In the land of the griffin, everything is possible.
Just make a wish and it will come true. It’s magical!
Or so it seemed to Mrs. Raymonde Fenestraz, a native of Courchevel, who embarked on building the chalet of her childhood dream, a pure fantasy of her imagination! She had set her mind to have her very own castle, and with a bit of “Savoie-faire”, and to the dismay of many, she did just that!
As a no-nonsense “Savoyard” lady, Mrs. Fenestraz proved to be a visionary. What she had initially intended to be her family home ended as a palace hotel instead. It is now famously known the world over as “Les Airelles”.
Among well-known luxury hotels and French Alps ski resorts, she raised the bar high by setting a trend for excellence that challenged her competitors. Surprisingly, she was entirely new to the hotel business and had only worked as a real estate developer up until then. She decided to run her establishment simply as the lady of the house, receiving her customers as if they were her guests, greeting each one personally upon their arrival. She spared no expense in pampering them, as a perfect hostess would. Very soon, through word of mouth, she was the talk of the town.
As a well-cut diamond shows many sides to the same stone, among all of the excellent resort hotels of Courchevel, some will just shine brighter than others. Les Airelles is such a gem.
Les Airelles was built in only two years and opened in 1991, as the replica of a Tyrolean chalet. It was architecturally appealing because of its small scale. It blended perfectly with its surrounding forest of larch trees which, when snow covered it, gave it the appearance of the “ideal dream” chalet. It looked like a perfect drawing coming right out of a Disney-animated movie!
A lot of research went into the making of that “dream come true” for the Fenestraz family. Together with their architect and decorator, they toured the Italian, Austrian and Swiss Alps looking for inspiration to build the best and most beautiful ski hotel possible.
The Fenestraz family’s love for their native “Savoie” still can be felt in every single detail, starting with the hotel’s name itself. “Les airelles” are the wild berries found growing in the local mountains. Beautiful mountain scenes and those of local plants and herbs grace the surfaces of the interior corridors and dining room and on the hotel’s facade. These were created by an imported Venetian painter in the elegant form of hand-painted “trompe l’oeil” décor, a visual art style that creates realistic-looking imagery.
Les Airelles instantaneously became a sensation and was selected to host the head of the Olympic committee, together with Prince Albert of Monaco, during the 1992 Winter Olympics, held in Albertville. Rumored to be Courchevel’s number one ski resort hotel, it was known as “the place” to be while in “Courch” for the who’s who of this “Rodeo drive” in the snow.
Several years later, in 2007, Les Airelles was sold out of the family by Mrs. R. Fenestraz to a French media mogul who liked to holiday in Courchevel. It joined the LOV Hotel collection that same year and received a complete makeover. It was renovated by the best craftsmen in Europe, using the noblest materials. Tapestries were made to measure by Laligant in brocaded fabric from Rubelli. Slant-top secretary desks were imported from Florence and Italy and sublime armchairs were produced by Laval. Even the floor tiles came from a Loire chateau. The stove in the hall was manufactured in Austria and all of the woodwork was made to measure by Fournier in Switzerland. Each room now had a universe of its own. Mrs. R. Fenestraz’s, private apartment, located on the fourth and final floor, with beautiful panoramic views of the snowy peaks, became the most prestigious suite of the palace.
With four bedrooms and a décor that combined the style of an Alpine chalet with that of a 19th-century Austro-Hungarian chateau, the 650 square-meter establishment once again became available to guests. The experience, guaranteed to be unique, included the services of a butler, a Bentley with chauffeur, a bar, a private spa, a home cinema, and a terrace with an outdoor jacuzzi.
While dinner at Les Airelles was usually an elegant affair no one was overly dressed and a rather casual chic atmosphere prevailed. First, the custom was to enjoy a drink or two at the bar, recounting adventures and comparing the day’s performances amongst fellow skiers. Then, when escorted to one’s assigned table under an exquisitely hand-painted ceiling, one could hear the sound of a roaring fire, crackling in the XII-century fireplace on one side while subdued melodies emanated from a magnificent Steinway grand on the other.
Courchevel has aged well since 1946 and retains an easygoing kind of sophistication about it that makes one feel at ease immediately. On the Bellecote ski trail, first opened in 1992, the old Savoy hotel has been entirely remodeled, inside out, with a new designer facelift for the inside. It is part of Amanresorts and was rebranded “Le Melezin.” Ed Tuttle, the master behind the remodeling of Le Melezin was also the architect of the fabulous Amankila in Bali. He is said to have provided the inspiration for the Le Melezin design by creating rooftop towers as seen on the Chateau des Ducs de Savoie in Chambery. The sandstone facade mixed together with the slightly pinkish tone of the larch wood gives it a fabulous appeal which is utterly chic. Alternatively, Tuttle may have tried to recreate it as a replica of one of the fortresses of Lhassa in Himalayan Tibet. In any case, the effect is striking and beautiful and it totally stands out here on the slopes of the French Alps among the Tyrolean décor of the other buildings.
One last reason to visit Courchevel… Courchevel ski resort holds a different art exhibition every year. Ready to be mesmerized some more?
Head on to Courchevel; just put on your skis and enjoy a wonderful open-air museum!