I went skiing in Courmayeur, Valle d’Aosta, one of my favourite places to ski for many reasons but mainly because I love the food, the village (see below for recommended places to visit), the people, the variety of ski runs, and the breathtaking views of Mont Blanc. The village is very Italian in that most people who live there or holiday there are Italian. The people are very open and kind, particularly if travelling with children. The food is quite heavy on the cheese which is normal considering this is the Alps. Here, they use Fontina cheese like most people use salt. But then the brisk weather and the tiredness from skiing erase all memory of focusing on the waistline, making it easier to indulge. I like cheese but only a bit so I found other dishes to enjoy. The main dish I would recommend is the ham- jambon de Bosses. It is delicious with a drizzle of olive oil. Such a simple and elegant way to start off the meal.
We spent many a long lunch in front of the fire melting the snow from our boots at a small mountain cabin restaurant. The food was traditional local fare, heavy on the meat and cheese, and the wine list was good. My husband went there for lunch everyday, spending his time in between visits deciding which wine he wanted next. Simone, our waiter, was convivial and was so sweet with the children, giving them candies after the meal and always remembering their names.
Polenta is heartily enjoyed in Valle d’Aosta and the steaming hot polenta with mushrooms was a welcome sight after a chilly morning skiing. The steak with mushrooms was also very tasty. The nettle tagliatelle and all the daily special raviolis were delicious particularly the raviolis in sugo al brasato (roasted meat sauce). Top the meal off with a ginepro (a herbal liqueur) or a grolla (a mixture of coffee, lemon zest, orange zest, grappa, red wine, and sugar served in a hand carved wooden pot with many spouts for sharing) and you are set for your afternoon session of skiing.
Normally when I go skiing I love soft-boiled eggs with buttered toast soldiers to dip them in for breakfast. Even more decadent is if there is a bit of white truffle or white truffle butter on the toast. Sadly I didn’t have any this trip but I did have the most spectacularly creamy fresh ricotta cheese with wildflower honey with nuts in it. I also had a really lovely chocolate cake with a slight cinnamon taste to it which I got the recipe for (see below).
I used to think I hated ricotta cheese. The white gloop put in plastic containers and sold in the store marked “ricotta” is not even a distant relation to the real thing. When I started making my own ricotta at home I started to like it but really you have to try the real ricotta, freshly made with proper cream milk from the Alps. It’s in a completely different league.
I could and should write an entirely different blog on cioccolata fondente– what could be translated as hot chocolate except it would be an insult. Cioccolata fondente is akin to eating a melted chocolate bar. I say eating because you eat it with a spoon. It’s more of a hot gelato or chocolate pudding. In any case, my son thinks it’s all sorts of spectacular and can’t believe his luck that we allow him to order it.
If you plan to make the trip to Courmayeur, I’ll give some details of my favourite shops and places to eat:
C.AtelierViale Monte Bianco, 39 Courmayeur (AO) telephone: +39.0165.846584 www.catelier.it
This shop is just so beautiful. It is full of beautiful things made in Courmayeur, antique items, and reproduced items. My favourites here include coloured plastic “silverware”, hand painted tables, the coloured linens, the antique silver tray with flowers painted on the porcelain bottom, the antique looking gelato bowls, and the cream dinnerware.
BerardecoVia Roma, 85 Courmayeur (AO) telephone: +39 0165 848 074
A beautiful shop full of an array of accessories like French lace necklaces, edgy leather handbags with chains, silk dresses, cashmere jumpers, modern furniture and lighting, and handcrafted housewares. An essential one stop fashion shop.
A’ RomanaViale Monte Bianco, 18 bis Courmayeur (AO) telephone: +39 0165 841 338
A homewares shop, some wonderful, some weird, you decide which. There are some beautiful copper ware items from Ruffoni, stunning coloured class, luxury linens, and some very pretty porcelain.
