Chamonix for vegetarians

Chamonix for vegetarians

The Alps are a surprisingly good place for vegetarians – as long as you like cheese! Melted cheese is combined with potatoes or pasta in countless ways – fondue, raclette and tartiflette  are the best known but there are many more. Look out for reblochonnade (Reblochon toasted under charcoal) – and Le Berthoud (Abondance melted in a small pot with garlic and Madeira)

As a result, although the French don’t really go in for vegetarian food per se, I have never had a problem finding something without meat – though do beware of the onion soup as it will almost always be made with meat stock.

A note for the strict: a lot of this cheese is not made with vegetarian rennet, certainly in restaurants. However, you can buy cheese made with vegetable rennet fairly easily, in both the supermarkets and the health food shops. The soft goat’s cheese is also not made using it – this mild, fresh cheese is wonderful with the local honey (which is, unsurprisingly, superb) or fig relish.

Restaurants for vegetarians

Almost everywhere does the local salad of toasted goat’s cheese on slices of bread with salad and walnuts, which makes a really nice lighter meal – Chambre Neuf, by the train station, does one of the best Chevre Chaud salads in town. Since pretty much every French restaurant in Chamonix has a reasonably good vegetarian choice due to the local obsession with cheese and the frequency of veggie visitors, I haven’t made a separate vegetarian list for the town – take a look at those recommended for vegans in the next section for places with particularly good or more unusual menus.

Restaurants for vegans

Je suis veganne – or an equivalent French word as far as diet is concerned is végétalien.

There are many restaurants that either have vegan options available or will do a vegan menu if you contact them in advance, notably the excellent Munchies.

In a more international flavour, Casa Valerio is an excellent Italian that will do vegan pasta dishes, Satsuki is a super Japanese place that does good tofu noodles (very well priced set lunch too) and has a lovely downstairs room that can be booked for a special occasion. There are also some Indian restaurants (Annapurna, in Chamonix, and a new one in Les Houches which I hear is very good) which have plenty of choice.

The British-run restaurants generally have a good choice too – The Jekyll in Chamonix, The Rusticana in Argentiere, and the Kitsch Inn in Les Houches. Not a restaurant, but Papillon does lovely salads as well as hot food to take away.

L’Impossible in Chamonix Sud tries very hard with a beautiful interior and an interesting menu that has lots of imaginative and delicious sounding veggie choices and an emphasis on fresh, organic ingredients. I really want to like it but have to confess that I’ve been twice now and it hasn’t been very good either time. I hear very mixed reports – some people have really enjoyed it, so it may be worth a try. It really is a lovely building – have a look at their reviews here for more opinions. They always have a vegan choice and a full veggie set menu, and can generally do gluten free and other special diets. It’s next to the very good Jekyll so you could always duck into there!

The much loved MBC does excellent tofu – I especially recommend it in their red curry – and also can adapt several other dishes for vegans, such as their fajitas. Most of the wrap and sandwich places in the town centre do a vegan option (generally hummus)  – Poco Loco does a nice Vegetarienne sandwich too.

On the mountain

Outdoor-loving vegans will probably need to pack lunches for eating on the mountain (in fact most people do this anyway as it saves a load of money). Some of the mountain restaurants do salads by the quarter which can be suitable, and tomato- based pasta sauce is sometimes available, as are soups – but it’s probably best not to count on it.

Things are pretty good for the lacto-ovo veggie, with cheese sandwiches (toasted or not) always on offer, and hummus sandwiches and veggie pastas, quiches, gratins and pizzas usually available. Restaurants which have a particularly good veggie choice, summer and winter are:

At Les Grands Montets
The Cremerie du Glacier at Les Grands Montets, which you can either drive to (signed from the car park entrance, look out for the heliport signs as it’s right next to it) or ski/snowboard access through the woods from the Pierre a Ric piste (look out for the very small sign on the right near the end of the run). Specialises in Croutes, a kind of bread-based local pizza equivalent, and a wide selection of Gratins which they will happily do for you without meat if you ask. Lots of veggie choices including my personal favourite ‘Crozets’ (which is the local buckwheat pasta) baked au gratin with Morel mushrooms and Beaufortain cheese. mmmmm! Some of the croutes are in a creme fraiche based sauce which is good when you’re a bit over-cheesed.

Plan Joranon (on the pistes) does nice bruschettas and will make them without cheese, though the ordering system is eccentric to say the least. The restaurant also does vegetable plates.  At the base of Les Grands Montets is the Marmottons restaurant and bar which has a small but very nice veggie selection including spinach lasagne which I highly recommend.

Vallorcine
Vallorcine has a brilliant restaurant in the train station, which is very close to the lift. L’Arrêt Bougnette (+33 450 546304) serves unusual Savoyarde specialities like Sarrazin (buckwheat) crepes as well as all the usual favourites to a mostly local crowd. Inexpensive, atmospheric and delicious, the menu varies but there’s normally plenty of vegetarian dishes, including huge and delicious salads. Worth either calling or dropping in to book, as it can get very busy.

Huts and refuges

Rather to my surprise, the huts and refuges are all very accommodating of vegetarians and I have never had any problems. Let them know as soon as possible – ideally by booking in advance, but if this isn’t practical, as soon as you arrive. If they have advance notice, they will also make vegan and gluten free food too.

Vegetarian shopping

Even the supermarkets carry basics like veggie burgers now, and usually have a selection of organic vegetables. The supermarket opposite Zero G at the end of town has a good selection of organic, gluten free and other speciality items – also stocks cruelty-free shampoo etc which can be hard to find elsewhere.

For a longer stay, I really recommend a visit to the excellent Satoriz wholefood supermarket in Sallanches, opposite the Carrefour (next to the “Feu Vert” sign) This is an excellent shop, along the lines of Whole Foods in the US, and if you’re going to be around for more than a few days, it’s well worth a visit – the staff are very friendly and helpful, and the quality superb.They do a good selection of wine as well.

Market in Chamonix
Market in Chamonix, originally uploaded by smichels.

Market day is Saturday and there are sometimes local organic and biodynamic farmers selling lovely fresh produce.

Selfcatering vegans will be very happy as the quality of fresh produce in France is always great. In Les Houches, there’s a very nice wholefood shop called Greenmousemarket for more specialist products like tofu.

Further afield

There is no completely vegetarian restaurant in Chamonix, but Plateau d’Assy, about 30 minutes away, has a really good one in a lovely garden. We visited last summer, read more here.

Feel free to add your own suggestions and recommendations in the comments :)