A daytrip to that mountain would be a must for my tour guests. It was one of the most breathtaking moments of my year in the Franche-Comte region and I absolutely had to offer that to guests of my boutique tour company.
Over the years Francis and I have gone back there many times. Sometimes with an aunt or his mother, other times with guests from abroad and once with the grandmother who had taken him skiing here when he was young.
Everyone loved it.
But, for my tour company, I wanted to kick things up a notch. It was a great place to visit but I wanted it to be a truly exceptional experience.
The chalet restaurant where we usually ate was not, in my mind, exceptional. But, when we’d gone with his grandmother, her balance wasn’t up for a hike along the cliffs. Instead, she was nostalgic for a restaurant.
When Francis had been a child, he’d spent ski vacations at the little apartment his grandparents bought in the village at the foot of the ski-slope. So this grandmother knew of a special place to eat, also hidden away at the mountaintop.
It wasn’t easy to find, though once we got close enough the restaurant had put up a few little signs at various intersections of the otherwise unmarked gravel roads.
As we rolled up, it appeared in view: a big dark farm-like mountain chalet with a tractor in the back and a swing set on the side. To me, it didn’t look particularly promising.
We entered a dimly lit space with rustic hewn wood, probably dark with age. It was smoky. There was lively chatter.
Then we were seated.
We walked through the front room where a man was grilling all kinds of meats over an open fire flanked by statues of morel mushrooms. It looked like duck and beef and pork, there was meat on shishkabab sticks and more. The hostess apologized that they were rather full, if we’d had reservations we could have sat there. We rounded the wall with the grill.
On the other side of the wall was a bigger open chimney with the embers of a fire glowing and crackling. She seated us at the thick wood table just in front of it.
I peered into the embers. Around the edges, there were dozens of little balls wrapped in aluminum foil. His grandmother caught the direction of my gaze and offered the simple explanation, “potatoes”.
We started with the house fois gras served in a little French canning jar with the lid flipped open, the kind with a wire gasket. It was delicious.
The chalet had started out serving hikers, snowshoers and skiers. It became a favorite among the locals and now serves snowmobilers, mountain bikers and people who drive from surrounding cities just to enjoy an afternoon in the countryside. The owner dropped by our table and explained that he had loved this place as a boy, and it had always been his dream to own it… so now he did. He was struggling to get the roads plowed in the winter to broaden his business.
We’d each ordered a different meat. The server assured us that everything was a good choice because they only sourced the best meats, preferably local ones. And while the meat was being grilled, we had a croute de champignons, toasted bread covered with sautéed morels. Again, delicious.
I was full.
The main course was a very generous portion of whichever meat we each chose, for me it was duck breast, served with some of the potatoes that were roasting beside us. My duck was so smoky and gently charred on the outside that I swooned with delight when I sliced it open and found it was a beautiful deep red, perfectly rare and bathing itself in sumptuous juice.
I was really full.
But, there is always room for dessert. So, I shared a slice of blueberry tarte with Francis which came with two slices of lemon, “for afterwards”, the server winked. We tasted the tarte, it too was delicious.
I was really, really full.
Satisfied with the meal, pleased with the luscious tarte, Francis flashed me a blueberry-stained smile. I laughed and he gasped, “your teeth!”
We each ate our lemon and our teeth returned to normal, like magic.
That restaurant was where I wanted to take my tour guests.
Strolling along the cliff just to take in the beauty and then hopping in the car to drive to the restaurant was fine. But I wanted to offer another option that tied the two together, because I suspected I might host some guests who would enjoy a longer hike.
I looked in hiking guides in local bookstores, and scoured the French internet. I learned that the cliff front path was part of the number five Great Footpath (or GR5: Grande Rondonner in French) which starts in at the North Sea in the Netherlands and crosses Belgium, Luxembourg and France to end at the Mediteranean! Of all the long distance trails in Europe, this one is considered one of the most beautiful thanks to the Alps and this sub-alpine region.
Finally, to my delight, I discovered there was a little local hiking path leading between the chalet and the cliffs. Now I could offer my guests the option of a long hike, or a pleasant ride depending on their preference. Perfect!