Don’t even think about counting the calories when you’re in France. Just surrender to the soulful sumptuousness of these much-loved French dishes – from fondue to tartiflette.
There’s something about just being in the French Alps – all that icy air, champagne-crisp sunlight and panoramas of craggy peaks thickly iced in snow – that gets our appetite going. And that’s before we’ve clipped into our boots and skis. At the end of the day (and often even halfway through), there’s nothing we’ll be craving more than one of these traditional French dishes.
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Fondue originated in Switzerland, but the French have made it their own – with a rub of garlic on the inside of the caquelon (the big ceramic pot used to serve it), a masterful blend of cheeses and a glug of good-quality sauvignon blanc. You shouldn’t have trouble finding fondue wherever you are, but we love Le Refuge in Méribel, with its timber and stone walls, roaring fireplace and sheepskin throws over chairs. Wherever you have it, remember the one cardinal rule: accidentally drop your bread into the pot and the next round of drinks is on you.
The story goes that this dish was invented by dairy herders who, after a day working in the alpine meadows, would use their campfire to soften a cold block of cheese, scraping the melted layer on to some bread. While the essence of this dish has stayed the same through the centuries, the delivery method has had a modern update with the addition of a small electric grill to melt the raclette at your table. That said, there are a handful of places that still prepare it the traditional way, such as Auberge Nemoz, where a half-wheel of cheese is thrust into the hearth of a log-burning fireplace before being scraped, browned and bubbling, on to your plate. It’s the epitome of French cuisine.
After a non-stop day on the slopes, when your engine is running on empty, there’s nothing like a tartiflette to instantly replenish those calories. Potatoes, reblochon cheese, bacon lardons, onions and a splash of white wine combine to create a delightfully bubbly, buttery, crusty baking dish full of deliciousness. You don’t need anything else, except perhaps a glass of ice-cold beer and a wedge of crusty bread to mop up any remains your fork couldn’t manage. For a golden example, try Chalets de l’Arc in Les Arcs, with its crackling fires and sun-flooded outdoor terrace.
If your ski trip happens to coincide with your birthday, forget the chocolate gateaux and stick candles in one of these instead: farçon (or, sometimes, farcement) is a warm bacon and potato cake, traditionally cooked in a tall, doughnut-shaped pan, similar to a bundt tin. Grated potatoes are combined with lardons, heavy cream, eggs and softened onions – as well as a handful of dried fruit, such as prunes and raisins. It’s sweet, salty, rich and buttery, the perfect antidote to a cold, snowy night in the Alps. Sample it at Les Chalets des Grand Prés in Combloux.
Sausages with onions is a classic double act, found in cuisines all over the world – from New York hotdogs to Berlin’s bratwursts – but this might be the best rendition. ‘Diots’ are small pork sausages, often made with a pinch of nutmeg and sometimes smoked. They can be found in all sorts of recipes, although the traditional way to serve them is with a silky, boozy onion gravy, fluffy cubes of potato and lashings of mustard. Try these braised beauties at Bar Restaurant La Ferme in Bourg St Maurice.
Sizzling slivers of steak, cooked on a red-hot slab of rock? Sign us up. A bit like an alpine teppanyaki, this dish is as much about fun and theatre as it is about food. You’re served a dish of raw steak, cut into bite-size pieces, and a coal-heated flagstone is placed in the middle of the table. The rest is down to you. We’d also recommend ordering bread, cheese and wine for the table, and feast like medieval royalty. This one isn’t as easy to come across as the others, but Le Monchu, in Chamonix, is a dead cert.
Tarte aux Myrtilles
Room for something sweet? This blueberry tart is as delicious as it is beautiful, with its crisp, buttery pastry, velvety custard and inch-thick layer of scorched, caramelised fruit dusted with icing sugar. It’s common to find it served with vanilla ice cream, but keep an eye out for génépi ice cream, flavoured with the aromatic alpine liqueur. You’ll find a particularly tasty example at La Ferme de la Fruitière in Morzine.
Gâteau de Savoie
As light and fluffy as the clouds that drift over the alpine plateaus, this simple but deceptively delicious cake is a delight. Hailing from the town of Chambéry, where you’ll find it proudly displayed in the windows of family-owned bakeries, it’s made its way on to menus across the region. Served with a dollop of homemade apple jam, it’s the perfect accompaniment to a cup of strong coffee as a mid-afternoon treat.
If you’re heading to Chamonix, we know the best things to see and do. There are plenty of things to do in the French Alps if you don’t like skiing: discover the best mountains to climb in the region and the most beautiful towns across the range, from France to Italy.
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