Mountain retreats

The Petite Marmotte

Last time I ate at Le Cap Horn, a mountain restaurant overlooking the altiport on the slopes of Courchevel 1850, I watched Pétrus being drunk with Coke. More recently, I noticed the supplément truffe was everywhere. Starting at €5.50 a gram, truffles dusted plates like black snow. Courchevel 1850 has evolved within its own bubble to become an extreme example of luxury defined by profligacy.

So I am pleased to discover Courchevel 1650 – just 200m lower but a different world entirely. I am here to hunt down not the mega-chalet but its antidote: the intimate one-bedroom bolthole. Somewhere with a classic Alpine finish, with a real fire, cosy furs and antlers. I’m after a comforting cliché, the sort brought to mind by one of the great mini-chalets of all time, Chalet Thomas in Verbier, which was always (much to my frustration) booked solid whenever I inquired. Recent news that its antiques dealer owner has removed his little gem from the rental market put me on the hunt for something new. Enter Cour­chevel 1650’s Petite Marmotte.

An old hay store, Petite Marmotte is an entirely simple one-up, two-down stand-alone chalet with a pretty pitched roof. Space is tight, with a small bathroom downstairs (shower only), and a sitting room-kitchenette that is just about large enough for two people to sit down to an armchair supper in front of the wood-burning fire. Yet it is one of the cosiest, most romantic little places you could hope for. If you’re the sort to be out skiing all day, it’s not just the perfect fit – the chalet has all one needs, with a dose of chic – but it is also very well located, 10 steps from the ski slope.

Better still, the chalet runs like clockwork because Petite Marmotte belongs to a group of rentals known as Portetta Mountain Lodges. The group also owns Le Portetta hotel, lofts and spa, a five-minute drive away in the village. Petite Marmotte guests benefit from various service perks, including daily housekeeping, a chauffeur service, dinner by delivery from the Michelin two-star Chabichou restaurant, and access to the hotel’s steam room and sauna.

I am in love with this place. The trouble is, so is everyone else (one client booked the Petite Marmotte for a full six weeks). In addition, this particular hayloft is sometimes used as an overflow for guests of the adjacent Marmotte chalet; if the four doubles of the main house prove not to be enough, clients can take Petite Marmotte as well.

The Penthouse at Chalet Floralie

This is a similar scenario to Chalet Baby Bear in Chamonix. A snug two-bedroom house, it has all the services of Petite Marmotte and more, including an outdoor hot tub and early morning delivery of fresh bread, pastries and afternoon cakes. For an extra £250 per person per week, evening meals are included (delivered rather than cooked at the chalet). This is because Baby Bear is located 100m from the much bigger chalets Amazon Creek and Baloo, both sleeping 10, the idea being the stand-alone sidekick becomes the master bedroom, or staff overflow, for large bookings.

For me, however, the mini-chalet has become the holy grail, an intimate mountain retreat (so long as it has just the right amount of service attached). So I start to look for more. In St Martin de Belleville, part of the Trois Vallées ski area (along with Courchevel and Méribel), I discover the Penthouse at Chalet Floralie. The top floor of a pitch-roofed super-chalet, it has its own private outdoor staircase and a sparkling white and silver interior by British decorator Juliette Byrne. The owner’s attention to detail shows in the carefully-chosen artwork and the quality of everything from the linen to the sugar pot. It is a snowflake in styling but warm as toast. And the location is as good as it gets: I count 14 steps to the ski lift.

In its sleek modernity, it is very different in style from the Walig Hut, an alpine chalet perched at an altitude of 1,700m, above Gstaad in the Swiss Alps. Dating from 1786, the Walig Hut was once home to local farmers who would stay there when they brought their cows up to the high pastures. Now it has been renovated by the Gstaad Palace Hotel and is used as a venue for fancy dinners as well as simple overnight stays for a maximum of two adults and two children. Not quite in the league of the turreted mothership in the valley below, this deliberately simple chalet only has a wood-burning stove for heating, while water is drawn by guests from a natural well outside the hut.

Like the delightful Le Mayen in the Swiss resort of St-Luc-Chandolin, a stay at this chocolate-box cliché is for now confined to the summer only. But surely it could work in the winter too? All they’d need to do is put in more cashmere rugs, stock the fridge and leave some warm glühwein sitting on the stove.

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