Reviews and comparisons

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

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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.

Alpine Home Swap

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We have enjoyed many great holidays in Chamonix, both in the winter and summer.  However, we are blessed with the typical 21st, teetering on the edge, if not there, spoilt tweenagers. No end of telling them how ‘it wasn’t like this when I was growing up’ or ‘ you don’t know how lucky you are’ comments have prompted them to only desire Chamonix as their eternal holiday destination. Fair enough, there is a big wide world out there.

So I was most intrigued when I was approached by Chris Byrne and his little outfit Alpine Home Swap. Usually I tend not to pay too much attention to the requests to advertise the flat on one site or another,  but my little cherubs had pricked my conscience

 so it was a timely suggestion.

I had a look at the site and at that time it seemed to be small but perfectly formed and possibly a testament to the instigators well connected friends.

The idea seemed sensible; only owners of holiday homes could join and no money need exchange hands (:-P Mr tax man), providing both parties could agree on suitable exchange dates.  Accommodation need not be the same size, just as long as both parties get out of it what they desire. Right sign me up!

When we first registered for the extremely low introductory rate my initial requests to swap fell on deaf ears. Okay asking to swap a sleeps 6 for a sleeps 10 at half term, even with offering to pay the difference was rather optimistic… Anyway I’d forgotten about my requests until about 10 months later when I was invited to swap. Yes, let’s give it another go. After a quick look at what was on offer during a school holiday we bit his hand off. It even sleeps  8 if we wanted to pay a bit extra to have the extra beds made.

Our invitee turned out to be the chap who set it up, so it was good to be in the hands of seasoned swapper as such. Agreement paperwork seemed sensible and straight forward: sign on the dotted line and there you go.

So we now have a ski trip

 in Grimentz Switzerland to look forward to at Easter, courtesy of Chamonix.

NOW kids, you can’t say that we don’t listen to what you want 🙂

Alpine Home Swap

During the summer beach and lake homes owned by members were also added and now there are currently 120 fantastic places available via Alpine Home Swap.  And the more members that join, the lower the membership fee become.

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.

Chamonix wins bronze for the best European ski resort at the British travel awards

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Thanks to the 71,367 households who voted in this year’s British Travel Awards – casting over 700,000 votes for the companies nominated in the BTA 2011 – BTA have now released the results of these important travel industry accolades.

And perhaps, not surprisingly given you’re reading this blog, Chamonix received a bronze award in the Best Worldwide Attraction & Destination category: European ski destination.  So let’s remember why….

Chamonix is the 3rd most visited natural attraction in the World and throughout the year it plays host to a cosmopolitan clientele. Mountaineers, hikers, enthusiasts of legendary places, all types of sportsmen and women and ordinary visitors, there’s something here to fulfil everyone’s wishes. Renowned in winter for its skiing, the Compagnie du Mont-Blanc offers 3 superb mountain areas with styles that are as different as they are complementary to one another :

Brevent-Flegere area : the great skiing spectacle

Situated between the altitudes of 1030 m. and 2525 m. and linked by cable car, these two south-facing areas offer the finest view points in the Alps. To make progress in a sumptuous setting, enjoy varied pistes of all levels and to discover some of the finest runs in the Valley.

Grands-Montets area : legendary skiing

Situated between the altitudes of 1235 m. and 3300 m., the Grands Montets area enables you to ski the greatest height losses in the world in the heart of the mountains, close to a glacier. The pistes are spread over three slopes – the Argentière glacier, Lognan and the Pendant which also offer magnificent off-piste, known throughout the world and essential for freeriders.

Balme area : skiing amidst nature

Amongst the alpine pastures and starting from the villages of le Tour and Vallorcine, the Balme areas offer multiple skiing and pleasure on two distinct slopes. In the Charamillon sector, you can enjoy wide, gentle pistes facing the Chamonix Valley, while the Vallorcine sector enables you to ski through the pine trees near the Swiss border. It is possible to ski back to the resort.  This is our kids favourite.

A a beautiful film by Seb Montaz to get you in the mood for this award-winning resort 🙂

The awards are the largest consumer voted independent awards scheme in the UK, audited by Deloitte, The British Travel Awards in association with Lloyds TSB Cardnet, serves to recognise all that is great about UK travel companies – according to the all important customer.

Lunch in Vallorcine’s L’Arret Bougnete, a simple treat

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We stumbled upon this place by accident when we were skiing with the kids last year.  Our youngest was tired and we were keen to find a place for hot chocolate at the edge of the La Balme ski area, at Le Tour.  We followed the Piste de la Foret Vert (a blue run last year but red this year) to the bottom.  We found L’Arret Bougnete, the restaurant next to the train station in Vallorcine, and were very grateful for it.  You pass it as you walk from the bottom of the piste towards the cable car Tete de Balme.

