A World Within Another World...
Last December, we decided to retreat from the city for Valentine's Day week this February. As we browsed the internet, we discovered a place that appeared to be an isolated bubble, a world inside another world. Within the bubble there was a picturesque Inn on a small peninsula extending into the silvery waters of Lake Annecy in the Haute-Savoie region of France.
The Lake was filled with pure clear waters that flowed gently as if bowing at the feet of the enormous Alpine mountains not far from the border with Switzerland.
We chose this spot, one that stood out as if in a fairy tale. We drove over six hours, with a brief stop by the highway for some cheese, fruit, and hot coffee with milk, with which we had filled our sturdy thermos before leaving home. When we finally arrived at the Auberge, we were welcomed by two young men, one who handled our luggage, and the other one who kindly parked our tired car Evie. When we checked in,
the hostess offered us a complimentary cocktail in either the bar or our room. As we were eager to see our suite, we chose the latter. The suite was enormous, and the covered terrace off the bedroom was inviting, with a table and two chairs. There was even a generous bowl of fresh and dried fruits offered to snack on.
From every window in each room we savoured the views we had dreamt of finding here in this Alpine wonderland. We soon discovered that being a guest in the Auberge du Père Bise is an experience both of embracing the environment and of being embraced by seasonal elements of all varieties. The decor was a mixture of
shades of blue, tan, stone, and creamy white that echoed the waters and the mountains and everything in between. In the bay of Talloires, mysterious clouds of white and charcoal, creeping mists, a distant full moon,
a few icy raindrops, heavenly azure blue skies, powdered sugar mountainsides, dense white snowcaps, and even the occasional brilliant sun took turns dazzling our senses of sight and touch. At the core of this blessed valley was every variety of natural artistry and serenity.
Ted had arranged for a bouquet of flowers for the room, and we put away our belongings and freshened up a bit with the help of our citrusy drinks. After the empty luggage and racks were removed from the room, we headed to the lounge/bar to have a light supper and a glass of wine while looking out over the lakeside and the gardens of the hotel.
The Auberge du Père Bise is an Inn and restaurant staffed by considerate and kind hands, alert eyes, and sensitive ears. Breakfasts were a combination of buffet favorites with eggs and French Toast made to order. After the first morning, the manager of the dining room remembered and delivered our coffee, just as we each liked it. With rain still threatening, we took that opportunity to walk the grounds around the hotel.
For our final evening, we reserved a table at the fabulous degustation restaurant with Michelin Star Chef, Jean Sulpice, and his wife, o o presented nearly a dozen courses including the appetizers for apéro with champagne and after dessert delicacies and handmade chocolates. Both Ted and I wondered if Jean Sulpice had been inspired by the Kaiseki tradition of the great Japanese Masters who serve
many small portions of a variety of imaginatively created courses with each one plated on its own specially composed dish, heated or chilled to perfection to maintain the correct temperature.
When Chef Jean Sulpice himself, in his white coat, paid us a visit at our table near the end of the meal, we asked him about what had inspired this array of delicacies and the multitude of original plates upon which each one was served.
Sulpice expressed his delight that he had been able to excite our taste buds with his seasonal dishes, each inspired by his dedicated and lifelong exposure to his native countryside in this particular region of France. Above and below the water, in the heart of the forests and beyond the mountains, the rich and fertile environment of the Savoie had clearly nourished his natural born
culinary imagination. He came across as a young chef playing to the rhythm of nature, attentive to the changes of season, and driven by an inextinguishable curiosity. Chef Sulpice carries his individual exploration of his home territory toward what one might
consider to be an exciting and infinite extreme. He seems as if on a constant quest for purity of ingredients and is more than happy to tell his story at the tables of his guests guests. To indulge in an evening at his restaurant is a real joy and an opportunity to follow the route of a fantastic epic that is anchored in his reality.
In each dish, it might be said that we discovered the wonders of the path that lies
between lakes and mountain pastures. We were also stimulated to research the culinary history of this restaurant. In 1903, Marie and François, known as “Les Père” Bise, turned a simple drinking establishment into a modest Inn on the shores of Lake Annecy.
These first basic steps, and the atmosphere that this couple created, enabled their son, Marius, to turn this original place of hospitality from a quaint Auberge in 1928 into a refined hotel. Marius' wife Marguerite, who officiated in the kitchen, became one of the first three women to win three stars in the Michelin Guide in 1951, the first to be published after WWII. These three female chefs became known as the "Three Lyon Grandmothers”. And, by the way, Marguerite’s middle name just happened to be Valentine!
Following her death, her son Francois Bise became head chef at Auberge du Père Bise, and he also won three Michelin stars for the restaurant in the 1970s. The restaurant remained in the family for another generation, when Marguerite's granddaughter Sophie Bise became head chef. More recently it was purchased by French chef Jean Sulpice, who aimed to serve a new menu influenced
by Marguerite's traditional dishes that won the attention of the Michelin Guide and its Inn met the qualifications of the coveted group of hotels and restaurants, Relais & Châteaux. Of course, the Inn has been expanded and boasts luxurious suites and a spa complete with an indoor pool.
As for the sights to be explored in the town of Annecy, We were fortunate to have a partly-sunny day to explore the old quarter with its famous Basilique St. Francois de Sales et Ste. Jeane de Chantal; a Chateau built in the style of a medieval
fortress on the top of the hill within the city; and many beautifully preserved pastel-colored buildings on each side of the canals and pedestrian lanes that have earned this town its reputation as “The Venice of France."
We were also gleeful to have a bright day to end our stay at the Auberge, and to take a long and steep detour up the mountains above the Talloires, and all the way back to the Autoroute and
an extra-long trip back to Paris with stop and go traffic (more of the first than of the later), due to a serious car crash just outside of Paris, or so our Waze GPS declared. When we arrived home, dog-tired, our Mickey was happy to see the both of us and he has slept soundly with us each night since our return, AT HOME AND IN PARIS!.