Something to sharpen the appetite as well as the edges!
For a lot of us, the brilliance of ski holidays isn’t entirely about the adrenaline rush of gliding down the mountainside: what you do when you’re not clipped into your bindings counts too, particularly when it comes to eating and drinking. Sometimes a plate of self-service chicken and soggy chips at 25 euros a pop just won’t cut it.
Luckily, alongside winter tourism, the industry of agriculture thrives in the mild, sunny climate of the mountains. It makes for marvellous local produce: berries and herbs, bread and butter, cured meats and perhaps most importantly, cheeses and wines. World class restaurants and wine cellars naturally follow in its wake, and if you know where to look and what to look for, your taste buds are in for a treat.
Skiing and cheese have gone hand in hand since time immemorial – can you truly consider yourself a patron of the Alps if you haven’t dipped into a fondue, devoured croque monsieur or delighted over a tartiflette? Most ski areas serve as cattle pastures in the warmer months, and local cheesemongers use age-old techniques to create incredible varieties.
France’s Savoie region is particularly fruitful in this department, the home of Abondance cheese, Raclette de Savoie, tartiflette-topping Reblochon and the fondue fundamentals of Beaufort and Emmental de Savoie. Bleu du Vercors-Sassenage, Tomme de Savoie and Tome des Bauges are other varieties, all well worth trying. Ski-wise, it just so happens that many of the nation’s biggest and best ski resorts belong to the Savoie too – so for the cheesiest skiing visit Courchevel, Méribel, La Plagne or Les Arcs.
Image: Cheese glorious cheese in Courchevel. Some of the incredible locally made cheeses on offer in the Savoie ski resorts.
Whether spiced and steaming hot or chilled to sip on the terrace, wine is the perfect après ski libation. Finding a well-stocked wine cellar is rarely a problem in Alpine towns and ski resorts, and in certain regions you can drink excellent vintages from local wineries.
Vineyards flourish in the rich soils, high altitudes and sunny climate of the Alps. France’s Savoie region (our aforementioned cheese capital and home to the Three Valleys and Paradiski ski areas) creates some wonderful whites and though barely any Swiss wine makes it over the border, that’s not to say it shouldn’t be sampled. Red wines are prominent in Switzerland and Valais has the lion’s share of vineyards, which luckily for ski nuts is also the home of Verbier, Nendaz, Champery and Crans Montana.
If retirement allows you flexible travel dates, a road trip to the French or Swiss Alps passes through the cut-price wine kingdom of Calais and the champagne region, Reims – just make sure there’s room in your boot for souvenirs!
Italy is world renowned for its food and wine and the mountains are no exception. In the Dolomites, South Tyrol (also known as Alto Adige) produces some fabulous red and white wines. In spite of its small size, the region has an impressive 20-something grape varieties, over 150 wineries and more ‘Tre Bicchieri’ awards (from the Vini d’Italia guide) than anywhere else in Italy. Its Pinot Grigio is particularly famous and on the skiing side of things, spectacular South Tyrolean ski regions include Val Gardena and Alta Badia within the Dolomiti Superski.
Image: Slope-side food and vino by Alex Filz / IDM Alto Adige. South Tyrol’s red and white wines get high praise and go swimmingly with freshly cooked Ladin cuisine and Dolomite views.
Gourmet Ski Hotels
With such wonderful produce on their doorsteps and the funds to employ top chefs, it comes as no surprise that luxury ski hotels receive a magnitude of culinary recognition and awards. The Michelin and Gault-Millau guides shower the finest with stars and toques respectively, marking out the most foodie friendly destinations.
Courchevel in France is a goldmine of hotels with Michelin starred eateries:
Restaurant Le 1947 in Hotel Chevel Blanc has 3-stars, which Michelin award only to an ‘exceptional restaurant, worth a special journey’. Its glass-enclosed wine cellar features the best from ancient châteaux and new world wineries, including many local creations. Le Chabichou in Hotel Le Chabichou and Le Kintessence and Le Montgomerie (of the K2 Hotel Collection) each have 2-stars, given to an ‘excellent restaurant, worth a detour’.
There are also three restaurants with 1 star, and more starred restaurants in nearby Méribel, Val Thorens and Saint Martin de Belleville. Part of the wine and cheese making Savoie region, Courchevel has a reputation for unparalleled luxury when it comes to hotels, chalets and shopping as well as food.
In Switzerland’s Zermatt, it’s hard to find a hotel that Gault-Millau haven’t praised:
After Seven in the Backstage Hotel and Ristorante Capri of the Mont Cervin Palace each have 3 toques, which are awarded to restaurants with the ‘highest creativity and quality and best possible preparation’ (they also have 3 Michelin stars between them).
An iconic mountain town near the Italian border, the resort hosts the Swiss Food Festival, has its own cheesemaker (Horu-Käserei, which uses Zermatt milk) and brewery (the Zermatt Matterhorn Brewery, which uses spring water from local sources) and is home to craft chocolate shops and one of the best bakeries – Biner – in Switzerland.
Image: Hotel haute cuisine. The Backstage Hotel is Zermatt’s only 2 Michelin star establishment where Swiss celebrity chef Ivo Adam serves artistic cuisine using regional produce.
That’s far from your lot! Other ski resorts with highly acclaimed hotel restaurants include Megeve in France, San Cassiano in Italy and Lech and Ischgl in Austria.
Gourmet accommodation doesn’t only come in hotel form and luxury chalets are another way to experience incredible food in the Alps. If you’re travelling as a group and can fill a private chalet, the most extravagant epicurean properties have their own wine cellars, and chefs (often with Michelin star restaurant experience) who will create a personalised menu of breakfasts, teas and suppers to be served in stunning private dining rooms.
Image: Chalet breakfast with a view. Chalet Marco Polo is one of the amazing foodie chalets in Val d’Isere offered by the London based specialist in luxury chalets, SNO. It has a wine cellar with banqueting space, a fromagerie for cheese tastings, a luxurious dining room and a heated terrace with a BBQ and outdoor kitchen.