For Vincent Lalanne, the rules of eating out in the mountains are simple. “I’m not interested in anywhere that feels industrial,” he says. “I want somewhere local and authentic, where the food is freshly cooked.” Fortunately for him, he lives in the Three Valleys in France, and as Director of the Association of Les 3 Vallées, he gets to eat out in a lot of good mountain restaurants.
But don’t just take his word for it. Here, he’s asked eight locals and long-term residents to pick their favourite places to eat in this giant ski area.
The gastronomic reputation of Les 3 Vallées has soared in recent years, and we now have 18 Michelin stars, shared between 12 restaurants. But it’s not just at the level of haute cuisine that you’ll notice the difference. At every price level you’ll find great cooking. The recommendations below will give you a great taste of that.
RESTAURANTS FOR LUNCH
Le Farçon, La Tania
Recommended by Francesca Smith, co-founder of Three Valleys specialist Powder N Shine – which offers catered chalet holidays in Reberty, the cute, low-rise suburb of Les Menuires. She’s lived in the Three Valleys since 2009.
Set in la Tania, at the bottom of the superb, tree-lined Folyeres run, is the unassuming Le Farçon. You can easily miss it. But make sure you don’t – the Michelin guide didn’t and awarded it a star ten years ago in 2006. Chef Julien Machet (who grew up in Bourg St-Maurice nearby) has kept it ever since.
The four-course €42 skiers’ lunch he serves is superb. In fact, it’s so good non-skiing members of my family will happily make the 45-minute drive over to La Tania to meet us for a meal. Standout dishes over the years have included a celeriac velouté starter with pineapple sorbet, the suckling pig they served in the 2014-15 season, and a deconstructed Black Forest gateau. There are always amuses bouches to start and petit fours and fudge to finish: there’s a sense of generosity here that puts many other restaurants – including several that are more decorated – to shame.
Le Bouche à Oreille, Meribel/Les Menuires
Recommended by Didier Collomb, who’s lived in the Vallée des Bellevilles (part of the Three Valleys) for 20 years. For most of that time, he’s been a ski instructor with the Ecole du Ski Francais in Les Menuires. He’s also a qualified mountain leader.
My favourite place for lunch is Le Bouche à Oreille, which sits at the top of Le Roc des 3 Marches. It’s run by the sister of Renė Meilleur (of La Bouitte fame – see below) and it’s perfect for gourmet skiers who don’t want to spend too long at the table before they get back onto the the slopes. Everything here is cooked on-site, and there are none of the usual tartiflette and fondue clichés. Instead, you’ll find delicious things like veal stew and kidneys cooked in mustard sauce. My own favourites are the truffle risotto, and lemon meringue tart for dessert. But really, everything is good. The owners and their staff are very efficient and welcoming.
If possible, go when it’s sunny, so you can sit out on the terrace. The views are amazing. So too is the sense that there’s great skiing to be had wherever you look. Les 3 Marches is one of the crossroads of the Three Valleys, and you can ski down from there into Meribel, Les Menuires and St Martin de Belleville. So don’t spend all afternoon eating. Get back out on the pistes!
La Bouitte, St Marcel
Recommended by Richard Lumb, Director of luxury ski specialist Kaluma Travel. For much of the season, he’s based in Courchevel (although this winter he’s talking about sneaking away on a “research trip” to Japan in February).
In the Three Valleys, there’s no bigger gastronomic treat than La Bouitte; René and Maxime Meilleur’s three-star restaurant in the hamlet of St Marcel, next to St Martin de Belleville. Even the route to get there is lovely, You ski the best blue piste in the Les Trois Vallees – Jerusalem – and then carry on down Biolley to rendezvous with a minbus in St Martin, or ski off-piste to St Marcel. But however you do it, it’s absolutely worth it for just one mouthful of my favourite starter. It’s a lightly-fried fois gras lobe, on a sweetcorn pancake, served with a honey and balsamic reduction. It’s unbelievably good. I can’t wait for my annual fix.
In many ways, La Bouitte is the same as it was day I first ate there, 16 years ago – before it had any Michelin stars. The atmosphere is perfect and the food always excels: you can’t help relaxing as soon as you walk through the door. Two things have changed though: prices are higher and it’s much harder to get a table. Damn those people at Michelin! They should stick to tyres…
Chez Pépé Nicolas, Val Thorens/Les Menuires
When I can, always stop at Chez Pépé Nicolas, on the Chasse piste between Val Thorens and Les Menuires. A big part of the attraction is that it’s family-run – and it’s set in the montagnette (the summer chalet) where the owners’ grandfather, Nicolas Jay, used to spend his summers, making Tomme de Savoie cheese and pasturing his cows and goats. The owners used to play up there as children. It has a special atmosphere as a result.
