A Sexy French Feast in the Alps
Written and Photographed by Karen Loftus
International foodies have long been drawn to Paris and to the French countryside for France’s famous food and wine. What many people don’t know is that Lyon, the second most populated city in France, second only to Paris, also known as Little Paris, is France’s culinary capitol. The gastronomical city boasts 1.4 million and is the capital of the French Rhone-Alps region. So,
Set in the Rhone Alps region www.rhonealpes-tourisme.com of France www.franceguide.com/us and near Beaujolais and Cotes De Rhone, two of Frances’s most prominent wine regions, Lyon has all the seduction, art and architecture of Paris, yet it comes in a much smaller package and at a slightly slower pace. In essence, it is a sensual slice of French heaven with that definitive French foodie and wine twist.
Once in Lyon, check in to the chic boutique hotel of Cour Des Loges set in the heart of Vieux Lyon, the historical Renaissance District or the fifth arrondissement of Lyon. Surrounded by cobblestone streets, medieval architecture, boutiques, bistros and bouchons and a bevy of brightly colored buildings, the ambient Cour Des Loges is an architectural gem comprised of four beautiful and meticulously restored Renaissance buildings.
As one of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World, Cour Des Loges www.courdesloges.com/uk is a very unique offering that beckons back to another time. The property is a seamless mix of classic and contemporary design with endless ambience onsite from the romantic alcoves and nooks, to modern tapestries, a glass atrium, a garden, wine cellar, Turkish baths and an indoor swimming pool.
Each of the 61 well-appointed rooms and suites is completely unique as no two are exactly alike. French artist Herve Thibaut used Venetian opera houses to inspire his design for a few of the juniors and suites while other suites were designed with the working artist or photographer in mind. You will feel like you are not only sleeping with the artist, but as the artist in a studio from the early 20th century. If this doesn’t arouse the artistic taste buds, trust that nothing will.
The Small Mezzanine rooms are proof positive that the best things in life often come in small packages. This jewel box of a room set in rich regal red and gold tones comes with a French style ceiling, an attic, loft-like bedroom and a bathtub with a Mullion window overlooking the busy cobblestone streets below. Be sure to take your wine and your lover towards the tub and turn the moody music on before you slip far and away. You could get lost for hours in a bath of bubbles. This room immediately screams for romance and the tub was made for love. One can only hope for rain and a reason to never leave.
If and when you do venture out, Lyon, like Paris and Marseilles is divided in to a number of districts or arrondissements. The Renaissance district together with the silk district (slopes of Croix-Rousse), and the Presqu'île, make up the Historical Site of Lyon, a UNESCO World Heritage site, the perfect place to kick off your urban exploring. Be sure to slip in to the many traboules, the small evocative passageways between buildings and houses. It’s quintessential Lyon. A few slips in and you will feel like a local with the old stones surrounding you.
Lyon is a great place to get lost. Allow the city to unravel before you. Be sure to make your way up the iconic Basilica of Notre Dame de Fourvière. It provides a beautiful view of the intact Roman amphitheater built in 14 BC and the most beautiful panoramic view of the city. It will give you an immediate lay of the land.
Our first night we had dinner at Bistrot de Lyon www.bistrotsdecuisiniers.com/uk/index.php#le-bistrot-de-lyon.php. I couldn’t have asked for a better intro. This classic French brasserie with a traditional and evocative décor form the 1900’s provided a soul sating ambiance. Half in and half out, we were facing the street enjoying al fresco dining with a sea of sexy people out for La Fête de la Musique.
Sexy locals at the music fest
The streets were heaving with spirited locals enjoying the festival and celebrating the official kick-off of summer. The energy around us was tangible. Our viva la France fest continued past dinner, in to the night and on to a series of streets and traboules as we stumbled upon an endless series of impromptu street concerts. Dancing and random Franglish with our new French friends was flying. It’s those moments and those vibrant experiences that make me wonder, why aren’t I living in Europe.
After our first festive night, the next day we hit the foodie floor running. There is nothing I love more than a great local market. Les Halles de Lyon Paul Bocuse was just the ticket, an amazing covered market with an expansive selection of cheeses, including the local St. Marcellin, beautiful French pastries, meats, seafood, produce, chocolates, sweets and of course wine.
That really wound up the appetite. So, we slipped in to Daniel et Denise, a traditional bouchon, which is a Lyonnais bistro serving delicacies, food and wine, specific to the region. Award winning chef Chef Joseph Viola served traditional bouchon cuisine for lunch, such as quenelles—dumplings in a rich cream sauce consisting of various seafoods— pâté-en-croûte, foie gras, pan- fried potatoes, and their heavenly version of a melt in your mouth mac and cheese.
After a lazy walk and wander and a relaxing window in my jewel box of a room we headed out for a fancy pants dinner at La Mère Brazier www.lamerebrazier.fr, a famous two Michelin star restaurant. Founded in 1921 by Eugenie Brazier, the establishment has a long and storied history of playing host to high profiled and politicos alike. The impressive Brazier was the first woman to ever receive three Michelin stars in 1933. The black and white photos of her at the helm pay homage to her throughout.
Today Chef and proprietor Mathieu Viannay is at the helm maintaining culinary excellence and adhering to the original design and charm. Our feast in the private dining room of the old home included oysters with caviar, a slowly poached chicken and a cheese course that needs to be seen and savored to be believed.
