Thursday, March 27, 2008

Swiss Round Up

Another round up? Yes, it's a hard life, but someone has to enjoy a long weekend skiing in Switzerland and it might as well be me. I was lucky enough to spend a few days at Crans-Montana, staying in the friendly Hotel du Lac, overlooking Lac Grenon in the village of Montana.

Let's start with the hotel, where we drank rather a lot of the local lager, Valaisanne. While this brewery makes a range of beers, our choice was limited to the lager, which is a crisp and refreshing beer, but not particularly challenging on the palate. Perfect after a hard day on the slopes. Perhaps even more excitingly, the hotel is looking at brewing its own beer, La Marmotte, and we were lucky enough to try some of the experimental beers. They were still fiddling with sugar levels for secondary fermentation and whatnot, so the beers lacked a little fizz, but they were definitely tasty. One was a darker beer (think the darker Schneider Weisse) and the other was a wheat beer. Opinion in the group was pretty evenly split between the two in terms of preference. Since I'm a big fan of small breweries, I think this is a very cool, and niche, thing for the hotel to be doing. Best of luck!

The trip also represented an opportunity to try Swiss wine. I had no idea that we would be staying in wine country, and it was a shame to not get an opportunity to visit some of the cellar doors we came across between Montana and Sion. I managed to try Fendant (the local name for the white grape, Chasselas) as well as a red (which I suspect was a Gamay ... but I never saw the label). While the wines certainly weren't tasted with a clear palate, I preferred the red to the white. The red was a little more conventional, wheres the white had quite a pronounced and unusual nose. A frustratingly wasted opportunity to try something quite different in the wine world.

Food in ski resorts is always rather pricey and Switzerland didn't disappoint on that count. Our first meal, at Au Greni (recommended in Michelin) consisted of some shared meat platters and traditional Swiss fondue. Coming in at around £30+ a head it doesn't exactly represent value for money, but it was a great opportunity to try fondue in an alpine setting. It was also interesting to note that the fondue was heavily seasoned with black pepper and soft green peppercorns.

The next day I managed to fit in a very luscious slice of hazelnut cake from a local pâtisserie before heading to Gerber for a pizza. My pizza was very good (£10, so not cheap) - crispy base, quite generous toppings, but many of the other dishes were considerably more expensive.

On our last night, dinner in the adjacent village of Crans was less than successful. We headed (unplanned) to the New Haven bar/hotel/restaurant, opposite the cinema. Starters were generally tiny (but, again, expensive) portions of sushi. I followed mine with chicken brochettes - a large part of which was actually raw. When I sent it back to the kitchen, my part eaten brochettes were slapped back on the grill before being returned to me. Needless to say, they stayed uneaten but, to the restaurant's credit, we weren't charged for them. OK, I actually told the restaurant that they wouldn't be on the bill ... but you get my drift. Again, we were easily looking at around £30 a head and, at this restaurant, many of the portions were rather small.

This is not to say that all the food needed to be that expensive. On our ambles around the village of Montana almost every restaurant offered a menu du jour of two (set) courses for around 20 CHF (around £10). If you're not a fussy eater, this is definitely the way to go and I was quite disppointed not to sample one of these menus. At Au Greni, for example, a simple menu of salad followed by perch came in at 22 CHF. Another restaurant was offering salad and steak-frites for around the same mark.

The trip has left me wanting to try more Swiss wine (if anyone knows any UK stockists ... please comment!), and I've learnt that in future I should always check out the location of the nearest vineyard before going on holiday!

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