Combloux in the French Alps — Combloux dans les Alpes françaises

combloux french alps

Baroque Church in Combloux

Looking through the small porthole of our plane, all I can see is vast stretches of white land, with some darker gray areas showing here and there. We are getting close.

“Regarde comme les Alpes sont belles,” (Look at how beautiful the Alps are) I tell P. when I point out at the gorgeous snowcapped mountains spreading under us.

New energy runs through my entire body, shaking stiffness away from my tired limbs after too many hours spent sitting in a cramped aircraft seat. P. is half asleep and I have to pinch his arm hard to get his attention. He moans and I smile. Invariably, whenever I visit the Alps, I look at these magnificent mountains with fresh eyes again, just as if it were my first time. I have stopped counting the many times spent over the years in this beautiful part of France. Each trip always feels like a discovery.

Wow, that looks amazing,” P. says then wide awake.

The drive between the gray-looking airport in Geneva and the small village of Combloux is short, but we are glad to finally arrive, leaving the thick fog behind us in the valley below. I want to chat with everyone, my brother and sister-in-law, my dad and mum, and ask them about the latest news back home, but I am clearly too tired to sustain a comprehensible conversation. In fact, even if the clock is only marking 5 o’clock when my dad’s car pulls in front of our rented chalet, all I think of is tasting my mum’s food, and find a bed to lie on. P. and I are in serious need of a good night sleep. That night, we dine on a rôti de chevreuil (a deer roast), mashed sweet potatoes and a green salad. I cannot remember the last time I ate deer, so I savor each bite greedily.

Comment est équipée la cuisine ?” (how equipped is the kitchen?) I ask my mum when we walk into the apartment.

Ca va, c’est correct,” (Not too bad) she replies “On fera avec.” (We will do with it.)

And we do.

I know that we will talk about food quickly, discussing what we are going to cook for Christmas. My sister-in-law G. has brought the latest French food magazines full of holiday recipes. We plan to eat oysters, foie gras and champagne, to keep some tradition, but also decide to make our menus simple. After all, we are on vacation, and our kitchen equipment is somewhat limited, even if I have asked my mum to bring her mandoline and mixer. I prepare mixed salads with cumin-flavored shrimps, shaved fennel and radish, veal roulades (roll) with sage, pear and purple potatoes, and a crab, grapefruit, kiwi appetizer.

I have everything for a dessert on Christmas’s eve,” I tell G. I have made sure to pack my ring molds, a pack of plastic liners, a confectioner’s bag, tonka beans and heaps of dark chocolate with different cocoa percentages. I have promised to make my small dark chocolate ginger mousse and raspberries cakes. But this time, I use tonka bean to flavor the chocolate sponge cake.

What is this taste?” G. asks my brother who is quite skilled at this type of blind test. “Il a du nez,” we say in the family.

It tastes like bitter almond,” he replies when I hold a bean under his nose.

They are both seduced by it and promise to get some when they return home.

combloux french alps

Nested at about 1000 m in altitude, the small village of Combloux faces the Mont-Blanc, with Megève four kilometers away, and Chamonix thirty kilometers further. Victor Hugo called it “la perle des Alpes dans son écrin de glaciers.” (the pearl of the Alps in a jewelry case of glaciers). Right away, we love the simplicity and unpretentiousness of this quiet village compared to the neighboring more popular ski resorts.

combloux french alps

During the entire week, our program stays loose. When our legs feel sore after a long afternoon of skiing, we prefer to take a walk the following day. Since my dad is the first one to wake up every morning, he treats us with fresh baguette and country breads on the breakfast table. We enjoy walking the narrow streets of the village to feel the crisp air, and pay many visits to the épiceries fines du village (delicatessen stores). L’épicier is a tall smiling man who makes large gestures and talks a lot. He appears all dressed in a traditional custome, peering through his glasses at the tip of his nose, and is proud to educate us to the local cheese and cured meats. You can quickly guess that he is passionate about it.

J’espère que ce n’est pas que mon chapeau que vous prenez en photo, mais moi aussi, parce que je suis beau,” he tells me jokingly when he sees that I pull my camera out (I hope that you are not only interested in my hat for the picture, but in me too, because I am handsome).

