March 1, 2011 § Leave a comment
We’re still all going crazy for dainty pastel-coloured Parisian macarons. Meanwhile the Swiss firm of Sprüngli has quietly been making its own version going under the odd name of Luxemburgerli (little Luxemburgers) for some years now.
Above and below are displays at the very conveniently located Zürich airport branch of Sprüngli where we passed through last week en route to our half term ski holiday:
Pictured are a pyramid of vanilla Luxemburgerli plus trays of cinnamon (Zimt) and raspberry (Himbeer) flavours – I forgot to check what flavour the dramatic black ones on the left were. Dare I say it, these are daintier and more delicate even than the Parisian macaron, perfect for nibbling with coffee on the train journey to Luzern and beyond:
How do they come to be made in Zürich and how did they come by their odd name? According to the Sprüngli website www.spruengli.com the recipe originated at the Confiserie Namur in Luxembourg, a business with which the Sprüngli family had close ties. Patissiers from Zürich would go and work in the Duchy of Luxembourg and vice versa. It was in the late 1950s that one of the Luxembourg trainees started producing macarons in Zürich and they were given the nickname Luxemburgerli (the Swiss are very fond of the diminutive) in his honour.
Demand grew gradually and Sprüngli today produces 650kg of Luxemburgerli every day making them the company’s best seller.
So maybe the current trend for Parisian macarons is more than a fad and is here to stay?
September 30, 2010 § Leave a comment
In this season of mists and mellow fruitfulness I’ve been thinking about apples. I’ve always thought of them as the quintessential English fruit but looking at data on world apple production collated by the United States Food and Agriculture Association. I see that China rules the apple world producing an impressive 31 million tonnes in 2008. The US is in second place producing a mere 4 million tonnes. The UK languishes in 37th place with its meagre production of 243,000 tonnes, narrowly pipped (sorry I couldn’t resist the pun) by Switzerland’s 255,000 tonnes.
Apples featured during our trip to Switzerland this summer. The Swiss, like the English, claim the apple as their own. After all it was an apple that Swiss folk hero William Tell shot from his son’s head to prove his prowess in archery.
We saw this luscious golden version of William Tell’s apple in the sculpture park at Martigny, Switzerland which we visited in August. The artist is French sculptor Claude Lalanne (b. 1924)
And here is the real thing, apples growing in a ProSpecieRara orchard in what might be called William Tell Country, the shores of the Vierwaldstättersee (Lake Lucerne to the English speaking world, with iconic Swiss mountain Pilatus in the background. This was a view from the second week of our Summer 2010 Swiss trip as we ascended the Bürgenstock on foot rather than usual tourist option of funicular railway and spectacular outdoor lift.
By the way, ProSpecieRara http://www.prospecierara.ch/ is the Swiss Foundation for the Cultural and Genetic Diversity of Plants and Animals, a sort of super Brogdale. They hit the headlines recently with a taut-skinned longlived rare apple variety which is now being used in a facecream used by Michelle Obama.
I digress so back to the fruit itself. Apples from our neighbours’ garden greeted us on our return home in early September. Their enterprising daughters were giving away these beauties door to door in return for a donation to charity. I’m not sure what variety they were but they were crisp and sweet and worked well for both cooking and eating:
I was inspired to depart from the usual pie or crumble option and to try out two different apple recipes. The first was a new one for me, a traditional Brown Betty pudding, the recipe taken from the ever reliable Four Seasons cookbook. The second was the resurrection of what’s become a family classic, an apple and walnut cake from Nigella Lawson’ “How to be A Domestic Goddess”.
The apples turned out to be one that held their shape after cooking rather than “falling” into a delicious fluff in the way that Bramleys do. The Betty would have been better with a Bramley type apple I think as all the ingredients would have melded together. Served with a dollop of proper custard, it was nevertheless a satisfying conclusion to a ribsticking Sunday lunch:
Now that I’ve tinkered with Nigella Lawson’s cooking instructions (I’ve found that a lot of the recipes in the Domestic Goddess book need road testing and refining before they’re safe to use) this is a reliable recipe for an unusual but easy to make cake. The flavours of walnut oil and lemon zest, plus the grappa soaked sultanas (my refinement to the recipe which originally specified rum) marry perfectly with the apples and lift their flavour. You can almost kid yourself its good for you too.
