Courchev-Hell 1850…What’s the appeal?

Courchev-Hell 1850…What’s the appeal?

 

Reigning down on lesser villages from an actual elevation of 1747, it seems the so called Courchevel 1850 is  falling short of more than just 103m…

Atmosphere for a start…

While France is hardly renowned for the charm of its ski resorts, I have to say that I expected more from the ‘playground of the rich and famous’ than the grey, tired, purpose built blocks that greeted me upon my arrival to 1850. Arriving a week before the start of the season, I could have been forgiven for thinking that things would liven up in due course, however I soon came to realise that empty streets, and the feeling that something must be going on somewhere else, were the norm in what seemed to be more of a cemetery than a playground.

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Now imagine without the snow…

Having spent the previous winter in Alpe d’Huez, a smaller but infinitely livelier resort, the eerie calm on returning from the slopes after my first ride struck me as bizarre. Where were all the people? More importantly, where was the après?! For the first few days I searched in vain, roaming the town on a quest for wonderwall covers and pitchers of Mutzig. I quickly realised that all I was gaining for my efforts were dodgy looks and the dawning realisation that I’d just signed myself up for four months in purgatory.DSC_0078_1.JPG

After spending a few evenings nursing a glass of happy hour wine in the lovely- but- not-exactly- pounding Joe’s bar, I decided to bite the bullet and try the London-priced French bar l’Equipe. While I didn’t balk as much as my northern friend did at the prospect of 10€ for a spirit without a mixer, we certainly agreed that despite it being the liveliest place we’d discovered so far, this could not become a regular thing. Next on the trail was the Luge, a much more down to earth bar, bordering on normal if it weren’t for the fact that it was bizarrely placed in a shopping mall. It turned out that this placing wasn’t that strange after all, as the bar is marketed as ‘concept store, social life’ and is actually part of a shop selling everything you need to look like a try-hard on the slopes. While the staff were friendly and the dingy décor and ski videos made it almost feel like a seasonnaire bar, the fact that even the snowboards decorating the bar were for sale served as a constant reminder that everything in Courchevel 1850 has a price…

In one last desperate attempt to make a night of it, we decided to head to La Grange, the first nightclub to open for the season. While the posters plastered in the alley outside my room promised a seasonnaires welcome soirée, the bouncer’s expression suggested otherwise. As he gave me the once over with more sass than a high-school girl, he lingered disdainfully on my ski jacket and snow-boots before telling me that the club was full. By this point I was adamant that I wasn’t going anywhere, and proceeded to make his life difficult for the next twenty minutes as I slowly progressed from incredulous to enraged that I, as part of a group of young, not unattractive girls, was left to wait out in the cold, as a constant stream of middle aged and unsightly men were let into the apparently ‘full’ club. What was this parallel universe we found ourselves in? Eventually I think the bouncer either got sick of my shit, or realised that I was more of an eyesore in the entrance to the club than I would be hidden deep within its bowels and conceded defeat. We were in.

Having made it off the red carpet and into the club I had two instant realisations. The first was that there were more people in this room than I had seen so far in the whole of Courchevel. The second was that I was neither drunk enough nor rich enough to be there. There was not a scrap of ski gear in sight, and I was not about to pay the equivalent of a day’s wages to sip a drink under the withering gaze of girls with eating disorders. I had seen enough.

Time to branch out…

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Homely…

As well as the inauspicious greeting on the wall of my staff accommodation, (Welcom to hell, 666) my predecessor had also left me a clue in the form of a Funky Fox sticker left on my light fitting. After a quick google I learnt that the Fox was one the last bastions of seasonnaire life, promising cheap drinks, and fiiiiinally, live music. The only drawback was that the Fox, and as far as I could tell, anywhere else worth going, was down in 1650, or even lower. I also learnt that Courchevel 1850 used to have a great seasonnaire scene a few years ago, but pretty much all the reasonably priced bars had since been priced out by the arrival of the Russians and their luxury boutiques. While this did explain the disproportionate number of estate agents, I still struggled to grasp how this could have been allowed to happen, or more precisely, why.

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On Tuesdays we wear blue… Pretty much my only respectable photo of a night out from the season!

Having quickly conceded that Courchevel was not even slightly my scene, (quelle surprise…) I resigned myself quite happily to what I thought would be a quiet season to focus on my writing and fitness. However, it wasn’t the prospect of an underwhelming social life that bugged me (and in fact, that wasn’t even slightly the case) but rather the fact that my hatred for everything Courchevel stood for grew by the day.

I don’t just mean the ridiculous wealth and lavishness. I obviously expected that. What really disturbed me were the attitudes held by the clients of our own infinitely more modest hotel (one of the only two stars’ in resort.) It actually broke my heart to see people eating pot noodles in their room just so they could say that they went to the same ski resort as Wills and Kate. People paying through their noses for a dingy room with no amenities when they could have been relaxing in a spa hotel in another resort for the same price.  And what were they getting for their money? If they were expecting to be rubbing shoulders with the stars then they must have been bitterly disappointed. When people say Courchevel is exclusive they mean it, pretty much the only glimpse you get of the rich is when they totter out of Chanel straight into their chauffeured cars. And if you make it past the bouncers to have a cheeky browse then you’re far braver than I am.  