We had drinks only on that occasion, but returned again this year to have lunch as the food looked so fresh. It serves simple regional food superbly cooked with no frills. The set menus are swiftly served by friendly staff. – we had local meaty sausages with boiled potatoes and cabbage, crozeflette with polenta and omelette for our main courses.  These dishes followed the anti pasta and green salad starters. Everything was reasonably priced.  For 4 adults each having a two coarse meal with wine, the bill came to 80 euros. As you can see for Chamonix in particular this is good value.

 

We were fortunate to get a table in the sun.  We arrived for a late lunch (2.30pm), as many people were leaving.  I appears that booking is recommended for large lunch parties.

It’s a lovely place to eat and relax after a morning’s skiing, walking, or even having done neither of those, going by the range of outfits of the clientel.  I must admit we were in two minds as to whether to have an other drink and just take the train back to Chamonix rather than ski back down to La Tour.

We understand that the restaurant is open in both the summer and winter, but isn’t open in the evenings, closing at 17hrs.

 

Plan de l’Envers 74660

VALLORCINE

04 50 54 63 04

 

Eating at Alan Peru. Fantastic!

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Chamonix has plenty of restaurants to choose from.  Unlike many French towns there is a plethora of world cuisine to sample, so when you feel a bit heavy after eating yet another cheesy, potatoey savoyarde dish it’s refreshing to find a fusion restaurant.

We found Alan Peru almost accidentally and it was in fact the set meal of tartiflette that drew our attention to the establishment – when dining with kids, homely, familiar dishes can be very attractive. The restaurant is situated between the market square and the l’ Aiguille de Midi lift, so almost off the main tourist thoroughfare, but close enough to feel apart of it all. Its also next to a recess in the pavement, which it shares with one of Chamonix’s Michelin stared restaurants, the Bistro.  The recess offered a little space for the kids to run around, away from other diners, should they get a little fidgety.  So it ticked all the kids boxes, therefore happy parents and we all sat on the terrace. 🙂

Then the parents were even happier when they looked at the proper menu!  A great range of meat, fish and vegetarian dishes with a distinctly asian influence. Between the adults we ordered tempura fish, burger, braised beef  and pork hock I think. 4 of the children split two tratiflettes and the eldest had the Yaki noodles that beat him (although no specific kids menus they were happy to split dishes).  All dishes were fantastic and we were spoilt for choice with flavours.  Presentation was also very modern and delicate. We would also have happily swapped the kids for the meals they had.

The service was friendly, patient and efficient when we were there in the summer.  Despite my command of pigeon French, responses were given in English which at least reduced possible confusion.

I’m sure its a restaurant that would like to position itself as relaxed, trendy and sophisticated and not have kids’ needs front of mind, but eating early evening in the summer it was perfect.  Our youngest daughter liked it so much that she asked to return there for her birthday the week after, and there were certainly no complaints from her parents. (This time I choose the falafel with coleslaw, which was beautifully fragrant and light and the kids shared the yaki noodles).  The second time we sat inside and got chatting to some lovely people who were experiencing the town for the first time.

Our next trip to Chamonix is without kids and in the snow, so we look forward to experiencng the restaurant ‘adult style’.  However I understand that things get busy, so we’ll be sure to book.

Restaurant Alan Peru in Chamonix Mont Blanc
Tel: +33  0450531604
Fax: +33  0450538067
Avenue l’ Aiguille de Midi
74400 Chamonix Mt Blanc
France

 

 

Lunch at Les Vieilles Luge, Les Houches

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As the Grand Montets opened this weekend and there is only one day left to bag your pre-season lift discounts, the skiing season has nearly begun in earnest.  As great fun as the white stuff is, my thoughts also turn to cosy mountain meals.

Last year I spent some time pondering where would be best to ski with the kidsand we settled on Argentiere. (We’ll be doing the same again this year, as it worked out nicely for us.)  I also wanted to check out some restaurants I’d heard about.  One such place was Les Vieilles Luge, located  on Telesige de Maison Neuve in Les Houches, accessible by skis, or a 20 min walk up from Maisonneuve.  Its probably one of the Chamonix valley’s few traditional feeling mountain side restaurants, often recommended for special occasions.

We booked a late lunch and found it to be warm, cosy and busy. The menu was relatively limited as you might expect but the cuisine quick and acceptable (the adults had roast duck in a fruity sauce and the kids had local sausages).  The  alpine decor was enchanting.  I’d like to say that the ambiance was fantastic too, but we arrived just as a mature French family were paying their bill and lamenting the existence of the English.  Quite understandably the staff looked rather embarrassed by the comment.  Things became more relaxed after that particular family left, but its a shame when other guests make you feel uncomfortable.

