News & Reviews Europe France Review: Airelles Courchevel

Airelles have become one of my favourite luxury hotel groups.  Their strong service ethos,  an extremely family-friendly focus blended with luxury and an emphasis on sense-of-place.  But what if the place isn’t that great? Then what do you do?  Airelles Courchevel decided to go in all with a Swiss alpine chalet style that practically smothers you.  Or at least, you wish it would smother you in your sleep so you didn’t have to look at it.  It looks like it was designed by a blind man that was sucked into a Sound of Music / Groundhog Day mash-up. Every morning he would wake up, tasked with finding the worst design in the world and every day, a voice would say “no, worse” until on day 12,395, he finally succeeded.  This is the outcome.

The thing is, if you can see past the sheer ugliness of the design, you will find a world-class property.  It’s like the resort version of She’s All That – take something ugly, remove its glasses, see past the shallowness of looks and something something.  I haven’t seen the movie.

Arrival

I was impressed before we even arrived.  Not with BA for cancelling our flight, but with Airelles for contacting us before BA even did to tell us our flight was cancelled and ask if we need any assistance in getting another one.  After managing to magic our way to Geneva, we made the 2.5-hour journey to Courchevel, to find ourselves welcomed by the GM and what appeared to be half the staff, half of whom were dressed like the Marshmellow man.  Airelles really likes a sense of place.  You didn’t need to be Hercule Poirot to see what celebration was happening.  They really went all out in making sure that Jesus or Santa or whatever the point of Christmas is, was in full force.

Excuse me, Mr. Horse, why aren’t you a reindeer?! Get with the program

The welcome was incredibly warm, the room setup was incredible, as it always is at Airelles, but perhaps the best anywhere to date, and the atmosphere was pure relaxation.

Our room, a One Bedroom Suite, at  70 sqm, was the smallest room on our Courchevel trip.  As the competition is roughly the same price, but the rooms are, shall we say, “not disgusting” it was surprising for the least appealing room to have the smallest square meterage.  However, what started to become clear was the value adds, not least of which the frankly absurd amount of gifts they seem to hand out, and the free activities on offer that other properties charge handsomely for.  You won’t want to spend any time in the hideous room anyway, so the activities become mandatory.

However, unlike the other properties, at least the suite was not a duplex.  It had a separate living area, two toilets (with the same Toto’s we have at home), a small balcony that directly faced Cheval Blanc.  Airelles are normally extremely kind with upgrades, but not here – perhaps next time I won’t complain the room was too big.

Next time I want this as my bath

Service

The service is where everything shines.  Not only will I say it was world class, it might be amongst the best I’ve ever received.  The starting point for this is how the butler teams are organised; they’re not simply someone that helps you in your room, but they’re present throughout the ground floor, which is where the three restaurants, bar, lounges and reception is.  It means when you’re calling to ask for something, you’re dealing with the same people each time who already know the history.  There’s no endlessly pressing numbers on the phone to get through to different departments and explain everything for the nineteenth time.  Big shout out to Vanessa, who really, really looked after us.

The setting gives emphasis to the service, because it’s so inviting.  The log fire, the chairs the you practically sink into, the music from the evening band, the warmth of the place.

Every preference was remembered, all allergies were known; they were on top of everything, with immediate recongition.  It’s hard for me to emphasis how impressive it is to feel like you’ve been staying somewhere a week, when it’s only been a few hours.  The big difference between Airelles and Cheval Blanc, both in St. Tropez and Courchevel, is Airelles willingness to hire people that are above the age of a foetus.  There’s nothing wrong in hiring experience rather than hiring someone based on their total number of abs.

Airelles are even pro cross-species hiring

They don’t want you to lift a finger yourself. If they could have squeezed out a fart on my behalf they would have.  Even going to the buffet, someone would come and help us, take the order and send it to the table.  These things come in handy when you’re chasing a toddler or holding a baby.

I don’t think great service is fake.  I’m not saying that behind the scenes everyone is going “god, I love that Tom fella and his family”, but you cannot force people into showing that level of service.  Airelles know who to hire and how to create an atmosphere that feels homely.  Were it not already near Christmas, it had the feeling of it.  Not the panic as you steamroll over someone to get the last toy, but seeing your family and spending time with them.  They really know how to look after their guests.  Now if they only knew a decorator.

The only negative was frequently finding no one at the kids club – I need someone to keep my children safe from my own supervision.  Yet once I asked, two people showed up and my children were safe again.

