Italian in a French mountain resort, and food that protects your butt on the slopes 

Whenever family Tiger travel to a French-speaking holiday resort, be it Corsica last summer, Cavalier on the southern French coast where Tiger Tom used to own an apartment by the sea, or the cute little mountain village of Valberg, where we’ve taken to going skiing in the winter months, it always feels as though vegetables come with an exotic premium, or might actually be illegal. 

Knowing a decent diet would be nigh on impossible for the kids this half term in the mountains, especially when the pound is floundering against the euro, and steak haches or nuggets frites comprises most “menus enfant”, I actually found myself packing polyphenol tablets to try and offset the amount of junk that was due to be processed through their digestive systems over the next week or so on the slopes. 

But, expending so much energy simply staying upright (I only learned to ski aged 30 and while I can now tackle a red run, the thigh burn that accompanies it surely offsets last night’s raclette?) comes with the upside that it feels perfectly acceptable to carb-load on cheese topped starch, as part of a three course meal with wine, and that’s just for lunch. 

One of the joys of skiing (and it has become more pleasurable now I spend more time verticalish) is the eating. And the resort where we stay (and love so much we are even thinking of buying into) is dotted with snack bars, restaurants and table d’hote. So however sturdy your ski legs, you can always anticipate a stiff meal. And by stiff, I mean stodgy. This food, be it rilletes followed by pasta and un tarte myrtle at a well-stocked mountain shack or off the slopes et dans le village, for a menu comprised of grill-your-own-cow with dipping camenbert on the side, is always accompanied by plenty of pain but rein de legumes, which presents problemes when a salade verte is five euros and the kids won’t eat leaves anyway. 

Getting them even close to five a day necessitates us buying overpriced carottes and bananes at the local supermarche, and relaxing if they get to three. But none of the digestive issues this entails has stopped us having a couple of excellente meals here in Valberg, which,  as I may well start flogging a holiday rental here soon enough, I will tell you about, so you can salivate over your own ski trip in the gorgeous southern French alpes, sometime in the future. 

Our first meal, on St Valentine’s Day, no less, celebrated the disembowelling of this martyred Saint by grilling said cow on our own mini BBQ at Les Melezes.  Populaire enough to necessitate booking, this centre village restaurant-come-bar (with a petit boite de nuit, or nightclub, attached which Tom and I have yet to investigate) was also showing a football match, and was packed with locals. So we were given a table in what felt like a shed at the back, which absolved it from any vestiges of romance given we also had kids in tow. 

The food, however, more than made up for it, all of us taking turns at grilling the beautiful steak accompanied by crisp and genuinely French fries, a well-dressed but determinedly green salad (extra, n’est pas?) – and a pichet rose pour les adultes. The kids were happy enough with Orangina. We finished with an apparently local pudding of Cafe Gormande, a shot of finest espresso served with several dessert tasters and mounds of chantilly cream. Two between four of us was plentiful and we returned to our apartmente satisfied, but far too full for any further romantic endeavours, which, given my already aching limbs and heaving stomach, was totes fine by me. 

  Last night, having attempted to staunch the inward flow of calories and outward hammering to notre pochets for a couple of evenings in with some packet pasta and a take-in meal of poultry Milanese and courgettes dauphenoise from the local boucherie (vegetables are allowed, it seems but only when served with cream and cheese) we decided to have a little Italien affaire in this French village, coz Trip Advisor said L’Italiano was the top-rated restaurant in town

It was certainly busy, greeted, as we were at the door by a hilolious head chef who said in heavily accented French that the restaurant was complet, having taken Tom’s booking only an hour previously, and totally terrifying the cubs by attempting to joke with them en Francais. They weren’t having any of it, Jonah being in a grump because he was midway through the excellent SF Said’s Varjak Paw, and wasn’t allowed to take his book to the restaurant. But things warmed up, with a pizza to share declared delicious, and my pasta de maison flambeed theatrically in front if us in a massive Parmesan which was lit with alcohol to melt the cheese. So much for my waistline. 

We finished up with a delectable but totally unnecessary Cafe Gourmande for Tom and Ava, while undeserving Jonah and I gorged on a Chocolat Roi, a kind of warm chocolate soup with a vanilla ice cream “isle flotante” topped with meringue, chantilly and to cap it all, the crack of the biscuit world, Oreo cookies. 

Suffice it to say, I left feeling very sick. The kids left with lollies, as if they need anything else to add to their stash after a successful chasse de bon bons down at Club Piou Piou, the ski school for little ones, which celebrated half term by letting smells in head to tow padding run amok in the snow while the instructors scattered sweets for them to grab. The ski wear came in handy for preventing accidents and not just from the ice. As did the extra padding on my butt when I fell on the slopes (I do also have a video of this too.)

So, despite all the exercise, and using muscles that certainly don’t get used at any other time of year, the fresh mountain air, and the gorgeous weather that is simultaneously gloriously hot but freezing cold, perhaps this isn’t such a healthy vacence, after all. But then, when in France, as they say, especially when on skis, it’s perfectly okay to let them, and yourselves, eat cake. And baguette. And croissant. With butter and jam. 

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