When skiing first became popular, it was considered the realm of the aristocracy and celebrity film stars, and energetic sporty types who combined a love of adventure and mountaineering with the new thrill of sliding down fast.
The glamorous set spent summers in St Tropez, Capri or Monte Carlo, then met again in Alpine equals such as Megève and St Moritz, regarding the finest hotels, restaurants and shops, along with the opportunity to see and be seen, to be at least as important as the slopes.
While the cachet of resorts like these endures, nowadays skiing and snowboarding are open to a wider range of holidaymakers, from families or party animals to those who just want to ski hard. And there are also plenty of more wallet-friendly resorts catering for those on a tighter budget.
The definition of what makes a ski resort luxurious is also now more of a movable, personal, feast. Designer shops and glittery nightlife might still be important for some, others might insist on secluded privacy, Michelin-starred restaurants or access to a helipad. Or are fast lifts and five-star slope grooming paramount?
For everyone, though, it’s likely that accommodation equipped with the finest facilities and service is high on the list – in a luxury chalet with cinema and private chauffeur perhaps, or a five-star hotel with gourmet restaurants and acres of spa.
Whatever the priorities, here are 10 of the most glamorous resorts on earth, whether for celebrating a special occasion, or just because…
Unless stated otherwise, prices are per person half-board, based on two people sharing a double or twin room for seven nights, including flights and transfers.
Best for miles of immaculate slopes
The highest of Courchevel’s five villages, officially simply called Courchevel, is the prestige place to stay in this French resort in at one end of the 600km Trois Vallées ski area. Still often known by its erstwhile moniker, 1850, not only is it the main lift hub, with gondolas heading up in three different directions, it is home to huge numbers of four-star, five-star and Palace status hotels, luxury chalets and some pricey shops.
Courchevel has lots of fast gondolas and chairlifts, and 1850 suits both beginners and intermediates well. There are long easy green runs for learners to progress to, and arguably there is no better ski area than the huge Trois Vallées for those keen to clock up the miles on immaculately groomed slopes.
For gourmands, Courchevel has seven Michelin-starred restaurants and a long history of lofty food standards – family-run Chabichou, with two Michelin stars, was the first gastronomic restaurant when it opened in 1979. On the mountain, Soucoupe serves excellent grills and local specialities while Le Tremplin at the bottom of the piste suits a quieter drink and people watching. For seriously upmarket clubbing, La Grange pumps out music until 5am.
Where to stay
Five-star Barrière Les Neiges is decorated in luxurious mountain chalet style and has two restaurants serving Argentinian or classic French cuisine. The ski room is particularly deluxe. From £3,430 with Oxford Ski.
Best for seeing and being seen
Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy
Italy’s chicest destination is an ancient mountain town in the Dolomite mountains surrounded by soaring cathedrals of sandstone. In Cortina, the business of skiing and snowboarding plays second fiddle to the social sport of seeing and being seen outside and inside the elegant boutiques and antique shops lining the pedestrianised main street, Corso Italia.
The centre of the village is dominated by a green and white bell tower and a glittering confection of grand 19th-century mansions. Encroaching twilight is the signal for Cortina to come out and play – a colony of voluminous fur coats and designer ski wear gathers noisily in the Piazza Venezia at the start of the evening passeggiata. Then, much later, the party atmosphere is transferred to intimate wine bars, expensive restaurants, and a smattering of softly-lit nightclubs.
Cortina’s 85km of groomed slopes, 95 per cent covered by snowmaking, are divided into three separate areas, Faloria-Cristallo, Tofana and Lagazuoi-Cinque Torri, connected by free bus. They best suit intermediates and experts – most pistes are graded blue or red, and there is a handful of tricky black runs, plus off-piste opportunities. While in recent decades there’s been a lack of investment, the prospect of the 2021 World Championships is bringing upgraded hotels, slopes and lifts.
Where to stay
The four-star Hotel Ancora, with its traditional wooden balconies and painted frescoes, has been in the same family for four generations, and has a superb location overlooking Corso Italia. It serves some of the finest cuisine in town and rooms are tastefully decorated. From £1,295 with Ski Solutions.
Best for après-loving experts
Some Swiss resorts may match Verbier for luxurious chalets and hotels and vibrant après, but none quite have its cool cachet – and that’s largely because none can rival its challenging high-altitude terrain. Anyone who can handle Verbier’s itinerary routes, never mind the couloirs, can consider themselves pretty darn good.
Along with black runs and unmarked off-piste runs to explore with a mountain guide, the itineraries (which, though loosely marked, are not formally controlled or patrolled) are where many experts spend their time. From the top of the ski area, Mont Fort at 3,330m, there is only one black run and serious off-piste to be tackled with a guide – but everyone should ride to the top for the views.
Before a final run down, Les Ruinettes is the top spot to go for scenic, dancey drinks on the mountain, with Ice Cube and it’s more glamorous sister Le Mouton Noir the prime venues. Later on, après ski is concentrated in a relatively small number of venues around Place Centrale, the main lift base at Médran and the buzzing street between the two, and all the more exuberant for it.
