Meribel

Les Alps

For the holidays this year, I decided to take up a friend’s offer to visit their family in Méribel, a village way high up in the French alps. As you can see, it’s a spectacular place. And I’m not just talking ‘gorgeous sunsets’ or ‘charmingly quaint’ spectacular. I mean, Méribel was mind-blowingly, insanely hallucinante.

Seriously, I wasn’t prepared for the awesome beauty of it all. Although I haven’t strapped on a pair of skis in over thirty years, there I stood, at the top of the mountain on my first day on skis in decades, ready to slide down.

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Let me tell you—skiing isn’t one of those things that you get more comfortable with as you get older. *sigh* Especially when you’re with a group of skiers that include some crazy teenagers who, at the top of a particularly steep run, simply point their skis in the straight-down position, and shove off with their poles and a banchee-like “On y va, Daveeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeed!”

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And off they’d go…


They were certainly fun to watch and I do remember how much fun I had at their age. But since I was celebrating being yet another year older, and I’d left my dentures inadvertently soaking by my bedside, the idea of spending my birthday toothless, in a helicopter being sped away by medics with a few broken bones (and a broken ego), well…let’s just say that wasn’t exactly my idea of fun. Yet I did have fun nevertheless; just at my own pace…thank you very much.

We stayed in a little cozy chalet, which is called a mazeau, although no one seems to know why it’s called that or how it’s actually spelled. So if anyone French knows, we’re all ears. The birds nearby had a nice little spot to spend the winter as well. I know that’s a birdhouse, although there’s probably a very specific word for it in French too.

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I know many of you were upset not to be around for my aforementioned birthday. But just to let you know, I’ve opened up the window for gift-giving until next year, so you still have plenty of time. If you weren’t around, I got my wish for the best birthday cake imaginable—a nicely-caramelized apple tarte Tatin.

Yes indeed, it wouldn’t be vacation…or France…if there wasn’t a lot of good food around. And my other birthday wish was granted and I got to pick whatever I wanted to have for dinner too. So I choose Raclette, a regional dish (although I think it’s originally Swiss…but I wasn’t going to quibble with anything cheesy) where a triangle of cheese of the same name is set by the fire to roast. Once warm, it’s scraped over boiled potatoes…which we cheated and roasted, since they taste better…and salty little pickled cornichons.

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Luckily in the rather Euro-ish chic town of Méribel, there’s a homey little local cooperative which sells specialties of the region. Aside from jams made with rosehips and génepi-flavored eau-de-vie, there were huge..and I mean HUGE…wheels of mountain cheeses like Beaufort, Tomme de Savoie, and Reblochon.

Once again, it wouldn’t be France if there wasn’t just one person working there, waiting on each person as if there wasn’t 25 people behind them…which there were.

My friend Jean-Baptiste said, “If this was America, there would be a riot.”

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Of course the cheeses were worth waiting for and I even brought a few hunks home (of cheese…) as well as some other choice morsels from the Savoie including real polenta, not instant, which is almost impossible to find around these parts. There were also saucissons with hazelnuts (hey…I just realized that link is my second blog post ever.)

And just in case you’re wondering what I had for my birthday lunch…

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But the best meal I had wasn’t at home, but it was on top of the world.

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We rode up the chairlift…then two ‘eggs’ as they call the enclosed oval ski-pods…and a ‘tire-fesses’, or ‘butt-puller’, which is the actual name they call it in France, only to arrive at the top of what could only be described as one of the most perfect places in the world.

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Of course, someone dropped the Opinel knife, which went sliding down an icy ravine. Which led to an all-out scaling of a treacherous snow-capped wall…hey, that cheese and salami were worth risking our life for, don’t you think? And nature was our plate, since I doubt anything could be more clean than what was up there, high above the clouds and the rest of civilization. And we dined with a 360-degree view of the French alps and the Mont Blanc off in the sparkling-clear distance.

After a long day on the slopes, my dogs were barkin’ (and my fesse was getting chapped for sitting on those cold rocks) and thankfully we were sure to stock plenty of rich, drinkable red wine on hand to pour for ourselves the moment we came inside.

Red Wine

Someone had told me that Méribel was bitter cold so I’d raced around Paris the week before Christmas (mistake #1) looking for a very warm winter jacket that wasn’t a gazillion euros.

Let me tell you, there’s only one thing worse than shopping a week before Christmas (mistake #2), and that’s shopping in Paris a week before Christmas (mistake #3…which I won’t make again).