Buy food and wine:
Paolo’s cheese shopVia Roma, 53 Telephone: +39 0165 844 429
They claim to have one of the best yoghurts in the world, and although I have not tried all of them across the globe, it is certainly one of the best I have ever eaten. I love the cereal yoghurt- definitely worth a try.
Where to eat:
***2015 update- I sadly can no longer recommend Chateau Branlant which has become a victim of its own success. It is now overrun with tourists, the menu has changed and become more of a “national menu” to cater to tourists and worst of all, the service has suffered.
Chateau BranlantLocality of Plan Checrouit (at the top of the trams going up to the ski lifts) near the Baby ski lift called Chiecco telephone: +39 0165 846 584 www.chateaubranlant.com
Favourites here are the ham , the ravioli of the day, the steak with rocket, the steak with mushrooms, and the wine list!
Mont FretyVia regionale, 21 Telephone: +39 0165 841 786 www.ristorantemontfrety.com
Quite upmarket, modern restaurant serving local Valle d’Aostan dishes.
Pizzeria du TunnelVia Circonvallazione Telephone: +39 0165 841 705 www.pizzeriadutunnel.it
This is very good pizza. You have to try real pizza when you come to Italy and we really loved this place. Eating there is interesting as they have maximized the space they have, building a loft level in a tiny space. I recommend sharing pizzas as they are quite large. My favourites are capricciosa (cheese, tomato sauce, artichoke, ham, mushroom), margherita (cheese and tomato sauce), al prosciutto (cheese, tomato sauce, prosciutto), ai funghi porcini trifolati (cheese, tomato sauce, and porcini mushroom), and quattro stagioni (cheese, tomato sauce, ham, olives, mushrooms, and artichokes).
Apres Ski (Nice bars to have a drink in after a hard day skiing):
Caffe della PostaVia Roma, 87 Telephone: +39 0165 842 272
A very nice place to sit and have a glass of wine.
PriveVia Roma, 39 Telephone: +39 0165 843 681
A cosy bar with well-made cocktails.
Bar RomaVia Roma, across from Hotel Courmayeur (Via Roma, 158)
A spacious bar with a lively atmosphere and comfortable sofas. A good place to people watch and try the grolla (cup of friendship).
If you go skiing here, rent your equipment up the mountain at Plan Checrouit so you won’t have to carry it around. As much as I hate extra luggage, I bought custom ski boots as they are so worth it. There is nothing worse than the crippling pain of a poorly fitted ski boot. I rent my skis and poles when I go as it is infinitely more convenient.
To read more on other places in Valle d’Aosta click here.
Torta al Cioccolato (Chocolate cake)
This recipe has been adjusted from a recipe from the restaurant at the Grand Hotel Courmaison in Pre’-saint-didier, just outside Courmayeur.
250 grams butter, room temperature
250 grams caster sugar
4 eggs, room temperature
210 grams flour
10 grams potato starch (can substitute 00 flour if unavailable)
5 grams baking powder
30 grams cocoa powder
5 grams ground cinnamon
100 mls red wine
150 grams dark chocolate, coarsely grated
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Heat the oven to 185 C. Butter a 23cm cake tin. Sift together the flour, corn flour, baking powder, cocoa, and cinnamon. Set aside.
Beat the butter and sugar together, add the eggs one by one making sure each one is well incorporated before adding the next ensuring that you scrape the sides with a spatula in between additions, otherwise the mixture will break. If this happens you can fix it by adding a spoonful or two of your dry ingredients and beat quickly the mixture until the batter emulsifies again. If it is still not emulsifying, you can put the mixing bowl in a bowl of very warm water or wrap the bottom with a towel soaked in very warm water and keep mixing until it comes together.
Add the dry mixture little by little, stirring by hand into the egg mixture. Once it is all incorporated, add the wine, chocolate, and vanilla. Bake for 50 minutes or until a wooden skewer comes out dry. Cool on a wire rack.