Ultimate Guide to Luxury Skiing in Europe

Written by Alexa Owen • Jun 15, 2016

Luxury skiing in Europe is not only a way to indulge in the ultimate winter vacation: it’s a full-on experiential glimpse into the roots of ski culture in the Alps. New England has charm, the Rocky Mountains have wild west flare, but it’s the Alps that will sweep you off your skis into luxuriously long days full of fondue on sundecks and lazy afternoons wandering around historic European villages. Oh yeah: the skiing’s known to be the best in the world, too.

While skiing in the Alps dates far further back than the twentieth century, the pastime wasn’t popularized as a leisure sport until the 1930s. During this time, previously established summer resort towns like St. Moritz began attracting a steady flow of upper-middle class winter tourists. Soon after, new ski destinations started popping up all over Europe; tiny alpine villages – like Sestriere – expanded into destination resorts with purpose-built infrastructure to cater to a growing number of downhill ski tourists. Through the next several decades, well-established resorts continued to grow in size and reputation. Today, the Alps remain the premiere destination for luxury ski vacationers across the world.

Why luxury in Europe? For the experience. For the clubs. For the leisurely gourmet lunches perched in one of the most stunning mountainscapes on the planet. The European skiing experience was originally crafted for those seeking the crème-de-la-crème of winter getaways, and while luxury is accessible at ski destinations on a handful of continents, Europe is king of them all. Europe is the source. Europe is the place to go.

In this guide, you’ll find the best of what luxury skiing in Europe has to offer. We’ll tell you where to go, what to do, and how to do it in style. You’ll get the insider scoop on best restaurants, nightlife, and shopping. We’ll even tell you what to ski between fireside hot toddies in your luxury ski chalet. Keep reading for our complete guide to luxury skiing in Europe.

Chamonix

Chamonix is an extreme sports mecca: climbers, base jumpers, extreme skiers and mountaineers from across the globe drop into Chamonix to get serious thrills in the outdoors. But it’s also one of France’s classic and luxurious ski resorts, and welcomes skiers of all interest and ability levels. Host to the 1924 Winter Olympics, Cham’ (as it’s affectionately nicknamed) is one of the most historic European ski resorts. It oozes class and character, while its fresh and vibrant party atmosphere continues to attract new generations of winter sports enthusiasts.

Best For: Nightlife; sports enthusiasts; the luxury vacation bursting with activity on and off the slopes.

Cheat Sheet:

Stay…at Hotel Mont-Blanc for panoramic mountain views from the best downtown location in Chamonix-Mont-Blanc town center.

Ski…Aillouds top-to-bottom for a long, intermediate cruiser; great lunch options abound on the way.

Dine…at Restaurant Albert 1er for world-famous cuisine crafted by award-winning chef Pierre Maillet.

Après...at the historic Le Bistrot des Sports for craft beers and brushing shoulders with French locals.

Shop...for fine woolen clothing and goods at the classic Arpin Wool.

Nightlife…head to L’Amnesia nightclub after midnight for a taste of Chamonix’s wild side.

Off The Slopes…take a tandem paragliding flight for the most stunning view of the Alps you’ll every see.

 

Terrain

The Chamonix Valley is host to several ski resorts, most of which are above 2,000 meters. Les Grands Montets, Brevent-Flegere, and Les Houches are among the most popular. Totaling over 160 km on-piste slopes, there is plenty of terrain to go around – although slopes can get crowded during Christmas and peak periods. While you could test your legs on much of the advanced terrain – or the famous 20km long run “Vallee Blanche” – laid-back, cruising runs are also abundant. Mont Blanc, rising to 4,810 meters above it all, provides the idyllic backdrop.

 

Lodging

For the resort experience, book a major hotel in bustling downtown; for a more private, quintessential French Alps getaway, consider the smaller boutique hotels or private chalet.

Resort

Book a room at the historic Hotel Mon-Blanc for the best downtown location off a quiet street in central Chamonix; the renewed interior architecture is dripping with modern elegance.

