Oozing charm out of its ornately-carved balconies and rose-painted exterior, Les Airelles, in Courchevel 1850, is what you’d imagine the inside of a cuckoo-clock to be like.
Over-plump claret sofas and sage green armchairs in the softest velvet beckon you to sit beside roaring fires and pastel-coloured, hand-painted doors with whimsical motifs – leaping deer and naïve florals – add a story-book feel. Staff in traditional dress – women in dirndl dresses and men in all-white pantaloons and jaunty Alpine hats – are straight out of Hansel and Gretel. It’s a fairy-tale like experience.
By the time you’ve got to your room, you’ve been thoroughly seduced. Inside the 37 rooms and 16 suites, it’s Alpine chic all the way. The all-wood décor features ornately painted ceilings, pretty murals on walls and rich taffeta curtains with sumptuous tassels which all blend to give an uber cosy feel. The bed is piled high with crisp, white pillows and a thick, pink-paisley eiderdown. While Les Airelles is just as super-luxurious as the other top-end hotels dotted about the village – from Aman to Cheval Blanc (all the big hitters are here) –its USP lies in this inherent charmful character.
If you can stretch to it, book one of the suites for what will probably be one of the most pampering hotel experiences you will enjoy. New for the season ahead are two brand new suites – both vast spaces with dressing rooms, hammam showers and dreamy views.
The carved-wood-clad rooms include a lounge area, dining room, walk in wardrobe and a snow-dusted balcony, which is just perfect for morning coffee overlooking the fir-trimmed peaks. Bathrooms are cocooning and are clad in forest green and scarlet red tiles with a steam shower, and Hermes Un Jardin Sur Le Nil toiletries.
Waiting for you in your room will be a bottle of chilled Champagne and a hand-made raspberry sponge decorated with gold leaf. Nothing too out of the ordinary there – except explore further and you’ll find a row of gift bags left on your bed. Inside are thoughtful gifts, which have been tailored to each guest: a Bernard Orcel fleece for skiing, Crème de la Mer skincare, or a hand-stitched and embroidered linen toiletry bag. Due to the hotel continually collaborating with Parisian brands, female guests in the hotel’s top suites also receive a bespoke handbag. It’s by Celine. And it can’t be bought in the shops, made especially for Les Airelles with the guest’s initials sewn into it. It’s a wow moment before you’ve even unpacked.
Of course, Courchevel 1850 itself is notoriously chi chi and one of the most prestigious places to ski in the world. It caters for a changing roster of the world’s wealthiest few – from Russian oligarchs to aristocratic Parisians – and the tiny village is renowned for having the most luxury hotels in France (apart from Paris) as well as five restaurants with two Michelin stars.
Luckily, one of those eateries in based in Les Airelles. Tucked away in a small chalet-like dining room – it seats around 20 people – is Pierre Gagnaire Pour Les Airelles. The menu – served on Hermes plates – has been reinvented for the 2018 season with a brand new Italian concept. Celebrating the gastronomical history of the Alpine Rhone, the tasting menu is a must. It is made up of a series of finely-executed dishes that take flavour combinations to another level. The desserts are a variety of small delicious sweet treats – so many, in fact, that the whole table looks like it has been transported from Willy Wonka’s factory.
The ‘mountain palace’ approach continues down in the ski room – which has been revamped for 2018. Here, ski butlers are on hand to provide you with all the equipment you need (including warmed boots and Bernard Orcel ski-wear) and you can ski-in and out of the hotel – meaning none of the usual traipsing to the lifts.
Children are equally cared for to the same astonishing degree. Take the little ones to the Kingdom of Children – a series of playrooms catering to all ages – and you’ll not see them for the rest of your break. Teens will love the Xboxes and virtual reality kit, the younger ones will love the abundance of toys and games to get stuck into. What’s more, there’s even a merry-go-round, mini ice rink and horse-drawn carriage to send them (and you) into a frenzy.
If you’re not a skier – it’s not a problem. Take yourself off to the elegant Crème de La Mer Spa, which specialises in serious anti-ageing facials and relaxing massages. There’s also indoor and outdoor Jacuzzis, a snow cave, and cryotherapy sessions on offer.
As well as Pierre Gagnaire’s outpost, the hotel has two other restaurants, Coin Savoyard is a traditional local restaurant with atmospheric Alpine interiors (try the fondue with black truffle) and La Table du Jardin Alpin serves breakfast and lunch inside a cosy dining room as well as on a scenic terrace.
Originally founded by the renowned businesswoman Madame Raymonde Fenestraz, who raised the profile of Courchevel in the 1980s, the hotel is renowned for having a loyal legion of guests who descend upon it each year. It is now part of the Les Airelles Collection, a family-run group, which also owns Provence’s La Bastide de Gordes, as well as a handful of other French chic boltholes. Also under its umbrella are the nearby restaurants Le Chalet de Pierre and Méribel’s La Folie Douce (a must for après ski) – where guests can also dine.
Meanwhile, back at the bar, glass jars are piled high with pink meringues and freshly-baked pretzels are being served. You can choose from a range of rare spirits and vintage wines to take by the fireside. This is as magic as it gets.
Rates start from 1,000 Euros a night (on a half board basis) airelles.fr
This review is also published on The Arbuturian