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Trip Report Jamikins and Bikerscott Go Francing: Cooking in the Alps and Alsace

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Good morning,

Jamikins and I are off on another Francing adventure. Over the years our travel style has adjusted to settling into a week in one place and exploring that region. This time we are off to the Savoie region of France for a 5 day cooking school, followed by a week in Alsace, ending with a night in Paris.

Our cooking school is at a chalet in Fontaine Naves: http://www.chaletsavoiefaire.com/

Jamikins pics for the first week will be updated here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/pug_girl/

We hope you enjoy our trip report - starting with 2 nights in Annecy...

Annecy, Friday May 23rd – Sunday May 25th

We both left work a bit early on Friday – I’d worked from home and it was Jamie’s last day at work so she didn’t feel too guilty about ducking out before the official end of the day. She came home to collect me and the suitcases and we took the DLR to London City Airport.

As always security was a breeze, however we were disappointed to discover that City airport doesn’t have a BA or VIP lounge – I’ve flown enough miles with work to get my Executive Club silver membership and like the quiet away from the normal crowds in the airport. City was busier than we’d ever seen it before – the Friday of a Bank Holiday weekend and it seemed everyone was flying back home or away on holiday. They’d even managed to overbook our flight and were asking for five volunteers to stay in London overnight.

Despite the crowds (this is relative, of course – crowds at City airport and crowds at Heathrow are two entirely different beasts) and lack of executive lounge we got on our little plane and took off almost on time. The flight to Geneva was short and other than a fair bit of turbulence was almost pleasant – I even managed to sleep most of the way (although as I can normally sleep through both take-off and landing, it would have to be some pretty epic turbulence to bother me).

We’d been to Geneva airport once before for our trip to Adelboden, but had left through the Swiss side of the airport for that trip. For this trip, we’re staying entirely in France so had to find our way to the French side of the airport. After some confusion about the hire company, we had the keys to our little Ford Focus whom we’ve named Ingrid after the girl at the hire company. We broke the law a bit by driving on the small bit of the Swiss highway without a formal Swiss highway tax sticker, but it was only a few miles so didn’t really mind, hope the Swiss don’t find out.

The drive to Annecy was not too bad – I hadn’t really been looking forward to it as I don’t drive all that often, and driving to a city I’ve never been to before at night in a new car is a bit stressful, but other than working out that the turbo kick is a bit more enthusiastic than expected (American car after all – can’t go around a corner but if you want to drive quickly in a straight line you can’t go far wrong) we managed okay. We even found the parking next to the Ibis in Annecy on the first go, which is almost a first for us.

We checked in, dropped off the bags in the surprisingly large and comfortable room before walking around the corner into the old town for a final night cap. Annecy, it turns out, is a young persons town after the lights go down. There were quite a few bars open, but no one over the age of 30 as far as we could see (other than us, of course). We walked a few blocks down towards the lake before turning back to find a little bar to have a drink or three, stopping at L’Estiment (sp?) for a few drinks.

We finally called it a night when the bar shut at 1am. The room at the hotel was quite nice, and surprisingly large for a French hotel in the centre of town. The bed in particular was amazingly comfortable – a nice combination of a firm mattress with a thick mattress pad for a bit of softness on top, a good combination for my dodgy back.

We woke to an amazingly blue sky – not a cloud in sight. We’d been a bit worried about the weather as the forecast had been for clouds and rain for the whole week. There was a patisserie downstairs, so we ordered some breakfast and coffee. Jamie decided that as an adult, she was allowed to choose anything she wanted for breakfast so had a mint pastry thing, while I went with the far more sensible sugar brioche bun. Due to some translation confusion, we both ended up with Chantilly cream coffees rather than the cappuccinos that we’d wanted (a Chantilly coffee is normal coffee with a huge amount of sweet Chantilly cream on top – not exactly my favourite breakfast brew).

We spent a few hours wandering around the little centre of Annecy taking photos, walking down to the lake and back again. We eventually found our way to lunch, which turned out to be a little way off the main tourist street, tucked in behind the pedestrian area on the other side of the river.