Boutique

Le Chalets de Philippe boasts 7 individually-themed, rustically chic rooms and 8 suites featuring private terrace and hot tub; a handful of chalets are also available for rent.

Chalet

Large, modern, with floor-to-ceiling windows offering views of Mont-Blanc, Chalet Valhalla sleeps up to 12 guests in a serene forest setting minutes from the slopes and local watering holes; full catering service is available.

Dining

Wherever you land in France, it’s all about the food and wine, and Chamonix is no exception; highly acclaimed chefs head up the valley’s exquisite culinary offerings, which include local favorites like Dombes duckling and Bresse poulard.

Don’t miss an evening at Restaurant Albert 1er: the two-star Michelan restaurant boasts some of the finest cuisine of the French Alps, and a 19,000 bottle wine cellar.

Indulge in a long lunch at La Cabane Des Praz, whose mountainside location in a traditional wooden lodge boasts the ultimate ambiance for contemporary French favorites.

For a slightly more casual vibe, drop by Le Bistrot Chamonix, whose ultra-modern décor and daily-changing menu boast the contemporary chic face of the valley’s dining scene.

 

Nightlife

Chamonix is known for its nightlife; cruise the Rue des Moulins after 11 p.m. for the liveliest bars and clubs, otherwise cozy up in the various lounges in high-end hotels.

For stylish cocktails and tasty tapas in a modern setting, head to Bar Le “A” at the foot of the Midi summit.

At Quartz Bar, indulge in rare liquors and an expansive wine list; there is live lounge music 6 nights a week.

Resident DJs pump house and electronic beats until 4 a.m. most nights at L’Amnesia; dress your best for this ultimate late night Cham’ club scene.

 

Shopping

High street fashion is big in Chamonix; brand-name outdoor gear is also prominent on account of the extreme sports culture that dominates the place. Stroll Rue de Dr Paccard for the haute couture brands.

Local artist Charlie Adam sells his handmade works at Alp Chic – the best stop of hip gifts and home décor.

The relatively new JagVi boasts inspired outerwear for men.

Arpin Wool has been crafting clothing and goods since 1817; stop by their store on Rue des Moulins for deco chic furniture, upholstery, and men’s and women’s clothing.

Tips

Chamonix is not so much a ski-in/ski-out resort; most lodging is located in the main town of Chamonix or in surrounding villages.

If extreme sports are your forte – or might be – take advantage of the many guides and professionals willing to show you the ropes of the area and the activities.

Zermatt

Zermatt is the classic European ski resort town, and offers the classic European ski vacation as well. In typical Swiss style, the infrastructure is highly developed, yet the town maintains its old-world charm with cobblestone streets, the occasional horse-drawn carriage, and mostly foot traffic. The biggest plus is the scenery: the resort sits at the base of the iconic Matterhorn, a stunning 4,000 meter peak that serves as the backdrop to luxuriously long slopeside lunches, fine boutique shopping, and classic Alps activities like tobogganing. Zermatt is also a great option for families, as activities and programs are highly kid-focused.

Best For: Families; terrain variety; the classic European ski vacation (midday craft beers and absurdly long lunches included).

Cheat Sheet:

Stay…at Omnia for the boutique hotel experience and central village location; nightly live music in the ultra-chic lounge makes for ideal (après) après ski.

Ski…red 69 to Furgg for an exceptionally scenic view of the Matterhorn.

Dine…at Le Restaurant Mont Cervin for elegantly themed dinners featuring cuisine from around the world.

Après...at Champagne Bar after your last run down from Sunnegga.

Shop...for the perfect Swiss watch and fine jewelry at Bucherer.

Nightlife…after midnight, dance into the wee hours at Broken Bar – the central club for all walks of Zermatt life.

Off The Slopes…take a 10 minute long toboggan ride on the Gornergrat – one of the finest sledging runs in the Alps.

