Eating & drinking in Chamonix

Chamonix, the new centre of the ice cream parlour?

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Although Chamonix is currently having one of its best early season for years with lifts open in November, its with fondness we look back at those warmer sunny days….

It’s always fun to ring the changes in a familiar area, but this was a trend we’d not anticipated. Stupid really as you always see ques for ice cream during summer evenings in the Market Square courtesy of this place.

Given our loathing of queuing we prefer the place on the Avenue Michael Crozier near the museum. This little place (Mer Des Glaces) is open winer and summer (well it would have to be with a name like that).

It was while walking towards the SNCF station on that same avenue that we spotted a few trendy looking stools outside a cafe. It then hit us that with this amount of ice cream parlours Chamonix has truly landed on the summer map for those other than hard-core outdoor types.

So we kept our eyes open when wandering around town and we were amazed how many more we saw.

Cote Macarons walking out of town towards the hotel Alpina.

Chez Rochford

And of course Chalet 4810 who converted from a rock shop into a patisserie a few years ago


These 6 are just of course the ‘tip if the iceberg’ as many of the restaurants make their own and are famed for such delicacies. A little hunt around identified our next door neighbour L’Impossible as a leader in this field.  The local speciality of Chestnut ice cream has even inspired famous chefs to create their own Mont Blanc.

Neither Facebook or Trip Advisor seems to have cottoned on yet though, so watch this space.

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Hotel l’Aiguille Du Midi, a traditional French restaurant, and just lovely for it

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Each season I like to check out the brochures that suggest special restaurants in the Chamonix and Megeve valley.  Last summer a local one I’d not previously noticed was included, the Hotel l’Aiguille Du Midi in Les Bossons.  It sounded interesting and we thought it’d make a nice change from going into the centre of Chamonix to eat, so we cycled passed it on the back from our Les Houches trip to check out the menu.

We made a booking for the next night which happened to be a Monday, and just as well we did as the place was full. It’s a Logis so is typically used on a bed, breakfast and evening meal basis, hence plenty of guests, but we weren’t the only non-residents there that night.

As with the other reviews you’ll read, we can concur that the staff were pleasant, food was plentiful and welcome warm. In fact, Libby probably had one of the best kids meals we’ve seen.  Ok it costs a little bit more than other kids meals perhaps, but it was definitely worth it, particularly as it was finished off with and edible flower.

Kids meal Hotel Aiguille du Midi

The menu was traditionally French, and not particularly heavy on the Savoyard dishes like many other local restaurants. Our eldest even chose the Escargot for her starters.

Escargot

I chose the breaded veal for my main course, having had smoked salmon for my starters, while Duncan had an extremely tender stake as his main course.

Smoked salmon starters

The first 2 savoury course were followed by a plentiful cheese board, of which there wer 3 types of goats cheese, Compte, Beaufort and Rublocon among others.

But the piece de resistance for most guests was the extensive dessert board.  Unlike the cheese trolly the selection was far too big to wheel next to the table. You were very lucky to have any room left to fit anything in, but we gave it ago.  I went for the chocolaty offerings, while duncan went for fresh fruit of course and the kids had the opportunity to try a range of patisseries that are often found in the morning bakery.

So all in all good value for the 35 Euros for 5 courses.

However, it wasn’t only the menu that made the meal feel traditional, but the decor too.  None of the super sleek, minimalist, or cliched alpine chalet look here, but perhaps more the ‘France through the ages’ feel. It’s a family run establishment, now in it’s 5th generation, so the look has evolved, which makes it charming with intriging elements of kitsch perhaps.  The photo below shows a marvellous item.  It’s a silver sculpture of the hotel’s name sake made into a trolly of various layers, so beneath the mountain itself you’ll find the sommeliers and then the bottom level chefs.  Quite a marvellous feature of the dinning room.

Silver Aiguille du Midi

What a difference 6 weeks makes: part 2 (everyone seems to know about the Monkey Bar burgers)

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Ok, The Times articles distraction aside, back to our little weekend away.  Well we continued with our use of public transport, so on the second day of our short break we hit the buses again.  This time we went straight for the Cham Sud bus stop and sought a coach heading for La Tour La Blame which turned out not to be as frequent as the other destinations, but not too long a wait nevertheless.  The journey took mourned 30 mins and you could have bailed out for Grands Montets if the journey had got too much.

