Three Weeks in Europe - Chamonix, Les Houches and Aosta through Food

Once again, here I am making myself hungry. While Boulder and our surrounding towns have a great array of delicious food to offer, there’s just something exciting about being someplace completely different, where you don’t know anything about the restaurants around you and can just be adventurous.

The view from the café in Saulieu

On our drive from Paris to the Alps, we had some “road trip snacks” of a fresh baguette, coffee and pastries from a shop near our hotel in Paris (which I mentioned here). This got us pretty far, but by mid-afternoon, we needed something more, and we needed to stretch our legs a bit! We ended up stopping in a town called Saulieu (which I only know because, even in airplane mode, somehow my phone was able to tell me!). Because it was off-season, we sat down at the first place we found, Café Parisien. The chalkboard folding sign out front made it seem like they had a full menu, but they ended up having one option for us (maybe because it was too early for dinner?). So we ordered the Croque Monsieur with a side salad and some coffee, ate, and got back on the road.

Since we opted to take the non-toll country roads, we ended up getting to our Airbnb in Les Houches around midnight, so we just finished the bread, made some tea (thanks to our Airbnb hosts!), ate some of our airplane/train snacks we brought, and went to bed.

The next morning, we made tea once we woke up, and then headed into Chamonix. We walked around for a bit, exploring the cute little town, grabbed a coffee (I’m an addict, I know), and ended up going to Le Bistrot, a Michelin star restaurant. I think that’s the first one I’ve ever been to! Nathaniel had done some Googling before we went, and he thought it sounded fun. We ended up each getting the lunch pre-fixe special and a glass of wine. Our lunch special started with delicious bread and butter, which was quickly followed by the first course of a pork biscuit, a peanut marshmallow, and watermelon gazpacho. The main course was perfectly cooked beef with cheesy crepes and mushrooms. Neither of us are big mushroom fans, but we figured if anyone knows how to cook them, a French Michelin Star chef does, and they were actually pretty good for mushrooms! We each got to choose a dessert, too! Nathaniel got a salted caramel chocolate cake with ice cream, and I got pistachio olive oil cake with frozen yogurt, white chocolate, fresh raspberries and vanilla bean. We let the sommelier pair the wine with our meal, and it was perfect.😋 Because it was lunchtime and we opted for the lunch special, the price was actually quite reasonable and the food was phenomenal. I’d imagine you could rack up quite the bill there, especially for a fancy dinner, but lunchtime worked perfectly for us!

Gorgeous view from La Terrasse😍

After lunch, we bummed around a bit more, and ended up grabbing drinks at La Terrasse, which had a lovely patio upstairs, with a great view of a little town square and the nearby mountains. After, we went to Chamonix’s main grocery store, Super U, to get wine and food for two nights’ worth of dinner, then headed back to Les Houches. And of course no meal is truly complete without dessert, so before dinner we found a little bakery called Jacquier Eric in Les Houches where we each got three macarons. Cooking and eating in was a pleasant, relaxing break from the hustle and bustle of the big cities we’d been in so far (and a little easier on the wallet). The kitchen in our Airbnb was quite well equipped, and we were very comfortable eating our pasta, red sauce and zucchini there.

Quick breakfast... I forgot the name of the shop, but it was very close to the post office in Chamonix!

The next morning, after going up L'Aiguille du Midi, we stopped for pastries and coffee (breakfast, since we wanted to get up the mountain as quickly as possible to beat crowds), then it was time to drive to Italy! If you drive through the Mont Blanc Tunnel, you end up first in Courmayeur, where we thought about getting a bite, but driving through showed us it was deserted (again, off season in a small ski town), so we kept driving and made it into Aosta. We parked and started wandering, and eventually settled on lunch at Cafe Nazionale in the main piazza. We got a pizza, gnocchi, bread and beer, and my ego took a hit as I found my Italian to be unbearably rusty. 🙄 The food really hit the spot, and we even had a little birdie guest visit with us while we ate! And, of course, no stop in Italy is complete without gelato! We found a shop called Gelaty, where I got lavender and chocolate, and Nathaniel really enjoyed his balsamic peach flavor!

That evening was the same food as the night before, cooked at our Airbnb again, and the next morning we got up bright and early to drive to the airport in Lyon, which meant airport coffee and pastries for breakfast, and next stop…Madrid!

 

Three Weeks in Europe - Chamonix, Les Houches and Aosta Sights and Attractions

Napoleon planted trees for his troops who traveled across the country

Because we’re crazy, we decided to drive from Paris down to the Alps. When looking at other options, like trains, stops and layovers seemed to eat up more time than we’d like to spend just sitting in stations, and renting a car was about as expensive as train tickets would be, plus we’d get to look at the French countryside as we went on our way. We also knew we wanted to have a car while in the Alps, so this plan just sort of fell into place.

We decided to take the non-toll roads, which added a couple hours onto our drive, but we think was probably more picturesque. We did get a photo radar speeding ticket, though, which was a bummer (30 euro processing from the rental company + 45 euro for the actual ticket 🙄), but we quickly learned how to spot them when they were coming up.

