New developments in the Grand Massif for 2017-8 Season.

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We're super excited with all the developments happening up the hill.  During the summer, there's been helicopters flying & construction teams busy at work, before the ski domain opens on 9th December.  

The Coulouvrier Bowl

There's a whole new ski field opened up in the Coulouvrier Bowl,  between Samoëns and Morillon.  

A new fast 6-seater chairlift will service the bowl, rising from 1,200m to 2,120 at the top of Tête de Saix.  The 2,850m to the summit mean it'll be the longest chairlift of its type in Europe, and it's only 10 minutes to get to the top!  Moving 3,000 people per hour, its a nice fast way to get to the top.

Two new blue runs down to the lift are being added for this coming season, and two more red ones in 2018/9.  And there's 70 new snow canons in this new area, increasing snow-sureness.

Relieving congestion at the top of Tête de Saix

Regular visitors will be familiar with the 'mountain rush hour congestion' on the run home to Samoëns towards the end of day.  The top of Tête de Saix used to get quite busy as skiers funnelled down a couple of key access pistes.  During the summer, the top has been, well, flattened a bit, and pistes remodelled to relieve the congestion.  It also means some amazing 360 degree alpine vistas from that top vantage point.  

Improved snow making in Flaine

A new 110,000 reservoir is being created to feed the snow canons - its a 10x increase on the existing capacity - so quite a step up.  The design for the Veret reservoir carefully integrates the development into the natural landscape.

Green Globe

Back in autumn 2016, the Grand Massif was awarded “Green Globe” status - the first ski resort to gain this accreditation for all of its services - lifts, pistes & associated management. 

 

Thai curry in the Alps...

We've been mega-busy over the winter season, and blog posts kinda fell by the wayside.  But the snow has disappeared (well, from the village level at least) and spring is in full flight, so I'm back on it.  Quite a few guests have asked if we'd share some recipes of their favourites from this season, so that seems like a good place to start the 2017 blogging activity!

Our menus were quite an international this season - we figured that guests have lots of traditional alpine melted-cheese options on the mountain, so we'd offer up something different. 

Back in London a few years ago, I attended a series of Thai cookery lessons, as I just fell in love with the fresh-zingy flavours of thai food.   After laboriously making a thai curry paste from scratch with a pestle & mortar, our tutor informed us that Thai people generally don't bother making it home, as the shop-bought stuff is actually really good, pretty much the same as they'd make at home, but with considerably less bother.  So I've taken that to heart, and use thai paste from the Asian food store (not the jar of 'sauce' from the supermarket though - that really is cheating - and it tastes bland!).  

Here's our Thai Curry recipe, originating from Su at the Northfields Thai cookery school (sadly long since shut), and adapted a bit to our preferred vegetables.  Its easy to make vegan - just miss out the meat and add more of your favourite veg, and substitute a generous pinch of salt for the fish sauce.  

Make it your own... switch out the chicken for beef, prawns, or my favourite, mussels :).  Do let us know your favourite riff on the theme!

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Thai curry  (serves 6, or 4 if you've spent all day skiing and are famished.  Or are my husband)

Ingredients

  • Sunflower/rapeseed oil - 2 tablespoons
  • Thai curry paste (red or green) - 2 tablespoons
  • Fish sauce - 4 tablespoons
  • Coconut milk - 3x 400ml cans - shake well before you open them
  • Jageree (or muscovado sugar) - 1 tablespoon
  • Aubergine - 1/2 average sized one - chopped into 2cm chunks
  • Courgette - 1/2 average sized one - chopped into 2cm chunks
  • Mushrooms - 8 button-sized ones - sliced or quartered
  • Chicken - 2 breasts - sliced into strips 'against the grain' so they absorb the sauce and swell 
  • Kaffir lime leaves - 3 leaves - remove the spine - and slice the rest into thin strips
  • Red chilli pepper - sliced into thin strips, about 1/2cm wide
  • Thai basil leaves 
  • Coriander leaves

