Review: Cheval Blanc Courchevel

When it comes to purchasing luxury fashion goods, my wife and I have a simple rule: check the label.  It’s the ultimate sniff test.  It shows the inner workings, the behind-the-scenes, the rip-off-ometer.  It tells you whether you’re paying purely for the name because it’s made from the type of materials you’d find washed up on a beach or whether it’s actually worth something.  I have no issue with overpaying for brands, but only if it comes with a quality, premium product.  It has to be able to stand by itself beyond a name.  It needs something within it that makes it better than an alternative, cheaper offering.  If all you have is a label, but it’s made of Poundland materials, what is it really worth?  And that is a very long-winded, terrible analogy to begin my Cheval Blanc Courchevel review.

Style

Whilst Airelles Courchevel and Cheval Blanc are barely 20 metres apart, they could not be more different.  Gone was the jovial atmosphere and excessive Christmas decorations, replaced with an uninviting reception area, with staff more concerned about preserving their almighty shrine than the guest’s happiness.  It was a culture shock.  Like showing up at a kid’s birthday party only to discover it’s a murder scene.

This is where you can’t just look at pictures, you have to experience it. Would you rather go around your nan’s house and feel at home or visit your rich uncle, but he’s as charismatic as a Sackler and keeps asking you to sit on his lap?  I think I invite a lot of psychos to this blog, so best I don’t turn that into a poll.  Just keep the answer to yourself.

Cheval Blanc Courchevel is not an inviting place. The chaotic design of Airelles somehow translates to a warm personality, and here the lack of charisma has created a cold, sometimes joyless environment. Reception has more space taken up with the Louis Vuitton display than the seating area.  The bar is the only place to hang out, but it’s as inviting as a cobra pit.  The kids club is too well-designed, too meticulous, too sterile, too lifeless. It had the warmth of an A&E.

Airelles create homes; Cheval Blanc has created a masterpiece that should be seen, not experienced.  With nowhere to feel at home, the soul of this property is no different ot a shopping mall.

However, don’t let me downplay the looks because it is beautiful to look at.  It was much more in line with what I consider to be luxury.  The rug, oh that sweet rug that felt like being embraced by a bear made of candyfloss.  The carpet!  An absolute barefoot delight.  Everything you touch is premium.  Everywhere you look it shows thought.  The aesthetic was very much Cheval Blanc, which is a distinct luxury feel, without offering a sense of place.  Between St. Tropez, Paris, Maldives and now Courchevel, I can tell I’m in a Cheval Blanc resort, even if they have little in common.  There is a way they can deliver a luxurious feeling without going overboard and hitting the putrid scale, like a lot of the Middle East.

The room layout spares an overly large bedroom; instead, they’ve gone overboard on the size of the bathroom and provided a well-spaced living room.  It makes sense, with the exception of it being a duplex.  All of the suites at Cheval Blanc Courchevel are duplexes.  I booked a Duplex, then was informed they sold out so they complimentarily upgraded us to a Deluxe Duplex, only to then decide on the day to put us in a Duplex.   Their reasoning was the Deluxe Duplex had steps immediately upon entering so it wasn’t suitable for a child, which is probably fair, but I can confirm that any duplex sucks as a family, including the room we were in.  The stairs are definitely death traps.  It’s no wonder so many Russians keep falling out of windows if these are the stairs they have.

You enter into the living area, which has a desk tucked underneath the stairs and a downstairs bathroom, upstairs you have a huge bathroom with walk-in wardrobes and a shower with a steam room.  There’s also a balcony, so you can longingly stare back into Airelles.

Here’s where I go into “ungrateful bastard mode” and tell you that all the welcome gifts we received were the same as during St. Tropez. Someone send the therapist, I’m sure this was deeply traumatic for our daughter.  She hasn’t turned 2 yet, but this was her fourth Cheval Blanc and this time the cuddly horse was staying behind.  I would expect them to keep track of these things though, but it was a summary of the service here, where the rulebook seemed to be “be amazing” without any direction on what that actually means.  It is nice to receive gifts, but none of them were personalised and neither was the room setup.  It always seemed they got everything right, when it was part of the playbook.

Like their other properties, the room was controlled by an iPad, but it was annoyingly slow; the room temperature was batshit crazy – too cold downtairs, too warm upstairs; the light system was very confusing, and the acoustics are awful. My wife was upstairs watching a video on her phone where children were laughing and downstairs I was about to call the Ghostbusters.

Facilities

In my new series I call “just like every other luxury hotel in Courchevel”, Cheval Blanc offers a ski in/out lounge, kids club, bar, restaurant, spa and gym.  Where it differs is the execution.