Unfortunately the visibility wasn’t great, but we were there to ski after all. The slopes were quiet with more people taking the back country routes than the pistes themselves. So we took it easy and stopped for a hot chocolate at Les Aiguillette cafe which is probably one of the cosiest and cheapest restaurant on the local pistes.

After a lift back up to the Vallorcine side, as the Foret Vert run was closed we decided to take an early lunch and use the Vallorcine lift down to L’Arret de Bougnete  for a spot of lunch.  It was as good as we remembered it, with a fantastic plat de jour and salad topped off with the fanciest fried egg I’ve seen.

L'Arret Bougenete lunch

The plan was then to head back up the mountain with the hope that the weather had cleared, but we found a train in the station Chamonix bound, so we jumped on that instead.  It was a very civilised way to travel down the valley, watching people walking through the valley.

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We alighted at Argentiere and walked the 7 mins across the carpark to the new Plan Joran gondola again.

This time we skied until they chucked us off the mountain. 🙂

So back to town for the Terrasse’s new happy hour, followed by the burger night at the Monkey Bar. Well that was the plan, but it seemed that half of the town had also heard about the Monday half price burgers in the Monkey, so we could hardly get through the door (as its very popular with seasonnaires and visitors alike), so plan B was called for.  A trip to the wood fired pizza oven just around the corner.

So what other changes did we noticed since our last trip 6 weeks before?  Well, it looks as though the ski jump has been finished at Le Greppon. Unfortunately, we don’t get to see anyone doing the jump, but I get it’s a great spectator sport!

Chamonix ski jump

 

There was one thing that hadn’t changed though, the lovely horse and carriage in town driven by Paul Elvin, the local farrier.

 

Russian horse and carriage Chamonix

So all in all we had a fab weekend and getting the early morning flight home still enabled us to be at our desks before most of our colleagues!  We did come away thinking about the non-alpine ski actives we might do should we experience inclement weather again though.  Of course there are a number of obvious touristy things to do, but we quite fancy giving the cross country skiing thing ago, as with snow in the valley the Bois Du Bouchet, more commonly associated with the landing of paragliders and informal family restaurants  was covered in snow and thin tracks.  Something for another year……

 

Celebrating the indian summer; Chamonix off season

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Chamonix off season?  Girls weekend break, what to do?  No problem, it was the last weekend of September, so we’d managed to hit town when the lifts were still open (just), so the the iconic sights could be seen.  A trip up the Aiguille du Midi and Mer de Glace was a must, even a chance visit from the donkeys at Plan du Aiguille was had, how they got up there I don’t know.

Chamonix off season

The weather was fantastic and made ideal flying weather for the paragliders and hang gliders, presenting a fantastic sight in the air above the valley.  Some were even brave enough to jump off the Vallee Blanche.

Paragliding off the Vallee Blanch

Before we ascended up the big mountain we meandered around the Saturday market, sampling the nougat, drinking the coffee and of course taking take to visit to a patisserie.

Chamonix Saturday market

And of course, in the evening we had to top the day off with cocktails and a traditional Savoyard meal.

Cocktails for the girls

 

So I’m pleased to say we found plenty of things to do that didn’t involve extreme sports or involve excessive walking. – And that was just the first day of the weekend. Although I must say, those mountains looked sooo inviting in the autumn sunshine, I’d not have objected to a lengthy stroll at all.  Funny how you can miss your dog sometimes!!

Happy hour with a view: Gite Le Vagabond

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Although we love the Jekyll which is welcoming to family, dogs, seasonaires and alike, we’ve been pleased to find another bar in Chamonix with a happy hour.  The Vagabond.   Its just on the Avenue Ravanel le Rouge, the road heading out of town toward the Gailland climbing wall.  This puts it in a great position from which to watch the depart of the UTMB after it has left the town centre.  Ok that’s only once a year, but it can be handy to soak up the atmosphere.

It’s a back packers gite, the locals are a friendly bunch and English is spoken.  However the bit that works particularly well for us is the fact that it has a terraced seating area away from the road and given the low rise properties around it, a fantastic view of The Big Mountain.

Gite Vagabond

So yes The Monkey bar is closer to home and the super market, but this place is far more pleasant to sit outside. The Vagabond is also helpfully open all year round and each year it make more and more effort with its terrace.

Gite Vagabond

So a good find we think.  If you’d like to check out the other places with happy hours, (this one is 17.30 to 18.30) click here.