It was but a quick yet memorable clip of Lyon, but by the next day we were off, heading towards the Alps with a stop in the design driven city of Saint-Ettiene. We popped in to The Modern Art Museum www.mam-st-etienne.fr showcased more than 15,000 works of very modern and interpretive art from French artists, sculptors, designers, and photographers of the 20th and 21st century.
We then consumed a feast of local innovative dishes with beautiful French wines at La Toque a l’Envers http://www.latoquealenvers-restaurant.fr/. The evening was capped off with deserts, wines and a bit of mischief in the charming courtyard out back. After a quick wink at the Hotel Mercure www.mercure.com we finally made our way to Annecy, a historical city in the Alps, next to Lake Annecy, the purest lake in all of Europe. We checked in to The Hotel Annecy www.hotel-annecy.net, a contemporary, centrally located hotel steps away from the old part of the city and the alpine lake.
The Canals of Annecy
This picturesque town had all the fairy tale magic one would imagine with twisty cobblestone streets, storybook buildings with flower beds in the windows, performers and clowns on the canals and craft shops, cafes, bistros and bustling markets across town. All of this was accented with a stunning set of surreal snowcapped mountains in the background. After a day of whimsical wandering and soaking in the sun and local charm, we had dinner at L’Etage www.letageannecy.fr outside on the cobblestone street where we drank heaps of local wine, flirted with locals and finally had fondue, one of the region’s favorites.
I was up rise and shine to catch the local farmers market set up throughout the town with local vendors selling a myriad of meats, cheeses, produce, wine, pastries, breads and vintage things. The town was of full of fun and flavor. My meander was cut short as we were off on Libellule, www.annecy-croisieres.com, the restaurant boat for a lunch cruise on Lake Annecy, a leisurely way to take in the alpine beauty.
Once off we made our way up the mountain with stops along the way, experiencing an enviable slice of French life in the mountain town of Faverges at their small market with strawberries and wine and with a visit with Yan Zoritchak, a famous glass artist in the town of Talloires.
The cream rises to the top, at least in France, as once we arrived to the top of Lake Annecy to see the beauty before and below us. That was the crème de le crème of views and beauty thus far. It was truly otherworldly with the paragliders floating like angels gently above us then floating seemingly and effortlessly over the lake for an hour.
We parked it on the terrace, a few steps from heaven, at the organic restaurant, Chalet de la Pricaz www.chalet-lepricaz.com in Montmin where the food was as seductive as the ambiance. While the sun was slowly setting a series of meats and cheeses arrived in baby mason jars and on wood and stone slats paired with several glasses of chilled rose champagne. It was rustic chic ambiance at its best.
Overlooking Lake Annecy
Once inside, slats of food the length of diving boards would appear on the table with duplicates on either end, so everyone at the table could enjoy the French food orgy. The showstopper came with the expansive, diving board of deserts, which we all dove in to, head first. It was the meal, the experience, the ambiance to beat. It just may be one of my favorite places on the planet. Heaven…
How to top the previous night? Surprisingly, the next morning gave it a run for its money. I was once again brought to my travel knees as we arrived in the Aravis Mountains within the Alps, a short drive from Annecy to the town of Le Grand Bornand. I was all but singing The Hills are Alive! On the inside as I twirled through the lush green hills dotted only with cows. When I stood still to breathe in the beauty, all I heard were the cow bells all around me.
After a lovely local lunch in Le Grand Bornand at Confins des Sens, we went to the ski resort in La Clusaz. WE were led by yet another effortlessly sexy local host. We took the telecabine up with her to once again capture the beautiful view, as she, the Alps, doesn’t have a bad side. A short, yet well needed hike later, we landed at La Ferme de Corbassiers, where they make Reblochon, the local cheese. The mother and son duo on deck served up a picturesque picnic of fresh Reblochon cheese, homemade butter, blueberry jam, fresh baked breads, yogurt, honey, and coffee served with milk that came fresh from the cow that morning. It was downright decadent. In the simple, I always find the sublime. The day successfully rivaled the prior night.
That final evening we finished off at the mountain town of Thônes, where they were celebrating La Fete de la Musique. Parking set the local tone, as our driver Bruno, our French Tony Soprano, got in a scuff with a local over parkin. A few French words later, men were pushed and shoved. I whipped out a Flip. A guy looked at me, as I was up front and said something threatening that ended with Blondie and a French fist.
It was so out of synch with all that we experienced thus far. Like kids in custody of our parent, we nervously giggled like school girls. Then we made our way in to town and had a dinner of charcuterie and the famous regional rich dish, tartiflette, a creamy casserole of potatoes, bacon, and reblochon cheese at La Pisciculture. It was the pitch perfect last supper.
Before we could walk back to the car Bruno, forever the gracious guide and driver whips around a corner and picks us up. Not at all ruffled or intimidated by the earlier events, he proceeded to drive through the concert like crowd on the streets of Thones. There were throngs of people out for the fest. With a full-blown concert before us, we were mortified. Before we could shrink or think, the crowd cleared, waving and grabbing our hands as if we were the stars of the show as we inched through. As we pulled away, a sea of friendly French hands waved, yelled and blew French kisses after us with smiles a mile wide. It was the perfect French send off. Delicious…
For more information on France and the French Alps: www.rhonealpes-tourisme.com www.franceguide.com/us