Here are the two recipes in case you too have a glut of apples on your hands. They’re both good enough to go out and buy apples for too if you don’t have any homegrown ones.
Recipe for Apple and Apricot Brown Betty
From Margaret Costa’s Four Seasons Cookery Book. I’ve tinkered with it only to adjust the dried apricot instructions as these days all you can find are the ready to eat type so no need to soak overnight.
1/4 lb (115g) dried apricots, the soft type ready to eat type, roughly chopped
1 and 3/4 lb (800g) tart cooking apples, peeled, cored and roughly chopped
6 oz (175g) coarse fresh white breadcrumbs
2 and 1/2 oz (70g) melted butter
2-3 oz (55-85g) blanched almonds
grated rind of 1 small orange
4-6 oz (115-175g) brown sugar (I used a dark soft Muscovado)
more butter for dotting
Toss the crumbs into the melted butter so they absorb it evenly. Spread a thin layer of crumbs onto the base of a porcelain soufflé dish. Cover with a mixture of the coarsely chopped apples, apricots and almonds. Sprinkle with a little orange rind and some of the sugar. Repeat the layers until the dish is full, finishing with a layer of crumbs. Dot with butter and sprinkle over any remaining sugar. Bake at 180 to 190 degrees C until golden and crisp. Good with cream, perhaps clotted cream, or proper custard.
Recipe for Apple and Walnut Cake
Adapted from a recipe in “How to be a Domestic Goddess” which in turn started life in Anna del Conte’s “Secrets from an Italian Kitchen”
150 ml walnut oil (or half and half mixture of walnut oil and extra virgin English rapeseed oil which I used)
200g golden caster sugar
2 large eggs
350g plain flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 and 1/2 teaspoons bicarbonate of soda
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/2 teaspoon salt
450g eating apples (don’t use a Bramley type apple for this recipe as distinct nuggets of cooked apple are what’s required in the finished cake) peeled, cored and cut into small cubes (1/2 cm dimension is about right)
zest of a lemon
Put the sultanas into a small saucepan and bring to the boil then set aside to plump up.
Line a 20cm/8 inch round cake tin with bakewell paper and preheat your oven to 180 degrees C.
Beat the oil and sugar together in a large bowl, and add the eggs one at a time, beating until it looks a bit like mayonnaise. A wooden spoon and some elbow grease work fine here. Add the dry ingredients to the egg mixture, folding in with a metal spoon. Stir in the apples, lemon zest, sultanas with any residual grappa and walnuts. The batter should be fairly stiff.
Spoon the batter into the prepared cake tin, level the surface and place in the preheated oven. After 15 minutes, reduce the temperature to 160 degrees C. After a further 30 minutes, check the cake and if it’s browning too quickly, cover the top with a disc of foil. The cake will be ready after an hour, or maybe an hour and fifteen minutes. Check with a skewer after an hour.
Let the cake stand for 20 minutes before turning out. It’s delicious eaten slightly warm but will behave better in terms of cutting into neat slices, if left overnight, wrapped in foil before you try it. I can’t comment on its keeping qualities as it’s never lasted more than a day or so in our greedy household!
August 19, 2010 § 1 Comment
Swiss cheese is much in evidence at the show dairy in the hamlet of Pringy on the outskirts of the village of Gruyères in Western Switzerland. And I don’t just mean the vast wheels of the stuff in the maturing cellars. There’s lots in evidence in the twee on-site restaurant and most of all in the knick-knack laden gift shop.