So how much pre made food is there in the valley?

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The French, understandably take great pride in their cooking skills. One typically assumes that fresh preperation on site is a factor that contributes to culinary excellence.  So I must admit I’m quite intrigued to see the impact a new legislation will have on the windows and menus of the local restaurants.

A ‘Fait Maison’ symbol to denote dishes made from raw, unprocessed ingredients has been introduced this month. I hope it doesn’t become a reason to push prices up….!

A little more detail can be found here.

http://www.chamonet.com/events/news/fait-maison-label-comes-into-effect-676021 Read the rest of this entry »

Servoz, Les Gorges de la Diosaz, top food and water falls

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l’Auberge les Gorges de la Diosaz à Servoz Vallée de Chamonix Mont-Blanc is a marvelous restaurant just around the corner from the famous gorges themselves.  I was going to start the post with reminiscing about the gorge walk itself, but then I saw the photos again and its the sumptuous food that is my abiding memory.  So lets start with the restaurant then….

George de la Diosaz restaurant, Servoz

Not bad for a lunch out with the kids hey? 🙂

Its own website describes it as ‘semi gastronomic’, but its listed on the Via Michelin website as charming and good value even though it doesn’t have one of it’s stars. Well we certainly enjoyed our 3 courses for 25Euros, the ladies even treated themselves to a glass of the fizzy stuff.  The children’s menu at 15E didn’t disappoint either.  Given that Servoz is about a 15 min drive down the valley from Chamonix, it probably explains the reason for the good value.  The human touch was added at the end of the meal when the chef Marc Serres tore a strip off his 8 year old for doing pretty similar naughty stuff to our kids.  We offered him ours for disciplining too, but he unfortunately declined.  He didn’t realize we were still on the terrace I might add, but it made us laugh.

Gorges de la diosaz collage

The trip is not only worth it for the food (the village has another lovely restaurant we’ll talk about at a later date), but for the walk up to the old derelict chapel of St Michael’s which is about a 3.5 mile round trip from the climbing wall that you see as you enter the village from the main road. – The roadside crag has some extremely challenging overhangs and the south facing schist is hot work in summer, so cooling off in the café opposite can be useful.

The quiet village of course also has the famous Gorges de la Diosaz with its suspended footpath that traces the torrents of water for about a 15 min assent to the Cascade du Soufflet where you can stare down at the abyss. There are many notice boards on the path with information about the local flora and fauna, but the most amazing photos are right at the top showing a helicopter rescue of some misguided canyoners who had to be winched to safety from the pool just above the Cascade de Soufflet. Entrance is seasonal, June to September and between 3.5E and 5E.

servoz gorges

Other things you might want to do with the family can be found here.

‘Even tough guys love their home comforts’ apparently

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I was amused to read the article in the Evening Standard last night claiming that Chamonix is, at last, going up market.

This upgrade is instantly apparent in the attractive town centre with its shop-fronts – many new this winter – featuring edgy sportswear brands such as Oxbow, North Face and Mammut.”

Ok, I might not have kids in private school or drive a 4×4, but according to The Times we tick many of the boxes entitling us to be middle class (you know, eating humus, going to the Latitude Festival, organic veg boxes, real fires etc.) and part of that is buying said brands from the shops listed above. These shops have been in the town for years!  Not being upper-middle class, I’m personally more impressed by the Chanel, Mont Blanc and Monclur boutiques which I’ve never set foot in due to the fear of the price tags.  There are also the prestigious ‘heritage’ type establishments such as Arpin 1871  and Aux Petits Gourmands – Pâtisserie -Salon de Thé to peer through the window at.  And in terms of Michelin stared restaurants there are 3 in the town center alone (Le Bistro and Le Hameau Albert 1er, Auberge de Bois Pin), with plenty more Gourmet restaurants to sample. To a little girl from Wales that’s all up market 🙂

So whats the fuss?  Well, apparently now there are chalets renting for £31,500 per week (!!!) in Les Bossons ‘to revival those found in Courcheval or Megeve’, and presumably Meirbel too. Seemingly, people who can afford that kind of rent can also afford a private driver to overcome the drag of not being able to ski back down to the door, so making the resort feel less disjointed, and now everything is becoming rosy :-).

And if we hadn’t realized the tourist make up is going to change I read that a new spa complex will be opening in 2014. The new 1,500m2 spa will be located behind the Richard Bozons sports centre and feature saunas, steam rooms, beauty parlors and massage rooms.