Method

  • Assemble all the ingredients first.  Get everything chopped and ready to hand before you turn the heat on under the wok.
  • Gently heat the oil in the wok (or pan)
  • Keeping the heat low, stir in the curry paste until the oil & paste are combined
  • Add the fish sauce and wait for it to evaporate, probably about a minute or so
  • Add the first can of coconut milk, stirring to combine and create an even colour throughout
  • Add the remaining coconut milk, increase the heat and bring to the boil
  • Add the jageree
  • Taste the sauce: if you think it needs more saltiness, add more fish sauce. If you think it needs to be sweeter, add more jageree.  Experiment with refining the seasoning until you hit your desired balance of the two.
  • Reduce the heat so that the mixture is gently simmering, add the vegetables, pop the lid on, and keep simmering for 10 minutes or so.
  • Add the chicken and continue to simmer for 8-10 minutes
  • Test that the chicken is completely cooked (remove a piece and slice it - it should opaque all the way through)
  • Stir in the kaffir lime leaves leave on the heat for a just minute to let the flavours infuse
  • Remove from the heat.  Sprinkle with your garnish of choice - I like to vary it between thai basil & coriander.  And I always add a couple of slices of chilli pepper... but experiment to find your own perfect combination!

A gardening round up...

As autumn is drawing in, we're tidying up the garden and getting ready to put it to bed ahead of the winter snowfall. And we've been reflecting on what's worked in the making of a new garden, and what's not.  Its been an interesting first horticultural season for us in the Alps.  Its hard to believe now, that this time last year, the garden was an enormous mud-bath where the building contractors parked their trucks.

The transformation started back in May, when we put down the turf.  An expensive way of getting a lawn, but quick and effective.  We had to put the sprinkler on it during the summer months, as the alpine summer has been a corker, and without the additional drink, the not-yet-established turf would have turned to straw.  We lost a few edges on the turf where it curled up, but they've been replanted with seed and are filling in nicely.  Its been interesting to see the difference in the lawn that gets some shade from the sun from the sunflowers, to that section that gets no shade and dries out quicker.  Another reason to love the sunflowers.

The sunflowers went in as a quick-filler to create some screening from the road.  Although we've planted a dog-wood hedge, it'll take a while to mature, and we needed something in the meantime. They've been quick to grow, and just beautifully cheerful to have around. We planted some different varieties, some with single big flower heads, and some multi-flowered varieties. Its meant we've had flowers from July till October.  And the bees have just loved them - there's always a few bees feasting on the pollen.  Sadly the dog-woods haven't grown as vigorously as we'd hoped, so they've just had a good feed, aiming to get the last out of the growing season.

We put some other 'fillers' in along the roadside border, with mixed success. I'd tried to find bronze fennel to grow for the beautiful feathery foliage, but no joy. Instead I picked up some bog-stand bulb fennel at the market, which has been better than expected. Some we've eaten (its great on the hot-rock, served with melted raclette cheese), and some we've left to enjoy the foliage and lovely big umbellifer flowers.  I'm on the hunt for the bronze fennel next year though. On the lower storey, the brown leaves of heucheras have been beautiful, and they've established well. Similarly, ladies mantle self-seeds in abundance here, so I've been moving blocks of it from unwanted places to fill in some of the gaps as its good ground cover. I experimented with a 'melange' of stocks from the market... they were truly horrendous. The colours looked like an explosion in a 1970s kodak factory, and the whiff of municipal planting was just too great.  We won't be doing that one again.  

The shrubbery around the back of the fire pit seems to have gotten off to a good start, but really needs to mature into itself - its still a bit sparse looking.  There's red and white currants, lavenders, a smoke-bush, and a forsythia, all on the bank.  Right at the back, the multi-stemmed birch has settled into its 'corner marker' position nicely, but the red acer palmatum hasn't really thrived.  The total star of the show for that corner of the garden though, is the chocolate cosmos.  I put it in as a bit of a punt - I love the chocolate scent - and the brown flowers should sit well with some of other brown foliage plants in that space.  It has thrived - its twice the size it was when it went in during June, and its still flowering now in October.  

The potager has kept us in veg all through the summer.  We've enjoyed beans, cucumbers, pumpkins galore, lettuce, strawberries, chard, spring onions, leeks, thyme, basil, chives... and of course, courgettes. I exercised restraint and only planted two courgettes.  The regular shaped, but yellow fruited one, was prolific.  At the height of summer we were picking a courgette every two days.  The other one, with round fruits, was less successful. Either we picked them too soon, and they were rock solid, or we left it too long and they were bland and squishy.  And we lost quite a few of the fruits.  We'll give that one a miss next year.

