It can take a while for the sun to meander its way down to you when you’re nestled in between mountains, so despite the clear blue sky Saturday morning began with icy breath. I was awake a good few hours before the others, but without the code to the door I opted to make the most of the sofa and coffee rather than exploring outside. I spent about an hour practicing german, and the other reading. Still can barely say more than Ich lerne Deutsche. Ugh. Eventually Mel surfaced as she needed to pop home for some forgotten breakfast bits before we could begin the day. It was a good opportunity to see her cosy little flat, complete with colourful sunglasses for every day of the week. The place consisted of a kitchen/lounge, bathroom and bedroom with a double and bunk beds. It was the perfect size for two, so I couldn’t quite believe it when Mel told me that at times it would probably have slept 6. Staff accommodation is very basic, with as many people sharing as possible. Not sure I could hack that really!! By the time we got back everyone was awake, and ready for the croissants, fruit and cereal we had for breakfast. Mel and Laura would both be driving today, rather than the people carrier which picked us up from the airport, and after everything was cleared away we packed ourselves into the cars and headed down the mountain. What a view! The whole world has turned copper and gold, it’s hard to imagine that all these hills will soon be covered in snowy white!
Our first stop was Beaufort, a sleepy little town surrounded by Heidi land and big brown cows with bells around their necks. We walked up and down cobbled streets peering into closed shop windows, crossed stone bridges over babbling brooks and eventually sat down for croque monsieur and vinos before visiting the factory where the famous Beaufort cheese is made. Unfortunately everything was in French and only French, so none of us (bar Mel) could really understand the journey from cow to cheese, but it was fascinating to watch the workers turn the huge wheels in order to change the muslin cloths and stamp them before hoisting them into the huge stacks. I bet his hands never smell of anything but cheese! The shop attached to the factory was huge, with all manner of cheese and accompaniments to salivate over. But, should you arrive to discover the store is closed panic not! There’s a cheese vending machine outside, for 24/7 purchases. Amazing!!
From Beaufort we continued up the mountain, torn between straining my eyes left right and up in order to take in the spectacular views and the fact that looking any direction other than straight ahead made me feel quite queasy. At the top of the mountain lay a real visual treat, a deep blue green lake, free from boats and other distractions, just sitting there invitingly, although I’m sure it would have been bloody freezing to actually step in. We spent some time admiring the view, reenacting the lion king pride rock scenes, the usual, then piled back in the cars to go up and over the hill (definitely a mountain) to home. Oddly as we climbed the scenery became less of a craggy rock and more undulating hills, with livestock and homes dotted around. The road down the other side was a vertical Lombard street, a mess of hairpin bends and narrowing straights. About halfway down we met some cowherds driving their flower adorned flock up the mountain. Mel and Laura were mesmerised, it was a first for all of us!
Shortly after this (accompanied by a Disney soundtrack, we’re such good 30 year olds) we stopped at a supermarket to pick up supplies (Prosecco, cheese and chocolate, all the staples) for later. Unfortunately I barely made it in the front door before discovering a new physical side to myself, apparently these days I get car sick. Gone are the journeys where I could happily sit in the back reading despite the route…after hours of undulating up and down Alps (in the front seat!!) my legs pretty much gave out from under me and I had to sit quietly whilst the girls went and collected all sorts of delectables for dinner. No fair body, sort your shiz out!!
The best cure for sickness? Prosecco in a hot tub. Oh ok then, if you insist. A few hours, 5 bottles of fizz, a tub of olives and a sunset later no one wanted to brave the cold and get out, but a Raclette of cheese was waiting. Tough choices. Mel has been such a wonderful hostess to us this weekend, I’m sure we would have eaten eventually were she not in visitor mode, but I for one was very grateful that she was so on the ball and happy to handle everything. Bread, potatoes, meat, pickles and more all got smothered in Beaufort cheese, Swiss Raclette or French Camembert…eating like queens! And all good queens deserve presents, especially when they’re 30! With 3 out of 6 birthdays falling either side of this trip we’d decided to do presents all together, singing in French (pour Mel) and English (Sarah and Steph) as each birthday girl opened her present. We had three very happy faces, each one thinking they had the best deal; a new watch and magnum of Moët for Mel, Sapphire and diamond earnings to match her engagement ring for Pid and a very delicate silver and diamond bracelet for Steph; huzzah!!
Life seems to happen later in places like this, so we had time for a game of cranium and to enjoy the fire before we were introduced to Mel’s Meribel family; the team in Jacks and Evo. It was such a snug little place, with live music and plentiful cocktails, I can see exactly why she loves it. This place must be so magic in the winter when everything turns white. Espresso martinis, sloe gin fizzes, a traditional local shot made from a flower which only grows at 2000m, then a coffee and rum combo (half an espresso, a shot of rum, then the other half of the espresso)…it’s no wonder we’re all worse for wear today. Luckily there’s a built in sauna and fresh mountain air to see off the worst of it, with the promise of pizza and gelato in Annecy later. Then Jen and I say farewell to the others to begin stage 3 of the adventure…interailing! Something we first planned in 2006, it’s finally here!!!