Picture-perfect Gruyères with its castle, quaint winding streets and Maison de Gruyère show-dairy is definitely a tourist magnet. On the day of our visit it was overrun with visitors of all nationalities including two improbably grown-up and portly troupes of boy scouts. We duly joined the queue for tour and museum tickets and after a short wait we were taken step by step through the story of the cheese. It all starts here with the alpine pasture:
Well it does and it doesn’t as only the specially designated Gruyère d’Alpage is made in the summer from the milk of cows grazing the high mountain pastures. Just 56 dairies produce 400 tonnes per annum of this rare commodity whereas a total of 200 dairies produce 27,500 tonnes per annum of Swiss AOC (Appellation d’Origine) gruyère. Talking of AOC gruyère, the museum maintains a dignified silence on the subject of so-called French gruyère. The French cheekily awarded their own product national AOC status back in 2001 and subsequently went a step too far going for Europe wide PDO (protected designation of origin) status. Earlier this month the European authorities, quite correctly in my view, threw out the French claim. It’s a bit rich the French trying to protect their own so called gruyère cheese when they come down like a ton of bricks on smalltime producers of elderflower champagne…
Back to the genuine article. Swiss AOC gruyère can only be produced in a relatively small area centred around Gruyères itself within the cantons of Fribourg, Vaud, Neuchâtel and Bern. The milk comes not from what I think of as a traditional Swiss light brown cow but from the black and white or reddish-brown and white Fribourg breed. Each cow eats an astonishing 100kg of grass per day and produces as a result just 25 litres of milk. The traditional 35kg round of cheese is made from a generous 400 litres of milk. At the show dairy, they work with vats holding 4,800 litres of milk to produce 12 cheeses at a time. The morning milk is added to the previous evening’s milk (which has been stored overnight at a temperature of between 15 and 18 degrees C) before the cheesemaking process begins.
Gruyère cheese is often described as unpasteurised, but as the museum visit makes clear, the milk is gently heat-treated (to 57 degrees C compared to the 71 degrees C of the pasteurisation process) during the production of the cheese. The milk (presumably skimmed to remove the luscious Gruyère crème double much fêted in this part of Switzerland) is first heated to 32 degrees C before adding a natural starter culture (lactic acid fermentation agent in whey) and subsequently animal rennet. The starter culture matures the milk and the rennet causes it to coagulate into a mass. The coagulated milk or curd is then cut using large blades into small pieces. Judging the exact moment to begin the cutting is reckoned to be the trickiest part of the whole process.
The cut curds are then heated to 57 degrees C until the mixture becomes elastic and firm to the touch and the cut curds shrink to the size of small peas. At this point the whey is drained off and the curds ladled into moulds and pressed to form the virgin gruyère cheeses.
The fresh cheeses, vulnerably pliable at this stage, are soaked in a 20% brine solution which gives the cheese half of its ultimate salt content. Finally, the cheeses are placed on shelves of untreated pine (picea abies, the Norway spruce aka the Christmas tree) and left for a lengthy maturation process at a constant temperature of 13 to 14 degrees C. The cheeses are turned daily and brushed with salt solution as they mature. This no doubt used to be carried out by hand but the ever-ingenious Swiss have devised a robot to carry out this repetitive task. There is a certain fascination to be had watching the robot progress up and down the aisles of cheese.
5 to 6 months’ maturation produces a doux (mild) cheese; 7 to 8 months’ a mi-salé; 9 to 10 months’ a salé; +10 months’ a réserve; and finally 15 months’ a vieux. Older is not necessarily better in my book and I rather enjoyed the mild flavour of the youngest gruyère. Visiting the show dairy is a multi-sensory experience and helpfully you are given samples of 3 different ages of cheese to taste the difference. They become progressively more intense and savoury as they age.
You’re not normal if at this stage you haven’t developed an intense salivating urge to buy more cheese to take home. Might I suggest that you restrain yourself from joining the horrendous crush in the end-of-tour store and take a stroll up a grassy hill in the direction of the town of Gruyères itself. On the way, you will pass this traditional farmhouse:
Ring the bell and the farmer’s wife will cut for you a wedge of authentic Gruyère d’Alpage. She also sells the fresh whey cheese known as sérac, a by-product of the gruyère cheese making process. This is what the local farmers used to eat themselves as the gruyère itself was far too lucrative a commodity for home consumption.
I initially thought that sérac must be a marketing man’s invention to make a plain cheese more enticing with a mountain-themed brand identity. A sérac is, as any mountaineer will tell you, the name of the rough ice lumps that form when a glacier undulates. It transpires that it’s the other way round. The cheese was named sérac first, with a possible derivation from the Latin word for whey, serum, and the glacial formation was named after the cheese in a fit of whimsy.
