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Courchevel 1850 and Hotel Anemones

Reporter: Peter Brooks

Courchevel 1850 is notorious in skiing circles for being the snowy playground of Russian oligarchs. Nowadays the more obvious excesses of the Nouveau Riche have been softened slightly by contact with European culture, but there is still plenty to interest a student of the human condition.

Mere skiers, bussed in from the airport, are released at the bottom of the resort to walk up to their garret. Only the luggage is considered worthy of transporting to the door, in a white van. The resort used to swarm with limousines, but nowadays there are blacked out people carriers of the sort that Mercedes vans want to be when they grow up. No longer limos, some even have the indignity of being labelled ‘Taxi’.

What do the rich do when they get exhausted from thinking about skiing? They go shopping, of course

If you have to ask the price, you can’t afford it. If you have to ask what it’s for, you don’t need it. There were plenty of shops (Galleries, by their own reckoning) selling stuff with no obvious use, except as objects of conspicuous consumption. Or possibly as conversation pieces e.g. ‘What on earth did you buy that for?’ Or perhaps to show that you have a big house that can swallow junk without becoming cluttered. It might be true. Or that you’re so rich that whatever you buy, friends and acquaintances will tell you that you have excellent taste. You can reward their sycophancy by palming the stuff off onto them. Such are the privileges of wealth.

Exclusivity is a construct, designed to remind the rich that they are rich and that others are not. It is built not just by the absence of price tags (‘Money is no object’) but by shop assistants trained to project a feeling of superiority to anyone who walks in with less than 2 bodyguards, or at least a Saville Row ski jacket. I saw the staff of one hotel create an exclusive parking space by putting onto the road the kind of ropes on stands that are used to separate the public from great works of art. Except that this one claimed exclusive rights to a few metres of kerb. Try doing that in Manchester.

There are jewellers with a single piece in the shop window, and fashion shops with a lonely mannequin showing off her latest sequinned party wear. My theory is that the whole system works on the ‘Emperors new clothes’ principle. “To someone of refined tastes, sir/madam, this is a magnificent suit of clothes. And it is only available from this shop.” I assume that there was as similar pitch in the shop (sorry, ‘Gallery’) selling perspex handbags. No, I didn’t make that up.

The resort is infested with photographers, with characteristic long lenses on their cameras. They must have been hoping for a shot of someone famous. (Not me, despite my striking a few poses.) Since there were quite a few of them around the resort, they must have been hoping for pictures valuable enough to keep them all there. Someone on holiday is not news. Someone on holiday with his wife is not news. Someone on holiday with someone else’s wife...Is worth a photo.

If the lenses of the paparazzi make you feel insecure, you are not alone. The hotels themselves feel the need to bolster their security. I assume that that is the job of the men standing outside with dark overcoats, military haircuts, and earpieces. I didn’t see any bulges, but the coats were loose fitting. I didn’t see many Gendarmes either. Courchevel is the kind of town where guards are a symbol of status, so my conclusion is that the hotels feel socially insecure.

And so to bed. In the hotel Anemones. With its front door discreetly set back from the front of the building, and its’ reception desk effectively invisible from the street, it’s a good place to get away from the paparazzi. It’s location is also discreet, tucked away in the basement under a row of exclusive clothes shops. The Bar and Restaurant are also discreetly windowless.

Whoever designed the interior knew how, if not when, to use mirrors. The entrance hall and corridors were lined with them. Whether this is to create an illusion of much needed space (Anemones is decidedly bijou) or to allow the hastily dressed to check themselves over is not certain. Possibly both.

The corridor to the rooms (red carpeted) had a curious feature; A canopy over each door which looked as though it could be illuminated in happier times. Possibly red illumination for very happy times. In fact, red was a recurrent theme in that corridor, accented by similarly subtle colours. Clearly it had been a party venue of some sort in its’ glory days. The rooms repeated the bijou theme, with very little furniture, or room to walk around the beds. It clearly wasn’t designed to suit guests standing up. The lighting was poor; Bad enough to make shaving a hit or miss affair. I assume that it would also not reveal laughter lines after a hard night.

I have my suspicions about the history of this hotel. It wasn’t designed for skiers—there is no boot room, and the ski rack by the door is clearly an afterthought. It wasn’t designed for guests staying a week either, as the capacities of the bar and restaurant are totally inadequate for the number of rooms. (Our party was split into 2 sittings for dinner, which caused a lot of dissatisfaction. Breakfast was also a chancy affair, waiting for a seat.) It wasn’t built for party weekends either; There is no central space to hold a party in. My theory to fit the observed facts is that it was a party venue, but for very small parties e.g. The number that can fit into one room without crowding. Possibly without even standing up. If you don’t have a friend to party with, I saw several young women in the street with exhibitionist clothing and ludicrous make-up. I have my suspicions about them as well.

I joined this club holiday in order to experience this famous resort. It was an interesting experience, but once is enough. I am told that the club visited this hotel with a much smaller group a few years ago, and that there were no problems with the hotel. So I have a suggestion; For those who enjoy 1850, book a small party into the Anemones. For those looking for better value and comfort, 1550 is 300m down the valley. Access is by an easy blue down, and there is a choice of bubble or chair to get up again. Alternatively, Meribel is more central to the 3 Valleys. Yer pays yer money and yer takes yer choice.

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