When people talk about sophisticated French ski resorts, Courchevel 1850-which this season is rebranding itself as simply Courchevel-is often top of the list. But before Courchevel became France’s first purpose-built resort, there was Megève. The beautiful, traditional Alpine village has attracted the French beau monde since 1924, but has been eclipsed by Courchevel when it comes to über-chalets with €20 million price tags.
‘What sets these two resorts apart from the rest is the high-net-worth individuals they attract,’ explains Matthew Hodder-Williams of Knight Frank. ‘But although Megève has traditionally been about Parisian chic, and Courchevel a more international clientele, both now attract a broad range of nationalities.’ Put another way, ‘if Courchevel is akin to glitzy Saint-Tropez, Megève is more attractive to old money like Cannes,’ adds Jerome Lagoutte of Cour-chevel Estates/Savills.
Fans of Courchevel say it offers the best all-round, snow-sure skiing in France (it does form part of Les Trois Vallées, the largest ski area in the world), as well as being a lively place that attracts dynamic entrepreneurs from around the globe. Die-hard devotees of Megève talk of its classy charm, its old-fashioned style, its year-round appeal and its accessibility from Geneva.
Begun in the 1920s when the wife of Baron Maurice de Rothschild decided that France should have its own St Moritz, the resort of Megève evolved from a medieval farming village. By the 1950s, it drew so many royals and theatre and film stars, it was dubbed the ‘21st arrondissement of Paris’ by Jean Cocteau. Today, more than perhaps any other French resort, it epitomises old-world charm, with its chic high-end shops in quaint cobbled streets, working cheese farms, Michelin-starred restaurants and its distinct brand of rustic-chic hotels owned by the Sibuet family. Its sous-treeline skiing and links into the extensive Evasion Mont Blanc domain have won it plenty of fans.
‘It’s a truly civilised ski area that is laid out in such a way that the summit of Mont Blanc is almost always in view when you’re skiing Megève runs,’ says Mike Beaudet, who runs Ski Pros Megève (www.SkiProsMegeve.com) and owns two apartments there. ‘I like being within easy reach of Geneva, Chamonix and Courmayeur, and I love the huge range of restaurants, from family-owned places out in the woods, where you pay €15 a head, to those costing more than €200. There are fewer Parisians here than there used to be, although there’s plenty of old money from Lyon and discreet wealth out of Geneva.’
Geneva-based Scot Aj Buchanan keeps an apartment in the town so he can ski every weekend of the season. ‘I love everything about Megève and hope to retire there,’ says the former Navy commander, who now works for an international foundation. ‘Although it’s a chic resort, it’s managed to remain down to earth and the people so friendly. It’s as magical in summer as in winter, with jazz festivals and classic car parades-there’s always something going on.’
With four double bedrooms and a dorm for the children, this Jaillet property enjoys exceptional 180˚ views.
Sothebys International Realty (00 33 4 50 91 74 38; www.sothebysrealty-megeve.com)
Most owners tend to be families rather than individuals buying for investment, which is popular in Courchevel. A recent influx of buyers from the Middle East, Eastern Europe and Italy are benefiting from the fact that some French owners are reducing the price of their properties, in anticipation of new wealth taxes. But although entry-level Megève is a €120,000 studio apartment, you really need €4 million for a 300sq m, five-bedroom chalet, according to Constantinos Dambassinas of agents John Taylor. ‘But the best chalets-those in the €7 million to €9 million price bracket-would cost €20 million to €25 million in Courchevel.’
Land is more readily available in Megève, which consists of four separate villages: exclusive Mont D’Arbois, centrally located Rochebrune, further out Demi Quartier and Jaillet. There’s a far bigger choice of properties than in Courchevel, according to Mr Hodder-Williams, but also a different vernacular. ‘In Megève, the chalets are low-slung and in a wide, stone farmhouse style, whereas those in Courchevel are wood-built, and the bigger properties go two or three floors below ground due to lack of space.’
Megèvois are quick to point out that the man who created Courchevel came from Megève. Emile Allais’s American-inspired piste design certainly helped the Tarentaise resort become the premier ski resort in France, which it did in 1973, when it linked with Val Thorens and Méribel to form the mighty Les Trois Vallées domain. Yet its origins weren’t that dissimilar to Megève: a farming village that gained its first hotel in the 1920s, and then the subject of a grand vision (this time, it was the French Commission of Tourism seeking a super ski resort).
Courchevel was developed before its less stellar sister villages-1300, 1550 and 1650-and although it’s only the Jardin Alpin part, which is strictly at 1,850m (6,070ft), it’s much higher than Megève’s 1,115m (3,660ft). It won’t beat Megève in any beauty contests, but it’s got heavyweight glitz: the highest concentration of five-star hotels in France outside Paris, the greatest number of Michelin stars for a resort and its very own altiport.
This 400sq m chalet, with five bedrooms and five bathrooms, a swimming pool and a hammam, is ideally situated in the Cospillot area.
Savills (020-7016 3740; www.savills.com/international)
But its famously high quotient of high-rolling Russians every January is not as conspicuous as it once was, according to Jean-Christophe Chopin, a chalet owner there. ‘The Russians do keep coming, but they stay in their chalets with their families, and we’re increasingly seeing Brazilian and Middle Eastern owners,’ says the French entrepreneur in luxury brands. ‘The skiing is fabulous. The 1850 ski school is the largest in the world and the slopes are ideally positioned so they get the sun yet keep their snow.
The only downside?
‘Although Courchevel was great for summer holidays when my children were young, Megève is a better year-round location,’ declares Mr Chopin, one of many owners in the resort who use their chalet for three or four weeks a year, then rent it out as a business. Even ‘mid-range’ (five-bedroom) chalets command €20,000-€40,000 a week in peak season, and the fact there are only some 300 chalets of any kind in 1850 keeps prices up, according to Philippe Vivet of John Taylor. ‘High-end chalets cost €30,000-€60,000psm [comparable properties in Megève cost €17,000-€22,000], luxury apartments start at €15,000psm, or a basic one-bedroom apartment at €10,000psm.’
Many of the best properties-including the resort’s unique number of 1,000sq m-plus ‘super chalets’-can be found on the slopes of Bellecote and Jardin Alpin, according to Mr Lagoutte, ‘although Cospillot has become more interesting as a place to buy as there’s a new five-star hotel there’. He advises clever negotiation as properties lower down the scale have dropped by as much as 20% if they don’t tick all the boxes. ‘It’s a good time to buy because, as in Megève, we have sellers who are worried about new fiscal measures and are prepared to drop prices.’
NEED TO KNOW
Size of ski domain
Megève 275 miles (Evasion Mont Blanc)
Courchevel 370 miles (Trois Vallées)
Access from Geneva
Megève 50 minutes
Courchevel 2 hours 20 minutes
Price of a top-quality chalet
Most expensive chalet for sale
Megève €39 million
Courchevel €60 million
Megève Les Fermes de Marie (00 33 4 57 74 74 74; www.fermesdemarie.com)
Courchevel La Sivolière (00 33 4 79 08 08 33; www.hotel-la-sivoliere.com
Megève Flocons de Sel (00 33 4 50 21 49 99; www.floconsdesel.com)
Courchevel Le Chabichou (00 33 4 79 08 00 55; www.chabichou-courchevel.com)
Megève Golf, casino, polo
Courchevel Ice rink, toboggan run, cinema