Nothing is in stock, no one really wants to help you, and you’re left with the dregs of what’s left, including lots of XXL and XXXL. Honestly, I don’t think anyone in France even wears anything larger than Large.

Still, I lucked out at one store out in Bercy Village and found a down jacket in my size that was in the wrong department, that wasn’t hideously ugly. I mean, what’s with all those prints on winter jackets, folks? But when I actually got on the slopes, I started schvitzing like I was on the beach in Aruba.

Everyday I’d peel off more clothes than a Chippendale’s dancer—minus the mullet—and was down to nothing but a t-shirt and my Nanook du Nord jacket by the end. Oy!

But girlfriend…did I look good out there on those slopes, or what!

Ok, not really.
I mean, I didn’t look as good as those teenagers speeding down the slopes. But in my defense, they were going so fast…and were so rail-thin…that all you could see was me.

Still, it was nice to be warm instead of freezing my fesse off.

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Let me just tell you, after a few hours of trying to keep up with those young ‘uns, more than a couple of times I opted to head to one of the welcoming alpine lodges that dotted the mountain to repair myself with a shot of something a bit more soothing for the soul: Chartreuse Verte—a shot of herbal Chartreuse in a steaming mug of hot chocolate.

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And the last day, when everyone decided to go on an extended ski promenade, I decided to stay in by the fire and do pretty much nothing. (Will you think less of me if I mention that another factor was the 8am departure time?)

So after everyone left and I finally roused myself into enjoying a quiet morning alone in the mountains, I finally took off my warm jimmies, got dressed, and took a little hike on my own. For some reason, I wound up at the local butcher shop where I had them slice me up some of their meaty-looking racks of pork ribs, which I tossed in my backpack, hiked back up to the chalet, and got to marinating pronto for our dinner.

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I just pulled out whatever they had on hand for the marinade from around the kitchen—soy sauce, garlic, peanut butter, the juice of a few tangerines, fresh ginger, vinegar, cocoa powder, coffee, lots of black pepper and chili powder, and of course, a nice belt of whisky. You name it, it’s in there.

When everyone got back, I never saw such happy French faces: it was either the sight of the ribs or they were just glad to be home from skiing 20 kilometers. Or they weren’t Parisians. Naturally everyone wanted to know what ingredients went into the marinade, but I think they lost interest after I reeled off the 27th one. Thank goodness I didn’t make molé!

I started roasting the ribs and once everyone pulled off their ski togs and recovered from their exhaustion, the fire got stoked and those ribs were charred to crispy, yet tender perfection. I had to let my French friends know that it’s acceptable to pick up ribs with your fingers, which a few people had a hard time doing. Old habits die hard, I guess. But those of us that did were rewarded with the best-off-the-bone scrapes of caramelized pork while the rest had to be content with trying to wield their knives-and-forks and making the best go of it they could. Suckas…

And when all is said and done, how does one end a vacation in the world’s largest wine cooler?

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Well, there’s always plenty of Mousseaux de Savoie, a locally-made sparkling wine, to go around. Especially when I’m there. And nothing makes a finer ending to a week on the slopes, or a week in the French alps.

46 comments

  • Happy Birthday and New Year David. You look great in the jacket and the ribs look delicious

  • I love this post!!! You wrote about just everything I love; the alps, French food, picnics, traditions.. and when all blended together it is pure epicurean bliss. I don’t know what it is about eating a nice hardy meal in the alps and drinking well– maybe it’s the elevation– but it seems to be the best of all worlds.

    Happy Birthday!!

  • Happy New Year. It sounds like quite a celebration. Back to those Chippendale dancers . . . the only thing you lack is a mullet? hmmmmm

  • Happy birthday, David! And happy new year! It looks like you celebrated in grand style and the location obviously can’t be beat. Thanks so much for letting us have a look, too!

    Happy, happy!
    Val

  • Happy birthday, and happy new year! Man, what a perfect way to celebrate… Only thing that could have made it better would maybe have been a bunch of prunes. Or not.

  • Sounds like such a wonderful birthday celebration and a lovely way to end the year! May the year ahead be full of joy and many surprises.

  • Happy birthday David. It looks like you celebrated in true style (and taught Parisians how to eat ribs properly).

  • A triangle of cheese? Shouldn’t be too hard to finish off half a wheel after a day of skiing, now would it?

  • David, it sounds like you have a wonderful time and your photographs are spectacular. What an absolutely gorgeous place!! Thanks for sharing with us. Happy Birthday too. ((()))

  • salut David !
    j’écris en français parce que je ne sais pas parler anglais…

    C’était super à Méribel!

