The Joys of Navigating a New Country
When we landed in France, we immediately headed straight for the mountains thinking it would be fine to get to the Airbnb and bit late. What we didn’t realize was not only how long of a drive it was but also that Google does not operate the same way in France.
Directions took us through tiny treacherous winding mountain roads in the pitch darkness of deep night. We wove into the smallest villages, almost as quickly as we wove out, snaking our way through some of the towns intricate and narrow road systems. Eventually our map took us to a road completely impassable with snow declaring that we had arrived. Thank goodness for T-Mobile’s fantastic international plan (not sponsored but should be!), even out among giants with no road signs or electricity light in sight, I still managed to get the smallest signal. It wasn’t much but it was enough to navigate us properly to our Airbnb, or rather shall I say our Château in the French Alps. Seriously, how often can one say that, so yes I will be working Château in the French Alps into the story as much as possible.
Saint-Martin-de-Belleville & Les 3 Vallées
Navigating to Saint-Martin-de-Belleville wasn’t the easiest, but when we awoke in the morning we were delighted to see the sun shining over this charming alpine village. What was supposed to be a ski-in & ski-out, ended up being a lovely 15 minute walk to the part of the resort that was open, due to lack of snow, but in the meantime we soaked up the stunning view from our new home for the next week.
Relais & Châteaux
Wandering into town, we discovered that only a short two doors down from us was Restaurant La Bouitte, a casual little spot donning 3 Michelin star awards. We popped into to see the menu and considered whether we had earned a fancy meal or not. The answer to that is always yes, we have. We booked for a couple days later, hoping that by then the snow would return and we will actually have earned a feast.
As luck would have it, the snow did return and our meal was hard earned. Dining to the French is more of a sacred ritual, each moment a pause in devotion to each ingredient deliberately coupled with every flavor your mouth encounters. This experience being what it was, I thought it more appropriate to practice their ritual of presence with food. Standing in the shoes of the French, I also had this image of a silly blonde traveler whipping out her cell phone standing to get all the angles a bit ridiculous even in my mind.
Eight-courses, plus a cheese course that sadly I missed out on due to what is now a hilarious story. Every course presented just as beautifully as it tasted, until I encountered one course I will never forget, nor live down with Oli and I would be remiss to not share the story here. Every plate had new flavors and pairings I had never encountered, it was exactly what you would expect from the ingenious talents of a restaurant with 3 Michelin stars. I was thrilled with each plate that arrived in front of me with the timing, grace, and delivery of a Broadway musical.
That is until they brought out the foie gras. And not just any foie gras, but the fattiest, juiciest, largest foie gras I had ever seen, even thinking of it now makes my mouth water in all the wrong ways. Priding myself on being a polite american traveler, and always willing to try something twice (okay I’ve tried foie gras a few times and hated it every time) I smiled and choked down a few bites. Texture for many like myself is a key part of the nourishment process and as such this did not go well.
Forcing myself to play it cool, I casually laid my fork down as if to pause and really take it all in. I smiled at the passing staff, all looking expectantly should we need anything at all. Trying my best poker face probably failed because I wear my emotions on my face, and my emotions said, or rather my stomach said no freaking thank you. Walking at a determined pace, I found my way to the bathroom and released myself from misery.
Sad, a bit defeated, and still a little uneasy I sat back down, catching a glimpse from the chef who looked very displeased. Our next course was the cheese course, the French have over 400 cheeses and we were presented with tower of cheese rolled out on a wheel barrow with 5-tiers of stacked and stinky cheese. Oli asked the fromager which cheese she suggested, and she expertly plucked a few without knocking the whole pile over, one of which Oli still says years later, is the best cheese he has every tasted. I on the other hand was graced with a small digestive sorbet from the sympathetic waiter.
Our meal was rounded out with a few more courses, and we were sent on our way with a bag full of pastries and macaroons. It was an experience I will never forget, partially because Oli likes to tell everyone we meet the story of how I puked up a €1,400 meal at the 3 Michelin Star restaurant in France.
Snowboarding, Hiking, and a Helicopter Transfer
Before mother nature gifted us with some new snowfall, she happily was handing out sunny days, one of which we took advantage and went for an Oli hike up a random hill in the snow. Warm enough to hike in a tank top, we made our way up & up, until our tiny village looked even tinier.
Patiently waiting and entertaining ourselves well, the snows finally made an appearance and we woke up to a bluebird powder day. Oli was finally getting the hang of carving and to one the most epic backdrop I have ever seen. I got one of my favorite videos of the trip and took a quick photo to commemorate the moment.
I was so happy to see it finally click for him, especially because a couple days prior I had gone off to do some harder runs with a new friend and came back to find Oli bloody and broody. It was icy and he managed to break his fall with his face.
Bloody nose, bloody lip, and a scratch up his face and side, he was officially indoctrinated into the snowboard club. Proof being that two days later, with a day of rest in between he was carving like a pro. Sometimes you just have to sacrifice a little blood to the snow gods as initiation, it also probably helped that I changed his stance on his board to be duck footed like me.
Helicopter Transfer to Grand Massif
When the time came to finally say goodbye to our beloved little village, we packed our things and climbed into a cab. We had a 3+ hour cab journey ahead of us and we settled in, but not for long. I realized the cab had gone the wrong way and started driving up the mountain. Thinking the GPS the tricked us again, I kept poking Oli saying we should say something.
Arriving at the ski resort I assumed the driver would realize his mistake and finally turn around, but instead we were led to a gate, which they opened, and beyond I finally pieced together that our transfer to Grand Massif was not a cab.
Riding in a helicopter had never been high on my bucket list, until I rode one through the French Alps right passed the summit of iconic Mont Blanc. That should be on everyone’s bucket list. We arrived in style and with big grins on our faces and headed to Chateau Bleu, Oli’s cousin’s family Chateau for a week with new friends.