The French department of Haute-Savoie and its towering Graian Alps range, which includes the famous Mont Blanc, have attracted generations of American skiers. But when the snowfields have been replaced by flower-strewn meadows, the high Alps remain a wonderful destination, with enchanting small hotels — some of which have been owned by the same families for more than a century — and an increasing number of fine restaurants. Chamonix lies 50 miles southeast of Geneva; like many French resorts, the town experienced a 1970s building boom that left it sprinkled with high-rise apartments. But, happily, it retains an affable charm, with pedestrian lanes lined by cafés and a variety of interesting shops.
Much of the charm of hotels in Haute-Savoie comes from their distinctive Alpine wooden architecture. Cozy interiors with woodburning fires, paneled walls and plank floors are augmented by reliably delicious regional cuisine.
The Summit of Style
Founded by tailor Armand Allard in 1926, AAllard is the most glamorous snow and sportswear shop in France. Unlike other brands that have gone global, there is only one store, and it remains faithful to the original vision and innovative tailoring of its founder. What put the place on the map was Allard’s design for trimly cut ski pants with an elastic strap under each foot. Known as fuseaux, these became famous when a local skier won the World Championship triple crown while wearing a pair in 1937. No one ever wanted to be encumbered by baggy plus fours again, and the fashion for sleek, modern skiwear was born. Today, AAllard still occupies a turreted building on the main square in Megève. In addition to sportswear, it sells exquisite après-ski clothing in the finest leathers and cashmeres.
The remarkable variety of local cheeses and cheese-based dishes is one of the great pleasures of dining in the French Alps. Reblochon is the most emblematic of Savoyard cheeses. It is produced from raw cow’s milk that comes from only three approved breeds of dairy cattle: Abondance, Tarine and Montbéliarde. To carry the A.O.P. (Appellation d’Origine Protégée) label, the cows must graze on mountain pastures during the summer, and in winter, eat only hay from the same slopes. Creamy and gently tangy, Reblochon is eaten plain or incorporated into popular local dishes such as tartiflette, in which it is melted on a bed of cooked potatoes in a sauce of bacon and white wine.
Beaufort is a nutty hard cheese — similar to Gruyère, but without the holes — made with raw cow’s milk from high-altitude farms. It is prepared using 11 liters of milk for every kilogram of cheese. The milk is heated, and then the cheese is pressed into molds that produce a concave rind. Afterward, it is aged between six and 12 months in a cool, airy mountain cellar. Beaufort is commonly used to make fondue because it melts easily. It is also a superb eating cheese that pairs well with white wine.