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Report: weekend in a Château in the French Alps (warning: long and rambly!!)

Report: weekend in a Château in the French Alps (warning: long and rambly!!)

Old Nov 3rd, 2003, 04:38 AM
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Report: weekend in a Château in the French Alps (warning: long and rambly!!)

This weekend we took ourselves off for a night away in a pretty château near Chambéry in the Alps. We had such a great time, and visited some wonderful places, so I thought people might be interested. I tried to keep it short and to the point but failed miserably (so if you fall asleep half way through, don't say I didn't warn you!!) , as I didn't want to leave anything out - this is not such a well-known part of France, and yet it is well worth a visit.

We booked a night's stay at the Château des Comptes de Challes, a 15th century castle in Challes-les-Eaux, just outside Chambéry. We drove from Lyon on Saturday morning, and it took us about 1 and a half hours to get there. Our room was a standard "château" room (there are other, cheaper rooms available in another building that isn't part of the castle proper). I think we paid 137 euros for a double. The room was pretty, if small, but recently and tastefully decorated with a gorgeous bathroom. The castle has a lovely view of the hills, and lovely looking terrace in the garden, and pool, which would be great in the summer.

After checking in, we headed out to explore part of the northern end of the Parc national de la Chartreuse, a 70,000 hectare national park spanning the area between Grenoble in the South and Chambéry in the North. It is home to the Monastère de la grande Chartreuse, where the Chartreux monks used to make the famous liqueur of the same name, now produced in nearby Voiron. We drove along windy mountain roads to the Col du Granier, where we had stunning views of snow-capped mountains, whose flanks were ablaze with the reds, oranges and yellows of the autumn trees.

From here we drove down through hills and vineyards to a village called Les Marches where we'd read there was a small wine museum and possibility of tasting some Savoie wines. The owners of the museum were extremely friendly, pouring us taster glass after glass of local wine. Their Gamay rouge was excellent, characteristic of a good Savoie red - dry, light, fresh, slightly peppery. Needless to say, we bought a few bottles. The museum itself was free to visit, and consisted of a small collection of wine-related tools, photos, machinery and miscellany.

We drove back to the Chateau and I had a good soak in the bath before we went down to the castle's restaurant for dinner.

The dining room was lovely, with high, beamed ceilings, and a huge log fire burning brightly. We opted for the 38-euro prix-fixe menu, and boy did we eat well!!
With our apéritifs they brought a tray of tiny nibbles - home-made prawn or cream cheese tartlets, a tiny pot of garlic snails...
Then came the mise-en-bouche - a fat grilled scallop served with a tiny dollop of chestnut + bacon purée, with a delicious cream sauce and parmesan wafer.
I had then ordered a wild mushroom tart, and my BF had chosen breaded foie-gras served with brioche toast. Both were delicious.

Next I had "stroganoff style" medallions of monkfish, served with another of those parmesan wafers, fennel, and a tiny portion of creamy risotto rice. BF had roast rack of lamb, served with vegetables and a rich sauce. I don't like lamb but he assured me it was delicious.

By now I was feeling distinctly full, especially because of all the creamy sauces, which were delicious but very rich.
Still, how could I resist the cheese board when it was wheeled up on its trolley! A wonderful selection of local Savoyard cheeses (gruyère, tomme, chevre...).

I was utterly stuffed by this point, but there was more! They served us a beautiful selection of desserts, with a grand total of 5 different portions on the plate! A chocolate gateau, orange mousse, cherries in kirsch, candied fruit tart, and a tiny fruit tart. Although the portions were just tasters, I could do no more than nibble half a forkful of each.

I was regretting having stopped for lunch earlier in the day, since if I'd been hungrier I might have managed to eat more of this huge banquet!! When they brought our coffee we burst out laughing as it was accompanied by a plate of home-made biscuits. We could do no more than look wistfully at them.

We accompanied the meal with a good bottle of local red Mondeuse (EUR 18); in all, the menu was extremely good value for 38 euros, the service was excellent, and the setting was just perfect for such a grand dinner.