The wildflower meadow bank has been an unmitigated disaster though.  We carefully hand weeded the bank and pulled out the bindweed & couch grass (or so we thought).  The lower parts of the bank were planted with fritillaries, gentians, lemon balm & saxifrage to give some instant life, and the rest and sowed the wildflower mix.  We got some beautiful cornflowers, nigella, honesty, californian-poppies & some triffid-like cosmos.  But the whole thing got over-ran with bindweed, and various other alpine meadow weeds that I didn't recognise.  Attempts at weeding it were fruitless, as each time I climbed the bank to tackle it, I'd trample some of the wildflowers.  That element definitely needs a rethink before next year.  After seeing the beautiful wildflower meadow planting by the Lac aux Dames in Samoëns, I'm not giving up on the wildflower meadow just yet, but we need a different planting mix.  I've got some seeds for more grasses to go into the mix for next year.  Lets see if that makes a difference.

So, plans for next year's garden.  Pretty much the same again with the potager I think, and the sunflower roadside border.  There's a long border around the back of the chalet, that separates us from the meadow behind.  Try as we might, the natural flora is going to keep encroaching into the flower bed, so I'm thinking to go for a Piet Oudolf inspired prairie-planting style, with plenty of tall grasses with movement, and purple-themed flowers.  There's a beautiful purple salvia in there at the moment that's done well, so as long as I can over-winter it and get some successful cuttings from it, I think that'll be the repeated colour/flower presence in that border next year.  I'd really like to lay hands on some acanthus (bears breeches)... I think it'll go well here.  We used to have some in the garden at Ealing, its upright spikes were rugged and majestic.  I haven't seen any in the garden centre though, so I'm on the look out for anyone doing an divisions on theirs, as it propagates easily.

Walking: La Bourgeoise

A nice easy stroll, with an impressive view.  Perfect for a baking hot Sunday afternoon.  It's route #10 in our guide book, and the first of our challenge to walk up all the "Septimontains" - the seven mountains around Samoëns (and co-incidentally, the local name for inhabitants of Samoëns).

The easy way to summit La Bourgeoise is to start from the Col de Joux Plane.  For us, that means sticking the dog in the car and driving up, but for an astonishing number of locals, it means donning the lycra and cycling uphill.  It's amazing zigzag route up the mountain, with jaw dropping views down to the valley. And at this time of year, just a few weeks before the Tour de France comes through, it's cyclists that out number cars on the road,  easily 10:1. 

There's a car park at the summit, and it's easy to pick up the signposted path to La Bourgeoise summit.  We encountered plenty of cows, which terrified Denis the dog.  We're not sure if it's their size, or the loud cow bells clanging, but the poor boy wouldn't shift, so The Sidster carried him past the (perceived) danger.  The cows seem quite at home on really quite steep slopes - quite the mountain goats. 

It's an easy walk, on a clearly marked path, right across to the summit.  We had a pretty clear day, and Mont Blanc looked majestic (and white) in the background.  For me though, the fascinating thing is the view down into the Giffre valley.  Seeing the familiar road layouts & various hamlets from a different perspective is great.  A gentle reminder of how small we all are in the world around us.  But we did manage to spot our chalet with the binoculars.

Its about 35 mins to the summit, and 30 back (downhill) .  A great spot for a picnic, or the cafe by the lake (near the car park) does great coffee & cake, and the owners are super-friendly.

 

Bubbles

Woohoo.  Momentous day chez PureAlps... the hot-tub is in :)   

I'd been getting a bit anxious about the delivery itself, as we'd pressed ahead with getting the turf down and the flower borders planted... And a 6 person hot tub doesn't easily fit up the garden path. But it was all very straight forward in the end.

Mr Simply-Spas, aka Simon, has a clever little spa trailer with mega bouncy wheels, and a Range Rover.  A quick reverse-in over the meadow, down the slope, planks over the lawn, and Robert's your mother's brother.   A nice controlled slide off the trailer and it's right at home on its base.  

We filled it up - just a couple of hours with a garden hose (thank goodness it's not with buckets, as some property management chums of ours needed to do this winter when an outside tap froze), and then overnight for the water to heat up to a toasty 38 degrees.  

With the hard landscaping work on hold pending the delivery of the rest of the slabs, it has a certain build-site ambience right now.  But what heck, we're going in :).