 

Terrain

Zermatt boasts a whopping 245 km of on-piste terrain serviced by over 70 lifts: you could spend several seasons here and not get bored. The runs are long, but mid-mountain fine dining options abound. It’s not uncommon to ski into early afternoon, break for lunch, ski to the base and jump right into après. The resort is sectioned into three main areas: The Matterhorn Glacier Paradise, Blau-herd Bothorn area, and the Stockhorn area. The Matterhorn area is the largest, while Blau-herd Bothorn offers the most diversity for all ability levels.

 

Lodging

Zermatt is bursting with remodeled hotels that blend contemporary structure with alpine character; the chalets are some of the best-crafted in the world.

Resort

Mont Cervin Palace boasts all the amenities of a major luxury hotel with classic Swiss hospitality; 2 bars, 4 restaurants, spa and fitness center, as well as excellent suites for families.

Boutique

The Omnia boasts luxury rooms and suites amidst modern décor; the contemporary restaurant features a terrace with mountain views and a club with live music. 

Chalet

Book Chalet Gemini for the ultimate 5-star chalet experience: the 5 bedroom palace is situated beneath the Matterhorn Express lift station, and features a sauna, library, and sunbathed decks.

Dining

Zermatt is known for its international offerings; most fine dining venues boast international menus or themed nights, while traditional Swiss foods are favorites during lunch and apres.

Don’t miss the weekly gala buffet at Le Restaurant Mont Cervin; the cuisine boasts an eclectic array of international flavors in an upscale, elegant dining room.

Located at the base of the Sunnegga Express, Cervo Puro is a favorite for an elegant Italian lunch paired with fine wines.

Indulge in a 5 course menu selection of fine traditional foods at Restaurant Alpenhof; the cigar lounge is a favorite post-meal hangout for a digestif.

 

Nightlife 

Over 100 restaurants and 60 bars are enough to carry you well into the legendary Zermatt nightlife; the clubs are world-famous for their unique spaces and personalities.

Cavern is all about experiencing the space: an underground bar deep within a cliff that serves up premium cocktails and great music.

Dance until dawn at Broken Bar Disco – a must for anyone seeking the iconic Zermatt nightclub experience.

Don’t miss the Vernissage, a cultural hub in the center of Zermatt that functions as trendy lounge, cinema, gallery, and concert hall.

Shopping

Chocolate, watches, jewelry, and specialty sport clothing dominate the shopping scene in Zermatt; stroll along the Bahnhofstrasse for a look at it all.

Visit Bucherer for the finest selection of watches and jewelry; staff will gladly share with you the intricacies of watch-making for an ultra-personal shopping experience.

For specialty baked goods and confections, indulge in the culinary creations of Backerei-Café Hornli.

Bogner will help you get outfitted in the classic and contemporary fashion of the Swiss Alps.

Tips

Snow seasons in the Alps can be hit or miss, but Zermatt’s high altitude makes it a more reliable option for good snowfall.

Lift lines can be long during peak and holiday periods; hit the slopes before 10 a.m. to avoid them.

Innsbruck

Innsbruck is not a ski resort in and of itself. The capital city of Tyrol, Austria, it serves as a cultural epicenter that happens to boast 9 major ski areas (and 14 smaller ones) around the city. Ski vacationing in Innsbruck is for those seeking a rich cultural experience of old-time Austria: opera houses, castles, theaters, museums, and cozy restaurants tucked inside historic buildings are some of the main attractions. Spend a day on the slopes, après with a spiced drink in one of the many traditional cafes, and head to a Tyrolean folk dancing show in the evening. The city hosted the winter Olympics twice, so visiting sporting venues is also a main attraction. A bit more understated than some of its European resort cousins, Innsbruck boasts an unpretentious classiness nestled in genuine Austrian hospitality. It’s not a scene, and that’s part of why we love it.

Best For: Culture; city life; a ski vacation that’s not all about the skiing.

Cheat Sheet:

Stay…at Grand Hotel Europa for the city’s only 5-star experience.

Ski…Stubai Glacier for the most variety of the two dozen surrounding ski villages.

Dine…with the best view of the city at Ottoburg, which dishes up fine local cuisine in an historic downtown building.

