Thursday, 31 July 2008

Trip to Annecy

No matter how attractive the place you are in, it is always nice to get an away day every now and again and see somewhere different. A recent trip to Annecy was a chance to get out of the mountains, and deep valleys, and see the picturesque lakeside town nestling in the Alpine foothills.

The town is the capital of the Haute-Savoie department, with a well preserved old-town along the banks of the river running out of the lake. We stopped for lunch at a terrace restaurant beside the river next to the 12th century Palais de l'Isle Jail (Palace of the Isle of the Jail) - one of the most photographed landmarks in France. After a pleasant steak we were entertained by a miming clown, who appeared wheeling a unicycle but sadly did not ride it. Then we walked along the river to the lake to the strains of an accordion player. It was like walking through all the French cliches rolled up together.

The Old Town around the river

Market stalls on the bridge

Palais de l'Isle Jail from behind - the famous view is from the other side, but you can see that picture all over the web (Google, or Wikipedia it) so this is my one.

Looking down the lake over the Pedaloes

Saturday, 26 July 2008

My Tartiflette Recipe

I have never posted a recipe before, but to follow up the Haute-Savoie post I think a local recipe will give a good flavour of local food. So, here goes with my version of a Tartiflette. With salad it should serve a family of four, or 2-3 hungry skiers. The quantities are approximate, as I am a "throw it in till it looks right" kind of cook.


1 kg (2lb) potatoes, peeled and sliced
200g (1/2 lb) lardons (or smoked bakon, diced)
1 large onion
A clove or two of garlic
1/2 litre (1 pint) double cream
1 whole Reblochon cheese - preferably a ripe mature one
Salt and pepper
Olive oil for frying
A little white wine (optional)

  • Pre-heat the oven to about 170 Centigrade, Gas Mark 4
  • Finely chop the onion and saute in a little olive oil until soft
  • Chop or crush the garlic
  • Add the garlic and bacon to the onions and saute until browned
  • Place the sliced potatoes and the onion and bacon mixture in a large gratin dish in alternate layers so they are roughly mixed together
  • Season with salt and pepper
  • Pour the cream over the top until it almost covers the mixture
  • You can add a little white wine at this point - for authenticity it should be a Savoyarde wine but I wouldn't buy one specially.
  • Slice the Reblochon in half horizontally, so you have two circles, then place the two halves skin side up on top of the dish. As it cooks the cheese will melt through the potatoes.
  • Bake until the potatoes are tender - roughly one to one and a half hours.

If you cannot find a Reblochon you can substitute another sufficiently smelly ripe old cheese. This is just the way I make it, but there are lots of variations. Bon Apetit

Thursday, 24 July 2008

Haute-Savoie Region

As promised, here is a bit of a travel blog type post on the Haute Savoie region of the French Alps which extends from the southern shores of Lake Geneva down to Lake Annecy to the south west and Chamonix, Mont Blanc and the Swiss and Italian borders to the south east.

The culture and architecture of the region are fairly typically Alpine, with a tradition of small farming communities. More recently of course, tourism plays a major part of the economy and there are many world class ski resorts - Chamonix, Megeve, Morzine, Avoriaz to name a few.

Architecture uses the local materials of wood and stone with the traditional chalet style being quite common. Stone lower floors with wood above are quite common, as are balconies running the length of the upper floors. Roofs are tiled with wood, stone or often just corrugated metal sheets.

The wooden church spire in Argentiere

A typical old farmhouse in the region

The food in the Haut Savoie and Savoie regions could be described as hearty - the staple ingredients are potatoes, cheese (including goats cheese) and cream. Also popular are onions and various meats, particularly pork products. Restaurants offer various cook-it-yourself options including meat and cheese fondue, Pierrade/pierre chaud - cooking meat on a hot stone, and Raclette - melting cheese onto bread with a fancy gadget.

A typical local dish is Tartiflette, made with sliced potatoes, lardons (diced smoked bacon), onions, cream and Reblochon cheese. Although typical, and apparently traditional it was actually invented in the 1980s by the union of Reblochon cheese makers as a ploy to boost sales. It is a great winter dish though and I will post a recipe in the next couple of days.

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

Blue Skies at Last

Here is the same view down the vallley as the bad weather one a couple of posts back - just to prove that there really are mountains down there - including Mont Blanc. This is a great place to be staying. I should write a travel blog type post on the Savoie region - there is the obvious mountain scenery, but they also have distinctive architechture, cuisine, cheeses, traditions and uniquely bad wine. Don't get me wrong, I'm not a wine snob and I'll drink practically anything but I have learnt to steer clear of the local stuff here. So my mission for the next post is to get some photos of local architechture, food etc. and I'll do a proper travel writeup of the area.

Saturday, 12 July 2008

Ski Fitness - Summary

To round up the series of articles on ski fitness, I want to sumarize the last few posts, but also to discuss the relevance of other sports and activities.

Apologies for the lack of pictures in this longish post - I will post some more soon.

The important muscles for skiing are obviously the leg muscles - the quadriceps group but also the hamstrings, the core muscles of the abdominals and back, and also to an extent the arm muscles.

Three areas of importance are cardivascular (aerobic) endurance, strength and flexibility. For a typical recreational skier wanting to ski all day without getting too tired the first is the most relevant. As the performance level increases strength and flexibility become more important. Flexibility allows the body to make the necessary shapes more easily and is developed through streching programmes - remember to do stretches after other exercises as static stretches before exercise can increase the chance of injury.

Strength training allows the body to effectively manage the forces that build up in high performance skiing. A wide range of muscles come into play, so the best training will use free weights to develop more muscles. To perform at your highest level on skis will require some effort spent on strength and flexibility training.

Exercises such as running, cycling or team sports will develop cardiovascular fitness and help with muscular endurance. Some form of aerobic exercise like this should be used as part of any programme. However they will not build a lot of strength in the skiing muscles (i.e. you can still expect some aches after the first day or two back on skis). Swimming can be good as it develops a wide range of muscles in an impact free way. In fact most sports will have a positive effect on skiing ability. For most people, simply keeping fit and active is the best preparation, accepting the odd first day aches as just a part of skiing. If your skiing holiday is your only exercise for the year (and we see plenty in this category in the ski school) then it will be really hard work, and not as fun as it could be.

A few sessions on an artificial slope in the off season can help keep the skiing muscles in trim, particularly in the run up to the holiday. Those of you who are luccky enough to live near the mountains and ski at weekends probably have far fewer problems than those who do their winter's skiing in one week away.

Thursday, 10 July 2008

Argentiere Glacier

I popped out to get a takeaway pizza the other night and got this fantastic view of the Argentiere glacier on the way. The sun and clouds came together perfectly for an atmospheric scene. To the right of the glacier you can see the ski run to the village winding through the trees (no snow on it at this time of year, but a less than three months ago I was skiing it). On a more sombre note, this glacier, like many others, has receded a lot over the last few years - a much more significant indicator of climate change than all the worrying over how much snow such and such a resort got last winter.

Sunday, 6 July 2008

Great Weather

I arrived in Cham on Thursday evening in the rain. Friday and Saturday were pretty nice days though, so we got plenty of work done. Today was a day off to get some climbing done, but sunny weather first thing had turned to heavy rain by 9.30am, which has continued all day. Still, I'd rather be here in the rain than back home.

The view towards Mont Blanc from Argentiere (it's behind the cloud in the cetre of the photo).