Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Grapes to Alps

On Saturday, we moved, once again, from our urban apartment in the town of Beaune to the Haute-Savoie department in the French Alps.  After a week of crowds and vineyards, we were ready for the quiet and drama of the off-season in the mountains.

The drive from Burgundy to Haute-Savoie is surprisingly quick although the topography could not be more different.  Those who grew up in western North America will better understand the quick change of scenery – less than three hours drive – from the low rolling hills to craggy peaks.  Those of us who grew up in the eastern US have nothing to compare it to and the change can be quite disconcerting.  There’s a hint of peaks on the horizon, or maybe it’s just the clouds, you can’t really tell, and the climb along the autoroute is so gradual that it’s almost unnoticeable, then you round a curve and suddenly there’s a 2000-meter peak in front of you. 

We left Beaune at 10:30ish, after a quick visit to the massive Saturday market there to restock and to the gas station.  By 1:30 we were in Samoëns, the closest village to where we’d rented a chalet for the week.  It was Saturday during lunch and during the off-season, so we didn’t expect to find much open and we weren’t surprised.  The office du tourisme was closed but had helpfully left some town maps available which we took to help navigate our way to the wide spot in the road where our chalet is located. 

We found the chalet in that wide spot called Clos Parchet, basically a collection of chalets and farms (less than a dozen) along the road to Morzine, about five kilometers out of Samoëns.  It’s an old place, small but cozy, and a bit of juxtaposition.  In the kitchen is a very nice Bosch dishwasher but a clunky Swiss stove.  There’s not the most attractive linoleum on the floor and the cabinets must date to the original construction, but there are modern windows and newish front door.  It’s charming but quite small, smaller than we expected, with no wi-fi and no laundry (probably due to septic constraints). 

However, its rusticity was more than made up for (after a glass of wine) by its charm and the beauty of its location.  We’ll let the photos speak for themselves…
Almost 1/2 of Clos Parchet...
Our Chalet
View out the kitchen window
View out the back
And another big change – we cooked dinner for ourselves!  The entire time we were in Beaune and its outskirts, we had dinner out every night because everything was close and there were lots of good restaurants to choose from.

Here in the sticks – beautiful as they are – it’s the off-season and even in-season, the skiers/boarders/etc. who show up seem to care more for pizza and burgers (based on the menus posted on closed restaurants) than for gourmet fare.   Plus the closest restaurant is 15 minutes away down a tortuously twisting road, not the best for driving after a big dinner and a bottle of wine!

We expected this too, so at the market in Beaune, we bought onions, garlic, parsley, a whole roasted chicken, haricot verts, cheese, fruit and bread, then at the local Carrefour (a national grocery chain in France), eggs, milk, Arborio rice, chicken stock, amongst other stuff, and prepared to eat at home three meals a day for the foreseeable future.

With all rentals, the kitchen is always an unknown.   Will there be enough cookware, and will it be usable, or even clean?  Will the stove and oven work?  How?  In our case in Clos Parchet, the oven and stove worked fine, but the cookware left a lot to be desired.  Once we washed the pots, they were in better shape but we stayed away from the non-stick as it was flaky and chipped.  I like to control what’s in my risotto, thank, you.

Anyway, after some work, we made a very nice roasted chicken risotto with haricots verts with our takings from the various markets.  It was a nice way to inaugurate our first night in the mountains.


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