What a week! I just returned from a visit my Swiss-French former flatmate in the region of Savoie, France. Me being me, I was seven hours early for the flight and still caught it by 20 seconds. Should have skipped those drinks…
Laurent’s parents had a house next to a busy road down in Bonneville, but we spent the week in their weekend home on the mountain overlooking the town. Isn’t the view of the Alps beautiful?
Formerly a small hamlet, Chantal and Rene now own the surrounding 19th century buildings.
On my first day we visited the medieval village of Yvoire, situated alongside Lake Geneva. Visitors aren’t permitted to drive, which keeps the place looking as it always did. Because it was February most of the shops and restaurants were closed. Known for its beautiful flower decorations, I missed out on seeing it in its full regalia. However, the colder season meant we had the place to ourselves.
On day two we went hiking into the Alps. Despite the snow, I didn’t need a cardie and even caught the sun! In winter the mountain goats are kept indoors and their milk is made into cheese. Such a magical place.
I was eager to try as much French food as possible, so Laurent’s mum Chantal made beautiful meals every night. What struck me the most about my stay was that all our meals were fresh. Tarts and jams was made from the abundance of fruits growing in the garden, mushrooms were picked from the forest, and INCREDIBLY smelly cheese made by local farmers.
I’m not a city girl by any means, but I felt vaguely ashamed to be British. Every meal has a ceremonious feel in France; a world away from the one day a year – Christmas – my family eats together. Nobody fiddled with their phones, or absent mindedly watched the TV. We lingered for hours, muddling through in broken French and English, drinking spirits René had made with plants from the garden.
Because Laurent and me were staying in the chalet usually reserved for tourists, the shelves were packed with books. Before bed I would skim through a book of ABCs, with pictures of objects apparently essential to toddlers. These included shallots, whiskey, and and artichokes. Are you messing? In fact, I saw my first ever artichoke in France.
Laurent was adamant I couldn’t visit the Alps without giving skiing a try, so I reluctantly headed to La Croix Fry, which is a small part of the La Clusaz ski station. I’ve always had a sneaking suspicion that I might be really good at skiing. Well, it turns out I am MERDE. I drank wine and ate beautiful tartiflette to console myself.
Later in the week we visited Bordeaux, which I liked but Laurent and his family weren’t fans of. When pressed, they explained that tourism – which primarily relies on the ski industry – has changed the region a lot over the years.
On the way home our car was caught in a pollution protest; we couldn’t work out the reason for all the dirty looks!
A little less cultural, we We went bowling and to a pizza party at a friend of Laurent’s house. Incredible pizza with plum tart and even more incredible chocolate mousse! Anyone would think I didn’t have to perform a burlesque act in a few days…
I’ve often heard it said that French people are rude. I’ve never found this to be the case. Whenever I go abroad I make the effort to learn basic words and phrases, meaning locals are always appreciative and enjoy your efforts, because who wouldn’t be charmed by ‘I am a toilet?’ If in doubt, just grin and hope for the best!
As the nearest airport to Savoire is Geneva, it was easy to pop to Switzerland for a visit.
Laurent kept banging on about the Jet J’Eau, Geneva’s answer to the Eifel Tower in the form of a 140 meter fountain visible throughout the city. Situated alongside Lake Geneva, it’s the pride and joy of Geneva. When asked whether I could touch it, Laurent replied that ‘someone once touched it and got their arm blown off’, which endeared me to it immediately.
After the excitement of spotting a €1400 pair of pantalons (ARE YOU MESSING?), we passed an afternoon wandering around Geneva’s lovely old town.
We went on a hunt for some sort of sacred tree, but gave up and admired the world’s longest bench instead.
Switzerland is expensive, so I wouldn’t go there for a holiday. Also, how unreal is this cake?
Poor Laurent made the mistake of telling me just how close we were to Italy, and after a lot of badgering I got to visit my third country in a week!
I wasn’t prepared for the 55 euro fee to take the tunnel through Mont Blanc, let me tell you. But once I laid eyes on the quaint hamlet of Entrèves, I fell in love.
Our destination was the pretty town of Aosta.
I was keen to eat as much as possible during the visit, but had to think strategically consider which foods would physically fit in my stomach. Can I tell you a secret? The pizza wasn’t that great.
The gelato though – wow. Because the Italians were So. Bloody. Cool, I opted for pistachio flavour to help me give out very-bloody-cool-vibes. It was unreal and I am fully repentant for telling my Italian friend that gelato couldn’t possibly be better than Ben & Jerry’s.
Italy was cheaper than I expected. No doubt the big cities are more expensive, but here I bought a big bottle of Limoncello for less than 7 euros.
For the final couple of hours before sunset we drove aimlessly through the valley, overlooked by the Italian Alps. We had done so many things during the week, but wandering through about 48 of those tiny villages set on impossibly high mountaintops was the most I’ve laughed in a long time.
As darkness fell we stopped at one final town with actual civilization, Villeneuve, which lies on the Dora Baltea river. We drank at the only bar in sight, which was full of Italian men Laurent was intimidated by and a barmaid who seemed perplexed by what on earth a vodka with orange juice could be.
I am very lucky to have such an accommodating friend who will willingly drive me hundreds of miles (sorry – I mean kilometres). Staying with locals as opposed to in a hotel is such an enriching experience. Without the Dumonts, I would never have learned so many facts: how French people pour milk BEFORE the cereal, and how washing powder boxes contain toys for kids, and the effect global warming is having on the ski industry.
Instead of a hotel where the only conversation would be about the crap water pressure, we spent hours comparing idioms. ‘I have the peach’, I explained, was the French equivalent to ‘I’m full of beans.’ The Dumonts stared blankly, before bursting into a five minute fit of laughter. Beans?! Being full of Mexican jumping beans, I argued, made sense. But peaches? Give me three peaches, and maybe we could talk.
It was no use, so I chuckled into my home made peach jam every morning.
I hope you enjoyed un petit peut of my trip! I’d love to hear your travel tales in the comments below.