Stay the night: Chalet Edelweiss, Courchevel
This exclusive-use property is the very highest of the high-end, reveals James Palmer
Saturday 16 November 2013
'There's something wrong with your right leg!" yells Julien the ski guide, moments before I vanish in a cloud of powder. An old cruciate ligament injury, I wheeze. Like a wizened mountain sage, he nods and whispers: "Keep your legs closer together. Shift your weight to your toes. Turn with your shoulders pointing down the mountain." It works. Julien can spot a weakness in a skier like an eagle sizing up a marmot. Which is useful, because many of the visitors to the forgiving slopes of Courchevel look rather like furry animals, dressed in sable and mink, some carrying miniature dogs. They expect only the sharpest of guides.
Courchevel 1850, the highest and most prestigious of the five villages that make up this corner of the vast and interconnected Trois Vallées ski area, has been the mountain retreat of choice for the absurdly rich since the 1950s. The resort has six Michelin-starred restaurants and its own airstrip, the Altiport, a treacherous, sloping runway up at 2,010 metres. Eddie Jordan, the former Formula 1 team boss, likes to land here, as did Pierce Brosnan when he was Bond.
Bar the dicky knee, I feel mildly Bond-like today as we schuss past hulking Russian-owned chalets and skid to a dramatic halt outside the British-owned Chalet Edelweiss, the kind of place you'd expect to find Q waiting. Or "home" as I think I'll call it for the next 48 hours.
Exclusive-use Edelweiss purports to be the largest and most luxurious free-standing chalet in the Alps. It's a seven-storey Savoyard wood-and-stone palace, configured around a central spiral staircase that drills deep into the mountain to a lavish spa complex – a swimming pool and hot tub, flanked by sauna, hammam, gym and two massage rooms. The eight en-suite bedrooms (including two master suites) are sumptuously appointed with rainforest showers and baths with views of both the plasma TV and the mountains. Artworks by Dalí, Miró, Picasso, Lichtenstein, Marc Quinn, Damien Hirst and Anish Kapoor are casually dotted about. It may be big, but it's tasteful.
Food and drink
Still no sign of Q. But two chefs are on hand to serve up canapés and a giant stone-baked salmon. After a pre-arrival menu consultation, there is nothing you cannot order. Breakfast and dinner are usually served in the cosy dining room, but tonight we're eating in the private nightclub. From the dancefloor you can peer through a wall of windows down into the pool far below. This room drips with decadence and tonight Morton's 2&8 Club from Mayfair is jetting in to host a pop-up club night. That's the sort of add-on that guests can request and that the chalet expects to provide.
In the corridor to the private cinema hang limited-edition Terry O'Neill prints of Hollywood legends. "I picked those up from the Chris Beetles Gallery in SW1," says a voice behind me. Goldfinger, is that you? No, it's Chris Levett, the chalet's owner. He's a gently spoken hedge-fund manager, worth an estimated £250m, who describes himself as a "compulsive" art collector.
Raised in Southend, he began collecting Roman coins at age seven and has been acquiring classical artefacts ever since. He's done rather well. In 2011, he opened the Mougins Museum of Classical Art in the South of France to share his collection – which includes an unrivalled trove of Roman armour – with the world.
Levett says Edelweiss cost him €44m (£37m) to buy and rebuild. So here comes the prohibitive part. To hire Chalet Edelweiss for up to 16 people for seven nights will cost you at least £9,950 per person. Prices like that, you might say, are enough to spark a revolution. And last season, there was a small one in Courchevel. In an effort to quash the stigma of elitism that emanates from 1850, the elevations were rebranded: 1850 is now plain Courchevel; 1650 was renamed Courchevel Moriond; 1550 became Courchevel Village and the lowly Le Praz (way down at 1330m) gets to call itself Courchevel Le Praz. Now everyone can benefit from the Courchevel prestige label. They can even dine at one of the Michelin-starred restaurants: I could eat a three-course meal at the one-starred Azimut down in Le Praz for €28 (£23.50), the tourist board's Nathalie Faure Bernoud tells me at the bar.
Chalet Edelweiss, Courchevel, France. Rental starts at £9,950 per person, per week, through Summit Retreats: (01985 850111; summitretreats.com) including champagne reception, tea and coffee in bed, daily breakfast, afternoon tea and dinner, children's supper, daily canapés, chauffeured vehicle and private ski instructor.
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