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Travel Journal- The French & Italian Alps

Describe the place in 3 words

Cozy, charming, chic
 
chamonix town
After Christmas, my husband and I traveled to Chamonix and Courmayeur in the Alps for a little post-holiday holiday.  Here are a few highlights from these two quintessentially charming Alps villages...one in France and one in Italy, and only a 30 minute drive apart.
 Chiecco restaurant italy
Ristorante Chiecco

Describe your most memorable meal. . . .

Our mid-afternoon lunch at Chiecco at the Courmayeur ski mountain in the Italian alps.  The experience begins by taking the tram up to the ski slopes (or “pistes") from the town of Courmayeur. Surrounded by fashionable Italians in head-to-toe fur and only the finest ski duds, yelling “Buongiorno!” and “Ciao!”, it is immediately apparent that skiing in Courmayeur can be more about the fashion scene than “shredding the pow”.
 
We skied a few runs and eventually found our way to the slope side Ristorante Chiecco, a charming tiny chalet restaurant situated on side of the ski mountain and only accessible to skiers. We knew we had found the right place when we saw beautiful people relaxing on the makeshift deck, sipping prosecco in their ski boots and lounging on sheepskin covered chairs in the sun.  It was like we had entered a Slim Aarons photography shoot. Making our way into the restaurant, the owner of the restaurant, a tall, thin, beautiful and spunky Italian woman was cheering “hip, hip, HOORAY!!”, and ringing a giant cowbell to get the restaurant involved in a birthday celebration.  
 
Chiecco Restaurant Italy
Chiecco Restaurant Italy
The restaurant probably has 15 tables total - it’s tiny. We were early, so we sat outside and had a couple of drinks in those sheepskin-covered lounge chairs in the sun and looking out at the surrounding mountains. It was heaven! When our table was ready (we recommend making reservations!), we were led down to the secret basement level where it felt like entering a new world of fine dining.
 
The walls were covered in old wine boxes, the tables had “Aperol Orange” table cloths, and there was a “shave your own” black truffle circulating the restaurant. We were presented with a chalkboard menu and ordered the Bruschetta with crispy parma ham and the buffalo mozzarella to start, as well as the pasta all'Amatriciana and ravioli stuffed with rabbit and black truffle for our meals. The wine list included an extensive selection of Italian wines, and we decided upon a carafe from a local vineyard in the surrounding Valle d'Aosta, which was perfect.  The food was beyond what we hoped for and imagined and every bite was bursting with flavor, especially the all'Amatriciana, which was spicy, smoky, and one of the more delicious and satisfying things I’ve ever eaten. We finished with cafes and some of their house-made gelato, and agreed that it was firmly within one of the best and most memorable meals of our lives. 
 
Chiecco restaurant Italy 
Chiecco restaurant italy
 

Describe a favorite hotel . . .

While we were in Chamonix, we stayed two nights at the Refuge du Montenvers – an old climber's refuge tucked into the side of a mountain and overlooking the Mer de Glace (sea of ice) glacier, where climbers would rest and prepare before attempting first ascents of surrounding peaks. The refuge has recently been restored into a boutique hotel by the Maison Sibuet group. When we saw that the refuge is only accessible by an old fashioned red mountain train,  a la Wes Anderson in “Grand Budapest Hotel”, we knew that we had to check it out.  
 
The decor was simple and elegantly rustic Alpine - deep wood paneled walls, lush red textile accents, and wooden gingerbread accents all over. The room includes breakfast and dinner, which is served every night in the main dining room. The food was rich and delicious and included classic alpine dishes. The first night I ordered a “Boite Chaude”- which was a wheel of brie-like cheese, heated to a creamy consistency, with potatoes, ham, and Cornichons to dip.  It was so flavorful and delicious, and not to mention rich! The next night we had steak and fondue.
 
The refuge was an exquisite environment from which to enjoy the mountains, but the train schedule is limited, so we may only stay one night next time. One thing is for sure, the experience is not one that we will soon forget.
 
Gare de Montevers
A very charming train ride to our hotel. 
 
Refuge de montnevers
Refuge de montenevers
A typical dinner at our hotel: fondue, stewed meat, and plenty of flavorful red wine!
 
Refuge de montnevers dinner
Classic Alpine decor.
 
Refuge de montnevers
Our Clementine Velvet Loafers were perfect for slipping into after wearing ski boots all day. 
 
Refuge de montnevers needlepoint and clementine velvet loafers 

Describe a perfect day from start to finish . . .

Waking up to flaky, buttery croissants and quiche lardon, with a latte and fresh squeezed orange juice at a mountainside Boulangerie.  Skiing a bluebird day on the expansive slopes with breathtaking views.  An outdoor lunch of a bubbling hot lasagna served in a crock with a big green salad and cold beers at one of the charming mountainside chalets.  More afternoon skiing, followed by aprés drinks with friends and a dip in the thermal baths of the QC Terme.  Lastly, a classic alpine dinner and strolling through the charming streets of Chamonix. 
 
Chamonix breakfast 
Chamonix view
 Chamonix tram
Chamonix lunch view
One of the most memorable meals, and certainly the best views: the Panoramique restaurant on one of the highest peaks of Chamonix! We took the above tram to access this incredible spot.
 
Chamonix lunch view
A sea of clouds rolled in, and the effect was magical. 
 
Chamonix draft horse
Evening street scenes in Chamonix. 
 
chamonic fondue dinner

What is the local shopping specialty? What should someone plan to bring home? 

Sheepskin rugs and throws, cashmere sweaters, some of the local “eau de vie” (an herbal liquor of the Alps), and lots of handmade chocolates. 
 

Favorite treasure you found? 

We found a vintage ski clothing shop on our last day that had a big collection of beautiful Alpine ski sweaters. 
 
Alpine Ski sweater
We hope that you enjoyed this little guide to Chamonix & Courmayeur! 

xx,

Milicent