays for the next few years at least. But then, there are two of them in the winter months so travel is often on my mind. The post festive slump paired with grey and dark days are not really my favourite I'm afraid, try as I might to embrace them.
Add to this with my love of the mountains (don't get me started, it's becoming something of an obsession...) and I could get carried away dreaming of mountains, snow, and an escape from the heavy skies of home. So it came as a very welcome break indeed last week to be travelling to the French Alps.
I was invited by Alpine Escape, along with my fellow blogging friends Catherine and Abi, to visit Courchevel and stay in their luxury accommodation, experiencing some of what they have to offer during our trip. I do love an adventure!
We stayed in Moriond, possibly the sunniest of Courchevel's villages due to it's location on the mountain - fairly high up and facing the right way. Moriond offers an excellent mix of direct access to the ski slopes and Aprés ski options to suit different tastes.
Every sunrise and sunset was beautiful, pastel shades of pink and yellow giving way to bright blue skies and cold sunshine, or the twinkling evening lights in the villages on the slopes surrounding us. I could happily have breathed them in for many more days than we had to enjoy.
We stayed in The Loft which is a self catered apartment, sleeping up to 10 people. It is fully equipped with all the home comforts you might need, it even has an indoor hot tub should you wish to relax after a long day on the slopes.
The Loft has a bright, open plan living, kitchen and dining area, with a wraparound balcony outside. The views are incredible, from a high vantage point it looks out over the valley to further mountains beyond.
The Loft's interior is a contemporary take on the traditional Alpine chalet. Pale, wood clad walls with modern furniture give a homely feel. The kitchen is of a minimal design in a clean white, perfectly functional without being obtrusive in the open plan space.
There are large windows and glazed doors on all sides making the most of that view, while inviting you out onto the balcony. Although it's cold out there in January and so warm indoors that you might be tempted to simply enjoy the view from behind glass.
to ski or not to ski?
Although this was not my first time on the Alpine slopes, I am not a skier. Happily though, Courchevel offers plenty of options for those of us who don't fancy hurtling down a mountain on slippy skis - or for those who simply fancy a day doing something different!
There are indoor swimming pools to be enjoyed. Husky sledging in the area. There are Fat Bikes (as the name suggests, they have 'fat' tyres) which can be ridden on some slopes.
But for us it was an afternoon with Pip of the Alps.
We were treated to a snow shoe adventure, lead by the lovely Pip, whose knowledge is extensive. She pointed out many animal tracks - including hares and wolves - as we walked and how we could recognise which animal made which. We listened for birds and admired the lichen - a sign of clean air - that grows from the branches of some trees.
I wish I could share the sound of the snow, it was fairly magical as it had thawed a little and re-frozen several times over recent days creating a hoar frost on the surface. It glistened in the sunlight and made a beautiful, soft tinkling sound as we walked.
The view from the top of the climb was well worth the effort, in fact I would have happily carried on for longer than our two hour walk. It took us approximately an hour and a half to climb up, and more like twenty minutes to come back down! Pip encouraged us to find fresh snow and just have fun, it's quite different walking a trodden path and walking on fresh snow.
Most of us fell over at some point - I did so quite spectacularly on the way back down. There comes a point when you know you're going to go, in slow motion, and it's impossible not to just laugh at yourself.
If skiing is for you though, the Courchevel resort has a lot to offer. There are 600km of interconnected ski runs in the area, many of which are maintained daily. Including runs to suit all skiing abilities and the option of ski lessons for those who need a little help.
Now I am not claiming to know much about skiing, honestly I know very little, but I am told the snow is usually a pretty good quality and reliable in the resort. Due to the altitude it snows and it stays - even though the temperatures were around 4º above freezing while we were there. It had last snowed at Christmas, a few weeks before we travelled, around a meter depth. The day after we left, new snow fell.
If you are an accomplished skier, I'm sure a little more reading will tell you all you need to know. If you are a beginner, or would like to take a few lessons, Courchevel has all you need right there. From ski schools to private lessons, all abilities are catered for.