For cuisine, you can eat from a very limited bar menu or you can head into their aptly named La Restaurant.  There’s also La Terrasse, but it was not open, and then there’s 3 Michelin star 1947, which I didn’t try for the fact that most Michelin star restaurants suck.  Like Airelles, Cheval Blanc is half-board, but that felt just an excuse for them to double the price of everything.  The food prices are outrageous, so the chef must use the rarest of European ingredients this winter: electricity.  Bernard Arnault, the owner of LVMH, overtook Elon Musk as the world’s richest man during our stay.  It wasn’t hard to see how he’d achieved that when spaghetti bolognese is €72.

Breakfast was very similar to St Tropez – no buffet, a small menu of eggs and pancakes, everything else is brought to the table with fruit, meats, and sandwiches presented like an art display, and the selection of yoghurts and pastries changing daily.

There’s one notable absence from all of this: a kids menu.  This is Cheval Blanc, a group with a kids club in a city hotel.  I suppose the concierge suggesting snowmobiling with a baby should have been the giveaway that this wouldn’t be as child friendly.  We ordered our daughter’s food to the room as it was the only sensible option, but every time it arrived cold, had missing items or both, even after several attempts.  It felt like everyone was finding their feet but also finding their lingual skills because just like Cheval Blanc St. Tropez, English was far from perfect here.

Cleaner than my local hospital

Spa

As I’m a fair man, I’ll give credit where it’s due.  Cheval Blanc Courchevel has one of the most beautiful spas I’ve ever seen.  Due to the size it might not have all the facilities like Park Hotel Vitznau, but they’ve managed to create something extremely elegant and inviting.  The pool has the same mirror effect as Paris, creating a feeling of space – it’s also a very comfortable 30C, so it’s a space I want to be in.  It’s also not 3m deep, like Airelles, so it is far more suitable for families.  There’s an indoor hot tub, but the real beauty is the outdoor tub, covered with a roof, where you can watch skiers go past.  Besides, it is an outdoor sauna, also allowing you to spy on people.  It amazes me that you can take something as simple as an indoor sauna and steam room and turn it into a masterpiece, but that’s what they’ve managed to do.  I expect this from Cheval Blanc: gorgeous, inviting, luxurious interiors.  There’s also a bar so you could spend your entire stay here.

The gym has a lot of modern equipment, including a Peloton, and then you’ve got all the usual treatment rooms and hairdressers.  Lucie had a haircut, where they overcharged her €100 and then billed an extra €50 for coffee and water.

Service

This is really what it always comes down to.  A beautiful-looking product gets you to book, and the service keeps you happy and likely to return.  Now I don’t want to make them all sound like beasts intent on some machiavellian plot to ruin my stay; it was far more basic than that: they didn’t seem to know what they were doing, nor how to deliver a world-class experience.  I could instantly tell it was not the same standard as Airelles. However, comparing most properties to them would be unfair, yet simple things like being walked to their restaurant and then not even opening the door for us, whilst we were holding a baby.  Turns out the restaurant wasn’t even open at the time.

There really was some good intentions, like, during breakfast, someone quickly helped set up a table for me away from the other diners and brought a rocking toy horse, and when they set up a table for guests to watch the France World Cup semi-final.  Yet these aren’t enough to make up for the lack of training and consideration elsewhere.

It’s the things like the annoyance of having to sign €0 cheques or saying the food is too salty and getting “ok” as the response.  Ordering milk for my daughter took over 25 minutes to arrive, so I just went and got it myself from the restaurant.  Room service not coming; the kids club not being open; housekeeping finally showing up and leaving the room half-finished.  Turndown coming at 9 pm isn’t useful when your children are sleeping.  When you feel like no one is helping you or everything feels like a hassle, that is not the definition of luxury.

It ultimately felt like they didn’t care.

Pictured: Director of Complaints, burying their head

The Good

  • Beautiful to look at – mostly

The Bad

  • Service

The Luxurious

  • Spa

Conclusion

So this is where I talk about those pesky things called feelings. The feeling here is similar to what I felt in St. Tropez – they seem to hire the type of people they’d like to wear their product rather than the type of people that can offer excellent service. Even the music act showed up draped in Dior. And just like St. Tropez, the nearby Airelles is far superior. Like dating a brainless model, it looks great but quickly becomes annoying. Seeing that most guests are out all day skiing, they might be ok to tolerate the frequent mistakes, but for us, it left an impression that people here don’t care and your being there is a burden to their #bestlife.

The inconsistency of the Cheval Blanc brand also made little sense. Whilst I seem to have a few service issues at each of their properties, I feel they’re all consistently generous – not here. These small things start to add up into frustrations, like how about 80% of the minibar is free, but only for some items which you can only learn about by burying through the tablet. It made no difference, though, as they still tried to bill us for everything. Even asking for extra water showed up on the bill.