    On a bien rigolé! Vous nous avez manqué, toi et Romain, pour la fin du séjour !
    Maintenant, je connais la date de ton anniversaire !
    Ton blog est super ! Même si la traduction française ne marche pas bien…

    Les photos sont magnifiques, tu as super bien défini ce séjour !
    C’était génial !

    Rosalie

  • Joyeux anniversaire et bonne année :) \o_

  • Enchanting surroundings, just enough junk in the food and plenty of wine and cute friends… you don’t need my wishes, you’ve already got it all.
    (And you froze it right OFF?)

  • Happy Birthday David and best wishes for a delicious New Year.

    I am planning a trip to the French Alps this fall – so this post is a fabulous Christmas present for me!

  • I spent a New Year’s near there as the only American in a large family/friend group. There was no powder, only smooth ice to ski on- so if you like skiing down a glacier it was for you. I “skied” on the bunny slope the first day, taking a ski class (in French) with a bunch of six year olds. After that I gave up and went hiking each day with the grandparents.

    Our New Year’s Eve started at about 8pm with food and wine and more food and wine must have shown up hourly. By midnight everyone was dancing. This was 1989 I think, but it still counts as one of my best celebrations.

  • Happy Birthday, Happy New Year, happy everything David!

  • looks and sounds like you had a lovely holiday in Meribel, and a fantastic birthday celebration as well!! May the new year bring you only great things!!

  • Jill: Méribel has a pretty extensive snow-making factory (which you can tour!), I think because of the Olympics that were held there. There was some ice, but not as much as I remember from skiing in New England. And the food, and wine, were definitely better from those days too!

    Sunday Cook: Make sure to go to the local Cooperative in Méribel, or in other villages (check the link).

    I brought home a lovely chunk of Beaufort d’Été that I can’t wait to dive into. And the Tomme de Savoie. And the Robloucon. And a wedge of Tomme de Ch….

  • Happy Birthday David!

  • Happy Birthday and Happy new year!
    Beautiful, beautiful…those mountain valleys with the trees. What a fantastic way to celebrate! Chartreuse with cocoa sounds interesting.

    Thank you so much for sharing these photos of your holiday in Meribel!

  • I’m just back from Les Trois Vallees also! I stayed in Les Menuires, one valley over. It really was a wonderful trip. There are some photos: here

  • Happy Birthday and thank you for sharing Chartreuse is one of my favorites.
    You live a charmed life. Bonne annee

  • Felicidades!
    Wondering where you had gone to! Those ribs look bitchin! Don’t you love that melted cheese and potato thing, had it in Switzerland at my sisters, they call it raclette! A bit of controversy between the Schweizers and the French about where it originated, didn’t bother me since my sisters pickles and onions were just fabulous to accompany or help digest that bloody fromage!

    Ta!
    Jeremy

  • I love the French alps. You just hop into your skis and slide down to the lifts. Haven’t been there in … forever, though. Looks fabulous.

  • David

    Happy Birthday……That has to be the best holiday post I have read this year. What a wonderful experience.

  • ah bon la raclette la roussane le reblochon tous les saveurs de savoie c’est superb comme toi vieux ami

  • ses super david j’ai lue le texte avec mon traducture a plu tard mon cherie

  • I spent two years in Thones (a village of about 5000 in the Haute-Savoie) and I miss it terribly! We were looking at airfare tickets for the summer, but it’s about $1400/pop right now! Your post makes me miss it even more. I’ve seen lots of mountain ranges, but the Alps in that area are the prettiest. And the tomme de savoie (my favorite!!!) and the reblechon!!! Raclette I can (and do!) get around here, but the other two – impossible to find!

    I’m glad you had a good holiday, David!

  • Thanks for all your best birthday and holiday wishes, everyone!

    I got exactly what I wanted this year: incredible cheeses, chocolate, smoked meat, tarte Tatin, sunshine, a roaring fireplace, icy-cold sparkling wine, ribs, laughter, Chartreuse…and a few facefuls of snow.

    Even though I still have a rather large black & blue mark on my rear from a snowboarder crashing into me, it was the perfect week. (He did spend at least 5 minutes apologizing in French, which was pretty charming.)

    I truly appreciate all your well-wishes and hope that ’08 is as much fun for you as I hope it’ll be for me!