The farmer’s wife suggested eating the sérac as it came with salt, pepper and fresh herbs or using it as a cooking ingredient. I found a handy recipe for cooked sérac posted on the www.genevalunch.com website on 15 March 2010 by Jonell Galloway.
Finally, if all this sounds too touristy for you, how about a day’s foraging for wild plants in the lush Fribourg countryside? I saw an enticing little flyer for just such an adventure pinned up on the Maison de Gruyère noticeboard but didn’t have the time to take up the opportunity. The lady leading the foraging walks is Christine Brinkerhoff-Meier tel 00 41 (0)26 928 1429 firstname.lastname@example.org. The tours run from 9.00 till 16.00 on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays during the summer months.
August 18, 2010 § Leave a comment
The yurt phenomenon shows no sign of going away: they seem to be springing up like a rash all over the place even in Langdale and the Forest of Bowland in my far flung neck of the woods.
We saw a night in a yurt advertised by the Montreux & Vevey tourist office during our recent visit to Switzerland and decided it might be fun to give it a try. We booked from the UK using the train company Goldenpass’s (the rebranding of what was formerly known as the MOB, Montreux Oberland Bernois railway presumably to appeal to English speaking tourists) efficient website.
The yurts are perched on the summit of the Rochers de Naye high above Montreux, and, bar a 5 hour hike, the only way up is on a little rack and pinion railway. We duly boarded our train late on Thursday afternoon and 50 minutes later we were in swirling mist on the summit. So much for the promised spectacular views…
We inspected our allocated yurt no. 3 first outside:
There was little team enthusiasm for a short walk so Tim and I explored the vicinity whilst the boys were kept entertained by the little marmot zoo just below the summit.
Dinner was served at 7.00 in the transformed self-service restaurant. We gathered at the varnished pine tables for a prosecco apéritif along with 6 other parties, mainly Swiss family groups celebrating children’s birthdays. There was a simple menu choice between cheese or Mongolian meat fondue. It had to be the Mongolian fondue for us. A bubbling cauldron of evil-looking black liquid was shortly presented, along with a vast plateful of meat – a mixture of chicken breast and, bizarrely, ostrich. This would be a first in two counts, both my first Mongolian meal (though I do have a vague recollection of Mongolian barbecue establishments being the latest thing back in London in the 1980’s) and my first taste of ostrich:
The evil black liquid turned out to be a fiercely salted and spicy broth spiked with pieces of leathery fungus. This was clearly a variant on the more usual Fondue Chinoise. We were spared having to drink the broth afterwards which is what usually happens once all the meat from a Fondue Chinoise has been cooked.
Pudding was a crème caramel served in self-service coffee cups. To complete the meal, I couldn’t resist the offer of some Vieille Prune Action, which turned out to be a surprisingly mellow Swiss plum brandy.
August 15, 2010 § Leave a comment
No, not another piece enthusing about English beer but a story of trying to find something simple to eat in Vevey, a market town on the shores of Lac Léman (Lake Geneva) in the Swiss canton of Vaud.
During our summer tour of Switzerland I decided it was time to revisit some of my old haunts. Back in the late 80’s and early 90’s, I spent 4 winters in Vevey working in the offices of a certain international food company. There was a whole team of us out there (referred to unimaginatively as the Equipe) and we must have dined at pretty much every half-decent restaurant within a 15 mile radius of the town.
Back then, the gastronomical heights were occupied by the legendary Frédy Girardet in his restaurant in Crissier above Lausanne. Just about everywhere else was readily accessible and welcoming, serving up generous portions of Suisse Romande cuisine. It was here that I first encountered the Swiss custom of the deuxième service: finish one plate of steak, potatoes, vegetables or whatever and it is whisked away and replaced with an identical one! A blessing or a curse, depending on your point of view.
Something has happened in Vevey in the last 25 years. It’s come out in a rash of Michelin stars and Gault Millau points. For example, I remember Brent as a sleepy little village just above Vevey’s brash neighbour Montreux. It’s now home to Le Pont de Brent, celebrity chef Gérard Rabaey’s 3 Michelin star 19 Gault Millau points restaurant.
Vevey itself is home to Switzerland’s answer to Heston Blumenthal, Denis Martin, whose 2 Michelin star 18 Gault Millau point restaurant is in the Rue du Château, close to the swanky lakeside Trois Couronnes hotel.