Where to stay
The first Alpine hotel from the funky W chain, the five-star W Verbier has the best location in town, opposite the Médran gondola. With stylish rooms, exposed timber, glassed-in fireplaces, chic bars and spacious lounges, it’s one of the sexiest hotels in Verbier. From £1,682 B&B with Ski Independence.
Best for under-the-radar intermediates
Few resorts have a more exclusive image than Lech. Princess Diana was its most famous patron and other past visitors include the Jordanian royal family, the Dutch royal family and Monaco’s Princess Caroline. But despite its blue blooded guest list, Lech is far from showy.
The original cluster of inns has expanded in both quality and quantity, and there are three five-star superior hotels, along with some award-winning restaurants. The car-free satellite of Oberlech above the village, once the summer domain of shepherds and cow herds, has also grown almost into a resort in its own right, with huts replaced by expensive hotels. While many Austrian resorts are well known for lively après ski, Lech best suits more sophisticated, cocktail-sipping types.
The slopes here are best suited to intermediates, and are unlikely to be overcrowded – Lech was the first resort in Europe to cap the number of day passes issued to 14,000 a day. There are also the linked pistes of St Anton and Warth-Schröcken in the rest of the giant Arlberg ski area to explore – a total 340km.
Where to stay
While Lech has a host of flashy hotels, the five-star Kristiana is much more discreet. Its 29 rooms and suites are individually designed in styles that range from Chinese to French boudoir and need booking well in advance. From £2,600 with Scott Dunn.
Best for old school sophistication
The epitome of aristo chic, Megève, a former farming village, was founded in 1916 by Baroness Noémie de Rothschild, who decided that France should have its own St Moritz. It succeeded in attracting the rich and famous – in the 1950s French singer Sacha Distel was king, sharing bubbles with Yves Montand, Brigitte Bardot and Jean Cocteau among others.
Today, it is home to nine five-star hotels and five Michelin-starred restaurants, as well as several of the world’s finest mountain spas. Glittering boutiques and galleries line the traffic-free medieval centre and ancient cobbled streets, and mean, along with an outdoor ice rink, splendid church and horse-drawn sleighs, that Megève suits those looking for an all-round winter holiday, not just pounding the slopes.
The ski area is nonetheless extensive, best suiting intermediates who want miles of easy cruising on well groomed pistes. Three main ski areas – Rochebrune, Mont d’Arbois and quiet Le Jaillet – are all reached by different cable cars from town, and nearly all the runs are tree lined, so visibility in a snowfall remains good. The abundant and varied mountain restaurants are also a highlight.
Where to stay
Part of Sibuet’s stable of properties, five-star Les Fermes de Marie is a collection of restored timber chalets comprising cosy rooms and suites, two restaurants and the original cowshed‑chic Alpine spa, L’Altitude. From £2,195 with Snow-Wise.
Best for glamorous activities
St Moritz, Switzerland
Welcome to the world capital of winter glitz – walking the streets in high season, it would seem that Prada and Bogner are the sole manufacturers of ski wear and that mink fur coats are mandatory. St Moritz is divided into three villages, Dorf, Bad and Celerina, around or near Lake St Moritz, with Dorf having the pick of shops, nightlife and restaurants.
However, there’s more to St Moritz than bling. Its position close to the border with Italy and a ski area high point of 3,305m gives it a rare combination of both snow and sun reliability. It was also the first all-round winter-sports resort in the world and boasts a myriad of on and off-snow attractions from skating and bobsleigh to polo, horse racing and cricket on the frozen lake.
The ski area especially suits intermediates, with 350km of pistes spread over four main, separate sectors – Corviglia, Corvatsch, Diavolezza/Lagalb and Zuoz. All three villages have lifts into the 2,486m core of Corviglia, the main ski area, an intermediate playground. However, it’s worth putting in the effort to explore the other main ski areas, all within easy reach by ski bus or train.
Where to stay
Established in 1896, five-star Badrutt’s Palace sits in six acres of private grounds beside Lake St Moritz. It has seven restaurants and is also home to the King’s Club, the resort’s smartest nightspot. From £2,800 with Scott Dunn.
Best for beautiful people
During the 1880s Aspen in Colorado enjoyed a brief silver-mining boom and then, after decades of neglect, its historic core was brought back to life thanks to the American skiing boom of the late 20th century. Glamorous and fashionable, it is delightful to stroll around in the evenings, window shopping in designer boutiques from Dior to Moncler and enjoying the varied restaurants and bars, of which there are over 100.
Aspen has four separate ski areas – Buttermilk, Aspen Highlands, Snowmass and Aspen Mountain. Aspen Mountain, with long cruising blue runs and short, steep blacks, is accessed from town by gondola, while the other three are reached by free shuttle buses. Buttermilk is the smallest and least challenging, Snowmass the most extensive with terrain for all, and Aspen Highlands has both easy intermediate slopes and the super steeps of Highlands Bowl.
