6 Reasons Why Val Thorens is the New Gourmet Capital of the AlpsYes, it can be bitterly cold and it’s set bleakly above the treeline. But the lunar landscape of apartment blocks is changing. For a start there’s now the futuristic Altapura hotel, created by artist and designer Jocelyne Sibuet who also owns a swathe of luxury Megeve and Provence properties. Next season the Koh-I Nor opens as the highest five-star hotel in Europe. And the restaurants, whether on the piste or in the village, are all ski-in ski-out and offer some of the best gourmet cuisine in the Alps.
The original shepherd’s hut has been here since the 19th century when it housed cows and goats. It was bought in 1957 by Nicolas Jay and today it is run by his grandson Eric. The setting is so remote that Chez Pépé Nicolas can only be reached off-piste (the nearest piste is Boulevard Cumin), on foot, or by snowmobile. This is the restaurant’s main attraction, making it a hidden gem that the masses can never hope to find.
The tiny restaurant has a few tables inside, is all rough-hewn wood, animal skin rugs and ancient local artifacts. Happy, the resident St Bernard puppy, greets you on arrival and then snuggles down at your feet. There are more tables outside on the attractive terrace, with rugs provided.
What to order: The simple Savoyard fare is produced with all locally sourced ingredients by chef Jean-Alain Passard. Try the tartiflette made with Reblechon cheese, the fondue Savoyarde with local cold meats, and the home-brewed blueberry genepi. Menu 30-40€ includes an aperitif. For more information, see Alf Alderson’s feature on the restaurant.
Twinned with Jocelyne Sibuet’s Megeve restaurant inside Hotel Mont Blanc and named after the 1929 novel by Jean Cocteau, this is a similarly appealing and darkly sophisticated venue. The burgundy colour scheme is contrasted with pale wood delicately carved into stars and snowflakes. Seafood is the speciality.
What to order: There’s an oyster bar and truffles are also a speciality. Try the cream of pumpkin soup with truffle cream; the big seafood platter; roasted pineapple with tonka beans (a bit like vanilla beans but spicier) and panacotta. Starters from 20€, mains from 26€, seafood platters 42-85€, puds from 9€.
La Folie Douce is up at 2400m and inside is La Fruitiere restaurant which, like its stablemates in Val d’Isere and Meribel, is set in the surroundings of an authentic dairy farm complete with distressed painted wooded furniture, visible zinc pipework, milk churns (where you leave your gloves, goggles and glasses during lunch), shelves of giant cheeses, and skeins of whey hung out to dry. It’s theatrical and fun.
Outside, the terrace is the highest open-air club in Europe where, weather permitting, live bands and DJs perform and the whole thing turns into a 700-sq-metre dance-floor in the afternoons – creating a buzzing apres-ski hub.
The sophisticated menu features fresh and seasonal produce, often sourced from organic farms. Being dairy themed, the restaurant has cheesy dishes as the speciality.
What to order: The menu features high-quality local Savoyarde produce. Try the five spice semi-cooked foie gras, followed by the lamb shank cooked in its juices with thyme and honey. Starters from 18€, main courses from 22€. puddings 10€.
Here you will be fed by renowned chef, Jeremy Gillon, whose aim it is to reinvent French cuisine. The restaurant showcases seasonal food from traditional producers, with the accent on fish and seafood. There’s an intimate ambiance seating just 20 people and good (though sometimes over-attentive) service.
What to order: Unusual and delicious flavour combinations such as fois gras with elder, yellow carrot and a pistachio waffle; white trout with blackcurrant leaves and red cabbage; pear with heather, pine nuts and sage. Set menus 49-90€.
At the age of 31, Jean Sulpice, chef at the Oxalys restaurant, picked up his second Michelin star – making him the youngest chef in France to be awarded two stars. His cooking is incredibly inventive in its colours and flavours – yet at the same time quite simple. Adhering to a repertoire of local meat and fish, wild plants and seasonal fruits, Jean combines soft with crispy textures, subtle with powerful flavours, and piping hot with icy cold.
What to order: Warm blue lobster carpaccio with spicy carrot juice; Parmesan chaud-froid with grated truffles and apple encased in a meringue shell and flavoured with mountain honey and liquorice. Set menus 49-110€.
Last but not least is a gorgeous wooden Savoyarde chalet located on the Dalles slope at 2500m. It is everything you’ve always hoped a mountain chalet should be, but usually is not. There’s a big open fireplace with cosy armchairs around it, lots of wood, cosy sheepskin rugs, and it serves delicious local cuisine. It’s my favourite place for lunch in the resort.
There’s live music and DJs on the terrace in the afternoon, a separate self-service downstairs, and a large yurt where you can have lunch or dinner. In the evening you can reach Le Chalet and its yurt in 45 minutes on snowshoes, or take the Cascades chair before 5pm then descend by torchlight afterwards. The whole yurt can be rented for a dinner of up to 16 people.
What to order: Home-made fois gras with gingerbread and mango chutney; egg poached at 66 degrees, on a brioche and spinach bed accompanied by morel mushrooms. Not to be missed is the wonderful pastry chef’s buffet. The restaurant also features a wide range of French wines. Menu 34€.