Lunch was really good at La Ciboulette. Despite the chill in the air and the cool breeze, we decided that the sky was too blue to waste by sitting inside so we braved the cold at a little table in the courtyard. A quick aperitif with some little nibbles to whet our appetites and we were off on a nice three course tasting menu. We started with an amuse bouche of fromage blanc with smoked cod, followed by ouefs meurette with cured ham, spring onions and wild garlic. Somewhat oddly, the next course was Scottish salmon (odd only in that we’d come all the way from the UK to have Scottish fish) with lemon, capers and baby potatoes – absolutely delicious and the fish was cooked perfectly. Finally desert was fresh strawberries, basil ice cream, and custard.

We were freezing so stopped back to the hotel to change into jeans and collect our jumpers. We’d seen the lake cruise signs on our morning walk by the lake, and thought it seemed like a nice way to spend an hour or so that afternoon. We walked back to the lake, bought our rather expensive tickets (€28 for both of us) and waited in what became quite the crowd to board. The cruise took about an hour and covered pretty much the entire lake – there are some EXPENSIVE properties on the lakeside, including a €30 million place owned by the Solomon family (the ski company).

That pretty much tired us out, so we were forced to spend a few hours on one of the canal side bars drinking pastis and wine for the rest of the afternoon, getting a little sunburned in the meantime. I think the lady running the place thought we were pretty funny, as we did spend quite a few hours there chatting and drinking (it turns out an afternoon of pastis and sun isn’t good for the digestive system, but I won’t go into too much detail).

We finally made our slightly unsteady way to L’Equisse for dinner, conveniently located just across the river from our hotel. The restaurant was really small, with only a few tables. As we tend to do, we arrived a bit earlier and were the only ones there (I’m not sure they were actually open yet, but let us in anyway). Dinner was really good, although the chef obviously loved his sous vide machine and got a bit carried away with it.

We started with a lake fish that was common in Annecy lake, although had actually been caught in Geneva’s lake (weirdly it didn’t seem like there was a lot of wildlife in Annecy lake – the river through town certainly didn’t have any fish in it or even lake weed of any sort – a bit odd). The fish had been done in the sous vide and served with a smoked fish sauce, grapefruit, tarragon, and fish roe. Very tasty, but the texture of the fish itself was a bit mushy, possibly from the sous vide cooking.

That was followed up by another fish dish, this time cod, again cooked in the sous vide. It was really nice, appearing to be completely raw but cooked through. The fish was accompanied by pickled onion, fresh wild garlic, enoki mushrooms, and local buckwheat pasta.

The main course was again cooked in sous vide – this time a nice piece of veal with various side flavours, including little dabs of horseradish and pickled cauliflower. In a coffee mug on the side was what appeared to be a coffee with a large amount of milk foam on the top, but was turned out to be creamed potato with mushrooms at the bottom. To be honest, we thought the third consecutive sous vide dish was a bit much, and quite frankly we like the taste of the caramelization of meat cooked on a grill. I also wondered why the cup – it was certainly a dramatic presentation, but it made eating it a bit awkward.

The cheese course was a bit odd but very tasty – a little pot of fromage blanc layered with what tasted like a vinegary onion chutney, with little tiny croutons on top. Desert was possibly the most chocolaty chocolate desert that has ever been invented. It wasn’t large, but neither Jamie nor I could actually finish it – and for Jamie not to finish some chocolate is saying something.

After finishing dinner we stopped quickly back at the hotel to pick up the tripod and headed back into town to take some night photos of old Annecy. Most of them turned out fairly well, but the last one Jamie took was simply amazing – a photo that would not look out of place in a guide book or a photo book. We had to stop back at our little bar for a few more drinks to get over the euphoria of taking that shot.

All in all a great day in Annecy – we’d even managed to get a little bit of sunburn, which is pretty good for a day we’d expected to be cloudy and drizzly based on the forecast. Annecy is a good day trip – we enjoyed our time there, but felt that there wasn’t all that much to keep us entertained beyond that. Lovely town but we were ready for the next part of our adventure - our 5 day cooking course in Fontaine Naves...

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