Top tables: Foodie resorts in the Alps
Fondue used to be as sophisticated as it got in ski resorts. But now Michelin-starred chefs are making the mountains gourmet destinations
It's worth getting as much skiing as possible done in the morning in Zermatt, as the temptation to linger over lunch in a mountain restaurant is huge. The most glamorous is Chez Vrony, a farmhouse in the Findeln sector that was transformed into a family restaurant 100 years ago. The terrace, with views of the Matterhorn, is decked out in branded deckchairs and blankets, the staff wear Kjus uniforms and you find yourself musing: "Hmmm, the tagliatelle with black truffles or the rosti with foie gras?" Zum See, in the Furi area, is marginally more homespun, with traditional Swiss croute au fromage and soups a speciality. But you can still order oysters and champagne – this is Zermatt, after all.
St Moritz is best known for fur-coated shoppers visiting high-fashion outlets and crazy sporting endeavours such as polo on the frozen lake and the Cresta Run skeleton ride. However, the many luxury hotels also house great restaurants, be it The K at the Kulm, where new chef Mauro Taufer, who arrived in November 2016, displays his training in France and Italy in classic dishes, or the Asian-influenced Stars at the Nira Alpina in neighbouring Sulej, which is part of the small Nira group of hotels. Once a year, as part of the St Moritz Gourmet Festival, these restaurants host high-profile guest chefs from a featured country. The 2015 UK edition featured fish specialist Nathan Outlaw, Atul Kochhar from Benares and the Clove Club's Isaac McHale, while last year's Japanese festival starred Nobuyuki Matsuhisa. This year, from 30 January to 3 February, Daniel Humm, chef of New York's Eleven Madison Park – number three in the 2016 World's 50 Best Restaurants – heads up a list of top US chefs. The 2018 guest nation will be announced in July 2017.
Across the provinces of Trentino and Sud Tirol, the resorts of the Dolomites are pleasurable on the palate, presenting a pleasing range of colours and dramatic vistas. Norbert Niederkofler, chef of two Michelin-starred St Hubertus at the Hotel Rosa Alpina in San Cassiano, organises the Gourmet Ski Safari each year. He invites some of his similarly high-powered friends from the valley (Matteo Metullio from Hotel Ciasa Salares, the youngest Italian chef ever to earn a Michelin star), around Italy (Giancarlo Morelli from Pomiroeu in Monza) and further afield (Esat Akyildiz from the Ritz-Carlton in Almaty, Kazakhstan), to cook a special dish each in mountain restaurants around the Alta Badia ski area. After a launch event in December, when the chefs cook in person, the guest chefs train the mountain hut's chef to cook the dish throughout the season.
This ski resort on the Italian side of the Monte Bianco tunnel, as they call it there, is never short of foodie fulfilment – one highlight is the vitello tonnato (sliced veal in tuna sauce) at Maison Vieille, one of the great mountain-top party restaurants. But from 17 to 20 March, the level of cuisine is raised to stellar levels, when Heston Blumenthal hosts the annual Mountain Gourmet Ski Experience. A keen skier, the kitchen daredevil joined forces with specialist tour operator Momentum Ski in 2014 to curate an unusual culinary experience, challenging friends Marcus Wareing and Sat Bains to cook dinners in mountain huts, while he rustled up such treats as a hot chocolate with a kirsch cloud. He has shaken up the formula each year and, for 2017, two new chefs – Claude Bosi of Hibiscus, London, and multiple restaurateur Jason Atherton – will join the Nottingham maverick Bains.
No list of foodie ski resorts would be complete without including Megeve. Between 1999 and 2005, it was the home of the three-star La Ferme de Mon Pere, the first restaurant to receive a 20/20 Gault Millau rating. Marc Veyrat's molecular cuisine, using local foraged ingredients such as mountain herbs, hay and wild flowers, set the tone for the best contemporary food in the Alps. With Veyrat now retired due to ill health, the current restaurant, of the same name, has failed to match its success, but the baton has been passed to Veyrat's former sous-chef Emmanuel Renaut at three Michelin-starred Les Flocons de Sel and Restaurant Le 1920, where Yannick Alleno-trained Julien Gatillon runs the kitchen.
Rivalling and arguably surpassing Megeve for the French Alps's culinary crown is Courchevel. The valley's total of 12 Michelin-starred restaurants puts it in the top 20 gourmet "cities" in Europe and the chefs cover the gamut. The veteran Michel Rochedy, with his wife Maryse, bought a small chalet in 1963 and transformed it into the four-star hotel Chabichou, gathering two Michelin stars on the way. Dishes such as the Savoie apple – foie gras shaped and glazed with emerald-green cider aspic, served with eel – prove he still has the magic 54 years on. Coming up on the rails is Francois Moureaux, the young chef proprietor of Azimut. This restaurant at the foot of the valley in Le Praz looks unprepossessing from the outside, but the dishes brilliantly combine mountain classics with exotic twists, such as leg of hare with a cocoa sauce or veal with liquorice. Most remarkably, despite winning his first Michelin star, Moureaux refused to put his prices up and you can still have a three-course lunch for €35 (around £30). Another Michelin-starred chef in Courchevel – at least from time to time – is Angela Hartnett of Murano in London. Her Cucina Angelina in Courchevel Moriond (aka 1650) serves many of her Italian favourites with a Savoyard remix – perfect winter warmers. Mention should also be made of La Bouitte, two valleys away, just above St-Martin-de-Belleville. The three Michelin-starred restaurant with rooms – with father and son chefs Rene and Maxime Meilleur at the helm – is a must-book treat, which you can ski to and from in a day from Courchevel.
Kitzbuhel & Kirchberg
The home of the Hahnenkamm, the world's toughest downhill ski race, has always had good mountain huts serving hearty food to hungry skiers. But when ex-racer Ivan Marzola took over the oldest mountain lodge in the resort, the Sonnbuhel, he set the bar higher, hiring chefs who'd trained in the best restaurants in Italy and under Ferran Adria to reinterpret mountain food entirely. In nearby Kirchberg, Rosengarten is a boutique hotel built around chef Simon Taxacher's ultra-modern interpretation of French-Mediterranean cuisine.
Renowned as a raucous party town – the village has outlawed ski boots after 8pm to deter protracted apres ski drinking – there is another, chicer side to the resort's nightlife. In the elegant surroundings of the five-star hotel Trofana Royal, Michelin-starred chef Martin Sieberer presents sumptuous and artistic creations with playful elements. At Hotel Yscla's Stuva restaurant, there's a more youthful, contemporary and cosmopolitan feel to 28-year-old Benjamin Parth's cooking, bringing in flavours such as Asian spice and Japanese mushrooms. There's also a branch of Innsbruck's Lucy Wang sushi restaurant in town.
CHRIS MADIGAN is a food and travel writer who was deputy editor of the Daily Mail Ski Magazine and is now a regular contributor to The Telegraph's ski coverage. His best meal in the mountains was the midnight bowl of spaghetti and Dolmio eaten at a friend's house in Switzerland after they got lost in a blizzard in the backcountry for five hours.