Posts Tagged ‘france’

There’s been a long gap since the last update of Where’s Matthew, but that is because my new role has kept me largely office-based over the past few months. 

We had an invitation this weekend to visit Troyes, outside Paris, to celebrate the 50th birthday of Aude’s godfather.  After weeks of 35C+ temperatures, the weather turned much cooler and wetter on Saturday – not the best conditions for a 350km drive.  But we made it, even finding some time to squeeze in a little shopping at the factory outlets on the way.

We had a great time at the party, hosted in a vintner’s warehouse dating back to the 12th century.  Located in Champage, the theme of the evening was wine – starting with a comparison of blanc de blancs vs. blanc de noirs for the aperitif, then moving onto a bit of wine trivia and guessing games with each of the following courses.  Throw in a fantastic magician and a superb band, and it really was a wonderful evening.

The next morning, we decided to do a little exploring of the town.  Around noon, we decided to stop for lunch and sat down at a cafe on the main square.  Since the place was empty, we sat down side-by-side at a table of four, facing the square in typical cafe fashion. 

That’s when we had a “French” moment.  The waitress came over and asked us to move to a table-of-two.  I pointed out that there were 200 empty seats in the place, but the waitress was insistent. We got up and left.

Cafe L'Odyssee in Troyes, completely empty

Good thing we did — an hour later, it looks like the place was overflowing with customers. *rolls eyes*

No pictures from our final day of skiing as I managed to leave the camera at the apartment, but we headed back to the Flégère side of the Brévent-Flégère area, determined to ski the rest of the mountain after our disappointing day on Wednesday.  The weather in the morning was perfect, with good snow conditions on the ground, temperatures just above freezing, and light cloud that burned off as the morning went on. 

We spent a little more time looking at the piste maps and made our way over to two slopes on the far edge of the mountain.  The two slopes, a red run called Crochues and parallel black run, Floria, have to qualify as some of the best skiing I’ve ever done.  It takes three lifts to reach the top, but it’s worth it.  Stunning views, challenging pistes, and almost no one else around.  Top to bottom is about 25 minutes at a reasonable pace.  Definitely on my list of slopes that I’d like to ski again…

Such a shame I didn’t remember my camera!

By mid-afternoon, the clouds and snow had rolled in.  At about 3pm we called it a day and headed back to the apartment to get cleaned up for our last night in Chamonix.

Matthew at the top of Courmayeur

Hurray! Some sun at last!


Aude at the top of Courmayeur

Hurray! Some sun at last!


Day four of skiing took us through the Mont Blanc Tunnel and onto Courmayeur, on the Italian side of the border.  The weather conditions were much better, and for most of the morning we had sunshine and temperatures just above freezing.  We skied a few runs on the front of the mountain, then headed over to the back of the mountain to seek out some more interesting stuff.

Matthew in Courmayeur

Matthew in Courmayeur. With some big mountains in the background.


Aude in Courmayeur

Aude in Courmayeur


A number of people had recommended that we try Courmayeur, and suggested that it was the best of the mountains in Chamonix.  We came away feeling a little disappointed.  The runs are much shorter than the other areas of Chamonix, and nearly the entire mountain is groomed pistes – which means that there isn’t much variety to the slopes.  The lift system isn’t well thought out, so you always have to ski across to one set of lifts or another.  Throw in the Italian ineptitude for queuing and you end up with a frustrating skiing experience. 

Aude beckons to expert slopes

Like Eve with her apple, Aude seduces Matthew onto the expert runs...


Scared Matthew on slopes

At some point in every man's life, there comes a time when he must venture off the bunny slopes...


The Italians also seem to grade on a curve.  The red slopes on the Italian side were like the blue slopes on the French side, and even the black slopes weren’t overly-challenging.  There were lots of slopes, I guess, but the lack of variety meant that after a day skiing Courmayeur, I was done.

Matthew in Courmayeur

Tucking into some good food in the Italian Alps


Aude in Courmayeur

Tucking into some good food in the Italian Alps


One thing did live up to its promise, though: the food.  The dining options on the Italian mountain were much better than on the French side.  Aude had homemade polenta with mushrooms, I had a veal steak with ham and cheese, and we shared an incredible charcuterie.