(Continued...)
hanl is offline  
Old Nov 3rd, 2003, 04:41 AM
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(Continued from above)

Checkout was at 10 the next day so we managed to get up early enough to catch breakfast (no we weren't hungry after the previous night's show of gluttony but I wasn't going to miss my favourite meal of the day), and have a walk round the grounds before setting off to explore more of the Chartreuse park.

We drove up by a different road to the Col du Granier, where we'd been the day before, but this time the drive was even more spectacular, past rushing snow-melt waterfalls and through foggy clouds, rounding one bend to see a far-off snowy peak emerging from a haze of cloud, with the sunlight sparkling on the snow and a backdrop of perfect azure sky.

We continued south for about 15 km, over hills and through valleys, some blanketed in snow, some green, past grazing cows and sheep and pretty wooden chalets. We stopped for a walk round the village of St Pierre d'Entremont, a lovely place set in a valley on the banks of a fast flowing, crystal clear river, surrounded by towering mountains. We bought some local cheese and savoyard sausages (called Diots and traditionally cooked with shallots and white wine), and then headed off through more gorgeous scenery to the town of Le Sappey-en-Chartreuse where we stopped at the Auberge for lunch. We'd been here before and eaten extremely well, so we made a point of returning this time.

The menu features unpretentious local cuisine - fondues, pierrade (where you cook meat on a hot stone slab at your table), diots, trout à la grenobloise (deboned and stuffed with capers)...

We opted for another Savoyard speciality, a raclette, which is served for two people. I'd had raclette before (slices of cheese which you melt on a table-top heater or mini wood-burning stove), but unbeknownst to me I'd never eaten it the traditional way.
They brought us a bowl of steamed, unpeeled potatoes, a plate of local charcuterie, a huge bowl of salad, and an iron "tray" with a small wood-burning brazier at one end (imagine the bars of the grill running perpendicular to the tray), and a sort of metal spatula contraption with a spike at the other end. They put a huge wedge of cheese on the spike, which we moved up close to the grill till one side started to melt, then we scraped the melty bits onto the potatoes on our plates, and put the block of cheese back to melt again. It sounds complicated but it was the perfect thing to eat on a bright, chilly, autumn day.

Having spent much of the weekend eating we decided we should get some exercise so we thought we'd go and see the famous monastery which was about 15 minutes drive from Le Sappey. The 11th Century monastery, is set in a valley, in a "zone de silence", with no houses, roads or cars allowed nearby. It can only be visited on foot and today houses around 40 monks.

We took the woodland path from the car park - which was fairly easy for the most part, although very hilly and a bit muddy at times. We eventually glimpsed the monastery through the trees. An impressive site - like a castle with so many turrets and spires, surrounded by jagged, looming mountains. We took a path down to join the main tarmacked path which leads up to and around the monastery. I'm not sure that the monastery itself is open to visitors, but the walk around the building affords some wonderful views and magnificent photo opportunities.

By the time we got back to the car the light was starting to fade, so we reluctantly set off for home (Lyon), stopping on the way to take some photos of the gorgeous sunset over the snowy mountains behind Grenoble, which shone pink and orange in the evening light.

This was just a short weekend away but it did me the world of good!! Just a 90 minute drive from Lyon, somewhat off the main tourist trail. Indeed, this part of the Alps feels much less developed than other areas (especially those closer to the most popular ski resorts), and has retained much of its charm.
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Old Nov 3rd, 2003, 10:56 AM
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lovely report and great eats!!
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Old Nov 3rd, 2003, 12:31 PM
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Great report!! It sounds like a truly beautiful place and the food, well... But I have to say, I did not feel bad for you "having" to return to Lyon. No, no sympathy from me.
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Old Nov 3rd, 2003, 01:05 PM
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LOL!! Yes, I do have a hard life
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Old Nov 3rd, 2003, 06:06 PM
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Thanks for the great read, hanl! Only it made me hungry. Yum.
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Old Nov 3rd, 2003, 07:31 PM
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Thanks for a great report and a fabulous place to stay. I fell in love with the Alps this year and am looking for this kind of acccomodations for a return trip next Sept. I was able to find their web site and it's beautiful...I did not see mention of the swimming pool...I also don't read french too well. Do they definately have one? How luck you are to be able to get there in 1 1/2 hours. Thanks for the hot tip.
susanna
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Old Nov 3rd, 2003, 11:47 PM
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Hi Susanna,
Yes they definitely have a pool - the brochure we picked up on site did show it, and when we walked round the grounds we saw the pool area (pool was covered over, of course). In fact, I've just looked at the site again and found this: http://www.chateau-alpes.com/loisirs.htm

