Mountain food doesn’t get better than in Megève, in the French Alps, nestling in the shadow of Mont Blanc. Rupert Parker attends their three day culinary festival
It’s 10 o’clock on a October Sunday morning and I’m in the main square of Megève. Inside a large tent there’s a panel of chefs tasting various Fondues, cheered on by a small but enthusiastic crowd. This competition is part of a series that also includes best Pâté Pie, Mountain Soup and Chartreuse, the local liqueur.
As well as events in the streets, the sports complex, Le Palais de Megève, has been transformed into a huge food market. I get to sample products delivered from the area’s 45 local farms including cheeses like Reblochon, Beaufort, Tomme and Raclette. There are also tastings, cookery demonstrations and gourmet lunches. Even better, various restaurants around town offer special Menus Toquisimes for around €35.
Megève, literally the village on the water, had been a quiet farming town until the 19th century when the parish priest, Father Ambroise Martin, had an idea. Inspired by what he’d seen in Italy, he came up with a scheme to erect 15 chapels and oratories depicting the stations of cross, on the slopes above the town. Work took place between 1840 and 1878 and this Megève Calvary began to attract pilgrims to the “Savoyard Jerusalem”. So much so that hotels and lodging houses were built to accommodate them, preparing the town for tourism.
After WW1, Baroness Noémie de Rothschild was looking to establish a ski resort in France as a rival to Switzerland’s St. Moritz. She bought a huge area of land in Megève and, with her husband, Maurice de Rothschild, built the Mont d’Arbois in 1921, a luxury hotel equipped with an ice rink. More chalets followed and she went on to create the first cable car in 1933, an airfield and an 18-hole golf course.
By the 1950’s, Megève was one of the most popular ski resorts in Europe and attracted many wealthy individuals and celebrities, including Jean Cocteau, Sacha Distel, Charles Aznavour and Brigitte Bardot. It features in the 1963 film Charade, where Audrey Hepburn’s Regina Lampert meets Cary Grant’s character, and is still the playground of the rich and famous.
In spite of its celebrity, it’s also a thriving farming town as I discover when I accompany a herd of cows down from their summer pastures. It’s a family affair with three generations taking part in the celebrations. They tell me they’re passionate about the quality of their milk and the excellence of the cheese they produce. In all, around 45 farms supply around 75 eateries including 35 mountain restaurants. Among the elite are its four Michelin-starred restaurants which boast a total of seven stars among them.
The Flocons de Sel is one of only 27 restaurants in France to hold the coveted three stars. Here Chef Emmanuel Renaut has an “eat local, build local” philosophy and he gets up early to forage for wild mushrooms and herbs. On the night I sample his food, there are plenty of porcini, truffles and other varieties peppered among the courses. Unlike a classic French menu, vegetables feature heavily including a delightful parsnip and beetroot gnocchi in a horseradish consommé.
Paired with fine dining is an extensive network of mountain trails and cycle tracks around the town. As I set out on an e-bike I get tremendous views of Mont Blanc, covered in snow. Next day I hop in a tiny plane and loop around its pinnacles, thankful that I’ve only had coffee for breakfast. My final meal is a Toquicimes lunch at Le Palais to raise money for the French Bocuse d’Or team. On this evidence, I can’t help feeling that they definitely deserve to win.
Megève has tourist information.
The next Toquicimes Festival takes place in October 2021.
Flights over Mont Blanc cost from £144 pp.
The 5* Fermes de Marie has an excellent spa – £308 for a double room.
The 3* Coin du Feu has just been refurbished – £107 for a double room.
EasyJet has return flights to Geneva from London Gatwick from £47.
Return transfers from Geneva Airport to Megève cost from £90 pp based on two people sharing a vehicle.