Carla Passino explores four of the best winter destinations in Europe and picks great ski properties for sale.
Perks and quirks
Humility does not feature in the vocabulary of a resort that calls itself the world’s best skiing area. Still, Kitzbühel has the snow chops to back up the swagger, with more than 144 miles of downhill runs, more than 40 miles of cross-country skiing trails, plus sledging, winter hiking, ice skating, curling—and Europe’s tallest cable car, the panoramic Kitz 3S-Bahn.
The Streif, one of the hardest downhill courses in the world, which combines steep stretches (up to 85% gradient) with chilling drops of 2,822ft.
The town has given Austria some of its greatest skiers, including the late Toni Sailer, known as The Blitz from Kitz, who, in 1956, became the first man to win all three alpine skiing medals at the Winter Olympics—before swapping sport for cinema and becoming George Lazenby’s stunt double in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (coincidentally, Ian Fleming also spent time in the town). A rather more infamous resident was Nazi propaganda film director Leni Riefenstahl, who was arrested in Kitzbühel when the war ended.
This magnificent chalet stands in the village of Reith bei Kitzbühel, in a pretty, quiet location about five minutes’ drive from the slopes and from Kitzbühel’s town centre. Set in forested grounds, it enjoys spectacular views of the Kitzbüheler Horn over the Südberge to the Wilder Kaiser.
The almost 5,038sq ft interior combines Alpine charm (exposed beams, fireplaces) with contemporary touches (Bose and Sonos sound system, underfloor heating). It features a striking open-plan living, dining and kitchen area, six bedrooms, a self-contained annexe and a wellness area with sauna, plus a garage for three cars. €5.25 million (about £4.5m), Alpine Property Finders.
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Courchevel 1850 France
Perks and quirks
1850 is the highest, snowiest and glitziest of Courchevel’s four resorts, which are perched at different altitudes on the same massif. It also has one of the largest concentrations of Michelin-starred restaurants in any ski resort, with six eateries claiming 12 stars, three of which belong to Chef Yannick Alléno’s Le 1947. Should this not suffice, two more Michelin-starred restaurants are nearby at La Tania and Courchevel-Le Praz 1300.
Known for …
being part of the world’s largest ski area (Trois Vallées) and having one of the world’s most challenging marked runs, Le Grand Couloir, which has a very steep stretch. With almost 373 miles of slopes, however, there are plenty of options for beginners, too.
Anyone who is anyone, from The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge to Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich has been spotted on the Courchevel slopes
This penthouse is part of the Six Senses Residences, a collection of 53 apartments and is perfectly situated close to the slopes. The interior, which spans about 1,076sq ft and features a profusion of exposed timbers, encompasses a magnificent reception room with fireplace, dining area and open-plan kitchen, plus three bedrooms, a large terrace, cellar, ski locker and three parking spaces. Residents have access to the Six Senses spa, restaurant, indoor pool, gym and 24-hour concierge. €2.95 million (about £2.52m), Savills.
Perks and quirks
No ski, no problem. Yes, Gstaad may have 136 miles of pistes, but it also puts on an array of activities that range from the thrilling (fat biking, which, despite the name, is cycling down a snowy slope with slightly oversize tyres) to the unusual (snow golf) and the mildly eccentric (yodelling), with an obsession for hot-air ballooning thrown into the mix—you can take a ride from the town or head to nearby Château-d’Oex for the annual balloon festival (in 2022, it takes place on January 22–30).
other than its tricky name (an entire Wikipedia page is devoted to how to pronounce it properly, depending on whether you prefer German or Swiss-German), Gstaad is famous for being the grande dame of European skiing. Glamorous and sophisticated, the town has ancient roots—it was a medieval pit stop on the Alpine trade routes and has an early-15th-century church—but it also embraced skiing much earlier than almost anywhere else, with the very first season opening in 1907–08, followed by the launch of the celebrated Gstaad Palace in 1913. As befits such a beacon of Alpine civilisation, it has a cheese grotto
Julie Andrews dubbed the town ‘the last paradise in a crazy world’ and other celebrities (from Liz Taylor to Anne Hathaway and everyone in between), billionaires (the Ecclestones) and fashion designers (Valentino) have flocked there for their slice of snowy heaven. But Gstaad is also the place to spot the future generations of the global jet set — it’s home to the winter campus of Swiss boarding school Institut Le Rosey, which has educated vast swathes of European aristocracy, rock royalty and scions of high-profile families, such as the Rothschilds, the Rockefellers and the Gettys.
Set in the centre of Gstaad, this property combines a larger, 1,776sq ft apartment with a smaller one of about 646sq ft, which would be ideal for guests. Together, they have three bedrooms, two large living rooms and two dining rooms, plus terrace, cellar, ski lockers and four parking spaces. CHF 5.2 million (about £4.26m), Christie’s International Real Estate associate SPG One
Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy
Perks and quirks
Built in the late 1850s to replace a 16th-century building, the solemn bell tower of the town’s Basilica of St Philip and St Jacob cost the local community a small fortune—200,000 forints, about £4.27 million in today’s money—and a lot of headaches, as the local authorities kept rejecting the designs for it (proof that planning remains a nightmare to navigate, regardless of time and country). A (possibly apocryphal) story also has it that, during the First World War, the Basilica’s bells survived being melted down for munitions because Charles of Austria was so fond of their sound.
that ski chase in For Your Eyes Only, when a beanie-hatted James Bond skis down the mountain pursued by villains on motorbike (a particularly complex scene to shoot because, unusually for Cortina, snow was scarce during filming and had to be lugged into town). The ski jump at the start of the chase is no longer open, but for thrills to rival it, there’s the Olimpia delle Tofane piste, where some of the Women’s Ski World Cup races are held.
Take La Dolce Vita, put it on skis and you’ll have Cortina, a glamorous mix of actors (from Frank Sinatra to Sophia Loren and George Clooney), media moguls (Pier Silvio Berlusconi, son of Italy’s infamous former Prime Minister, Silvio) intellectuals (Ernest Hemingway) and sportsmen—not least Tiger Woods, who lost a tooth when a video camera hit him on the mouth while he was watching his then-girlfriend, Olympic skier Lindsey Vonn, compete in the 2015 Ski World Cup. And of course the resort is a star in its own right: beyond For Your Eyes Only, it has featured in dozens other films, including The Pink Panther, Cliffhanger, Spider Man: Far From Home, House of Gucci and the critic-trounced A Place for Lovers, of which the views of Cortina were probably the only redeeming quality.
If you're looking for an overseas home to escape from the chill of the season in Britain, we've picked out