By the way, you probably realised that I mispelt Comtes in my report (Comptes means "accounts" !!)
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Old Nov 4th, 2003, 08:24 AM
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Hi Hanl:
Thanks for the web page, I found the same site but it did not show the pool. Would this be a good base for 3 or 4 days... we also love to drive around, see towns, hike, and of course EAT...do you happen to know if they speak any English? My french only includes one word phrases, but I am able to read it somewhat since many words are similiar to Italian...your spelling looked fine to me!!!
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Old Nov 4th, 2003, 02:02 PM
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Susanna, I assume the staff speak English, as most hotels in France have some English speaking staff, although I can't be sure as my BF and I spoke in French when we were there.
In any case, the staff were extremely friendly and helpful, so I'm sure you wouldn't have any problems.

I'd say this would be a great area for a few days of visiting and hiking and eating (!): you can drive south to visit the Chartreuse park, or east over to Mont Blanc, or spend the day in Chambery, or drive up to Annecy...

There are lots of signposted hiking trails in the area, plus you can go paragliding, horseriding, etc., not to mention wine or cheese tasting!

Another possibility might be to spend a couple of nights in the chateau and a night or two in the town of Annecy.
Let me know if I can help out with anything else!
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Old Nov 4th, 2003, 02:47 PM
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Thank you Hanl...I'll file this away until we make out plans. I thought that I would be able to get tics today since British Airlines was having a sale,but it didn't extend to France or Switzerland, only to London...I'll wait for a good sale from SF.
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Old Oct 4th, 2004, 08:12 PM
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hanl, what a great trip report. We'll be off to Provence via CDG this Saturday and we'll spend some time in Grenoble before we head back to Paris. I really enjoyed reading about your adventures, and I'm hopeful we'll have some good things to report as well. I discovered Le Sappey-en-Chartreuse is only a few miles from where we'll be staying, but I couldn't find any info on the restaurant you talked about. Is it called the Auberge? I'd appreciate any further info you have! P.S. We're bringing our 2-yr old son Thanks!
Michelle
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Old Oct 4th, 2004, 11:43 PM
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Hi Michelle,
The restaurant in Le Sappey is called L'Auberge de Sappey and it's on a corner on the main road through the town (if you're coming from Grenoble, it's on the right). We've been there a few times now and every time there have been families with small children. The phone number is 04 76 88 87 44.

In fact, drove up there again with friends the other week and had a lovely meal followed by a walk in the hills. The scenery is just as beautiful as I remembered (and the raclette was just as good!).
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Old Oct 6th, 2004, 07:01 PM
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Thanks, hanl - you've been very helpful. I'm hoping we'll have a chance to get out there and see some of that gorgeous scenery you described!
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Old May 3rd, 2010, 06:07 AM
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Bookmarking
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Old May 3rd, 2010, 07:05 AM
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What a wonderful report--so what if it's 6 or 7 years old. Good, if somewhat dated, info here.
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Old Nov 6th, 2010, 12:59 AM
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hi, will this be suitable in winter december?
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Old Nov 6th, 2010, 01:27 PM
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Sounds delightful! Not a château but more of a giant chalet, you might enjoy a trip to La Mainaz, near Gex just below the Col de la Faucille overlooking Geneva. I stayed there two nights out of season (but lucky enough to have snow on the ground even though the roads were clear. Gigantic room with a balcony overlooking Geneva and the Mont Blanc.

I wasn't able to indulge at their excellent restaurant except for breakfast, because I was taking my Alzheimer mother around, but it looked great, with a panoramic view of the valley below.

http://www.la-mainaz.com/

(One reason that I feel so indulgent to them is that I had a free voucher for two nights from my company, and I sent them an email asking them when was the best time to come for a room with a view, explaining that it was about all that my mother could appreciate. They proposed a couple of dates and actually gave us the best room in the hotel.)
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