Highlands also has the Cloud Nine Bistro where booking is essential for the two lunch sittings, especially the later slot when the champagne flows. Later on, downtown Aspen offers plenty of venues to please party-people, or as an alternative there is the starkly modern Aspen Art Museum, the Wheeler Opera House arts venue, antiques emporia and quirky bookshops.
Where to stay
Celebrating its 30th birthday, The Little Nell is one of the smartest hotels in town, with four bars, two restaurants and a heated outdoor pool and hot tub. It also offers complimentary shuttle services to and from the local airport, as well as around town and to all four ski areas, plus free use of fat-tyre snow bikes. From £4,789 room only with Skiworld.
Best for good-value luxury
This medieval town with its heavily buttressed walls and delicate painted frescoes, set against the beautiful backdrop of the Wilder Kaiser mountains, is one of the most beautiful in Austria. Pretty, pedestrianised streets are lined with luxury hotels, smart fashion boutiques and wickedly expensive cafés.
Judge by the fur-clad clientèle browsing shop windows, and Kitzbühel also might seem the ritziest resort in Austria. However, while there is a wonderful choice of four- and five-star hotels, even at the top end of the tree prices don’t reach stratospheric heights. It’s also one of those rare resorts that genuinely appeals to non-skiers, and has a buzzing nightlife scene.
Kitzbühel’s 215km of local slopes are divided into three areas – Kitzbüheler Horn, much more extensive Hahnenkamm and neighbouring Bichlalm, a little area given over to freeride. The slopes are for the most part flattering, best suiting intermediates – and the off piste is spectacular when conditions are good. Kitzbühel also links (by a short bus ride) to the 279km of the SkiWelt area, which includes Westendorf and Söll.
Where to stay
Situated just outside the old city walls, five-star Hotel Weisses Rössl started life as a humble coaching inn, where travellers would change horses. It has evolved into Kitzbühel’s best and most luxurious hotel, with a fine restaurant, atmospheric wine cellar for private dining and outstanding spa with a giant pool. From £1,865 B&B with Ski Solutions.
Best for a weekend break
This traditional mountaineering village sits at the foot of Mont Blanc at one end of the Mont Blanc tunnel, with Chamonix in France at the other end. The heart of Courmayeur is the pedestrianised Via Roma, lined with smart boutiques and enticing bars and restaurants, as well as delicatessens and shops selling antiques or homewares. Restaurants both in town and on the mountain are of a particularly high standard, and Courmayeur is one of the spiritual homes of the long, lazy lunch.
Courmayeur is less than two hours from both Geneva (116km) and Turin (150km), making it ideal for a short trip. Well‑heeled Italians from Milan and Turin arrive en masse on Friday evenings, thronging the designer boutiques and cocktail bars. Fortunately, since the ski area is a compact 36km, only a small number hit the slopes – they come for the party rather than the piste.
The ski area best suits confident intermediates, while for the more adventurous, the off‑piste terrain offers considerable challenges. The Skyway Monte Bianco cable car towards the summit of Mont Blanc accesses descents including the famous Vallée Blanche into Chamonix. But with its 360‑degree rotating glass cabins, the lift is a worthwhile outing for everyone, and at the top is a circular terrace with panoramic views.
Where to stay
Le Massif, a luxury five-star hotel, opened in December 2018 opposite the cable station in town, and is a modernist mixture of wood, glass and stone. There is a spa, pool and fitness suite, and skis can be stored at La Loge Du Massif, the hotel’s mountain-restaurant outpost at the top of the lift at Plan Checrouit. From £1,969 with Momentum Ski.
Best for spectacular scenery
There’s a busy, prosperous feel to the centre of Zermatt, with ambling fur-coated couples, designer shoppers and Japanese or Chinese tour groups rubbing shoulders with purposeful mountaineering types. Switzerland’s most famous resort also brings together every scenic Alpine cliché, from the world’s most photogenic mountain, the Matterhorn, to streets lined with a jumble of blackened, weathered, wobbly-looking chalets.
Views from everywhere on Zermatt’s varied, extensive slopes are stunning, including from its outstanding mountain restaurants and spectacular gondola lift to the resort high point of Klein Matterhorn at almost 4,000m. Plentiful long, scenic red and blue runs will satisfy intermediates, while itinerary runs (avalanche controlled but not patrolled) and off‑piste challenges are the main attraction for experts, especially those willing to ski tour or heliski. For extra mileage, Zermatt is linked to the slopes of Cervinia in Italy.
Later on, strolling around the cosmopolitan car-free town is a pleasure, though there are bicycles and electric taxis to watch out for. Après ski varies from squeezing into the panelled Elsie’s Bar for a glass of wine (and maybe oysters), to trying cocktails accompanied by chilled DJ sounds in the lounge bar of the Schweizerhof hotel, to having eardrums assaulted in one of the several venues in the Hotel Post.
Where to stay
The long-standing Schweizerhof Zermatt hotel close to the train station and Gornergrat lift had a hip luxury makeover for last winter and punches above its four-star rating, with three restaurants and a large pool and spa. From £1,975 B&B with Powder Byrne.