Rupert Parker gets a taste of the mountains at the Toquisimes Food Festival
I’ve always wanted to climb Mont Blanc but never had the time or the stamina. So sitting in the front seat of a tiny single-engine Musketeer, soaring among its pinnacles, is probably as close I’m going to get. The pilot tells me that the conditions are “impeccable”, and a recent snowstorm means the mountains are peak white against the blue sky. It doesn’t get any better than this.
These aerial acrobatics are an added bonus of my visit to Megève. The real reason I’m here is to attend their annual Toquesimes Food Festival which celebrates the joys of mountain food. For three days the sports complex, Le Palais de Megève, is transformed into a huge food market and there are also tastings, cookery demonstrations and gourmet lunches. I get to sample products delivered from the area’s local farms including cheeses like Reblochon, Beaufort, Tomme and Raclette.
Various restaurants around town offer special Menus Toquisimes for around €35 and a large tent on the main square is the venue for foodie competitions. If you want to know the winners of the best Pâté Pie, Mountain Soup or Chartreuse this is the place to be. The big-ticket is the Fondue contest, and a small but enthusiastic crowd watches as a panel of distinguished chefs taste and pronounce their verdict.
Megève, literally the village on the water, had been a quiet farming town until the 19th century when the parish priest, Father Ambroise Martin, had an idea. Inspired by what he’d seen in Italy, he came up with a scheme to erect 15 chapels and oratories depicting the stations of the cross, on the slopes above the town. Work took place between 1840 and 1878 and this Megève Calvary began to attract pilgrims to the “Savoyard Jerusalem”. So much so that hotels and lodging houses were built to accommodate them, preparing the town for tourism.
After WW1, Baroness Noémie de Rothschild was looking to establish a ski resort in France as a rival to Switzerland’s St. Moritz. She bought a huge area of land in Megève and, with her husband, Maurice de Rothschild, built the Mont d’Arbois in 1921, a luxury hotel equipped with an ice rink. More chalets followed and she went on to create the first cable car in 1933, an airfield and an 18-hole golf course.
By the 1950s, Megève was one of the most popular ski resorts in Europe and attracted many wealthy individuals and celebrities, including Jean Cocteau, Sacha Distel, Charles Aznavour and Brigitte Bardot. It features in the 1963 film Charade, where Audrey Hepburn’s Regina Lampert meets Cary Grant’s character and is still the playground of the rich and famous.
In spite of its celebrity, it’s also a thriving farming town as I discover when I accompany a herd of cows down from their summer pastures. It’s a family affair with three generations taking part in the celebrations. They tell me they’re passionate about the quality of their milk and the excellence of the cheese they produce. In all, around 45 farms supply around 75 eateries including 35 mountain restaurants. Among the elite are its four Michelin-starred restaurants which boast a total of seven stars among them.
The Flocons de Sel is one of only 27 restaurants in France to hold the coveted three stars. Here Chef Emmanuel Renaut has an “eat local, build local” philosophy and he gets up early to forage for wild mushrooms and herbs. On the night I sample his food, there is plenty of porcini, truffles and other varieties peppered among the courses. Unlike a classic French menu, vegetables feature heavily including a delightful parsnip and beetroot gnocchi in a horseradish consommé.
Of course, if you’re going to indulge in fine dining, it pays to get some exercise. In the winter the ski slopes are justly renowned but you can keep fit in any season. An extensive network of mountain trails and cycle tracks circle the town so I set out on an e-bike. This makes light work of the hills and I’m soon staring at Mont Blanc in the far distance. Although I’ve already been close, I vow to come back – the next time with crampons and ice axe.
Tell Me More About Mountain Food In Megève
Megève has tourist information.
The next Toquicimes Festival takes place in October 2021.
Flights over Mont Blanc cost from £144 pp.
Philippe Sports hires bikes and skis.
The 5* Fermes de Marie has an excellent spa – £308 for a double room.
The 3* Coin du Feu has just been refurbished – £107 for a double room.
EasyJet has return flights to Geneva from London Gatwick from £47.
Return transfers from Geneva Airport to Megève cost from £90 pp based on two people sharing a vehicle.