  • Ah, so beautiful! Haven’t been there in years. Seeing your mention of “raclette” if you liked it, in spite of the smell, lol, you MUST buy a Vacherin Mont d’Or : http://www.vacherin-montdor.ch/ I believe there exists a French version, I don’t remember what I buy except that I always buy one during the holidays. It must be made with raw milk. (not the heat and serve alcoholized version). It is so ripe that you serve it with a spoon and it is like melted cheese. SOOOOOO good with crusty bread! I have a hard time stopping!

  • David, happy belated birthday! It sounds like you had a fabulous time. And let me tell you, I’m 22 and would be scared AS HELL to ski down those mountains. So props to you!

  • Everything looked so great in Meribel. But I have to say, that one slice of saucisson has my mouth watering. Any idea what kind it was?

  • Polly: I don’t know exactly what kind of saucisson it was. But if you go to the Richard Lenoir market on Sundays, there’s 2 women that specialize in products from the Savoie (near the center, on the east side) and they have similar saucissons, my favorite being the ones studded with hazelnuts. Yum!

    They also carry all the regional cheeses, and their Pât&eactue de pintade (guinea fowl) is really excellent too.

    I’m getting hungry just thinking about them!

  • Sounds like you had a wonderful birthday!
    I am quite jealous.
    I got to spend my birthday here in Sweden where I now live and not in the USA where I am from, so I can’t complain! But the ALPS?? Thats the best!

  • I went to Meribel about 15 years ago and I can still remember clearly the godamn cheese i had there – some kind of raw brie-ish thing at our hotel that I just couldn’t stop eating even after their 3 course set meal every evening.

    I LOVE savoie – I used to go to the alps at least once every year for about 12 years, but sadly not in a long time have I managed that journey.

    happy new year, happy beirhtday and happy everything in 2008!

    ps doesn’t Bugey come from Savoie too?

  • Happy birthday, David. Sounds like you had a great time. Here’s to every good thing for you in 2008!

  • looks like you had a fantastic birthday David! I have been reading your blog for a couple of years, and have finally felt I must speak up. I love raclette, and indulge as much as I feel okay to without being in Switzerland where I enjoy it with friends there.

    And what a beautiful place you had to ski on your birthday, lucky you(I haven’t skied in Europe in over 15 years) while Chuck and I were on the slopes at SkiSundown. I started instructing there this year and met Chuck, and then put the two together a few weeks ago… and was surprised to find that I even went to the same school as you… and all this time I thought we just had chocolate in common!
    anyway, glad you had such a killer birthday!
    oh, and those ribs looked delicious too!
    ~Lindsey

  • How kooky- I happened to spend a week of the holidays in those mountains as well. Just outside of Grenoble, on Chartreuse. We had some fantastic Raclette, I ate raw oysters for the first time, and yes…I did indeed have the booze of the same name. Alas, no skiing for me, we didn’t have enough time to spare and I’ve never learned how. Glad to see you enjoyed the region as well!

  • Hi Hillary: Yes, it truly is a lovely region and I’ve been to Chartreuse as well (did you try those dark chocolates filled with liquid Chartreuse made by the local chocolate-maker Bonnat? wow!…I think you can only get them there, too.)

    A wonderful, wonderful book, The Auberge of the Flowering Hearth is a must-read for anyone. The writer, Roy Andries De Groot (who was blind) stayed in a charming auberge and wrote about the cuisine. It’s really excellent food writing—a real snapshot of a time and place, and perhaps my favorite food book of all time.

  • One of my very first surprises in the joys of eating in the French Alps was Raclette. It was just so much fun and tasty too.

  • David, What a great post! It sounds like you had wonderful birthday. How could you not, spending it in such a magical place!

    Thanks for all of your entertaining stories. I enjoy them so much. All the best to you in 2008.

  • What a beautiful place to spend a holiday! Breathtaking. I think I would hit the “bunny” slopes and then retire by the fire with hot buttered rum!

  • Bonne annee et bon anniversaire!!! So that makes you 21yo this year? Lots of great ideas for winter 2008 now!

  • Oh yes, I never get tired of the beauty found in the French Alps. Meribel is a fun ski resort indeed. We could almost have bumped into each other..;-) Next time. And also, bonne année !

  • did you roast them in an oven? or was it open-fire roasting?

  • The food looks divine and the cheese! The food is enough to make me go, truly the kind of holiday that suits pretty much anyone as long as you don’t mind a bit of cold.

  • Cool piece of writing, thanks. Would you clarify the first point in more detail please?