I must admit that, that was the first time we’ve witnessed irritation with the Brits and one of Chamonix’s strengths is that it is welcoming to people other than the locals.  However, it incentivizes you to learn the language, even if it might be just so you know what is being said about you. :-$  I suppose we should just laugh and say ‘vive la difference!’

Anyway little rant over, and here are some photos to give you a flavour of the place as we do intend to go back again even if its just for a vin chaud.

The restaurant is open throughout the ski season, lunch and dinner by reservation, or by special arrangement in the summer.

Skiing with kids in Chamonix – a number of choices

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Let’s face it, if your choice of skiing destination is driven by giving your kids an easy introduction to the Alpine art, Chamonix is not your first choice of resort.  As dynamic and beautiful as it is, it’s not ski in, ski out stuff.

We’ve always been aware of Chamonix’s reputation for being the playground of those with nerves of steel,  but with so many families in town, kids must be catered for, yes?  So itching to get out there ourselves, we’ve decided to take the kids out of school and sample ski school in the Chamonix valley.  I’m using the phrase ‘Chamonix valley’ intentionally, as we’re being faced with far more choices of locations and schools than we’ve been used to.

Whereas in most French resorts the choice is pretty much just vanilla ESF, we’re being offered quite a few more we could use:

  • British Association of Ski Schools, BASS Chamonix. Based in Argentiere with an English focus.  Appears to offer small group lessons.
  • Evolution 2. Mad dog ski has it down as the best independent ski school in the valley, principally run out of Argentiere.  Apparently they are also ‘progresssive’ in their teaching methods. It’s Panda Club is also run out of there.
  • ESF (Ecloe Ski Francaise) Sometimes you hear them knocked for being inflexible, and possibly a bit too keen to push your limits, but we’ve never had any problem.  As with most things, a lot of it comes down to individual personalities, and as we’re not going skiing in the UK we’re not surprised if the instructor doesn’t have an excellent command of English.
  • UCPA. I don’t know details personally but you see their black jackets all over the place, apparently ‘low-cost winter sport packages for groups, covering the premium resorts in the French alps.’ Possibly ski guides rather than instructors? You’ll need a good comand of French I think.

Then we have we’re faced with 5 skiing areas, all with their very own unique terrain.  It would be great to try them all over the week, but our choice of kids ski domain will act as the hub for much of our shussing.  So it’ll be important to chose a domain that offers us a wide enough variety to keep us adults entertained for the week, or enables a quick drop and run so we can head off elsewhere quickly.  So, where to base the kids?

  • Blame La Tour which has nice gentle slopes, but about a 20 minute drive up the valley.
  • Argentiere, again up the valley, probably about 13 minutes.  Better known for the challenges of Grands Montets than beginner friendliness.
  • Planards, a small self contained area with nursery slopes and one red run in the centre of the town.  Great for beginners, but only caters for those up to 1 star.  Those above are bused to Les Houches on a daily basis.
  • Savoy,which again is close to town, but the north side.  It has a flat beginners’ area with a drag lift behind Club Med that takes you up to Brevent. This also hopefully means you can park further away from the Planpraz gondola that takes you up to Brevent area which is joined to Flegere so you can all start skiing at the same time.
  • Les Houches, an area with some lifts not included in the Chamonix Le Pass I think.  Being further down the valley where the sides are less steep it offers much for beginners and intermediates. Personally on my last trip without kids I found this area the most pleasurable and I spotted a restaurant I’m itching to go to, Les Vielles Luge. This is about a 12 minutes drive down the valley from Barrats A.

So being prepared to put up with the ESF bashing we decided to keep with the programme the kids have already been introduced to.  Their collection of sparkling metal badge can then grow as they collect more etoiles. Um, more stuff to dust:-)

So for the purposes of enabling Mum and Dad to ski for at least 2 hours on our own we’re going to try Argentiere (Les Chosalets (1230 m)). – Savoy/Brevent was a close runner for a while, but given the kids’ different abilities (the 7yr old going into 1 star, the 9yr old 3 star) the all day lesson option for the elder child wasn’t available for the younger unless we were prepared for an expensive 2.5 hr lunch, or she was 125cm in height.

So hopefully Argentiere will be relatively straightforward with kids. Watch this space for reports.

Gosh, at this moment our usual skiing in Montalbert, La Plagne (Chalet Alexander) seems so much simpler when you’ve got kids. But we’ve got that to look forward to at the end of the season:-)

And here’s a link to family priced lift passes for the unlimited pass.

And if you are interested in finding out the ski area our kids prefer, here it is…..

And don’t forget this year new ski lifts are being built.

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