If only we could match the Italian cooking with the French slopes, I’d be in heaven.

Vin chaud

A well-deserved glass of vin chaud at the end of the day.

Snow in Chamonix

Heavy snow outside our window didn't bode well for skiing today

Snow in Chamonix

More snow... Chamonix Mont-Blanc train station

Clouds hanging over the Chamonix train station

Clouds hanging over the Chamonix train station Aude bundled up against the cold. Even though we're not skiing, she's still smiling. C'est les vacances!

Clouds in Chamonix

Low-hanging clouds over the centre of Chamonix

Day three of skiing was not quite the success we’d hoped it would be.  Woke up this morning to grey, cloudy skies and a mix of rain and snow.  Determined to ski regardless, we headed back to Brévent-Flégère to ski some of the mountain we didn’t get a chance to ski yesterday.

After a long gondola ride up the mountain from the (now-open) Flégère lift, we arrived to find 15cm of new powder, but heavy snow and dense fog meant visibility was near zero.  We managed two runs before giving up – the pleasure of skiing in fresh powder was outweighed by the fact that we were freezing and couldn’t see anything.   We headed back down the mountain at lunchtime.

Resigned to spending the afternoon in town, we turned our attention to more important matters: lunch.

Stuffed trophy heads in restaurant

The restaurant was...rustic

Kitsch rustic french restaurant interior

The restaurant was also a little...kitsch

Menu of cheese specialities

Not a great choice for the lactose-intolerant...

Salad with local sausages and cheese

Salad with local sausages and cheese

Wild boar terrine

Wild boar terrine

Veal escalope with ham, cheese and cream

Veal escalope with ham, cheese and cream. A nice, light lunch.

Braised beef cheek

Braised beef cheek

Waffles with chocolate and caramel

Waffles with chocolate and caramel

Red fruits sorbet with berry coulis

Red fruits sorbet with berry coulis

We finished the day by buying our tickets for the Mont Blanc tunnel – we’re crossing our fingers for better weather as we ski Courmayeur in Italy tomorrow.  We’ve been told that it’s the best skiing in the area, so we’re really looking forward to it.

Matthew in Chamonix

Aude in Chamonix

Day two of skiing was great – warm, sunny weather all day long.  If anything, it was a little too warm, with temperatures near 10C.  By mid-morning the snow was soft and heavy, making it tough to ski.

We skied the Brévent-Flégère area, plenty of variety and lots of southern sunshine to keep us warm.  The gondola on the Flégère side was closed, so we headed back to the centre of Chamonix and caught the lift from Brévent.  Lots of beginners on the slopes, so we caught the connecting lift over to Flégère and basically had the mountain to ourselves (as access from the base of the mountain was closed).

Aside from sore feet, a perfect day of skiing!

Matthew in Chamonix

After three weeks of waiting, our skis finally turned up.  I made a quick trip to our local ski shop for the final tuning, and we were ready to go.

The traffic getting down to Chamonix was very heavy, especially coming across Switzerland.  The entire nation of Holland decided to go on vacation all at once, and every car on the road seemed to be Dutch.  They were all in an enormous hurry to get where they were going, tailgating and weaving in-and-out of traffic.  With the predictable consequences. 

I managed to avoid being rear-ended, but the two cars behind me didn’t.  Someone didn’t react fast enough, and as surely as day follows night, there was a three-car pile-up in my rear-view mirror.

Halfway to Geneva, the traffic thinned out.  By the time we got to Chamonix, the roads were almost empty – a few Brits, a few Swiss, and mostly French cars.  We checked into our apartment, run by a British couple, and settled in for the night.  We headed out to the local restaurant (also run by the British couple) and found ourselves transported back to the UK: Guinness in proper pint glasses and not a word of French to be heard from the staff or clientele.  I guess it’s all about meeting what the market demands.

Despite paper-thin walls, we slept well and were up early.  There was a little snow overnight, but the roads were largely clear.  We hit the slopes around 10am and had the mountain to ourselves, at least until 11am when the French managed to struggle out of bed and onto the slopes.  Great conditions today, with temperatures between 6-10 degrees Celsius and clear, blue skies.

They’re predicting more snow tonight, so hopefully good conditions await us tomorrow!