Mais bien sûr !” I reply, laughing (Of course!) How could anyone not remember such a face?

A Visit to an épicerie in the village

combloux french alps

Champignons des bois ; the mist in the valley ; Crozets au sarrasin; Le Flocon de Megève ; Ananas Victoria ; Cheese stand at the village market ; Les bûchettes de Noël ; Tomette de vache

I make sure to buy and pack a few bags of crozets au sarrasin (buckwheat), a specialty of the region that I always indulge in whenever I visit this French region; they are hard to find elsewhere. Crozets resemble pasta, but have the shape of small brown cubes made from a blend of white flour and buckwheat flour. You eat them traditionally prepared with local grated cheese, browned onions, or gratinéed with crème fraîche and lardons.

The bûchettes de Noël in display in the local bakery are a treat for the eyes too. I still do not know how we manage not buying some every day. Then, when we visit Megève, I cannot resist to try les flocons de Megève, the village specialty.

They are pralinés dipped into a meringue,” the lady selling me a bag tells me when I ask her of what these white-covered sweets are made. We eat them while sipping a glass of vin chaud taken in a local brasserie.

combloux french alps

The village market in Combloux is another great discovery. No one seems to mind the cold, and I find the same energy as the one remembered from summer farmer’s markets.

What is this vegetable?” my brother B. asks the man behind the largest display of fresh produce. “It looks like salsify,” he adds pointing at the long black sticks bundled together. I forget the name that he gives us, but recall him explaining how to eat this peculiar vegetable.

Can we taste it?” B. continues.

Look at his hands,” G. whispers in my ear when she catches sight of the man’s strong wrinkled hands holding a piece of the peeled vegetable for us to taste. “Il a des mains de vrai jardinier,” (He has the hands of a real gardener). The taste of the crispy white flesh makes me think of shaved black radish, without the spiciness. I imagine it prepared in the same way. I like to notice how different the same vegetables look when compared to the ones I buy in Boston. I purchase fresh arugula and raddichio which I use to make a risotto for lunch. At another stand, G. buys a weaved basket that she plans to use to store potatoes at home.

combloux french alps

Let’s have a raclette tonight,” my mum suggests one morning. This specialty of the Swiss and French Alps — melted raclette cheese, potatoes, cured meats, pickles and condiments — is commonly eaten now everywhere in France, and is easy to prepare. But eaten in this setting, and prepared with local cheese and meats from the village, it simply tastes much better. We decide to choose cow and goat milk raclette cheese, and ask for an assortment of meats composed of caillasse, viande des Grisons, jambon de savoie and coppa. A white wine from Savoie, cornichons (French gherkins) and picked onions complement it perfectly.

raclette french alps

La raclette

We are also lucky to taste my mum’s delicious boeuf aux carottes (beef roast cooked with carrots in a dark thick sauce), or my brother’s scrumptious poulet souris (Morrocan chicken dish made with preserved lemons, olives and eggs).

And I cannot help but bake a few cakes. We have various types of flour, quinoa, rice, amaranth, and individual molds and spices. I think about something simple, easy to toss in a backpack to bring on the ski slopes, or to nimble with a cup of tea or hot chocolate, after a long walk or a few hours skiing.

A la cannelle, ca vous dit ?“(What would you say about cinnamon?) I ask the crowd sitting around the table.

I make them a healthy treat, gluten-free too, using quinoa, rice and almond flours.

cinnamon cakes gluten free

After-Ski Cinnamon Tea Cakes (gluten-free)

A few leftover do well in our cabin bag when we eventually prepare to leave a week later. As usual, I pack my bag reluctantly, always feeling a pinch in my heart at the thought of leaving my family behind. Oddly enough, the fog seen in the distant valley seems thicker too on the morning we load the car. This time, however, it somewhat seems easier to leave, probably because we know that our next stop is Dublin, and then because I am convinced that another trip to the French Alps is already in the planning. The beauty and peacefulness found in the mountains never disappoint.