Après...at the Cloud9 Igloo Bar at Nordkette; the best parties start Fridays at 6 p.m.

Shop...for the perfect home décor at Glaserkastle for handmade glasswear and ceramics; engraving services are also offered.

Nightlife…start the night at ultra-chic 360 wine bar before venturing to the clubs.

Off The Slopes…drop into the Olympic bobsled course at Olympiaworld, guided by a professional pilot.

 

Terrain

While surrounding ski areas boast a total of 500 km on-piste terrain, most resorts are small and offer less variety than major destination mountains. Stubai Glacier is the largest, and worth spending a couple of days on the high-elevation pistes. A free bus system connects at least 9 of the major ski areas, or hiring a private car for the day from downtown Innsbruck is an option. Families and beginners will be most comfortable at the Mutters and Schlick resorts, while Axamer Lizum is a good option for advanced skiers and those who want to ride the Olympic tram.

 

Lodging

Innsbruck boasts some of the most historic hotels in the Alps; opt for classic luxury or hip modern digs in the center of the city.

Resort

Grand Hotel Europa stands as Innsbruck’s only 5-star hotel; antique furnishings mix with a hip new lobby bar and expansive spa.

Boutique

Ultra-modern with 360 degree views of mountains and downtown, The Penz Hotel boasts sleek architecture and a central location that can’t be beat.

Chalet

For a secluded mountain experience, book a suite at Hotel Jagdschloss, an historic former hunting lodge in the city’s surrounding mountains.

Dining

The city is bustling with fabulous fine dining; international cuisine is easy to find, but we recommend you indulge in local fare as well.

Divided into five rooms beautifully decorated with traditional Tyrolean furniture, Europa Stuberl boasts fine regional cuisine in one of the coziest atmospheres in the city.

Dine at Ottoburg for an historic night out in Innsbruck; the menu features fine Austrian food and particularly romantic city views.

A well stocked wine cellar and creative menu inspired by local cuisine earned Alfred Miller’s Schonek one Michelin star, and the elegantly homey ambiance is authentically representative of culturally rich Austria.

Nightlife

Innsbruck’s nightlife is slightly more reserved than resort towns like Chamonix, but you’ll find a range of bars and clubs with varying styles.

A luxurious wine bar in the heart of Old Town, 360 sports a posh interior and extensive wine list, as well as mountain views.

Drop into M+M Bar for a fresh fruit cocktail and specialty drinks amidst a classy late night crowd.

Prometheus is the longest running and most popular club in Innsbruck; it’s worth an hour – or an entire night.

Shopping

Innsbruck’s shopping scene is understated; brand names can be found in the various shopping malls – but wander through Old Town for one-of-a-kind finds. Christmas season is particularly popular for shopping.

Stroll through Atelier Prister boutique for high fashion women’s wear, chic accessories, and bridal couture.

Indulge the senses at Acqua Alpes, Innsbruck’s first perfume manufactory, which captures the essence of pure Alpine scents in high-end fragrances and body care lines.

Glaserkastl specializes in handmade glasswear and engraving; this is the place for a uniquely Innsbruck gift.

Tips

Most visitors opt to stay in Innsbruck and make day trips to surrounding ski areas; this warrants livelier nights, options for non-skiers, and prime après participation – which happens in the city rather than on the slopes.

Innsbruck is much more than a ski resort town – it’s a lively and culturally rich city and home to a major university; keep Innsbruck in mind if you’re traveling with non-skiers.

St Moritz

INTRO

St Moritz is known as the original winter destination resort of the Alps: 150 years since its opening, the iconic European town remains a haven for skiers seeking the classic European winter holiday. Centered around a frozen lake that plays host to skating, curling, polo, and a myriad of other sports, the town sports a quaint yet luxurious setting where old-time ski enthusiasts will feel right at home next to Prada-clad socialites. The three main villages around the lake, Dorf, Bad, and Celerina, all have distinct vibes -- Dorf being the most quiet and Bad the most newly developed (a new sports center opened in 2015, boasting indoor outdoor pools, wellness and fitness center, and several restaurants). When booking a hotel, be sure it's in the village of your preference.

