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:
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.
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?