combloux baroque church french alps

combloux french alps

View from our balcony
After-Ski Cinnamon Tea Cakes (gluten-free)

(For 6 small cakes)

You need:

  • 3 eggs
  • 1/2 cup blond cane sugar
  • 7 Tbps unsalted butter, melted
  • 1/2 cup quinoa flour*
  • 1/2 cup minus 1 Tbsp brown rice flour*
  • 1/4 cup almond flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 Tbsp ground cinnamon, sifted

*Replace with all-purpose flours if you do not have quinoa and rice flours

Steps:

  • Preheat your oven at 350 F.
  • Grease 6 small molds and coat them with sugar, and remove the excess.
  • With a whisk or using an electric mixer, beat together the sugar and eggs until the preparation is light, and white in color.
  • Add the melted butter and mix well.
  • Slowly add the dry ingredients, flours, baking powder and almond. Mix and add the cinnamon. Fold in gently.
  • Bake the cakes for about 35 min. Remove from the oven and let cool.
Le coin français
Petits gâteaux à la cannelle, pour l’après-ski, (sans gluten)

(Pour 6 petits gâteaux)

Ingrédients :

  • 3 oeufs
  • 100 g de sucre de canne blond
  • 100 g de beurre non salé, fondu
  • 60 g de farine de quinoa*
  • 60 g de farine de riz complet*
  • 30 g de poudre d’amandes
  • 1 càc de levure chimique
  • 1 càs de cannelle en poudre, tamisée

*Remplacez par de la farine T45 si vous ne trouvez pas de farine de quinoa et de riz

Étapes :

  • Préchauffez votre four à 180 C.
  • Beurrez 6 petits moules et saupoudrez-les de sucre ; enlevez l’excédent.
  • A l’aide d’un fouet, ou d’un batteur électrique, battez ensemble les oeufs avec le sucre jusqu’à blanchiment.
  • Ajoutez le beurre fondu et mélangez.
  • Ajoutez doucement les ingrédients secs, les farines, la levure, la poudre d’amandes et la cannelle. Ne mélangez pas de trop.
  • Cuisez les gâteaux pendant environ 35 min, et retirez-les du four pour qu’ils refroidissent.
Posted in Uncategorized | 53 Comments

53 comments

  1. “how is the kitchen?”

    This reminds me of a new year party, a couple of years ago, in a gite in Burgundy…

    As I get the answer that everything was fine and that the kitchen was equipped with an oven … you can imagine my face when I came ” comme une fleur” with my chapon …. to discover the tiny microwaves !

    Of course New Years Eve’ spirits helps when you ask the nice neighbours if they would be kind enough to host your chapon in their oven !
    Happy new year !!!!!
    Virginie

  2. so, so lovely! just reading this made me feel like i was on vacation for a minute or two. :-) much appreciated!

  3. Une petite raclette, un peu de neige, du soleil… le bonheur est à la montagne ! j’espère pouvoir en profiter dans quelques semaines…

  4. Un petit coucou de savoie.
    J’habite à quelques kilomètres de Combloux mais plus en hauteur, ma station de ski à moi c’est Les Saisies.
    Aujourd’hui, il n’a pas cessé de pleuvoir et la neige est beaucoup moins bonne que pendant les vacances de noel.
    Il faudra venir chez moi la prochaine fois!!!!!!

    A bientôt. Cindy

  5. What a fantastic post. What a beautiful country. To start off with oysters, foie gras and champagne and to end with cinnamon tea cakes – delicious!

    Where do you do most of your shopping in Boston? I frequent Russos in Watertown but am always looking for new markets to find fresh produce and good cuts of meat! Cheers!