With 2 boys in tow (one teenage and one nearly so), we weren’t really in the market for a lengthy candlelit molecular gastronomy session. We were looking for something simpler, a pinte Vaudoise in fact.
What’s a pinte Vaudoise I hear you ask. This is what the official website of the Office of Vaudois Wines www.vins-vaudois.com has to say:
“A recommended pinte vaudoise is a public establishment, all or part of which constitutes a welcoming village inn where you can have wine and a meal. Its primary purpose is to feature Vaudois terroirs, food specialties and A.O.C. wines. Their managers pay great attention to welcoming guests and training their staff to be Vaudois terroir experts. Recommended pintes vaudoises are friendly, so that guests feel like coming back and recommending them to friends.”
Talking of local wines and vineyards, even these have moved upmarket with the intricately terraced Lavaux vineyards becoming a UNESCO world heritage site in 2007. The Lavaux is the 30 km long lakeside strip of land running from the picturesque Château de Chillon in the East to the outskirts of Lausanne in the West.
Scanning the list of pintes available both from the tourist office and the Office of Vaudois wines website, we discovered that we were in luck. Included was the restaurant of our hotel, the Hôtellerie de Châtonneyre, right in the middle of the wine village of Corseaux. The Chât, as we English had christened the hotel, hadn’t changed a bit in 25 odd years. As far as décor and plumbing went, this was not necessarily a good thing, but it was good to see the menu just as I remember it. For a first night in Vevey, there was only one thing to order: Filets de perche, frais du lac:
These small lake fish are found on most of the local restaurant menus. There was only one option to drink with them, a bottle of crisp white Chardonne from grapes grown on the hillside beneath which we were sitting on our sunny terrace.
The boys both ordered duck breast with potato galettes, equally delicious. Pudding was a rather wonderful gratin of raspberries (sabayon poured over fresh raspberries then the dish flashed under the grill to brown and caramelise just a little) served with a melon sorbet.
The next even we decided to visit another old haunt, the Auberge de l’Onde in the neighbouring wine village of St Saphorin. The lakeside village with traditional buildings and narrow winding streets is impossibly picturesque but not designed for the modern motor car as we discovered in an a frank exchange of views with a German registered SUV. You can sit outside on warm evenings:
We opted for the cosy dark wood panelled pinte dining room. It had about as much in common with a true traditional pinte as Heston Blumenthal’s pub does to a traditional British boozer. Why so? With the arrival of ambitious chef Patrick Zimmerman, the Auberge has been taken relentlessly upmarket and has gained a Michelin star and 15 Gault Millau points along the way. This means you won’t find many horny-handed locals supping here. On the night we dined, pretty much all the clientele were, like ourselves, tourists, from the UK, US and Italy.
Although the place felt rather precious, food and service were top class. I opted for the good value Menu du Jour featuring more lake fish, this time the féra (as far as I know unknown in the UK, Latin name Coregonus fera). This is a larger fish than the perch with firm white delicate tasting fillets, just right with the braised leeks, steamed potatoes and beurre blank type sauce with which it was served.
All well and good, but not truly authentic. It was not until we went back to the village of Chardonne where I rented apartment within the village house of Clos Jean-Louis that I spotted what I’d been looking for all along, the unassuming Café au Bon Vin. The menu features typical Vaudois dishes including the mysterious Malakoff. Apparently you can have two of these as a main course and if you like, a third in place of pudding. What were these things?
Thanks to the rather wonderful Swiss-authored food blog www.fxcuisine.com I discovered both that a malakoff is a deep-fried cheese stick and also found detailed instructions, photos and a recipe for whipping some up back home. I commend the blog to you.
Sadly, our discovery of the Café au Bon Vin was too late. We didn’t have time to try it out as we were en route to our mountaintop Mongolian yurt experience…
August 14, 2010 § Leave a comment
An idea from Switzerland that could work well back home. Municipal planting in the North of England where I come from tends to take the form of highly coloured highly regimented and highly maintained beds of marigolds, begonias, lobelia and the like. I saw recently in both Champéry and Vevey, two towns in la Suisse Romande (French speaking Switzerland), examples of edible flower beds.
