Alpine chic: The winter playground of French arist...

Alpine chic: The winter playground of French aristocrats in the early 20th century

By: Cristina Alcock

Photo: Daniel Durand / Fresh Influence

The Savoyard village of Megève is the setting of the enchanting Flocons de Sel

While it still boasts something of a “hidden gem” status in the European ski scene, the picturesque village of Megève has been the destination du jour of well-heeled holidaymakers since the 1920s. For that we can thank the famous Rothschild family who, apparently disenchanted by the Swiss ski resort of St. Moritz in the early 1900s, began spending their winter holidays in this small village in French Haute Savoie. And so, boosted by the construction of the Rothschilds’ luxury hotel, the Domaine du Mont d’Arbois, the ski resort to rival St. Moritz began to take shape.

Located in the south-east of France, close to the Swiss and Italian borders, the former farming village is today a charming resort with a beautifully preserved medieval centre overlooked by a historical church tower, narrow pedestrianized streets with elegant boutiques, pretty stone houses and wooden chalets. Like its neighbouring resorts, Megève enjoys one of the most stunning natural locations, nestled within the Mont Blanc mountain range, but remains relatively off the radar. It is home to some of the region’s most peaceful pistes, with a ski area of more than 300km across three different sections — l’Alpette, Côte 2000 and Mont d’Arbois — of easy woodland runs.

But aside from snow-tipped mountains, the sunny resort has plenty of year-round appeal. Hiking, horse riding, climbing, mountain biking, paragliding and watersports on Lake Javen make the most of this land of contrasts, and event highlights include golf tournaments at the Mont d’Arbois course and the annual Megève International Jazz Festival.

The hotels are smart and elegant, complemented by several excellent spas and superb restaurants — there are three Michelin-starred restaurants in Megève alone. One of those restaurants, the holder of 3 stars since 2012, is the gastronomic paradise of Flocons de Sel, the property of French chef Emmanuel Renaut located a few metres above the village.

Now, one might not usually associate the term ‘power couple’ to serene mountain life, but that’s exactly what Emmanuel and Kristine Renaut became after they met at London’s famous Claridge’s (she working in Food & Beverage, he as head chef) and moved to Megève to open Flocons de Sel 20 years ago.

Originally only a restaurant in the village centre (now the Flocons Village bistro), it later moved further up the mountain to become part of what is now the luxurious Flocons de Sel hotel, a cluster of pretty chalets belonging to the prominent Relais & Châteaux chain.

Elegant yet cosy, with elements of wood, stone and glass blended with classic furniture and modern lines, the hotel’s six rooms, three suites, two private chalets and two apartments were designed personally by Emmanuel and Kristine to be a home away from home — with the bonus of breathtaking mountain views and the tinkling of cowbells. There is also a small spa and relaxation area with treatments rooms, sauna, steam room, heated indoor pool and a hot tub on the terrace.

While the 5-star hotel excels in its luxurious facilities and warm, exemplary service, accommodation was actually an extension of the couple’s original plans: “When we opened the restaurant, we didn’t think right away of having rooms, but with time we were convinced that our guests would like to stay a little longer, so it was natural to find a place where they could linger and enjoy the atmosphere of Flocons de Sel,” explains Kristine, general manager of the hotel.

Today, the intimate chalet welcomes guests year-round, from regular weekend visitors from nearby cities to holidaymakers from Belgium, Switzerland, Italy and Germany and, more recently, from cities like Shanghai, Tokyo and Hong Kong. However, the beating heart of Flocons de Sel is the kitchen, with chef Renaut unfailingly at the helm.

The wood interiors, high ceilings and stripped-back décor of the restaurant, along with the pretty terrace with its divine mountain backdrop, mirror the simplicity and refinement of the chef ’s 3-star cooking. The terms ‘local’ and ‘seasonal’ have been high on the agenda for modern-day chefs, but for Emmanuel, a city boy who found his spiritual home in the mountains of Megève, they couldn’t be more defining. A lover of nature, he feels most at home in the forest foraging or hunting, or on the lake fishing, or in the hotel’s gardens picking herbs. He works mainly with ingredients that come from within a 100km-radius and knows all his suppliers personally. “Nature is our supermarket,” says the chef, who worked under Marc Veyrat at L’Auberge de l’Eridan for several years. “The mountain gives us everything we need.” His German wife fondly calls him “a mountain boy at heart”.

In the kitchen, Renaut’s food is subtle and inventive. An homage to Megève and its surroundings, from freshly picked mushrooms to magnificent local cheeses, each plate is an imaginative yet delicate interpretation of nature’s bounty. As well as the highest Michelin accolade, his philosophy earned him the title of Meilleure Ouvrier de France (Best Craftsman in France) in 2004 and a Compagnon du Tour de France distinction. His published books also focus on fresh, seasonal ingredients.

Complementing the 3-star Flocons de Sel is Flocons Village, the original restaurant that the couple still cherishes and which serves good food in a simpler, more affordable manner. This winter, there are plans to open Le Forestier, a cosy mountain restaurant only accessible during the ski season and which will serve uncomplicated homemade food.

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