Best of the Alps Road Trip
As a California girl who loves to ski, it has always been my dream to visit the Alps. That’s why I couldn’t have been more excited when Anders and I were invited on a week-long road trip, sponsored by Audi, through four of the twelve “Best of the Alps” destinations: Megeve and Chamonix in France, and Crans Montana and Grindelwald in Switzerland. We drove through beautiful mountain roads between each destination – I let Anders handle the hairpin turns (the Norwegian is used to snowy roads), and I assumed the role of co-pilot and car DJ. I can’t imagine a better way to explore the Alps for the first time – this is a week I’ll never forget.
We met our group in Geneva, hopped in our beautiful, “galaxy blue” Audi Q8, and set off for our first destination…
We kicked things off with a food tour of Megève:
Co-op Val d’Arly - a cooperative for local Megève farmers and their products, where we sampled locally-made French cheeses and yogurts (while wearing berets, of course).
Glaçons de Megève, - we tasted the “ice cubes of Megève”: chocolate/almond/hazelnut pralines, coated with a thin layer of meringue. This delicious family recipe has been kept secret for over a hundred years.
Les Fermes de Marie - we stopped by the famous five-star hotel for a spot of tea and some pastries.
We took a brief break from our eating to watch the Christmas tree lighting in town, which included an hour and a half performance by famous French artist Christophe Mae (and champagne).
Following the performance, we had our first group dinner at Le Bistrot de Megève, where I experienced my first Swiss cheese fondue and tartiflette. Little did I know this was just the beginning of a very cheesy week…
We tucked in for the night at the beautiful Les Loges Blanches, our home base while in Megève. This four-star hotel has gorgeous suites as well as a heated pool and sauna, which was so much fun in the snow.
Sadly, La Table de l’Alpaga, Chef Anthony Bisquerra’s one-Michelin-star Alpine restaurant at the five-star hotel Alpaga, was not yet open for the season. We were fortunate, however, to get to experience Chef Bisquerra’s food at l’Onyx, his more informal bistro. Both restaurants share the same kitchen, and Chef Bisquerra was kind enough to make us a few signature dishes from his tasting menu at l’Alpaga. We shared a mushroom appetizer with an egg yolk, buckwheat and lovage; pâté en croute; razor clams; Savoie trout in a shellfish sauce; and beef en cocette in a red wine sauce. For dessert, we tried the pastry chef’s variation on the classic French dessert, the Mont-Blanc.
I can’t imagine a better way to get in the Christmas spirit than to go dashing through the snow, in a one-horse open sleigh… okay, well it was snowing so our sleigh was covered, but we did sing lots of Christmas carols while our horse’s bell jingled all the way! Oh, and the hot chocolate afterwards wasn’t too bad either. ;)
We stopped by the three-Michelin-starred Flocons de Sel for snacks and a kitchen tour with Chef Emmanuel Renaut. Then he made one of his signature dishes: artichoke topped with fresh black truffles. What a treat!
Still hungry, we joined our group for dinner at Le Refuge, where we ate salmon ceviche, roast chicken, and a sweet brioche topped with house-made vanilla ice cream.
This time with me behind the wheel, we hopped back into our Audi Q8 and braved the icy roads. After only 45 minutes, and over a super cool bridge, we arrived in our next destination…
It was hard to miss the Alpina Eclectic Hotel as we drove into town - it looms large over Chamonix (by far the tallest building) and with a funky design (its balconies are designed to look like cable cars, set against the beautiful Alpine backdrop). A bar on the top floor with 360 degree views of Chamonix, and a yeti in our room.
After checking in, we paid a visit to local ski maker Peter Steltzner, who makes handcrafted, artisanal wooden skis at his shop The Rabbit on the Roof. It was nice to meet a fellow Californian while in France!
Hungry again, our group stopped in to 0’74 Café, where we had a traditional tartiflette (super cheesy potatoes!) for lunch. Yum!
Craving something sweet, Anders and I stopped in to Chalet 4810 for some hot chocolate, a Mont Blanc pastry, and one of their award-winning chocolate truffles.
For dinner, the group went to La Télécabine (cable cars are a theme here in Chamonix), a French restaurant with a Michelin bib gourmand. Anders and I shared vitello tonnato, filet of hake, beef entrecôte, and salted caramel ice cream.
Rise and shine! And all aboard the Polar, er, Glacier Express (the train of Montenvers) to see the Glacier of Chamonix. This view literally took my breath away! Icy Alpine peaks as far as the eye could see, and we were lucky to have an incredible blue sky as a backdrop.
Spa day! We spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing at the new QC Terme spa of Chamonix – a luxury spa with incredible views of the Alps. The spa has both indoor and outdoor pools, water massage chairs, saunas, steam rooms, and a lunch buffet (with wine) for guests. This was one of my favorite experiences from the entire trip.