  6. magnifique
    mais comment tu fais pour reussir meme ds une boulangerie ou a table
    de si jolies photos!!!

    jai passe le lien a didou mon vieux copain decole
    qui est amoureux fou des alpes
    et ca lui plaira de voir que tu fais honneur a sa contree!!!!

    biz et bon remise jet lag
    tu sais quil faut aller dehors au lever du jour pour te recycler face au soleil

  7. I was *almost there* with you, reading your post. I was mildly envious that you got to stay with yr folks for a week in one of the beautiful places on earth :)

  8. my country, my alps. J’adore voir ces images qui me rappellent tant de souvenirs. je n’ai plus beaucoup de temps pour y retourner car je passe à Annecy. bonne année, la tartine

  9. What a wonderful travelogue in photos. You really captured the ambiance of this picturesque village. I live down the road a bit in the Italian alps, it’s a wonderful part of the world. I wish you much success this year as you are a talented person and it’s always a pleasure to peruse what you are up to and pick up some inspiration. Tanti Auguri.

  10. What a lovely post. The food descriptions and location tidbits are delicious (I love raclette!) but I really love hearing about a family that bonds through cooking, eating and talking about food together! I’m a little envious : }

  11. Sorry to miss you on the slopes but I was going so fast, it would’ve been hard to see me!
    The alps were great fun, weren’t they?… and a good excuse to eat lots of cheese and sausage.

    But Béa…that raclette warmer is cheating! ; )

  12. Wow, this post was both cozy and impressive at the same time. Such a holiday feeling! Thank you and Bonne Annee!

  13. My toes just got cold looking at your photos, they were so crisp and clear and beautiful! My husband and I were skiing in the Sierras after Christmas and vowed to take our daughter to the Alps as soon as she can ski. What a lovely place you all stayed!

  14. Well to say I am jealous yet again of your life Bea is to be putting it mildly. Such beautiful photos of your adventures.

  15. As always, your photos make me feel as if I’d been right there with you — which I wish I had, as it looks like a wonderful vacation.

  16. Stunning photos. So wonderful to hear you had such a fantastic time away.
    NIce to hear that you were able to tear yourself from the Alps knowing that you are already planning your return.
    Happy new year and welcome home.

  17. Happy New Year! What a great read! I put Tonka beans i my sugar crock like others do with vanilla….perfect! And why oh why did you have to say “raclette” et “viande des grisons”….makes meso homesick!! Maybe momcan smuggle some in next month!! What a wonderful trip!

  18. Quand je pense que tu étais vraiment pas loin de chez moi, dommage, la prochaine fois car j’espère qu’il y aura une prochaine fois fais moi signe ….sérieux !

  19. Wonderful photos! We’re off to skiing in February, and sadly not to France, but I’m nevertheless really longing to go now!

  20. Combloux looks wonderful and your pictures are always amazing! A great adventure!

    The airport in Geneva is indeed quite gray and sad looking ;-P…

    Cheers,

    Rosa

  21. Oh. So. Pretty. You just made me realize that even though I don’t ski anymore, there are plenty of reasons to go to the Alps :)

  22. Tes photos parlent du froid, et du bonheur de rentrer a l’interieur d’une cuisine chaude et odorante. parfait.

  23. Tres jolies photos qui arrivent a faire ressortir toute la beaute des Alpes et sa convivialite. (le premier cheval a un regard coquin).

  24. Bea, this is captivating. I once lived in a small village in the Swiss Alps, near Montreaux and Villars. This brings me back, and makes me wish I could return again, armed with a digital SLR and my writing journal. But instead, I live vicariously through your inspiring work. I think I’ll make a batch of these (or the gluten-free chocolate cakes you took hiking in Acadia) this weekend. Why not both? :)

  25. Oh the look in that first horse’s eye! Just that one photo was all I needed. Thank you.

  26. quelle dommage, tu etais si pres d’ou j’habite, j’aurais pu te passer de la confiture maison pr vos vacances ! La prochaine fois !!
    Excellente annee !!

  27. eh bien, Combloux te doit une fière chandelle : maintenant toute la blogosphère va débouler chez eux et …photographier l’épicier au chapeau !!

    lol

  28. I love Raclette! The Raclette cheese is really expensive here though, so sometimes I just have an assortment of 4 or 5 different cheese to choose from at the table. I don’t know how authentic our version is – but we like to grill vegetables and seafood up on top and then smother it with loads of cheese!

    happy new year!

  29. Bea, yours is one of the few Blogs, where each entry is like another chapter in the story that is your life.

    Great post!