I just couldn’t get my head around why anyone would want to come to Courchevel 1850. Yes, the mountains are amazing, but you can access them from any of the other villages in the Three Valleys, all of which are infinitely more ambient and far prettier. I can’t help but think that in going to Courchevel people aren’t paying over the odds for a special experience, but rather like in the designer boutiques that dominate its streets, they’re paying for the concept.

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All roads lead to Rhodes…Hiring a car on the island.

All roads lead to Rhodes…Hiring a car on the island.

For our island-hopping escapade this summer, we decided to make the most of cheap Ryanair flights, and use Rhodes as a base for exploring the Dodecanese islands. Unfortunately for us however, that’s about as far as our trip planning went. With everyone being too busy with work/exams/life we just assumed everything would all fall into place, and ended up being thwarted big time by Greek ferry timetables…

Still, there are worse places to be stranded, right?

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Ok, not exactly paradise…

 

After walking around the crowded city for a whole afternoon, becoming borderline offensive with pushy restaurant touts, and  finally conceding windswept defeat and leaving the underwhelming beach, we agreed that we could not stay put in Rhodes for another three days. Feeling the drop in morale and sensing the inevitable tensions that it would bring, I quickly suggested that we hire a car to explore the island.Being twenty-five didn’t seem so bad any more once I realised I could now  hire a car for 30€ a the day…And  after spending a few days blindly following people around Athens, I relished the freedom of literally being in the driver’s seat.

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The perks of making it to  25!

Making our way down the east coast we began to ask ourselves whether we had gone from the firepan into the fire, as the ugly towering blocks and seedy looking clubs of Faliraki prompted choruses and variations of ‘who on earth would come here on purpose?? Instead of the beautiful, winding sea road that Corfu has taught me to expect, we were on a highway to a very specific kind of hell, where a full English comes with a free shot of Sambuca and  a side of chlamydia. (unfortunately for this post I wasn’t inspired to get my camera out) 

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The Acropolis of Lindos…Parts of it date back to 300 b.c.

Having persevered for about 50km, we were soon rewarded with the unique view of Lindos, a pretty impressive town/archaological site towering over a cluster of African looking white houses against a backdrop of blue sea. While it wasn’t exactly the island paradise we were searching for, it was certainly worth a frappé stop.

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Not a bad spot to have breakfast either…

After heading a bit further down the coast, we decided to take a mountain road over to the other side of the island, which we were promised was undeveloped and a tourist free zone. We finally started to see the Rhodes that we had craved, the wild craggy mountains, olive groves, and the thick island air that you can almost taste. The landscape is semi African, with barren rivers and dusty rolling hill-sides, none of the verdure of the Ionian islands.

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Bit of a shock for a Corfiot girl like me!

After dropping over to the west coast I took the first little dirt track down to the beach, a fairly anti-climactic stretch of greyish littered sand, but one of the most beautiful seas I’ve  ever seen. I stripped off, not even waiting to change, and ran straight into the waves. I didn’t have time to feel the cold as I was thrown around, jumping in elation. The others waited on the beach, probably wondering what the hell I was doing, but I can’t describe how happy a rough sea makes me. It’s almost as if the energy of the waves recharges me. sea.JPG

It wasn’t really a place to hang out though, not without a bit of planning (which we’ve already established, is not our forté) so we decided to head to the most southernly part of the island, a little peninsla called Prasonisi. Here we finally found our paradise. A massive expanse of two bays, one for windsurfers and a rougher one for kite-boarders, linked by a little hill for hiking. While it was too windy to sit comfortably on the beach and perve, the hike to the top of the hill was well worth the view, and after scrambling back down the other side for about twenty minutes we were finally rewarded with the secluded beach paradise we’d been dreaming of…

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That’s more like it!

 

Unfortunately for us, having spent most of the day trying to find our island paradise, we now had to head back to civilisation, and more worryingly, I had a Skype interview. I’ve always been inclined to consider no WiFi a plus when it comes to island paradises, but when it came to dragging everyone away from the beach I wasn’t so sure any more…

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Where have you been all my life?

 

Anyway, the moral of this story (actually, this whole trip) is plan,plan,plan,plan,plan!  I know it sucks the joy out of exploring, but with an island as big (and as charmless) as Rhodes, it definitely helps to do your research and to head straight for where you want to be, especially if you have a time limit. In this case I would have loved to have spent more time on Prasonisi, which also had a campsite and a few bars, and just a generally nice atmosphere. It all turned out well in the end though, I got the job in Colombia, and we ended the day with a terribly british night out in Rhodes…

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