In Vevey these were straightforward ornamental vegetables, rainbow chard, sweetcorn and tomatoes.
In Champéry, a more imaginative approach was taken. Herbs and edible plants were displayed in planters which formed a trail through the village with a recipe for the relevant edible plant displayed next to it. The recipes were compiled into a handy little brochure available from the tourist office.
Here are 3 of the recipes from the leaflet which appealed to me, including one featuring comfrey. Normally all my recipes are tried and tested but these are new to me. I shall be giving them a go as soon as I’m back in my own kitchen and can forage for the ingredients.
A photo of the planter containing comfrey (Symphytum officinale or consoude in French) appears at the bottom of the post.
Recipe for comfrey tzatziki
For 4 people. This recipe makes sense as tzatiki is usually made with cucumber and both comfrey and it’s cousin borage are said to have a cucumber-like taste. Rather worryingly, the original recipe states that comfrey should be consumed in moderation because of the potentially liver damaging compounds it contains. You have been warned!
300g natural yoghurt, ideally Greek style
6-7 young comfrey leaves
1 clove of garlic
1 tbsp olive oil
5 mint leaves, ideally wild mint
salt and pepper
Chop the comfrey and mint finely and mix with the yoghurt and olive oil. Season to taste. Leave for 1 hour in the fridge and mix again before serving.
Recipe for little elderberry cakes
Makes about 25 little cakes. These sound as if they’ll turn out like madeleines – I hope so as madeleines are just about my favourite small cakes.
150g caster sugar
40g ground almonds (ideally bitter almonds)
2 teaspoons baking powder
The grated rind and juice of half a lemon
150-200g ripe elderberries removed from the stalk
3 eggs lightly beaten with a fork
150g melted butter
125g natural yoghurt
2 tbsp orange flower water
In a large bowl mix the flour, sugar, ground almonds, baking powder, grated lemon rind and elderberries. Take care not to crush the berries. In a second smaller bowl, mix the eggs, melted butter, yoghurt, lemon juice and orange flower water. Add the wet ingredients to the dry, mix and allow to rest in the fridge for 1 hour. Drop teaspoons of the mixture into prepared silicone moulds (I plan to use my silicone madeleine moulds, otherwise use patty tins). Bake for 12 to 15 minutes in an oven preheated to 220 degrees C. Leave for a few minutes before unmoulding.
Recipe for Charentais melon and wild mint salsa with melon and muscat sorbet and raw ham from the Val d’Illiez
Serves 4 I would guess. This is one of the sketchier recipes in the leaflet so please alter it as you see fit. No ingredients or method are given for the sorbet syrup so please consult your usual cookbook to see how to make this.
2 Charentais melons
1 dessertspoon icing sugar
125 ml sugar syrup
Small glass Pineau de Charentes or other sweet muscat wine
4 handfuls salad leaves
4 to 8 slices Val d’Illiez or other raw thinly ham
Peel and deseed the melon and cucumber, cut into small cubes and marinate overnight in the fridge with the chopped mint and the spoonful of icing sugar. Liquidise and set aside.
To make the sorbet, peel and deseed the second melon, cube and liquids then mix with the 125 ml chilled sugar syrup and the small glass of muscat wine. Churn in an ice cream maker or freeze in a shallow plastic container stirring the mix from time to time.
Serve the smoothy and the sorbet with a few dressed salad leaves (use a vinaigrette flavoured with chopped wild mint) and scatter over the strips of raw ham.
August 13, 2010 § Leave a comment
The range of seven peaks known as the Dents du Midi (Teeth of the South) sits high above the Rhône valley in Western Switzerland and is tantalisingly visible from the shores of Lac Léman (lake Geneva).
After staring at these dreamy mountains for years since I first visited the area back in the 1980s I was finally going to approach them on foot via the long distance footpath called the Tour des Dents du Midi. If you were really up for it you could complete the walk in 2 long days: we decided to opt for the 4 day option making our base the picturesque alpine village of Champéry in the canton of Valais.