Feeling refreshed and rejuvenated, we got back into our Audi and set off on what turned out to be my favorite drive from the road trip - two and a half hours of incredible Alpine vistas, with a glowing, cotton candy pink sky at sunset. We stopped to take some pictures of the lights sparkling in the valley below us, before we descended into our third destination…
We arrived in Crans-Montana just in time for dinner. Fondue, again, but not cheese this time - instead, a beef bourguignon fondue at Le Chalet. Almost like a hot pot, you dip raw beef into hot soup with mushrooms, and eat it with rosti potatoes and a bunch of yummy sauces (fancy mayonnaises, curry, aioli, mustards). After finishing all your meat, you drink the broth as a soup! So delicious.
A bucket list dream come true - skiing in the Swiss Alps! Since our trip was in mid-December (a little before the ski season officially starts), only one of the ski runs was open. But we had a blast racing down the slopes, with blue skies and sunshine making a backdrop so picturesque it almost looked photoshopped.
A Michelin-starred restaurant is obviously the only way to après-ski after such a magical experience, so we headed to five-star Le Crans Hotel for lunch, and, coincidentally, for my favorite meal of the trip. From your table you can see breathtaking panoramas of the Alps – the Matterhorn, Mont Blanc, and +30 more peaks from your seat. I loved our tasting menu: a farm egg cooked at low temperature with Jerusalem artichoke, toasted hazelnuts, salicornia, and brown butter; crispy salmon on a bed of juniper berry risotto; meringue dessert filled with vanilla ice cream, pineapple, green apple, and anise; and cotton candy!
Our legs were tired from skiing, but we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to go snowshoeing - my first time! It’s simultaneously physically tiring, like hiking through snow, and yet extremely calming and meditative. I really enjoyed my first experience.
After a power nap, we went to the cellar of Alex Duc for a wine tasting in Ollon, Switzerland, followed by a traditional raclette dinner. They served several great wines alongside two variations of raclette (old and young), which were eaten with potatoes and veggies. Our group turned the raclette dinner into a competition to see who could eat the most plates of cheese… I think I may have been the winner!
Another early morning in the Audi, this time with the hairpin turns leading to a train that we drove the car on - the first time I’ve ever experienced parking a car on a train! After a twenty minute train ride tunneling through the mountain, we drove by scenic Lake Thun, and enjoyed breathtaking views of the Eiger North Face as we drove into our final destination…
First stop in Grindelwald was the adorable Eigerness shop – uniting local, independent makers, and selling everything from handcrafted sleds to Swiss delicacies. I tried the farm ice cream, and purchased Swiss cheese, chocolate, caramels, and gingerbread to bring home to my family.
For dinner - more fondue! But this time of the Swiss cheese variety, at Stallbeitzl Heuboden. Pro tip: lightly dip your bread into a shot of schnapps before dipping into the cheese for an added kick! (There’s already alcohol in the fondue!)
The next morning, we took the train to Jungfraujoch – the top of Europe. We stopped halfway in Klein Scheidegg for some sledding fun and lunch – falafels, pita, hummus, and three variations of Swiss mac & cheese. My personal favorite was a potato pasta topped with gruyere cheese and caramelized onions.
After lunch, we continued to the top: the “Sphinx” of Jungfraujoch – at almost 12,000ft elevation, it is the highest train station in Europe. I’ve never been so high in my life – in fact, I had minor altitude sickness, I was super dizzy and light-headed for the first few minutes upon arrival, but I adjusted pretty quickly. And boy, was it worth it – what a view! Glaciers and snowy Alp peaks as far as the eye could see. I also had fun checking out the Jungfraujoch Ice Palace – a tunnel carved in the ice. And the Lindt Chocolate Factory, where I purchased some more souvenirs.
Speaking of chocolate, upon our descent from the mountain I stumbled into the Swiss Chocolate Chalet, a brand new shop in Grindelwald selling locally made chocolate. The shop is so new, in fact, that I was the first official customer! I tried the champagne-filled chocolate truffle, and bought some more truffles and a dark chocolate hazelnut bar to bring home. Yum!!
While in Grindelwald, we stayed at the Hotel Kreuz + Post, a four-star hotel in the heart of Grindelwald. From my balcony I had a spectacular view of the three peaks. I was also impressed by the hotel restaurant – we had a wonderful meal here that included hay soup (you can really taste the Swiss herbs), wienerschnitzel, and a cinnamon Christmas dessert. (Followed by hot chocolate, of course.)
After one last drive by the beautiful lakes of Switzerland, we finished back where our trip began, in Geneva, and bid adieu to our Audi crew. All good things must come to an end, but what an unforgettable week in the Alps!
I decided to spend 24 hours in Geneva before leaving Switzerland. (Let’s be honest, I just wasn’t ready to say goodbye to the Swiss cheese and chocolate just yet!)
I’d never been to a real Christmas market (which I admit might be more of a tourist trap than a local hangout) but I had to experience one while in Europe! At the Bastions Park market, I tried a few glasses of hot mulled wine as well as a cheeseburger from The Hamburger Foundation, a popular Geneva burger spot. There was lots of food and an ice skating rink, and it was magical to see families and friends gathering to celebrate the holidays under the twinkling string lights.
I can’t imagine a better first time in the Alps! Thanks so much to Best of the Alps and Audi for inviting us on such a wonderful adventure. Until next time!
Following along on Instagram? See more from the trip at #CarnivorrTravel.