Le Praz & La Tania
Courchevel resort is made up of six villages. The Loft - where we stayed - is located in Moriond but we also visited La Tania and Le Praz. Alpine Escapes have lodges in both, each lodge with it's own unique character, each village with its own charm.
Le Praz is what you might call a more traditional Alpine village with narrow streets and a selection of bars and restaurants.
Obviously I can't resist photographing a pile of logs, not only because I happen to think they are beautiful, but because they promise warmth. I think I photographed as many of them as I did pink skies...
Set in the forest, La Tania's steep, winding streets are home to several of Alpine Escape's chalets. La Tania also has it's own gondola service to transport you up the mountain. Quieter than the other villages we visited, La Tania could be the place for those seeking a true escape.
dining with alpine escape
Alpine Escape offer a range of options for eating in. A day on the slopes - whatever your activity - is tiring and the thought of a delicious meal at the end of the day which requires little to no effort is very appealing.
Although the loft is available as a self catered apartment, we were treated to different dining options each day. Including breakfast, afternoon tea (the cakes! Our chef, Rich, makes the most amazing cakes, I thoroughly recommend them), prepared meals to be heated by us and delicious 4 course meals prepared and served by Rich and Heather from the Alpine Escape team.
Although every meal was delicious, the night we had a fondue dinner was one of the most memorable. There is something about sharing a meal where everyone is involved in preparing their own that I really enjoy. I love a noisy, all involved meal. Gathering at the table, dishes being passed around, chatter and laughter. Simple pleasures.
Alpine Escape will happily tailor a menu to suit your dietary requirements, you can find more information about the dining experiences they offer here.
We were also treated to wine tasting with Le Verre Gourmand. A thoroughly enjoyable experience as, I think it's fair to say, we all learned something. Our host was knowledgable with an unpretentious manner. And I have discovered crémant, something I had never heard of before but will seek out now. Made in the same way as champagne by fermenting in the bottle, but produced outside the champagne region so not able to claim the name. Either way, yum.
I don't have a picture of that though, so let's have some more cake.
With a beautiful interior, friendly welcome, delicious cocktails and tapas, Copiña should also be on you list of places to try while in the area. Their hospitality is wonderful and we thoroughly enjoyed a stop here on our first evening.
It is a cosy space and does get busy, so making a booking may be a good idea.
Le Bouc Blanc
Above La Tania, this restaurant is accessible either straight off the piste, or via the gondola which you can catch in La Tania. Le Bouc Blanc boasts a beautiful view over the surrounding mountains. As well as plenty of indoor seating, it has a large decked area outside where we enjoyed lunch. They serve generous portions and a dessert selection plate for those who can't choose just one, it is definitely worth planning a trip here if you are in the area.
I'll just leave this photo here to tempt you, the perfect coffee : dessert ratio I think. And that view...
Alpine Escape offer a range of chalets across La Tania, Le Praz and Moriond. Full details of all can be found on their website, but here are a few of my favourite corners from our tour of some of their properties.
The ground floor bedroom at the newly renovated Chalet Ellanar in Le Praz (above) was one of my favourites. The whole property is beautiful.
As was this space (above and below) at Chalet De Mon Père in La Tania - this chalet also has a mezzanine area above the lounge which is set up as a snug / den - I know my children would love it!
Chalet Pleroma in La Tania has a more traditional feel (below) for those who are looking for a slice of true Alpine living.
That said, Alpine Escape have a lot of options available. Some chalets have direct access to the slopes, so you can simply step into your skis outside your front door and off you go.
Alpine Escape's concierge service also takes care of many of the small details of a holiday (ski pass delivered to your chalet anyone?) leaving you free to settle into your escape with ease. They can organise yoga massage and other relaxing treatments to be given at your chalet. It really is a wonderful way to take a break. We flew in to Geneva airport and were transferred to Courchevel by Alpine Escape's private transfer service. It is around a 2 hour drive to the resort.
Could this be the perfect antidote to winter blues? Quite possibly so. Do you need to be able to ski? Nope. There are ski schools or private lessons for those who would like to learn and plenty of other activities for those who are happy not to.
Just one question remains then. Do you fancy an Alpine Escape...?
* I was invited to Courchevel as part of a press trip, all thoughts and opinions are my own.