Andy Mossack takes a culinary tour of the Vercors plateau villages in the French Prealps.
Normally when you think of mountain cuisine, images of large plates of comfort food spring to mind. Keeping the body well fuelled for winter storage or physical excesses. But this is France remember, so quality food is a serious business. It helps too to remind ourselves that this particular corner of France, the Isère Department, has one or two culinary delights that are, what you might call, native to the region. Walnuts are almost revered in Grenoble, as is the delightful local herbal liqueur Chartreuse. But there are one or two other delicious items that play a central role up here on the Vercors Plateau; the wonderful blue cheese Bleu Du Vercors-Sassenage and the delightful ravioles, small parcels of pasta normally filled with Compte cheese and found in just about every restaurant throughout the Vercors.
So on my recent visit to Vercors, I managed to eat in most of the villages up on the plateau, uncovering some local eateries that deserve your attention should you ever find yourself in the neighbourhood.
Le Vernay, Autrans
Chef Aurore Isoard may be French, but from her time spent in Japan her love of Japanese gastronomy has transferred itself into her cooking. Not at all what you would expect to find in a remote French mountain village. A welcome surprise nonetheless. An amuse-bouche of delicate macaroon bases topped with grated lobster was a special way to kick off. A delicious starter of a bowl of freshly foraged bright yellow zucchini soup with a soft-boiled egg lying at its centre was a hint of what was to follow.
Japanese minced beef on a bed of soba noodles was another delicious medley that was in complete contrast to the tradition of the region. A citrusy soup of fresh fruit was a perfect finale.
3-course dinner €28
Le Vernay Restaurant
Auberge de la Croix Perrin, Autrans
This chalet-style hotel and restaurant with just the forest for company, has been a part of the local fabric since it began as a simple refuge house in 1888. Today it is a rather more stylish example of a mountain retreat and the restaurant is almost legendary.
It upholds the protection of the local environment in such high esteem it proudly lists each of its local suppliers for anything they can’t bake or provide themselves.
My dream starter of breaded camembert was followed by an epic plate of trout with purple potatoes. And who can resist a creamy panna cotta with red berries to finish? By the way, the pain au chocolat I had at breakfast the next morning was probably the finest I have ever eaten.
3-course dinner from €31
Auberge de la Croix Perrin
Les Hautes Plateaux Restaurant, Corrençon en Vercors
Lying at the gateway to the Reserve Naturelle des Hautes Plateaux, part of the largest protected reserve in France, this restaurant is effectively the clubhouse watering hole for the quite magnificent Golf de Corrençon en Vercors, one of the finest alpine golf courses on the planet. I plopped myself down on the sunny terrace after a strenuous 4-hour hike around the Reserve and tucked into a quite epic lunch.
The aforementioned ravioles were here of course, in the guise of gratin de ravioles du Royans, substituting the compte for the local bleu de vercors cheese and came with a green salad (€17) But if you like a large salad with all the trimmings, the Salad Royale will more than raise a few eyebrows. Laden with lettuce, local boiled eggs, smoked chicken breast, potatoes, mushrooms, walnuts and parmesan. (€16) If you have any room left for dessert, the locally foraged blueberry tart is a total showstopper. (€8)
Les Hautes Plateaux Restaurant
La Bohème, Autrans-Méaudre En Vercors
Set deep in the countryside amongst the dairy farms just off the via Vercors, La Bohème is a true taste of organic home cooking.
It’s a rustic cosy chalet that offers simple but delicious plates that change on a daily basis depending on what’s available locally. I stopped off there after a morning’s biking across the Via Vercors, 50 kilometres of green biking trails. I feasted on a just-baked salmon lasagne and made sure my energy levels were maintained with a heavenly slice of heavenly chocolate tart. 3-course lunch from €28
Le Clariant, Corrençon en Vercors
The only restaurant allowed within the Reserve Naturelle des Hautes Plateaux, Le Clariant has to generate its own power and light because any connections to a network are forbidden. The result is a magical night of eating in a room lit by flaming braziers, candles and a roaring log fire. There is something special about eating local raclette by candlelight in place so at one with Nature.
The restaurant is only open on selected nights, so reservations in advance are required. The Theatre Evening is not to be missed if your dates work. Artists and troubadours lead the way up to the restaurant performing all along the route through the forest. It is a 30-minute torch-lit walk back to Corrençon en Vercors. Full dinner menu excluding wine €39.
Other honorary mentions
There are some lively bars on the main square of Villard-de-Lans probably the busiest village on the plateau. Whilst, across the valley, through the jaw-dropping Gorges de la Bourne, the village of Pont-en-Royans with its extraordinary medieval hanging houses offers a very different visual experience. The Musee de l’eau chronicles the extraordinary importance water plays in our lives, particularly up here in mountain life. It has a restaurant that is well worth a visit, as well as a chance to taste different mineral waters from all over the world.
All images (C) Fiona Quinn and Andy Mossack
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