Not a bad thing to bring even more money into the town I suppose, but I might now have to fight for my space on the gentler slopes as this lot are probably not going to disappear off piste. Oh well, my TK Maxx kit will still put me in good steed to face the elements, I’m sure.

Ladies who like to lunch would love the Excelsior, Les Tines

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Although of course this time of year is full of snow and the excitement of the new season, I was prompted to remember a very fine lunch from our summer holiday when I read about the recent avalanche evacuation in Les Tines. (Thankfully it was just precautionary.)

After quite a wet summer season the last week of August was blessed with a beautiful week following nicely into September. Earlier in the week we’d cycled from the town, through the Bois du Bouchet, up the valley along the side of the Arve and decided to circle back via the Paradis des Praz after cruising through Le Bois.  It was a trip of about 8 miles which the children managed quite comfortably. Part of the route took us through Les Tines. We were spoilt for lunch choices while cycling through Les Bois and Les Tines.

Given the fine weather, when our friends returned for their second leg of their visit we opted for the restaurant with a pool – Hotel Excelsior.  However this was in effect a bonus, as the meal was very fine and it would have been a treat to eat there regardless of the veranda and pool.  I must admit I can’t remember exactly what we ate, but I recall the kids ice creams were top quality :-).  I remember the food being beautifully presented though and the staff extremely accommodating, particularly as two of our party seemed to add an extra 13 miles onto their cycle trip so arrived a little after 2pm.  The bill was around 100E for the 4 of us including drinks.

After our lovely lunch the kids played in the pool for an hour or so, the pull of Paradis des Praz not being quite as large as it usually is.  So it was just as well we were cycling not driving, with the parents making the most of the bar facilities. Restaurant Le A, just at the corner of our road is also a lovely dinning experience with a pool, but perhaps not as informal and rural as The Excelsior.

The bit that tickled Yas and I the most was seeing a small number of slightly older ladies arriving for afternoon tea.  Then taking it by the pool and going for a dip. How marvellous, we can’t wait for retirement.

Kilian’s quest at the Adventure Film Festival

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We’ve heard rumours about how exceptional this man is. we’ve seen the films, last night was an extraordinary opportunity to see and hear the man himself in the flesh.

Having popped along to the adventure film festival last year we thought we’d do the same again this year, particularly after having watched the trailer of Cold by Simone Moro and his fellow climbers. Unfortunately we’d missed the premiere of that but we weren’t disappointed with the Saturday night line up.

Both the Feel the Hill and Wild Water were a breath-taking watch. Seb Montaz’s work, as usual was beautiful, although perhaps less of a surprise as we are followers of his work.

However to see Kilian was fantastic. In the flesh you would first be impressed by his trilingual ability, but to take questions from the audience must have been nerve racking for most 24yr olds and he coped very well in both English & French.
There was a rumour that he runs for 30 hrs per week’ – Kilian ‘True.’

Do you really ascend 520,000 metres pe year?’Kilian ‘ Yes’
‘Why don’t you run carry any water bottles?‘ – Kilian: ‘There are always mountain streams around and it’s quite easy to run for an hour without water’.
‘Why do you do it?’ – Kilian: ‘Because I can and the mountain is there.’
But the question that got the most amazed response from the audience was his little training jaunt this week. “I took it easy, but yes we ran up Mont Blanc this week. We ran the standard route from Les Houches, past Bellvue and up, it took 4th 15mins’ – excuse me???!!!! ‘Yes just over 4 hrs and we took it easy on the way back down too, we stopped at a refuge for some lunch and got down in about 2.5 hrs” Well what can you say??? The average extremely fit person will take 2 days, but not Kilian. It’s just a afternoon out!!…

From what I gather his sister accompanied him on this ‘slow’ jaunt up MB this week too. What a family!!

However none of these exploits seemed odd to him and he clearly enjoyed what he does. He came across as quite ordinary and humble. Very likeable but clearly amazing.

So with that little bit of prep he is still fit to run the UTMB later this week. Best of luck to him, but it almost doesn’t seem as though he’ll need it. Twice a winner, let’s see if this year is his third.

If you want to watch the final free open air screening of the festival, you’ll find it in Les Houches at Lac des Chavants on Tuesday 2th Aug. Apparently you’ll chance to meet the huskies that evening as well as watch 3 films.