Our local grocery store is excellent – tiny but with an emphasis on local and organic food. At the weekends, ask if she has Pain Chibon, grown here in the valley from heritage varieties of wheat, hand milled and then baked into a true labour of love. If it’s not on offer there, check where they will be selling as their sourdough is truly amazing.). Make sure you have the butter with flakes of salt in it, available from all supermarkets, you’re on holiday! Round off breakfast with local Savoyarde yoghurt and you’re ready for the day
As you’d expect from France, the standard of local food is very high. All over the town, you’ll find food and wine shops, patisseries and bakeries, chocolatiers and grocers. Even the supermarkets are of a high standard, with live seafood and excellent cheese counters. During the season, you can find seafood stalls, usually near the clock in the town centre where you can buy oysters and platters of Fruits de Mer, and the freshwater fish from local lakes such as Lavaret and Char
Saturday is market day in Chamonix, with a wonderful variety of fresh produce and lovingly crafted food. cheeses, brought in by local farmers. Honey and saucisson are also particularly good here.
Look out for the pasta van that drives through the Mont Blanc tunnel from Italy with some of the best pasta you can find anywhere – the courgette pasta stuffed with courgette flowers is wonderful – as well as fresh home-made pesto and big hunks of Parmesan. Spiga d’Oro, near ChaChaCha, has the best Italian selection in town, with gorgeous fresh specialities. You can eat here too – check with them for hours as its opening times are a bit eccentric.
Myrtilles (blueberries) are another local favourite -they grow in carpets on the mountains in summer – and you’ll find them in jams, ice-creams, and most of all in the ubiquitous and delicious Tarte Myrtille
Milk from the Haute -Savoie is among the best in France, and the cheeses are wonderful – from ripe, gooey Vacherin to fresh, sweet white Serac, named after the glacier formation it resembles. The local specialities of Tomme, Reblochon and sweet, nutty, Beaufort are at their best here – look out for Tomme de Vallorcine, from just a few kilometers up the road. If you’re around on a Thursday afternoon, walk up to the Bergerie d’Orthaz near the chalet (cross the river on the footbridge, turn left, about 200m up) and the farmer should be there from 2-4 pm, selling cheese that’s as local as you can get!
After you’ve been shopping for a while, maybe take in lunch, or if it’s in the afternoon, have a tea break in one of the lovely Salons du The, before heading home for a a full Savoyarde dinner. The classic dish for this is…
The local speciality par excellence is the Raclette. If you’ve never had one of these, it’s a cheese which has its own toasting apparatus to fit the size, also called a Raclette. Raclette night is always a hit – spectacular, easy and great fun. It’s worth sifting and tasting through the market and the shops until you find a the best. It comes in many varieties – raw or pasteurised milk, with mustard seeds, peppercorn, wine or herbs added, smoked…I like to get a couple of varieties.
Allow 200g per person, pick up a bag of raclette potatoes (available everywhere), a selection of charcuterie, a green salad and some cornichons (gherkins) and you’re ready to go!
The wines of the Haute-Savoie often feature the unusual grape Jacquère, which is low in sugar, producing the lovely dry, light wines of the region – there are 17 crus in Savoie, and 4 Appelation Controlees. Seyssel sparkling wines can be very nice, and for the reds, I am a fan of Mondeuse, which you don’t see often outside the area.
For a really good bottle of wine, try ChaChaCha, a wonderful, friendly wine merchants, which runs wine tasting sessions every night. There’s usually a theme – recent sessions have included the deluxe ‘Cremant Versus Champagne’, keeping it local with ‘Jura et Savoie’ and for a very special treat ‘Les Grands Crus’. They run them from bar in the shop, and are most helpful, enthusiastic and approachable.
Kir is a local favourite aperitif – Kir Mure with sparkling Savoyarde white wine gives it a more woodsy, alpine twist. Locally, people say that it’s better to drink chilled white with Raclette than red – though I must say that I think both work quite happily. Dry, flinty Savoyarde Rose wine is my favourite accompaniment.
After the Raclette, a shot of Genepi, a digestif liqeur made from Alpine herbs and flowers, helps with all the cheese.. Don’t stint on the Genepi as the cheap stuff can be awful! It should be fresh and fragrant. Try Refuge Payot, which is a wonderful shop, well worth a visit.
Seven days in Chamonix for non-skiers
Day 1: Getting your bearings
Day 2: Savoyarde Gastronomy
Day 3: Snow Safari
Day 4: Spa day and fabulousness
Day 5: Slow track to culture
Day 6: Explore the Alps
Day 7: Mont Blanc