Cheat Sheet:

Stay…at Kempinski Grand Hotel des Baines for the fairytale castle experience in the heart of St Moritz.

Ski…the glacier from the top of Corvatsch; the north-facing slopes boast the best conditions in the region, and fewer crowds than Corviglia.

Dine…at The K for haute French cuisine by talented Swiss chef Hans Nussbaumer.

Après...at Hanselmann’s Café for a drink and confectionary treat; this is a classic St Moritz institution.

Shop...at The Lamm for the finest quality cashmere knits (which are also the most stylish in St Moritz).

Nightlife…Don’t miss a night at King’s Club, the most famous and classy nightclub in St Moritz.

Off The Slopes…indulge in a horse-drawn sleigh ride into the Val Roseg for romantic glacial views.

 

Terrain

St Moritz is expansive. 58 lifts service 350km of marked piste, and terrain is some of the most varied in the Alps. Beginners will find plenty of hill space to learn. One of the best qualities of St Moritz is its geographical location: the high elevation of 3,305 meters coupled with its location in the south of Switzerland offers visitors excellent quality snow and 300 days of sunshine per year. The resort is hosting the Alpine Championships in 2017, and a handful of new infrastructure developments are underway.

 

Lodging

In St Moritz, go big or stay home. These ultra elegant spaces are just a few of the dozens of luxury lodging options in and around the glitziest of all Alpine hubs.

Resort

For the ultimate Switzerland resort experience, book a room at Kempinski Grand Hotel des Baines; 4 gourmet restaurants, luxury spa, and private residences are also available.

Boutique

Featuring city-center location and easy access to Corviglia, The Crystal Hotel boasts an elegantly relaxed atmosphere defined by its wellness services, piano bar, and exceptionally friendly staff.

Chalet

3 km from downtown St Moritz and walking distance from the charming village of Silvaplana, Chesetta offers the epitome of full-service luxury in Swiss ski chalets.

Dining

The city is bustling with fabulous fine dining; international cuisine is easy to find, but we recommend you indulge in local fare as well.

Go for the tasting menu or one of Chef Hans Nussbaumer’s classic French dishes at The K; don’t pass up the Crepes Suzette for dessert.

Le Restaurant in Badrutt’s Palace Hotel downtown is the best spot for a romantic white linen dinner; this is another French gem.

For sophisticated Mediterranean cuisine and cozy ambiance, spend an evening at Kronenstubli; the menu spans Italian and French influence as well.

Nightlife

St Moritz is known for its exclusivity; the clubs are are some of the most high end in Switzerland, and you’d be hard pressed to find a bar without that signature St Moritz flare.

World-famous DJs, swanky digs, couture dress code and excellent drinks make King’s Club the most famous night club in St Moritz; this is the place to see and be seen (and party the night away with class).

Founded in the 1970s, Dracula Club hosts some of Engadin’s most exclusive parties; it’s located in the classic Kulm Hotel.

For something a little more boisterous, drop into Hemingway’s Club, named for the author who spent many winters on the Swiss slopes.

Shopping

Shop major designer labels and high fashion boutiques through the village center; meandering through the smaller streets could land you in a specialty shopper’s paradise of local treats and delicacies.

Shop the finest whiskeys at Studer & Co, whose been distilling Swiss specialties since 1883.

The Lamm cashmere house is the finest family run boutique for high quality knits.

Women are not to miss Trois Pommes, which houses the best designer labels in an eclectic selection under one roof.

Tips

The Italian influence is heavy in St Moritz because of its proximity to the Italian border; stay in the village of Celerina for the strongest Italian vibes.

St Moritz is one of the most easily accessible resorts in the Alps; if you're seeking a quick weekend getaway, this is a great option.

