OFF WE GO…
We begin by heading to the sunny slopes of the Combe de Savoie, on the southern edge of the Bauges Mountains. After less than 20-minutes in the car, we get to the village of Chignin, where the Grappe d’Or trail awaits us. A three-kilometre treasure hunt through the vineyards below the Tours de Chignin.
CHIGNIN’S MYSTERIOUS TOWERS
A HILLSIDE WINE REGION
There have always been vines here. In the past, the water was unhealthy because of the marshes. The cultivable fertile land was flooded; nor could you graze cows on all the slopes. In the end, they were planted with vines. All that were left were steep slopes with stony, clayey-limestone soils but a very sunny aspect. They were mostly used to make red wine — fortifying and calorific — to give yourself the courage and strength to work.
A great talker
And a true champion of rare and forgotten grape varieties. We drink up his words. He continues the story. When phylloxera ravaged the vineyards in the 19th century, the nobles abandoned their lands, allowing local peasants to snap them up for a pittance. This was the start of Savoie’s reputation for producing unrefined, low-quality wines.
It’s a shame.
RARE ALPINE VARIETIES
All three of us discover some amazing wines. Jacquère, Altesse and Mondeuse are the best known. But there was also Bia blanc, Verdesse, Persagne and Mondeuse grise. Our taste buds show a penchant for the rosé.
We chat. We savour. And then it’s time to say goodbye.
THE BASTILLE SAVOYARDE
Philippe Grisard recommends doing the short climb to the neighbouring Château de Miolans. Following the footpath through the vineyards, we are soon at the gates of the former state prison. The “Bastille Savoyarde”, as it is sometimes known, housed misfits, madmen and scoundrels.
Miolans’ most famous inmate, the Marquis de Sade, was held in the prison in 1792.
Perched on the cliff top, it looks like a film set, and the view across the vineyards to the snow-capped peaks is breath-taking.
Tip: The site is even more magical first thing in the morning.
Aulp de Marlens
After lunch, we head up to the Aulp de Marlens mountain hut, at the foot of Mont Charvin. It’s an hour’s hike from the closest car park. The boys are lagging, but they try to save face. Anticipating the delicious reblochonnade waiting at the top keeps them going.
A TRUE CALLING
We meet up with François Thabuis, who spends every summer at the hut, tending his cows and goats. His livelihood is also his passion: raising cows and goats on the Vent des Cimes cooperative farm and in the high pastures and making cheese from the milk they produce.
We process all our milk in the pastures. It’s a living environment, with people, employment, activity, business. We have looked after this area for centuries and created biodiversity.
François’ cheery nature inspires us to lend a hand.
It’s like being a kid again.
We set off to say hello to the farm’s inhabitants: 70 Abondance dairy cows and 40 Alpine-breed goats. The source of so many great cheeses: Reblochon de Savoie AOP, Tomme de Savoie IGP, Chevrotin AOP and Raclette de Savoie IGP.
We help herd the animals back to the hut for milking. To the cheese cellar. Kevin delights in tasting the milk straight from the udder. Quentin shows off his muscles by cutting wood. We all take our jobs very seriously.
DINNER WITH FRIENDS
For dinner, its reblochonnade all round, as promised, looking across the mountains. Truly away from it all. No phone reception. No noise. It’s pitch black and all the stars are out. We head up to bed, replete. A dormitory, of course. It’s chilly up here, but that’s part of the adventure.
At dawn, we tip-toe out and climb above the hut to watch the sunrise and find the farm already at work. They never stop!
After breakfast, we go out for a last morning stroll and then it’s time to head down. We stop at Le Bouchet again to stock up on provisions. We’ll savour these treats back home. One thing’s certain after this weekend: we feel great. Even with the extra kilos we put on!
Wine and cheese pairings:
Abondance A.O.P– Roussette de Savoie (Altesse)
Beaufort A.O.P– White Chautagne (Jacquère)
Chevrotin A.O.P– White Chignin (Jacquère)
Emmental de Savoie I.G.P– Chignin-Bergeron (Roussanne)
Reblochon de Savoie A.O.P – Red Chautagne (Mondeuse, Gamay, Pinot)
Tome des Bauges A.O.P – Roussette de Savoie (Altesse)
Tomme de Savoie I.G.P– Red Jongieux (Mondeuse, Gamay, Pinot)
Raclette de Savoie I.G.P– Apremont (Jacquère)