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Great escape

Oligarchs in the Alps

When Roman Abramovich first visited Courchevel, he allegedly tried to buy the whole resort. The Russian billionaire apparently viewed every chalet in town, bidding way above the asking price, thereby fixing property costs at “oligarch levels”. I rather wish he hadn’t, says Helen Kirwan-Taylor in The Daily Telegraph. For years, my family loved the small French ski resort as a “half-term destination”. Now, it’s just a playground for Russia’s super rich – Courchevelsky.

Since the oligarchs moved in, everything’s changed. Restaurant menus are printed in Russian and the prices have doubled; one restaurant even flogs Hermès handbags in its gift shop. Ski gondolas are branded with Gucci logos and chalet rentals can go for £250,000 a week. Around town you’ll see an endless stream of glamorous women; some wear fur, others wear spotless Prada ski suits. All of them look “very Instagrammy”.

I’m not sure how much they actually ski. Rich Russians tend to book a ski guide for each member of the family, and then keep them waiting all day (“no apology”) while they nurse hangovers in their penthouse suites. And that’s nothing compared to one family who reportedly rented puppies for their children as a present while staying in Courchevel for Christmas. They had to redecorate a chalet room with astroturf and ship in £3,000-a-day dog trainers.

So this year, we tried a new French resort, Val-d’Isère, “with a Courchevel refugee as our guide”. No luck. Judging from the rapidly expanding five-star hotel scene – and the “mother of enormous chalets” that was being built behind ours – “it’s only a matter of time before it becomes ‘Valdisereski’”.