The food matches the relaxed atmosphere of the property, with no Michelin stars in sight.  They have their a buffet, which is an Airelles speciality, Carrara, serving Italian, and local cuisine served in Le Coin Savoyard.  Airelles love their buffets, which I rarely do, but they are way more classy than most.  However, it is the only option for lunch, unless you wish to go outside of the hotel.  Airelles offers half-board and has signed up with three other restaurants for you to enjoy their restaurants, including Aman.  As, and I will continue to repeat this for maximum sympathy, we were ill, we only ever tried the buffet during our stay.  It’s therefore hard for me to accurately review the food, only to say: please don’t make me go to another buffet.

Active

Whilst it might not be much to look at, it certainly boasts many facilities.  In Courchevel, I found that almost every property boasts the same facilities, with minor variations here and there.  If you took your spreadsheet, which I’m sure you all do when picking a hotel, you would see the following in the top properties: hair salon, boutique, gym, kids club, spa, and swimming pool. There’s also this weird room where you can put on canoe-length shoes and glide around on snow, but who would come to Courchevel to do that when you could instead play arcade games all day in the kids club?

Airelles spa area, similar to the competition, offers an indoor and outdoor hot tub, a sauna and a steam room.  They also offer a snow room, in case you can’t get enough of it.  The spa has an Airelles feel, with the bar, loungers, atmosphere and style reminiscent of their other properties.  The gym was disappointingly small, but if you really need to stay active, I guess you could go skiing.

There are a lot of activities on offer here; we went taken around in their horse carriage, made some pastries with a chef and booked the dog sledging but unfortunately had to cancel due to illness.

Departure

I’m a sucker for omnipresent management.  It’s only ever a good thing.  It’s why Aman gained the reputation it did, because of that engagement.  For a property with 48 rooms, it should be possible for management to offer that level of service.  So when the GM and other management were there on departure, that was already a good sign.  However, what made this the Airelles-ified departure was when Santa showed up and started giving gifts to my children and even us.  Hopefully it will overwrite my own childhood memories and I can pretend they were this good.  We ended up with so many gifts they had to ship them back to our house as they wouldn’t all fit in our luggage.  After the goodbyes, they put us in their Rolls Royce to drive us all 20 metres to Cheval Blanc.

The Good

  • They even sent flowers to another hotel for Lucie’s birthday
  • Kids club
  • Extremely generous

The Bad

  • Looks
  • The dream of going to some small village and being completely isolated but in complete luxury doesn’t exist.  There are as many Dior stores here as there are in England, outside of London.

The Luxurious

  • World-class service. The things that used to bother me: no free movies, archaic furnishings, sparkling water. Now it’s: how quickly will they help clean my child’s bum?
  • Extremely generous

Rating

Luxurious

Conclusion

How do you describe a feeling?

I’ve never experienced such a strong response to my travels as I did when I moved to Cheval Blanc.  The feedback from Instagram: Airelles is awful and Cheval was a massive step up.  And that’s why social media sucks.  That’s what it really cannot portray to you.  That’s the difficulty of deciding for yourself where to stay, as you cannot know which property will make you feel a certain way, until you experience it.  Airelles is far superior to Cheval Blanc.

Airelles has created an environment that I wanted to spend more time in.  It ain’t much of a looker, but it’s managed to offer something incredibly special that almost, just almost, makes you forget that.

I always knew Airelles Courchevel was not to my style, so upon arriving, I could conclude: it’s definitely not my style.  The website accurately reflects the putrid design, but that’s the power of brand, and the Airelles name managed to pull me in.  I was sold into the Airelles je ne sais quoi philosophy.  It is the same as one of my favourite properties, The Connaught, in that I cannot accurately describe why it’s better than the competition, but for how it makes me feel.  If you made a side-by-side comparison of facilities or looked at the pictures, you would have no choice but to stay elsewhere.  But once you’ve stayed and experienced it, it will become a favourite.

I appreciate this is all a bit wanky, like I’m an Avatar The Way of Water spokesman convincing you that you can only watch it in 3D to experience it truly, so you’ll just have to trust me. There’s no better source of truth than something you read on the internet.

Room type: One bedroom Suite Duration: 11 December > 13th December 2022.  €4,900/n

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Tom Cahalan

Written by Tom Cahalan on 23rd Dec '22

Dorsia Travel’s co-founder Tom Cahalan’s take on travel is reliably candid. Here’s his take on what’s good, bad, and luxurious.

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