They care so much about what they do, and present their food beautifully. I love their pot au feu – a beef stew that’s served with winter veg and bone marrow. But I’d also have one of their sharing platters to start – maybe polenta chips with smoked bacon, or their spread of local cheeses with walnuts and jam. And I’d finish with some of the traditional Savoyard pastries – rissoles.
RESTAURANTS FOR DINNER
La Saulire, Courchevel
I don’t do Michelin-starred restaurants – they’re a bit fussy for me. So if someone wants to buy me dinner somewhere special, then I ask them to book a table at La Saulire – aka “Chez Jacques”. The owner, Jacques Trauchessec, has had it for 40 years, and his chef Benoit Redondo has been in the kitchen for 14 of them. They really know their business, because one of the most striking things about Chez Jacques is how consistent it is. This isn’t one of those places which is brilliant one night, and ordinary the next. It’s always good. It’s my absolute favourite place to eat.
Black truffles are their speciality. They come from Grignan, in the Rhone Valley, and they add depth to many of the dishes. Two of the best are the lamb’s lettuce salad with truffle, parmesan shavings and a posh olive oil, and the roasted young pigeon with fresh truffles. But I also love the blackened cod (no truffles) and their melt-in-your-mouth apple tart. In other words, you don’t have to eat truffles if you don’t want to!
La Pause, Val Thorens
Recommended by Anne-Lyse Roman, who’s the Welcome Desk manager at Val Thorens’ tourist office. She’s lived in the valley for the last nine years, starting in Val Thorens and recently moving down to St Martin-de-Belleville.
The restaurant I like best is La Pause, in the Hotel Portillo in the middle of Val Thorens. They serve what we’d call la cuisine de Grande-Mère [grandmother’s cooking] – and they do it really well: the ingredients are fresh, and they give each dish the time it deserves. For example, it’s the only restaurant I know which serves pommes dauphines [mashed potato, mixed with egg, covered in choux pastry, and then deep-fried]. No-one else does them because they take too long to prepare. They also do delicious fresh fish – which, as you can imagine, is quite an achievement at 2,300 metres.
There’s a lovely atmosphere in there too. It has that touch of your grandmother’s house about it – traditional but not clichéd – and it’s always full of locals. We all know you can eat well in La Pause without spending a fortune! Oh yes, and they give you cloth napkins not paper ones. It’s another sign of how much they care.
Chez Kiki, Meribel
Recommended by Marco Pietrini, of the New Generation ski school. Marco grew up in the town of Susa in Piemonte, not far from Sauze d’Oulx. His father is an award-winnng pastry chef, his mother runs a successful catering business, and he grew up skiing the Milky Way. He started teaching in Meribel in 2009, and now lives in Bozel, in the valley beneath Courchevel.
If a friend came to Meribel, and I wanted to take them somewhere nice for treat – it would be to here. But I’d have to make sure they weren’t vegetarians first: because what Chez Kiki does best is meat. Lots of meat. Steaks, leg of lamb, duck breast, prime rib of beef: they grill it over an open fire in the middle of the restaurant, and the prime rib (cote de boeuf) is best. You get a kilogram of beef, and it’s designed to be shared between two. It is, in a word, amazing.
Don’t sit too close to the fire, though. Some of the tables are only a couple of metres from the flames, and it can get pretty toasty there. I’d suggest sitting further back, unless you want to finish the night in your t-shirt and underwear…
Le Montagnard, Saint Martin de Belleville
Recommended by Helen Raemers, owner and manager of the Alpine Club.
Set in a converted hayloft, Le Montagnard is run by the same family that owns Chez Pépé Nicolas (see above) – and it has the same sense of being deeply rooted in the landscape. The food is largely Savoyard, and this year they’ve had input from Cédric Mouthon, a former contestant on French Masterchef.
The restaurant has a new terrace to attract lunchtime skiers; but for me this is primarily a place for dinner. Highlights on the menu include beautiful filet of beef, as well as rabbit and rack of lamb – and this year they’ve been working with Chambery wine specialist Vincent Rosset on their wine list. Amongst the new bottles on offer are the organic Pic Saint Loup du Mas Foulaquier, and a St Joseph from la domaine Pichon.
Do you have any recommendations you’d like to add to the list? We’d love to see them! Just add them to the comments box below.