Wending our way up the Val d’Illiez towards Champéry we kept seeing roadside stalls selling Valais apricots. The Valais is named after the mighty Rhône valley which dominates the region. It is the warmest and sunniest part of Switzerland and is famed for its red wines and its fruit trees. I’d previously experienced Valais fruit in the winter in the form of hideously strong schnapps, pomme (apple), williamine (pear) and the like. At the third roadside stall we just had to break our journey to experience the fruit in its much more pleasant undistilled form:
Delicious, ripe and juicy, much more appealing than the bullet-hard pellets that pass for apricots in supermarkets back home.
Our base in Champéry was the comfortable and good value Beau Séjour hotel at one end of the village main street. It’s pretty as a picture, all dark wood and pink geraniums and the annexe rooms where we slept were spacious and well-equipped. The hotel doesn’t serve meals other than breakfast but this was not a problem as we strolled down to the excellent Café du Nord for dinner.
The Beau Séjour does do a fine breakfast, the highlight of which for us was cooking our own pancakes on a dinky electrically heated tabletop device. Sadly, looking out of the window from our cost breakfast table, the weather outside was, exactly as forecast, grim. Undaunted, we merely donned our waterproofs and set off from the Grand Paradis chairlift carpark. We had 6 hours walking ahead of us including 900m of ascent.
The showers stopped intermittently and we were rewarded with views of precipitous slopes and alpine meadows. We took a lunch break at the Cabane d’Antème, pretty basic with building work audibly in progress. Soup was reconstituted Maggi or similar and coffee was instant but the chocolate cake was the real deal.
After another 3 hours’ trudging in the rain, the Alpage de Chindonne was a welcome sight bas we rounded our final corner. This was amazingly comfortable for a mountain hut, more like a small hotel, with prices too match! We were too late for the cheaper basic pasta meal, the répas du randonneur, so it was the à la carte option of viand sechée du Valais followed by the national Swiss potato dish, rösti.
Here is the board of viande sechée du Valais:
After a breakfast of bread and jam we set out on day 2 of our walk. Mercifully the rain had stopped and the sun broke through clouds and it became a beautiful day. A good thing too as we had 7 hours walking ahead of us. We spent the morning rounding the corner into the main Rhône valley arriving at the cliff top village of Mex in time for lunch. We then had a gruelling 1,000m climb up to the col du Jorat from where we could see down to our destination, the Auberge de Salanfe. By common consent this was the best hut of the tour. It has a spectacular lakeside setting, comfortable rooms, good food and efficient and friendly service. Dinner, a homemade vegetable soup and emincé de boeuf (beef casserole) with rice and vegetables, was wolfed down by all.
Day 3 turned out to be a relatively short 3 hour walk over the col to the Cabane de Susanfe as our planned peak, the Haut Cîme, 3,257m, turned out to be unobtainable because of the quantity of fresh snow down to 2,400m. We arrived at the Cabane at around lunchtime and spent a lazy afternoon in the sunshine rehydrating first on sirop de mélisse (homemade lemon balm cordial) and later on a microbrewery beer from Sion. Dinner was packet cream of asparagus soup followed by chilling con carne, then apple sauce for pudding. Sounds a little odd but it all tastes good after a day’s hiking. The Cabane de Susanfe is a genuine Swiss Alpine Club hut with just a coomunal dormitory and hut bunk sleeping arrangements. This proved the most difficult part of the walk: sharing a mattress with a pot-bellied snoring stranger is not my idea of fun….
After a slightly Spartan breakfast of homemade bread (good but not enough of it), jam and instant hot chocolate, we set off on the final leg of the journey back to Champéry and civilisation. After a tricky first hour we were through the steepest section of the walk, the Pas d’Encel, effectively the jaws of the valley. The buvette de Bonavau made a welcome break with tempting homemade fruit tarts on display:
Too soon it was back to civilization in Champéry. It was a sunny Sunday lunchtime and we were pleasantly surprised to find both the bakery open and a little market in full swing in the village centre. We stocked up on bread – both Valais rye bread with walnuts plus white bread for the softies in our party. The cheeses were a wonderfully ripe and stinky Tomme de Bruson from the neighbouring valley and a local artisan-made rinded goat cheese. The salami was chewy, flavoursome and flavoured with génepi. I think this variety of peach is called doughnut – they were small, fragantly white-fleshed and juicy.
A perfect picnic to conclude a successful walk, even if the Haut Cîme remained out of reach this time.