Our family made the marathon drive from London to Val d’Isere before Christmas and spent a fun week skiing, relaxing … and eating! The secret to making the drive fun for (sometimes cranky) husband Philippe was to ask him to plan the route according to the restaurants he wanted to eat at on the way! We pulled out in our old VW Sharan at 6:08 (missing Philippe’s ETD by 8 minutes) in the morning. Kids slept in the back, made it to Dover and crossed the Channel on the EuroTunnel. In spite of high winds and stormy weather, we drove through Normandy and arrived in Paris just in time for a late lunch at our favorite Cafe’ Constant. My favorites were the fresh salmon and oyster salad with lime, Navarin d’Agneau, the Langoustine Ravioli and profiteroles with warm chocolate sauce for dessert!
For dinner we ate at the Violon d’Ingres restaurant on rue St. Dominique andhighlights included the riz de veau or sweetbreads as a main course and their delicious, light souffle’ au caramel au sel de Guerande (the delicious caramel sauce with special Guerande salt for contrast).
We could hardly walk home but fortunately stayed in the Cognac vacation apartment rental only a few blocks away. We try to ‘test drive’ the Paris Perfect apartments as often as possible in order to keep them in tip top shape — and Cognac passed the test with only a few suggestions.
We set off the next day to enjoy the gastronomic highlight of our vacation, having lunch at Michelin-starred Bernard Loiseau in Saulieu. It..was…awesome! Loiseau was a 3 star Michelin chef who brought French cuisine to new heights in the 1990′s. He tragically died in 2003 but the restaurant has continued to earn 3 stars under the management of his wife and their head chef. Have a look at some of the dishes …. I bought Loiseau’s cookbook for families and look forward to sharing some of his easier recipes.
Fabulous lunch and then came the desserts ….
We spent the night in Beaune, the second time since November, when Philippe and I visited with his cousin and friends to taste Burgundy wines. It’s a beautiful Medieval City and the Dukedom of Burgundy rivalled Paris in ancient times.
Beaune is an excellent destination for a day outing from Paris. There are two TGV’s per day, departing from the Gare du Lyon in Paris. The trip takes 2 hours and 15 minutes taking you through the beautiful countryside of Burgundy. The city center is a perfect size to walk around, enjoy wine tasting and a nice lunch — then return to Paris. Check here for train schedules from Paris to Beaune .
The next morning, we continued our drive to the Alps. Due to recent snowstorms, we parked the car at the McDonald’s in Bourg St. Maurice at the foot of the mountains and hired a taxi to take us to Val d’Isere. No, we didn’t eat at the Golden Arches, but McDonald’s is popular in France for the same reason it’s popular worldwide. Consistent food quality at very reasonable prices. We were very appreciative it was open the morning we dug out the car on our way home, happy you can now buy espresso and capuccino’s there. Okay, it’s instant but it was cheap! The kids made fun of my admiration and pride in American technology with their flip-top openings on their lids — nothing spills out when taking sharp turns!
We had a fun week at Club Med in Val d’Isere. Club Med has gone through an upheaval in the past decade, closing lower-end locations and upgrading others. Our cramped rooms left something to be desired but the food and ambiance were excellent. Ski lessons from the Ecole de Ski de France were included and we set out most mornings to conquer the slopes. Our instructor Alain did a good job, but nothing can help my poor technique!
We recommend skiing in Val d’Isere and the Trois Vallee’s highly. You’ll love the mountains and enormous ski terrain, you’ll love skiing and the excellent restaurants and bistros on the pistes, enjoying the sunshine and scenery!
One day we invited our ski instructor Alain (nicknamed Matou or Tomcat) for a beer before lunch. He told us on the first day: ‘If you get lost and stop another ski instructor saying you’ve lost your instructor Alain, they won’t know who you’re talking about. But if you tell them it’s Matou, they’ll find me.’ He invited his colleague Richard to join us. As frequently happens in France, we started on the subject of favorite foods. Richard started talking about Choucroute, a wonderful winter dish from his region of Alsace. He boasted that his mother makes the best choucroute in the world: ‘The secret is cooking the cabbage 3 times, pressing out the liquid, rinsing it well, cooking twice more until it’s almost caramalised’ He kissed his fingertips and pronounced: ‘ La Choucroute de ma mere c’est la meilleure!’
They moved on to tips for the best pots and pans; Richard prefers Fissler from Germany (raving about Amazon.fr — where he finds cheaper suppliers in Germany and fast shipping), but his wife finds them heavy to lift. Alain believes nothing beats Le Creuset and their cast iron cookware. Richard prefers Henkel knives while Matou raved about Opinel, the local brand of knives from the Savoie. Husband Philippe agreed with Richard on the knives and said Matou was prejudiced about Opinel knives because he is a Savoyard.
The conversation and excitement discussing favorite dishes accelerated and I could hardly keep up ‘Of course, one of the best dishes is the Roti de Veau or Breast of Veal. The secret is sewing chestnuts into the breast. ‘ And ‘Bien sur, Le Plat Classique Pour L’hiver — Pot au Feu’; the classic winter dish, Pot au Feu! I learned that the secret to the best Pot au Feu is adding a calf’s foot to the bouillon. They swore by this asI struggled to keep up with their tips. Start by sauteeing the beef in goose or duck fat only — absolument!– add shallots, other ingredients and of course the calf’s foot. Must cook for at least 4 hours and add the vegetables at the end, otherwise they will overcook. I had to pull out my iphone to take notes!
Matou and Richard couldn’t understand why I started to laugh until I explained that where else but in France could you take ski lessons and receive cooking tips from your ski instructor! In my 20′s and 30′s I skiied in the US where lunch consisted of pulling frozen sandwiches from my pockets and eating them on the ski lift. Here I was eating like a queen and getting excellent cooking tips … from our ski instructors! When they heard about my bologna sandwiches, Matou and Richard decided they weren’t interested in skiing the Rockies after all. I assured them there are many fine restaurants in American ski resorts, but the difference is the choice and price. culture. In France, it’s seems like a god-given right to have an excellent choice of reasonably-priced quality restaurants, whereever you are.
I learned to ski in Flagstaff Arizona, Lake Tahoe and Park City, Utah and always wanted to take my family there to experience skiing in the West. But remembering the pizzas and microwave tv dinners that kept us going then, I realized we are lucky enough to have it all in France. Great skiing, a wonderful ambiance with family and friends … and best of all, excellent cuisine at affordable prices.