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Top Five Luxury Ski Destinations

Resorts in this article: Zermatt, Méribel, Courchevel, Val d’Isère, Verbier.

For discerning skiers at the top of the ski holiday market, a week or two spent on the slopes is a highlight in the winter calendar. It’s a chance to relax and unwind in the company of friends, family or business associates, settling back for a little while to enjoy the finer things in life.

Across Europe, five ski resorts have sat for a number of years now at the top of the tree for luxury ski holidays. With an excellent selection of beautiful 5* and 6* chalets and hotels on offer, fine-dining establishments, solid lift infrastructure and extensive slopes, the beautiful resorts of Zermatt and Verbier in Switzerland, and Courchevel, Meribel and Val d’Isère in France, really do epitomise luxury skiing.

Zermatt

Zermatt sits under the shadow of the mighty Matterhorn peak at a base altitude of 1608 metres, offering reliable snow cover all winter long and boasting some of the most spectacularly beautiful mountain scenery in the world.

The resort itself is largely free of traffic and covers three main areas; the high-end luxury Petit Village, the vibrant Town Centre, and the peaceful, charming Winkelmatten area. Each area has its own distinct atmosphere, contributing to the feel of the resort as a whole. The resort is pedestrianised and walking is the best way to get around, but electric busses and taxis are on hand. Zermatt is an architecturally interesting blend of ancient Alpine farmhouses, carefully renovated grand hotels, opulent and modern luxury ski chalets, and of course the usual facilities and amenities one associates with modern ski resorts of its stature.

Photo: Rothorn aerial gondola paradise in winter. Copyright: Zermatt Tourist Board

Up on the slopes Zermatt gives visitors the most vertical-drop of any ski resort in the world – from the Klein Matterhorn down to village level skiers enjoy a jaw-dropping 2279 metres of descent. The ski area sits across four separate and varied areas; the Rothorn Paradise is ideal for those staying in the luxury Petit Village area, offering a good mix of slopes and four itinerary runs for those in search of powder skiing. Gornergrat’s north and west-facing slopes are excellent for steep powder bowls and intermediate cruising, whilst the Schwartzee Paradise area is best accessed from the Winkelmatten side of the resort and offers twenty-two pistes including fourteen red runs. Lastly the Italian resort of Cervinia is reachable from Zermatt’s Klein Matterhorn lift, and is the perfect place for intermediates keen to explore further afield. For advanced skiers in search of open back-country skiing, Zermatt offers extensive heli-skiing and with scenery this impressive, it’s something of a must-do for skiers keen to make the most of the stunning terrain available.

Zermatt is home to some of the finest mountain restaurants in the world, and for those keen to experience the ultimate in piste-side fine-dining there’s nowhere better. Establishments such as Chez Vrony regularly feature in top-ten mountain restaurant lists and the resort has many fine-dining establishments which feature in the Michelin and Gualt&Millau restaurant guides.

Méribel

Méribel sits in the middle of one of the largest, most varied and most impressive skiable domains in the world, les Trois Vallées in France. Constructed almost exclusively in local wood and stone, Méribel is aesthetically very pleasing, and there’s a restriction on the height of new construction in the resort to keep it that way.

Spread across a number of satellite villages, including purpose-built Méribel-Mottaret, well-located and relaxed Méribel-Village, charming les Allues and of course Méribel Centre, the resort as a whole is wonderfully varied. With Courchevel to one side and les Menuires, St Martin and Val Thorens to the other, it’s hard to conceive of a better part of the Three Valleys in which to base yourself.

On the accommodation front, Méribel offers as impressive a luxury property portfolio as any resort in Europe. Chalets such as the opulent 6* chalet Mont Tremblant are truly beautiful; blending private location with excellent ski access, they are the last word in Alpine luxury. The Mont Tremblant sits close to the town centre with chauffeur service for faultless ski access. The list of facilities includes, but is not limited to, a private cinema room, individually designed bedrooms all with super-king beds and en suite bathrooms, a private outdoor swimming pool, hot tub and double-height windows offering stunning resort and valley views.

Courchevel

Of all Europe’s luxury ski destinations, few are held in as high regard as the French resort of Courchevel. With its Michelin restaurants, its 5* and 6* chalets and hotels, its beautiful, tree-lined slopes and its vibrant nightlife, this is a resort with an enormous amount to offer.

The resort sits across four villages, stretching from the bottom of the valley to Courchevel itself, at the top. The tranquil village of le Praz is charming and relaxed, with good access to the slopes above via a gondola lift. Higher up, Courchevel Village offers ski in / out access and good lift links into the rest of the valley. Above that, Courchevel Moriond is vibrant and attractive, and Courchevel itself at 1850 metres is the main resort, the best known of the four. For luxury accommodation, the easiest ski access and the finest restaurants, Courchevel is the best place to base yourself.

Skiers at the top end of the accommodation market searching for somewhere special to stay during their time in Courchevel can choose from a broad range of opulent properties. There are more than ten hotels in the resort with a 5* rating, and a sixth star was added to represent only the most exclusive and impressive hotels available – there are only eight such properties across all of France and two of them are located in Courchevel.

