Eating at a refuge

This is part two of three posts about how to annoy the locals merely by giving them your custom.

As you may recall, my friend, Elodie, celebrated her birthday last week, and she started the evening with an apero in Croix Fry. We then took a cross-country skiing track towards the top of the Beauregard peak of La Clusaz, and walked for 45 minutes in sleet, with the promise of fondue and other Savoyard treats awaiting us.

We were off to a refuge! Visiting a refuge normally involves a lot of cheese and a lot of alcohol, and if you choose to stay overnight, accommodation can vary from one big room with bunk beds and a pot belly stove to keep warm through to more luxurious, private rooms with en suites. Here’s a scene from the famous French movie, Les Bronzés Font Du Ski. Even if you don’t speak French, the actions are pretty obvious:

Les bronzés font du ski les montagnards et la… par Nico7812

I’ve been to refuges just like this, where men dressed as farmers serve home-made booze from a bottle with a dead scaly animal inside. One refuge owner had to start up a generator to provide lighting, and another one told a group of us, when we stayed overnight, not to use the gas heating during the night. I don’t remember what the reason was, but I do remember being very cold. However, the next morning, with snowboards or skis on our feet, the owner fired up his skidoo with a rope attached and towed us all along the flat field so we could easily enjoy the downhill ride, complete with fresh powder.

For Elodie’s birthday, we headed to Les Matins Bleus — a big, fairly modern refuge. The owner had already taken our food orders (including dessert) from Elodie soon after Elodie had made the booking. As I’d had a tasteless fondue there once before , I ordered fondue aux cepes (fondue with local mushrooms added), hoping it would be tastier.

<Photo of an egg cracked into fondue, at a refuge on Beauregard, La Clusaz>We were the only customers that night, and the lady was friendly enough, but not all that motivated to keep us happy: she was hard to find when we needed more water, wine or bread. She begrudgingly brought out a fourth bowl of salad, which isn’t all that much for 19 people, and promptly disappeared again. The mushrooms added a little flavour to the fondue, but it was still pretty tasteless. As we neared the end of the fondue, it was time to dump an egg, some kirsch and bread into the dish and mix it up. She’d left the eggs on the tables for us to do ourselves (pictured, along with empty bottles of drink), but no kirsch in sight. It was a totally half-hearted effort of ‘serving’ us. Worse still, most of us were still hungry. Poor Elodie went to ask her for more fondue, and after a long discussion (because no French conversation can be short!), the owner agreed to bring more fondue and tartiflette — for an additional price. So, only the hungriest ate, and they got through everything. The owner had told Elodie she had used the usual 200 grams of cheese per person, but our fondue pot for three contained less than what I’d expect for three people. Regardless, I’ve been to restaurants that keep on refilling the fondue until you’re full, free of charge.

Now, dessert. Whether pre-ordered or not, slices of berry crumble and the surprise birthday chocolate pie were thrust upon all of us, with pie demand outstripping berry demand, but not enough to go around. Berry crumble was handed to those who missed out.

At the end of the night, Elodie painstakingly figured out who had ordered what, who had drunk wine and who had not, and then took money from everyone. Regardless of her efforts, she told me afterwards it worked out to at least €35 per person anyway — the price another refuge had offered as a flat rate for the whole evening, which she figured was too expensive.

So far, Elodie’s birthday had consisted of apologising to a bar in Croix Fry for wanting to come for an apero, then spending far too much of her birthday meal negotiating with the owner of the refuge for more food for the hungry guests, then about half an hour accounting how much each person should pay. That’s two businesses who seemed put out to have our business! These were hardly ideal moments during the night, but the descent to was still to come. What could possibly go wrong?

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I'm a technical author, journalist and writer from Australia who has been living in Europe since 2000 and exploring the world from there. My passions are writing, snow sports and travel.

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7 comments on “Eating at a refuge
  1. Jayne says:

    Oh dear, its such a pity for your friend to have this sort of service especially on her birthday when she’s supposed to just relax and enjoy the company. Les Bronze is one of my favourite silly french films. Have it on DVD if you want to borrow it. Have you ever been to the Chalet du Parmelan above Villaz? Not a winter refuge as only open late spring to Autumn but that too, or was an experience (think its managed by someone else nowadays). I remember a dead owl lying on a shelf in the corner of the bar – apparently it got in in winter and died there so was “kept”…basic mountain food (quite good actually) served by a vest-wearing, fat, sweaty farmer who would grunt…and well an “experience” overall. The view over Lake Annecy was superb tho’. But looking forward to the next installment of your friends birthday do. And they wonder why the word “entrepreneur” is french judging by how “un-entrepreneurish” some of them are! Sometimes I sympathize with the Parisiens and their sometimes bolshy approach especially when you get service like you and your friend experienced. More please!

  2. Wendy says:

    Jayne, that’s scary and amusing in equal parts! I’m kind of curious and apprehensive about visiting Chalet du Parmelan but hey ho, it’s all an experience, right? We should make a plan for this summer. 🙂

  3. Lesley says:

    It’s a shame that an evening out has had so many troubles to spoil what should have been a fun time.
    I fear to read your next post.

  4. Jayne says:

    Yes Wendy a simple walk upto the Chalet (if its still open) and a lunch would be fab. I am curious to see if it has changed at all. I will check it out for summer. So when’s installment No. 3? 🙂

  5. Wendy says:

    Okay, the next post is coming soon! I ran out of time tonight to write about the return home, but I took this lovely photo of an chain icicle (or is that an icicle chain?).

  6. Emm says:

    Oh my, you must have endless patience! I’m not sure I could put up with service like that and would probably caus a huge fuss. Perhaps you can send her a cheery email and let her know you’ve reviewed her restaurant!

  7. Wendy says:

    I did think about linking to the website, but didn’t want to name and shame to that extent. She was pleasant, at least…

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About me

Wendy Hollands writer in Annecy, France

I'm an experienced technical writer based in the French Alps. I enjoy learning French language nuances, winter sports and travel. Drop by, my other site.

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