We arrived in a blizzard. Good start. Having heard of barren ski resorts with gravelly pistes, due to the worsening challenges with climate change, I had feared the worst for my trip to Courmayeur. But it was snowing. And a lot. I’d arrived in a snow globe, mid-shake to the perfect Christmas card, Netflix-Christmas-movie vistas.
Twinkly lights strewn over buckling pine branches, lamplights adorning trails to gingerbread chalets, and the formidable mountains of Mont Blanc peaking through the darkness.
Luckily thIs year’s pistes look good too: many are opening weeks ahead of schedule due to decent snowfall.
As someone who’s done a fair bit of skiing in Europe and seen a fair bit of Stanley Tucci on iPlayer, the offer of Northern Italy immediately appealed to me. Courmayeur is where those who’ve tired of the popular resorts of France and Switzerland go to experience something new. With easy access to both Geneva and Milan, it’s no wonder that an incredible range of festivals, including Design Week, Peak of Taste and Gourmet Ski have found their home in this stylish but teensy-tiny town with a population of 2,600.
Twinned with Milan, Courmayeur has historic piazzas, cobbled streets and generation-owned restaurants. But there is also the uber luxury stuff: fashion labels like Gucci have stores here and the town is known for focusing on celebrity-chef pop-ups, the types you’d find in Courchevel. From youth, the dolce vita is ingrained in the residents of Courmayeur. They learn to ski from their neighbours and to make gnocchi from their nonnas. While some will leave looking for life beyond the Alps, many are returning to their roots, moving back to Courmayeur and infusing new techniques and flavours into local restaurants after working in the bigger cities.
I stayed in the newly-renovated Gran Baita Spa hotel, which has been engineered to feel the complete opposite of the town’s newer and flashier parts. It’s a sort of no-nonsense place that could have been here a hundred years ago. It’s almost too cosy to contemplate skiing: cedar-panelled walls stuffed full with old trinkets and clocks, tartan armchairs clustered around fireplaces and a resident pianist who never tires of the odd karaoke request after ten.
As the blizzard raged outside we enjoyed tagliatelle with boar’s ragu and candied apples amongst the ice picks and vintage skiwear of the hotel’s La Sapinaire restaurant. The next morning we were treated to the increasingly rare alpine dilemma of “too much snow” and left to contemplate other activities like a trip to the new microbrewery or a soak in the mineral waters at Saint Didier, whose healing properties attracted the first visitors 1,000 years ago. Fortunately, it was not long before we were given the green light and packed into a gondola.
We were treated to La Chaumière, a local ritual where waiters hoist helmets and gloves to the ceiling in baskets, controlled by an ingenious network of strings and pulleys
While not a ski-in ski-out resort, within 30 minutes you can be on your first run, without the inevitably flat and arduous crosscountry ski to the lifts I’ve experienced elsewhere. We glided through vast, buttery Reds, knee-deep in fresh powder. Nothing too technical. No tight turns or sketchy slopes. I’m told the French like moguls. Italians do not. Après is upgraded to Aperativo in Courmayeur. We were lucky enough to be treated to La Chaumière, a local ritual where waiters hoist helmets and gloves to the ceiling in baskets, controlled by an ingenious network of strings and pulleys. Beers gave way to bright orange spritzes, paired with trays of local charcuterie and garlic anchovies balanced on toast. Fellow diners enjoyed Italian mountain favourites like Zuppa Valpellinentze, cabbage and fontina soup, and custardy Bombardins. Not a french fry in sight.
Later we headed downtown to experience another on Courmayeur’s culinary trail: La Bouche. There, cocktails are given alpine twists with foraged ingredients from the nearby Valle d’Aosta. Whiskey, stained goldwith local saffron. Gimlets infused with butter cordial and topped with flowers. And, for the brave, mushroom wine. Another restaurant we couldn’t miss was the charming Brasserie D’Entreves. Behind a rustic reception and walls draped with old photos, a small but formidable nonna peered out from the counter barking orders. Around us, large families gathered round bubbling pots of cheese fondue. The next day we skiied towards the striking Mont Blanc which towers over pine forests and mountains scarred by ancient glaciers.
We were advised that Courmayeureans rarely ski after lunch, an approach I wholeheartedly respect, but the incredible conditions drew us back. Later we warmed achy limbs and wind-brushed cheeks at Gran Baita’s vast indoor-outdoor pool (the largest in Courmayeur) which is accompanied by a huge glass-faced sauna. Dinner is the most decadent truffled steak I’ve ever tasted at another neighbourhood favourite, La Terrazza. A trip to Courmayeur would not be complete without the pilgrimage to Mont Blanc’s summit, the highest point in the Alps and Western Europe.
Once just a marker on the skyline but now within reach through the Skyway via two panoramic rotating cable cars carrying extreme off-pisters and hot chocolaters to the top where you can enjoy a museum, viewing platform and a cellar built into the mountain where corks are sabred off “AlpineStyle” with ice picks. As we descended the mountain, spotting the popular French resort of Chamonix, I couldn’t believe that two resorts, both alike in geography could feel so different.
Italian skiing may be underrated, but with new festivals popping up each year and the Winter Olympics returning to Cortina in 2026, it’s only a matter of time before more visitors discover the charm of Italian skiing. Courmayeur may be one of Europe’s hidden gems, but not for long.