Saulieu

We stopped for lunch in Saulieu. This little town felt practically dead - it must have been an off season for them (imagine going to a tiny ski town in the summer). It was cute, and we were able to eat and go along our way pretty quickly.

While going through the mountains, we hit some pretty intense fog on some crazy windy roads, but I think Nathaniel had fun whipping around those corners in that tiny French car 😉

We got to our destination in Les Houches SUPER late - around midnight. We had trouble finding the front door of our Airbnb since it was dark and Google Maps brought us to the back of the house, but once we found it, we got in easily, and munched on the rest of our baguette and went to bed.

When I woke up, the first thing I needed to do was see the mountains - we ended up having a lovely view of the town below as well. After taking it slow that morning, we drove into Chamonix - it’s a bigger ski town, and the home of the tallest Alp, Mont Blanc.

The view from our Airbnb 😍

We drove into Chamonix for lunch, and to explore the town a bit. Since it’s a ski town, it kind of felt like Vail here in Colorado. We were going to go up the cable car that day, but decided to put it off for (hopefully) clearer weather the next day. I was amazed at the color of the water running in the river! It's this whitish color because it's "Glacial Milk" - basically because of the minerals in glaciers and the erosion they cause, the melt from the glaciers makes the river this crazy color! 

After exploring for a bit, we decided to hit a grocery store so we could take it easy, be a little bit budget conscious, and cook dinner at our Airbnb. We drove back to Les Houches, put away the groceries, then decided to see this town on foot. There is a super cute little church square, and there were tulips blooming. We also followed the sound of cowbells and hung out with a herd in a field for some photos (I love cows!). We stopped at a bakery for some macarons, and walked back home to cook dinner, drink wine, and watch movies on Nathaniel’s iPad. 

Stepping into the Void!

The next morning we got an earlier start so we could go up to the top of Aiguille du Midi in a cable car! This was pricy, but worth it. It was also pretty cold, so I’m happy I brought my sweater, coat, hat, scarf and gloves. I would’ve been FREEZING otherwise. Even early there was already a pretty long line, but it moved relatively steadily, and we started ascending the snow-covered mountain. You stop halfway up to switch cars, and once you get to the top, there are walkways and an elevator as well! The views were spectacular, but due to a couple well placed clouds, we could not see the top of Mont Blanc. The Alps are a beautiful mountain range, though. They’re much younger than the Rockies (which I’m used to seeing) so they’re pointy and jagged. At the top of Aiguille du Midi, there is also something they call “Stepping into the void”, which is basically a strong plexiglass box that lets you stand above NOTHING. They make you wear slippers so you don’t scuff up the glass. It’s a really weird feeling, stepping out over nothing, even though you know you’re safe. There was a long line to this, but we figured we wouldn’t have the opportunity to go out there again any time soon, so we waited and had a great time! There was even a great staff member who took pictures for us with my phone (you’re not allowed to take your phone/camera, or any of your belongings) in with you, probably because they want to make sure nothing gets dropped or scratched against the glass. She was great, though, and took SO MANY pictures! We decided to start wrapping up, but stopped quickly in a glacier tunnel. I think that there were people there preparing to snowshoe down - but I just needed a selfie 😉 On our way down, we rode with a bunch of French schoolchildren, who squealed anytime the cable car went over a little dip or drop. It was pretty cute. 

Ruins in the modern world

Our next stop was ITALY! You can drive through the Mont Blanc tunnel for a hefty toll (just under 55 euro there and back) - It’s the longest tunnel under the tallest mountain, so they have strict rules on how fast you can drive and how far you must drive behind the person in front of you. Nathaniel said there was a pretty bad accident a few years ago, and they put a lot of restrictions (and a lot of photo radar) on the tunnel traffic to avoid it ever happening again. The people in front of us had their photo taken several times because they were following too closely behind the person in front of them. Their journey through the tunnel probably cost five times as much as ours did!

Once out of the tunnel, we tried to find a something in the small ski town on the other side, but since it was the off season, nearly everything was closed. We instead continued driving all the way to Aosta, which is a fairly big town. It used to be a walled city, and it was amazing driving through the ruins which have just been incorporated into the modern streets and structures of the city.

Castles on the side of the road!

We parked and started to explore, eventually coming to a piazza, where we sat down for lunch. We explored for a bit longer (just walking around, window shopping), then decided to drive back to France. One fun thing about this drive was how many castles there were along the road! Since we’re not used to seeing anything old in Boulder, it was wonderful to see remnants of old civilizations!

The next morning we had to wake up at the crack of dawn to get to Lyon for a flight to Spain. We made it in plenty of time (we took the toll roads this time, just in case, and it ended up being close to 20 euro total). The two full days in the Alps were probably the most relaxing we had of the whole trip. We got to take it slow and cook for ourselves, and still be honeymooning tourists. Everywhere else we went on our trip was a big capital city, so this was a lovely change of pace, and having it placed in the middle was perfect. 👌🏼

Our Airbnb, and our trusty steed - a Renault Twingo