Courchevel

Courchevel is, hands down, the most glamorous ski resort in France. Commonly known as the winter version of St. Tropez, this is where billionaires come to wine, dine, ski, and play. If strolling down elegantly quaint streets, shopping at exclusive boutiques, and dining at the finest restaurants in the French Alps is what you seek, Courchevel is your place. The skiing is phenomenal, but to enjoy the full range of the Courchevel experience, soak in everything else this luxury resort has to offer as well.

Best For: Shopping; French fine dining; the over-the-top European ski vacation dripping in luxury.

Cheat Sheet:

Stay…with a group at Ormello chalet at the base of Bellecote.

Ski…Grand Couloir for a challenging on-piste chute.

Dine…at Le 1947 for one of the most intimate gourmet experiences in the Alps.

Après...at Le Tremplin for craft beers and cocktails at one of the outdoor sunbathed tables.

Shop...at Jasmine Fleurs for hand-made scented candles and deliciously classy home décor.

Nightlife…Slip into Fire and Ice for a taste of new age Courchevel in a hip and lively bar.

Off The Slopes…book an early morning hot air balloon ride for the best views of the French Alps.

 

Terrain

The Trois Vallees ski areas are massive and interconnected; Courchevel, spanning 150km of on-piste slopes serviced by 62 lifts, is the largest. Terrain is best suited for intermediates seeking those long, wide, classic European groomers; to explore advanced off-piste terrain, hiring and professional guide is an excellent option. The terrain park and bordercross course are favorites for skiers and riders interested in throwing tricks and testing their skills. Snowfall is not abundant, but quality is very good on account of so many north facing slopes.

Lodging

Courchevel doesn’t lack in five star accommodation; hotels abound, but for larger groups, opt for the luxury chalet.

Resort

Five-star Hotel Le Lana is situated perfectly at the foot of the Bellecote piste; rooms boast contemporary flare and full spa and restaurant offerings the perfect evening after a day on the slopes.

Boutique

Portetta Hotel boasts rooms dressed in rustic elegance, as well as private lofts decked out in classic French Alps décor. 

Chalet

Indoor swimming pool, state-of-the-art cinema, fireside lounging areas and staggering mountain views at the base of Bellecote are only a few things that make the Ormello chalet the ultimate mountainside sanctuary.

Dining 

Courchevel is the prime Alps destination for foodies interested in dining to the nines; reserve early.

Book well in advance at Les Airelles, whose 19th century antique décor and crème-de-la-crème settings offer guests the experience of dining in royalty.

Boasting two Michelin stars, the family-run Le Chabichou features an classic menu in a warm, rustic ambiance.

Sleek, intimate, and exclusive, Le 1947 boasts an articulate dining room and the best seasonal menus featuring delicately crafted regional cuisine.

 

Nightlife

Courchevel is classy when it comes to nightlife, and surprisingly unpretentious; plenty of Savoyard style French bars abound, and live music is top-notch.

Faux fur blankets and roaring fire pits offer the perfect ambiance at The Fire and Ice Bar in Hotel Portetta; be sure to order a shot – they come in glasses made of ice.

La Mangeoire boasts and excellent wine list and some of the hottest parties in town; show up around 12 when dancing really gets going.

Cozy, welcoming, and rustic, La Boulotte is a mainstay for live apres music and late night intimate drinks.

 

Shopping

Luxury jewelry, art galleries, exclusive florists and couture boutiques line the historic streets of Courchevel; plenty of visitors opt for shopping over skiing, but we say you can do both.

Blu&Berry boutique boasts a small but impressive selection of French designers.

Jasmine Fleurs on Rue du Rocher is the perfect place for gifts and home décor: scented candles, essences, and unique house items stock the store.

Outfit yourself in the epitome of chic outerwear at Avenue Montagne, which features brands like Dior and Fendi ski.

Tips

Courchevel villages are interconnected by slopes and roads; while names have changed in recent years, many still call them by their elevations. Courchevel 1850 and Courchevel 1650 are the most popular and prestigious.

This resort is a good option for families, as even the fine dining scene is family friendly and the ski school is English speaking.