  30. Do you know how some times I tease myself with a post from you. I do. I’ll see it in the RSS and try to imagine what the food will be that will make my mouth water and my jaw drop. Then if I know you’re traveling, I’ll make my self wait until I know I really have time to savor not just the place you’ve been but the people you’ve meet along the way. This was worth waiting for.
    This is what a mountain hide-away should be about! Love the cakes.

  31. Gorgeous photos. I traveled to Geneva a few times in my previous professional life, and always drooled at the view from the airplane windows. Your trip sounds absolutely fabulous.

  32. Many many thanks everyone. Merci! Sorry if I am not responding individually, but I am still trying to catch up with life here. Know though that each of your comments means a lot.

    And oh yes, you have to visit the place. Vanessa, ahah, you made me laugh so hard with your comment!

    A few responses, Clea oh yes, thank you so much for the hint on the vegetable I could not remember the name of. You are right on!

    Mercotte, Rosa, Corinne, and all my fellow readers from beautiful Alps, you live in a beautiful area indeed, and I really hope that yes, next time, I will be able to meet some of you! I would have loved the confitures Corinne!

    Graeme, thanks so much for your sweet note. Made me smile too!

  33. Everything is gorgeous, but I love the picture of the horses with white manes–it made me gasp. Looks like a wonderful Christmas holiday.
    Julie

  34. Bea estos paisajes se ven maravillosos como de cuento. Bea this looks wonderful how antiques histories, is beautiful, thanks for the beauty!!! Gloria

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  38. Bonjour ! Je suis australien et j’aime la France plus de 100% qui est pourquoi je parle français en ce moment ! La France est meilleure que mieux ! ! !

  39. Beautiful picturesque little ski villiage! It reminds me of Vail and Beaver Creek ski resorts which is about 2 hours away from me here in the beautiful Colorado. You are just having the ride of your life! I totally am right there with you, skiing rocks! My husband is an avid snowboarder and because we live so close to the slopes, we go almost every other week-end!
    You should come and visit us here in Littleton, Co so that we can do some serious riding!

  40. This is just excellent! I just happened to fall on your site looking for extra recipes for tonka beans and matcha tea to put up in my shop for this christmas season..and here you were talking about the village I live in! I am an œnologue (from vancouver)…I just opened an epicerie fine et cave a vin ecologique in Combloux this time last year..there is a few photos in here that look strangely familiar.. were you taken pictures in my shop? The Eden meringues and faison dore mushroom pots.. and the labels look like mine!!.it must be as I have exclusivity for these two products in Combloux .. How come you did not introduce yourself as the person with this site and all the fabulous recipes..!.had a madeline du framboise, feve du tonka and a titch of sucre du the vert matcha I had ground into a powder to dust the pans with..I had served them at a degustation at christmas time in the shop with a liqueur du framboise from La Belle Verte( savoie organics producer)..great match pour les gourmands… Pachrenc du vich bilh is another wonder with an almost sugarless madeline(sirop d’agave)..were you there? Damn I would of loved your opinion! If you ever come back to our area please drop in and see us! I would love to share ideas. great pix of L’apalge also! Can I show him?

  41. Stacey,

    This is so funny indeed. I remember talking to a lady who said she was from Canada actually. I had come to the store with my sister in law and brother, and had asked if I could take pictures. So I take that it MUST be your store. A very nice one, btw! I also brought poivre long purchased that day ;-) I was not there the day of the degustation though, unfortunately. We did not know about the event!
    I hope to come back another time indeed. Combloux is a lovely village, and we were very lucky to have so much snow at Xmas time. And yes, absolutely no problem to share the post. I find it so amazing you bumped into it. The joy of the internet ;-) Hope the season will be good. Is there snow yet?

  42. J’adore les environs de Combloux, c’est beau ! Je suis originaire de Grenoble, tout près, mais depuis que je vis à Lyon, les montagnes, leur beauté et leur tranquillité me manquent cruellement ! Je comprends tout à fait que vous ayez adoré :o) PS : Dublin est aussi une excelente idée, j’y suis déjà allée et j’ai adoré !

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