Looking for great food and a warm welcome? Then look no further than Maison Carrel in La Thuile. It’s a friendly and unpretentious mountain restaurant on the lower slopes of Gran Testa (2379m) – one of many in the Aosta Valley – and I was introduced to it today by mountain guide Vincenzo di Placido. Vincenzo recently showed the film-makers of Teton Gravity Research around the mountain when they were shooting scenes from “Light the Wick”. But he’ll guide mere mortals like me around too – and clearly he knows a thing or two about food.
On Vincenzo’s sound advice we dined first on tagliere misto di salumi valdastani, an excellent selection of dried beef, venison, pork, ham, blood sausage, black bread and – especially mouth-watering – honey chestnuts, followed by the finest soup I have ever tasted in my life, zuppa valpellinetze.
This “soup” is a meal in itself and was apparently something that only the poorer residents of the region used to eat – in which case they ate remarkably well, because the mix of cabbage, Fontina cheese and bread is tastier than the tastiest soup from Planet Taste.
To accompany this we indulged ourselves in a bottle of L’Atouéyo Torrette Superieur, a red wine from the nearby Aymavilles Valley. “Mountain” reds are not always noted for their body and taste, but this had both and I’ll be looking for a bottle or two to take home with me (around €7 in the local supermarkets apparently).
Incidentally, Maison Carrel’s recipe for zuppa valpellinetzi comes – of course – from Mama Carrel. Her son and the establishment proprietor Giorgio Carrel informed me of this fact, after which Vincenzo further informed me that the family are the Carrrels. If you know your alpine history, you’ll now realise that Giorgio is a direct descendant of Jean-Antoine Carrell, the first man to climb the nearby Matterhorn from the Italian side in 1865, three days after Edward Whymper’s first, and ultimately disastrous, ascent 1865 from the Swiss side.
You may by now be wondering if I actually did any skiing today, what with all this wining and dining. Of course I did. In fact in the morning I discovered a few nice if rather short powder runs thanks to the howling wind blowing all the snow over from nearby La Rosière in France.
As you may know, La Thuile and La Rosiere share their ski area – the Espace San Bernadino – and I’d hoped to cross into France to see what the snow was like there. After all, when you can ski both the Aosta Valley in Italy and the Tarentaise in France, it means you can ski two different weather systems. However, winds of almost Scottish ferocity put paid to that plan. Not to worry though. Vincenzo has worked as a guide in La Thuile for 11 years and knows just where to find the powder away from the gales. Which means skiing the trees of course, which are liberally scattered across the resort’s lower slopes. So we enjoyed a few short but sweet runs amongst the pines along with a couple of sizzling descents of Black Number 3, a super steep little number lower down the mountain that’s also sheltered from the weather and that Vincenzo estimates at around 35 degrees in places. Not a bad way to work off a memorable lunch.
For more information about the Aosta Valley, visit aosta-valley.co.uk.