Skiing has amorous connotations in my family. No, nothing indecent – I taught my wife how to ski from scratch on our first ever date. She immediately managed a red run with flying colours (entirely down to my expert tuition, of course), and, most impressively, didn’t dump me when the ligament in her left knee snapped three days later. (I suspect, however, that this event is what set us up for a lifetime of debating exactly whose fault everything is.) So when the opportunity to review a hotel in the same family as fine New Forest outposts The Pig and Lime Wood arose we jumped at the chance to give the resulting three children every opportunity to damage their own limbs on icy inclines.
Luxury lodge Portetta brandishes all the features you want from a ski-resort hotel – a ski-in, ski-out setting, heavy, hearty food and a slope-facing terrace. But I confess, for us, it was a challenge getting there because we hadn't taken the easy option of flying into Geneva or Lyon. Approaching from the Italian side, I’d been offered two driving routes by Via Michelin; we opted for the most interesting-looking one. The expected signs for Bourg St Maurice didn’t appear and what we thought was the right direction turned into a ski piste: Via Michelin had recommended a summer-only road. Before the finger of blame could be wagged in my direction, Mrs Smith’s own mobile’s nav system was assertively instructing us to go exactly the same way – straight into a swarm of descending Italian skiers. Zut alors!
When we did reach Portetta, its giant gingerbread-house charms were especially welcome. (If only someone had left breadcrumbs to guide us in.) Clearly signposted once you’re coming into Courchevel 1650, this 44-room Trois Vallées chalet is perched reassuringly close to the slopes and gives classic stone-and-wood chalet chic a contemporary sheen to produce an aesthetic both authentically Alpine and quirkily Smithy in a way that older, more traditional resort hotels never manage. Aplace where wine is amulling and chestnuts aroasting couldn’t have been more soothing. Traditional textures nod to the location (snowflake-covered or striped throws, the odd reindeer on a curtain), but it’s all tastefully and subtly done. The wood-lined bedrooms are particularly cosy, with taupes, tans and toffees warming things up.
There in Easter week, we were among lots of other families, and with the hotel’s UK sister-hotel connections, le Portetta is the type of place where everyone looked as though they might only be separated from us by one degree. Sure enough, we soon made friends with a family of delightful Spaniards only to find the father godparent to one of my daughter’s school friends.
Now, to me, a proper skiing holiday is all about high-altitude ski mountaineering looking for virgin powder with craggy-faced guides. But Courchevel 1650, though overlooked by the chichi Russian patrons of glitzy Courchevel 1850 (whose private planes we had fun marvelling at as they miraculously landed on the mid-piste runway), is perfect for children and intermediate adults and is seamlessly connected to the whole of the Three Valleys. With brilliant hassle-minimising ski-hire facilities in the hotel’s basement and slopes on your lap, my children may never know the joys of having to trudge up steep slopes with their ski equipment over their shoulders to get to connecting buses and lifts. Kids today, hey?
Le Portetta makes a fuss about having the only fully south-facing terrace on the slopes – and rightly so – it quickly became a much-loved feature. Here we’d scoff Savoyard mountain food or reconvene for hot chocolate and cake (and cold beer) at the end of the day and enjoyed the last of the early spring sun on comfy outdoor sofas with snugly blankets, outdoor heaters and a big log fire.
There’s a spa offering Darphin skincare, Bamford body treats and expertly ache-soothing massages, and although I didn’t sample, I did make it to the sauna a couple of times. But most of our time in the hotel revolved around eating: the fresh French breakfast buffet was spot on, with the option of ordering extra oeuf cooked every which way, which filled the children up with protein for their day on the pistes. In the evening, drinks at the bar came with such a sprawling complimentary plate of local saucisson and cheese, that we happily spent a couple of nights skipping dinner and settling down in the bar with a bottle of white wine. The restaurant is excellent, and to check that le Portetta has the potential to be just as good for couples as it is for indulged whippersnappers, we booked dinner à deux. Gratefully, we found it effortless to forget not only our own children but also those families around us. The tables are generously spaced out, the service friendly, and time it right and you'll get a view of the Mont Jovet glowing pink through the pretty window as night slowly descends – it was enough to have us happily reminiscing about that first fateful date on the slopes.
We may have only grabbed one evening together as a pair, but I can definitely endorse this luxe lodge as a heart-stirring place to stay as a couple (preferably outside school holidays). A short weekend’s skiing is feasible with le Portetta’s pole position and everything that you need to hit the slopes available from the hotel. But our Mr & Mrs Smith ski escape was a family holiday. And this culminated with touch of paternal pride when, on the last day, our five-year-old happily followed me down his first red run, just like his mother had done all those years ago. He, thankfully, has kept all of his joints intact. Thanks dear gingerbread house, for the fairy-tale ending.