So, what’s your favourite ski resort ??
It’s a question I’m asked on a regular basis as a ski industry expert. And it never gets any easier to answer.That’s not to say that certain resorts don’t stand out as being among the very best. Of course they do. The problem is that as skiers (or indeed snowboarders), we all have different priorities. It’s very hard to pick out just a few characteristics and say, unequivocally: these are the most important things people look for in a ski resort.
The back terrace of Christiania restaurant. One of my favourite spots.
Still, I try. Of the thousands upon thousands of people I’ve helped plan a trip to the mountains for over the years, most of them have been looking for a resort with charm, a short transfer, skiing for all abilities, great food and good value. And if all else fails, my personal litmus test has always been, ask if the resort in question is somewhere that you can still enjoy on a down day, when none of the lifts are working due to high winds or avalanche danger.
With that checklist in mind, it’s been Courmayeur that I’ve found myself returning to time and again over the last 26 years. It started as a great place to visit with friends, but these days I take my family, too.
Even the 10 Euro pizzas have a smiley face.
A lot of folks with a good knowledge of the world’s ski resorts are flabbergasted by this. But why?? they ask. In Europe alone there are bigger boutique ski resorts, like Zermatt or Lech. There are bigger party towns too, such as St Anton or Ischgl. And there are huge, varied ski areas in France – like Les Trois Vallées – that can be easily accessed from several airports.All this is very true. But choosing a ski resort, like so many things in life, is a balancing act.
Skiing down to Zerotta at the foot of Mont Blanc.
Granted, Courmayeur’s ski area is not as big as some. But what it lacks in kilometres, it makes up for in charm. The warm, friendly nature of the people that populate the resort isn’t something that can be measured. But it’s unmistakably a key ingredient of Courmayeur’s magic formula.
And then there’s the food.
Maison Vieille Refuge.
That’s what really sets this place apart from every other resort in the Alps – the mountain restaurants. The option to order simple, beautifully cooked food with wonderful wine at a fair price is something that just isn’t as available in UK or indeed many ski resorts and should be cherished by anyone with gastronomic ambitions.
Add the aforementioned wonderful welcome to the mix, as well as consistently breathtaking scenery, and you’re likely to struggle against a serious desire to linger at your restaurant of choice all afternoon.There aren’t just a handful of places to choose from, either. In fact, there are more mountain restaurants in Courmayeur than there are bars or indeed ski lifts. There is always a great pit stop nearby, whether you’re on the mountain looking for lunch, or in the resort itself chasing an aperitif and proper canapés.
The food and drink is consistently good everywhere in Courmayeur, a place where the official names of the restaurants are rarely used, replaced instead by the name of the owner. And that says it all, I think.
Here are some of those key ingredient people, without whom, Courmayeur wouldn’t be what it is.
Carlo who runs the Christiania on the pistes during the day and Mont Frety in town at night.
A glass of prosecco and mixed bruschetta ( love the brie and anchovie mix) before you read the menu.
Behind every great man there is a greater woman. Carlo’s wife, Marisa.
Andrea and Patrizia of Hotel Bouton d’Or. The definition of friendly,welcoming, helpful and going the extra mile hoteliers.
Officially a 3* hotel ( probably the best 3* hotel in the alps) but in my opinion a 5* family and service.
Giacomo from Maison Viieile welcoming Fiona Bruce.
And on the very odd occasion I can drag Giacomo down the mountain so he has a break. Maison Vieiile Refuge also organise dinners and parties in the evenings with guests being transported by snowmobiles.
The lovely Signora Giannina & Giovanni of Pensione Venezia.
Giuseppe otherwise known as John Bellushi of La Padella restaurant. He does a mean Arrabbiata.
Anna from Chiecco who dishes up some of the best food on the mountain. She will bully you into eating her Strudel!
Fabio runs my favourite bar Le Prive whilst his sister Ariana runs the livelier American Bar, another great favourite.
Aldo, a somelier who owns both the Hotel Maison St Jean and its restaurant Aria with the best wine cellar in Courmayeur…. Order the pasta with lobster,wash it down with a Cervaro and for main the beef tagliatta with a red of Aldo’s choice.
and already being a bad influence on my daughter.
Mimmo who runs both the bar and restaurant, Cadran Solaire, one of Courmayeur’s treasures in terms of decor and ambience. The restaurant should be declared a museum for its incredible decor.
Tony & Mohammed from the Petit Bistrot – A great little gem tucked away behind Via Roma.
Ciro and Michele from La Terrazza. Probably the most popular restaurant with our guests. The menu covers a fantastic range of Italian regional cuisine. This place ticks every gastronomic box.
Leo Garin ( in the red gillet). The man who inveted the Grolla drink. Leo also owns one of the best hotels in town, The Auberge de la Maison run by his lovely daughter Alessandra. The Auberge is officially a 4* but again. the service and ambience is more than 5*.
This picture was taken in Courmayeur’s Val Ferret one of the most beautiful spots in the Alps where we organised a media test drive for Martini and Ferrari.
Biagio who runs Caffe Posta, the oldest bar in town. The back room is a great place for an aperitif by the large fireplace.
Gianni Carbone, my guide since 1986. I put my life in his hands. We have skied every colouir, every possible pitch off the Mont Blanc chain, heliskied everywhere in Italy, climbed Mont Blanc, done the Haute Route and partied until very late many many times. A character and a true guide.
Andrea ( in the hat) and his team from Al Camin. Meat lovers paradise. The Chateaubriande is a must.
And we mustn’t forget
Legendary Mario, ex owner of Mont Frety and now out of retirement running the restaurant at the Centro Sportivo.
Fiorello, because he is Fiorello. He used to run Chiecco and now manages a gift shop in town.
Sergio Roveyaz of Hotel Edelweiss. Another true family hotel.
Carlo the Pharmacist. Say no more.
Riccardo, our DJ, sound technician and everything to do with our events. This picture was taken during a break:-)
Stefania, one of the best ski instructors who also runs a great little boutique in town.
And, last but not least, Aunty Eugenia who used to own the legendary Turistica Hotel and Restaurant, everyone’s cousin and just the lovliest lady in town.
PS: I haven’t finished yet!!! When I started writing this blog, I realised that I am going to get into a lot of trouble with other friends whom I did not mention in Courmayeur. At the time of writing you were either closed or I did not get a chance to photograph you. So take this as working document that will keep expanding and expanding. Watch out for me!. I’ll be there soon!
PSS: One musn’t forget, one of my old time favourite bars in the alps. The legendary VaCherie, pictures below, run by Lilli ( photos to come ). This place kicks in after 1 am. Say no more!! With 3 other nightclubs in town too, there is plenty of late apres-ski for the night owls.
4810, one of the best sports shops in town, owned by the legendary Grivel family. Yes Grivel as in ice axes and mountaineering equipment.
And the snow park has finally arrived in Courmayeur with good recycling of the old cable car.