Sun, food, snow and good company – what more could you want for a winter holiday break? For our holiday, we choose the delightful mountain village of Oz-en-Oisans in the Savoie region of France, nestling in the Alps on the fringes of the Alpe d’Huez ski resort. The region is known for its tasty cheese delicacies like, tartiflette and fondue together with refreshing wines. But we were there to test our own culinary skills against these treats.
Our accommodation was a carefully selected self catering (of course) chalet, usually used by skiers in the winter, hired for the week. It featured a fresh coffee maker, double oven and infra red hob, huge salad washing basket, large ladles, plenty of wine glasses and numerous other useful utensils and gadgets as well as a dishwasher. To ensure a supply of essential herbs, spices and basic ingredients we brought a number of such items with us, including ‘Oat-so-simple’ (the latter simply to allow more time for more specialised cooking). One of the party also brought with them a copious supply of ‘greens’ in case the snow covered local farmland could not provide such essential vitamins. We travelled by plane to Grenoble, coach to the valley below the village and final leg by taxi (which we had to re-board almost as soon as alighting because of muddle about where the chalet was). One of the party travelled by land all the way (coach and train).
For our first evening we sampled the local pizza take away, to set the benchmark for our later self-catering during the rest of the week. Not at all bad actually, but we would not want to spend that sort of money each evening. This was preceded by a chaotic shopping trip to the supermarket where the notion of coordination mainly comprised of yelling to each other from one end of the
aisle to another and discussing heartily the answers to hypothetical questions about imaginary meals we had not yet planned. A good plan, soon set in motion, was to detail the early bird Paul to collect fresh bread and sometimes croissants in the morning for breakfast.
So the first evening of our own cooking (after some enjoyed lunch of soup and sandwiches at our chalet) was a concoction of accompaniments to broccoli, put together by Jenny and me. During the first shopping trip, Jenny thought it would be a good idea to buy plenty of broccoli since, of course, you can never have too much. She had also brought sprouts with her from the UK. So we decided what would go well with broccoli was some baked chicken accompanied by lesser vegetables in a kind of goulash including potatoes and a white sauce (made using some flour I’d cleverly brought with me). As indeed it did, approximately 12 saucepans and 6 hobs later. I insisted on ‘sautéing’ some of the sprouts, sliced, with some tasty spices and onion.
So far so good. But mention should be made -it had been a rainy day. Apparently, that is not good for skiing. That was a popular local activity and some of the party thought they’d try that during the day time despite the unsavoury conditions.
Monday brought sunny weather and that enticed us all out to try this local skiing malarkey. After all, it was quite easy to do – equipment could be hired from a shop a short walk away. Furthermore, there was ‘green slope’ right next to the chalet. At the side of this slope was a ‘drag lift’ from the top of which you could ski down another slope to a ‘gondola’ that took you soaring up the mountain side to a plateaux with majestic views and more ski runs back to the main neighbouring Alpe d’Huez resort. From this plateaux you could also catch other ski lifts to take you up eventually to a mighty 3,300m if you wished (about 10,000ft). That evening Lisa and Deanne prepared a homely macaroni cheese. I should add that we allowed the chefs on duty to decide the music to accompany them in the kitchen area. Lisa put on some rock / pop. If there is a vocal equivalent of ‘air guitar’ Lisa was displaying this after downing a few ‘Carlsbergs’. (‘Air voice’ perhaps?) The previous evening had Jenny and I listening to an assortment of mainly classical music.
Tuesday saw Lisa and I ski several runs together having been ‘deserted’ by the others in their new found enthusiasm for skiing and hasty get-away. We thought we were taking to it very well and ventured right to the top (later learning we’d just narrowly missed the others up there) where the snow was plentiful, firm and powdery – perfect. Later I ventured to return down the mountain via the ‘Tunnel’ ski run (for good skiers only) but found it had closed. So I had to get a lift down with a cable car. That evening, accompanied by the songs of musicals, Karen prepared two wonderful lasagnes, one of which was made with soya mince. And very delicious it was too, complete with onions. The other had a moderate amount of onion in deference to one of the participant’s delicate palate. Will (a new member) reported his experience of completing the Tunnel run earlier that day – a scary start – steep, narrow and bumpy with skiers taking a quiet contemplative moment before committing to the drop. The run starts on one side of the mountain, and via a tunnel enables one to rejoin the resort side of the mountain at the top of a steep run with bumps and snow drifts resembling crevasses at the start.
Wednesday saw Will concoct a very pleasing ‘country gratin’ with advice from Mary Berry online. It was a vegetarian dish (in which the broccoli could make another appearance) with a grilled cheese topping. Lovely. During the day the weather had been mixed, with some low cloud and falling snow flurries. Some of us called at a mountain restaurant and enjoyed some splendid crepes with excel-lent surroundings and service (‘Les Aurilles’ in the Monfrais area). Great tree lined skiing too on quiet slopes. Later that afternoon I helped lead Lisa, William and Jenny on an exciting adventure through cloud and down a bumpy ‘cross country’ red.
On Thursday, after overnight snow, the group was really getting into skiing – so much so that some confided this was the real reason they’d come on the trip, in fact they were under the mistaken impression they were joining a ski holiday not a culinary break. The conditions were ‘out of this world’ – fresh snow and blue skies. Some of us went straight up and via a cable car (Alpette Rousses) and skied an exciting ‘un-groomed red’. Freaked me out a bit. Some went back for more, after we ‘bumped’ into some others in the party. Some skied an adjoining groomed but equally exciting slope. That evening Paul and William tackled and, after some labouring, served a delicious butternut squash risotto (yum yum).
It’s worth mentioning that as well as the great cooking and eating facilities (a large dining table that all could sit around) there was a spacious lounge with numerous sofas and easy chairs. We could all sit round and share stimulating and entertaining discourse. Some evenings we ‘entertained ourselves’ with such activities as a kind of ‘Call my Bluff’ that Paul teased out of us and his tablet device and rounds of ‘guess the person’. (My allocation of Yuri Gagarin was confused with Yuri Geller by one.) A wood stove was enjoyed some evenings but the weather was not that cold so its heat was rarely necessary.
By the Friday we were really into the skiing, although Karen and Brian had paced themselves and spent time on leisurely sojourns via the lift system to walk and visit high points and villages around the connected ski areas. That night it was a true ready steady cook meal – making use of what was left. The main dish was a chilli, which if my recollection serves me correct Tim had a handle on (not being into more complex dishes).
I’ve not mentioned desserts. The local supermarket had some lovely tarts – Normandy apple, Savoise strawberry for example. So we tended to make use of readymade dishes, with plenty of sensational crème fraiche, plus a cheese course sometimes with some amazing local cheeses.
We were not due to leave the resort until later Saturday afternoon and were, although it
seemed doubtful at the outset, able to retain the chalet until lunchtime. So after some more morning skiing we indulged in a leisurely lunch in the village – wonderful omelettes and baked and grilled rich dishes.
So all in all we discovered that there is more to a holiday than enjoying communal gourmet self catering and I think next year we will consider a holiday based around skiing as the main activity.