In the luxury chalet market it’s a similar story. Whether you’re keen to stay slightly away from the hubbub of the resort centre in a property such as the spectacular Shemshak Lodge, or place yourself in the thick of it for easy access to the resort’s many amenities and shops, there are properties to suit every taste. With ski in / out location, private swimming pool, chauffeur service, massage suite and hot tub, the recently constructed Shemshak Lodge offers guests a rare level of luxury in an outstanding location for easy access to Courchevel’s ski slopes.

skiing off-piste

Photo: Skiing in Courchevel - Copyright David Andre

The Greystone is another exemplary luxury chalet, and equally worthy of particular note. Six en suite bedrooms plus living, dining and relaxation areas are spread across 650 square metres and four floors, bringing a wonderful feeling of space to the chalet. It sits just 50 metres from the nearest slope, within easy reach of Courchevel centre – one of the most impressive properties in the resort’s portfolio. Facilities and services include cinema room, gymnasium, spa with sauna and steam room, plus private chef and butler.

Verbier

For off-piste skiers on the lookout for deep powder and fields of fresh snow, Verbier is something of a must-visit resort, though the uninitiated must not be fooled – the ski area is deceptively small compared to domains like les Trois Vallées. Pockets of off-piste skiing between the steep pistes throughout the valley are complemented by mapped but un-groomed ‘itinerary’ runs which are ideal for advanced skiers keen to cover as much challenging terrain as possible, and with a brand new lift to the tree-lined powder-haven of Bruson, off piste skiers have never had it so good in Verbier. The resort forms part of the Quatre Vallées in Switzerland, a domain best suited to intermediate and advanced skiers, and ties in with a number of smaller peripheral villages such as Nendaz and Veysonnaz.

Aside from the off-piste skiing available, Verbier has a well-deserved reputation for nightlife and there’s a very good range of very high quality venues for lively après ski or sophisticated soirées. The Farm Club has taken pride of place at the top of the resort’s bar scene since the early 1970s and, following numerous renovations over the years remains hugely popular amongst Verbier’s visiting royals, jet-setters and moneyed clientèle. Far more recently, the brand new W Hotel’s restaurant and cocktail bar has caused a stir amongst the resort’s cognoscenti, offering an atmosphere of relaxed sophistication and stunning views out over the Swiss Alps. The Farinet Bar is another good example, and a great place for live music and vibrant après ski.

Verbier’s reputation as a home of luxury skiing is well established, and the resort has played host to some of the world’s finest chalet and hotel designers and architects for decades – a trend which shows no sign of waning. The Lodge is Richard Branson’s flagship Alpine retreat, a very sizeable chalet with nine sumptuously decorated bedrooms, private chef with Michelin experience, gymnasium with spa and wellness suite, private chauffeur, mini ice-rink... The list goes on! And all this just 250m from the main ski lifts. You can even ski back to the property at the end of your day on the slopes as The Lodge sits on one of Verbier’s home runs.

Val d’Isère

Sitting in France’s famous Espace Killy ski area, over the valley ridge from the neighbouring resort of Tignes, Val d’Isère is one of the country’s highest quality and most popular resorts. Much like Méribel, Val d’Isère is constructed largely in local wood and stone and is very pleasing on the eye. The resort strikes a fine balance between family-friendliness and lively nightlife for adults, and the facilities and amenities are excellent.

Spread out along the valley floor, the resort is made up of peripheral villages such as la Daille and le Fornet, and of course the main area of Val d’Isère Centre, which is where the vast majority of the luxury chalets are located.

Up on the slopes, Val d’Isère offers terrain for all levels of skier, from nursery slopes and gentle green pistes to steep red and black runs. There’s also excellent off-piste skiing to be found when conditions are right. From peaks such as the Col de l’Iseran, and Solaise, Bellevarde and Toviere, skiers in the Val d’Isère valley can find terrain ideally suited to all levels of skier.

One of the key reasons why this resort is so popular amongst skiers in the luxury market is the excellent lift infrastructure the area offers. Anybody keen to explore further afield and make the most of the entire Espace Killy can make use of the myriad of different gondolas and chairlifts, all perfectly placed to allow easy travel through the skiable area. The resort of Tignes makes up the other half of the Espace Killy ski area and offers further spectacular terrain to explore, including lots more challenging gradient and off-piste potential – with such good lift links it’s within easy reach of its neighbour, Val d’Isère.

The luxury ski chalet portfolio in Val d’Isère is absolutely exceptional, and boasts a calibre and variety of top-end accommodation rarely seen in other resorts. Chalet Black Pearl and its sister, the White Pearl, are two relatively recent additions to the resort’s luxury chalet portfolio. They were constructed side by side, equidistant between resort centre and the Funival lift up into the valley, to meet the demand for a standard of accommodation higher than previously available. With indoor swimming pool with jet stream, wet suite and sauna, home cinema room and sun terrace, these chalets represent some of the finest and most opulent luxury chalets that Val d’Isère has to offer.

People’s accommodation requirements, expectations and priorities vary enormously and ski companies at the top of the scale need to be acutely aware of this. Flexibility is key, as are high catering standards, opulent surroundings, relaxing facilities and exemplary service, but even this is really just the tip of the iceberg. With regard to resort choices it’s the same story; skiers’ requirements and preferences are many and varied. In order to attract skiers in the luxury market, resorts must strike the balance between exclusivity and broad appeal.

In the luxury ski market as it stands today, the five resorts of Zermatt, Méribel, Courchevel, Verbier and Val d’Isère stand head and shoulders above the competition, and are amongst some of the very finest luxury ski destinations in the world.