I really want to believe this was a personal experience. If they were open a bit longer (they reopened for the season. a week prior to our arrival) then it would be resolved, but even were the service better, the property itself, excluding the spa, isn’t somewhere I would want to spend any time.

As we departed, it was Lucie’s birthday. She received no recognition about it, but at least she’ll have fond memories of arguing over half the mistakes on the bill. Earlier that morning, we complained about the constant issues and mistakes, only for no one to say anything at all about it thereafter. It was only a few days later after I filled in their feedback form, that the GM phoned to apologise and speak to us about it. It was too late by then.

Room type: Duplex Suite Duration: 13 December > 15th December 2022.  €4,800/n

6 Comments

  1. Oh, yuck. Thank you for your honesty! This is definitely one to avoid. Just a small matter, and I loathe open staircases without backing between treads – i always feel like I am going to trip. Mediocre – or worse – service at these prices is also a massive turn off. Lots of things should be complimentary in the room to make you feel like a valued guest whose business they want to keep; housekeeping should be on time and do a proper job every time, and there should be a full service breakfast/lunch/dinner restaurant on-site with food offerings that are high quality, plentiful in assortment and properly delivered by servers, with very little wait time. Complimentary amuse bouche and mignardise should be standard. Crucial mistakes the hotel is making. Pass.

  2. Linda in Poughkeepsie

    What will happen to your blog when you come to the conclusion that I have? Why leave my house? It is far nicer at home than some of these places! Yes they may look wonderful. But the acoustics stink, the staff is useless, the hotel doesn’t care, and you are charged an arm and a leg for this?. I am better off hiring a housekeeper and a chef for a week.
    But then what will your loyal readers do? Someone has to take one for the team.

    • The best way I can describe it is like following a sports team. You’ll spend a lot of money to see them play and, in most cases, not see them win, but you’ll keep going anyway. It’s mostly a miserable experience, but the wins are so high they make up everything.

  3. Much appreciated…I honestly thought you were going to be a groupie LOL…but again you prove to me that you are one of the few honest reviewers left. This is an absurd price to get the mishaps and experience you had here.

  4. Florida Man

    Tom,

    I love your blog and am looking forward to the trip Lucie is helping us plan to Morocco. Having read nearly all your reviews (I mean, again, I need material to read while I’m dropping the kids off at the pool each morning, I’ve come to the conclusion that service CLEARLY trumps any amazingly beautiful aesthetic that could be had).

    Juxtaposing Airelles to Cheval Blanc is like comparing Kate Beckinsale to Adelle (pre-gastric bypass) — or, to avoid being sexist, Hugh Grant to Rickey Gervais. All great at their craft, but some are easier on the eyes than others. If a hotel looks like sh*t, I just can’t bring myself to stay there (a first world sh*t, not one of those developing world sh*ts — can I curse on here?).

    The decor at Airelles is nausea inducing on its best day (and probably causes explosive diarrhea on its worst). I just can’t sleep somewhere that looks like a cross between a boarding school and the Friday the 13th summer camp.

    I guess it begs the question: what’s more important? Service or looks. While I certainly don’t want to be treated like a refugee at a five star hotel, I don’t want to be treated like a king at a UN camp. This is all relative (and hyperbolic) I suppose. The service is just less of an issue for me than my actual physical and comfort (e.g. – carpet that feels good between my toes, large glass encased showers with showerheads for tall people and copious amounts of free amenities so I don’t have to steal them from the maid’s cart — maybe).

    Also, while I’ve never actually skied being from Florida (although I have gone out clubbing during at least 10 different hurricanes in 3 different decades), I wonder if some of the service SNAFUs are related to that. That is: they aren’t really trying too hard because they figure you’ll be on the slopes (see also: beach hotels that focus more on the beach experience than the service experience — or business hotels with great amenities for the business travelers that are not family friendly at all).

    All that is to say, another great review, just curious about perspective. I think you hit the nail on the head when you described CB as “a masterpiece that should be seen [and] not experienced”. On vacation I want to wake up to beauty and be completely left alone. In fact, if the staff hardly speaks to me other than a casual hello that’s a win in my book. The service is merely an ancillary consideration. The staff should treat me like a dictator (or a drill instructor — or Tom Cruise at a Scientology conference). Speak only when spoken to and the first and last words out of their filthy sewers needs to be “Sir”. And then they should go back to minding their turnips.

    To each their own I suppose.

  5. And what about K2 ? It used to be a good option in Courchevel. I prefer the service, F&B and rooms layout at Airelles but i wad impressed by K2.

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