While the streets of Paris are Piled High with Angry Protesters, Garbage, and Political Passions...
Thanks to our man Jeffrey, who spends nights and all of his free time with Mickey when we are away from home, we're on the road again, this time to escape the grève (the French term for general employee's strike) and the laborers' grievances about the rise in the retirement age from 62 to 64. We retired at 67 by saving some of our hard-earned dough. At the same time, the French employees indulged in lengthy paid vacations and countless holidays, and enjoyed their daily 'Cafe Society,' along with education and healthcare practically gratuit. Gorgeous Megève is the perfect antidote for the ghastly grève in Paris, entering its second week.
The French Alps surround this pristine village, all covered with white snow. The sunkissed blue heavens are a perfect contrast to the clouded skies and heaps of trash covering the sidewalks, inhabiting the streets, and clogging almost every porte cochere of what can be (and is much of the time) the most beautiful place in the world in which to live and work. When we took to the autoroute, we had high hopes that the government would resolve its disputes with the unions and bring order to the country once again by the time we returned in a week. In the meantime, I was delighted to be able to celebrate my birthday in a magical place that maintains its festive atmosphere including all of its extraordinary Christmas holiday decorations, including lights and pine trees,
great and small, on behalf of the skiers and shoppers that inhabit the village, night and day, through to the end of March. Megève is known as a village endowed with some of the most beautiful playgrounds for children as well as adults: ski stations with lifts, hot spring swimming pools, fashionable shops, gastronomical dining, spectacular spas, and luxurious hotels with a cozy look and feel of Swiss chalets, right out of a fairy tale . Endowed with a past and a unique heritage, I learned about the village's origins,
from the agricultural town to this famous ski resort, which today is still cradled between tradition and modernity. Before the advent of winter tourism, Megève was a peaceful agricultural village where the inhabitants benefited from the fertile and prosperous land. Megève originates from the Celtic name "Mageva," which means the village in the middle of the waters, ideally suited for agriculture and livestock farming. Very quickly, Megève became conducive to more sporting activities, such as hiking in Summer and skiing in Winter. The first tourists came to Megève in the 19th century. Many pilgrims frequented the 'Calvery Shrine,' laid out between 1840 and 1874 . The original Calvary was the holy skull-shaped mountain, Golgotha, where Jesus was crucified. The Calvery of Magève was practically the work of one man,
Father Ambroise Martin, the parish priest of Megève from 1820 to his death. Following a pilgrimage to Varallo in northern Italy, where he discovered a famed Sacro-Monte, the Curé Ambroise Martin decided to build a
Megève Golgotha to erase the stigmata of the French Revolution and revive the Megève people's sincere devotion. It is made up of fifteen chapels and oratories depicting the
stations of the way of the cross leading to Golgotha in Jerusalem. After the coming of the pilgrims, there was the arrival of the first tourists in search of fresh air. The village developed in small steps, with the support of the Rothschild family, until it became an internationally renowned resort for hiking in the Summer and skiing in the Winter, and today stands as a World Heritage Site. The story began in the 1920s, when Baroness Maurice de Rothschild, also called Baroness Noémie, discovered the village after an extended convalescent stay in St. Moritz, Switzerland. Bored with the place, she imagined the creation of a new winter sports station in France. On the advice of her ski instructor, she discovered M and the splendid panoramas visible from the plateau of the Mont d'Arbois, which dominated the village. This great site was worthy of rivaling the resorts of the Swiss Alps, and the Palace of Mont d'Arbois was born. The resort quickly became the preferred meeting place for the aristocracy and the world of finance and business.
We arrived after a seven-and-one-half-hour drive, with stops for coffee and sandwiches and a few minutes to stretch our legs on an 'aire de repos,' which is a French resting place of varying size along the Autoroutes, with picnic areas and toilettes (very well kept and with modern utilities and sanitary features). We also had one stop on an 'aire de service', complete with a gas station, some shops, one or more restaurants, sometimes a hotel, and extensive leisure facilities, including hiking trails. We were pooped when we arrived and were warmly greeted by the staff of our Hotel Mont Blanc Megeve, well recommended by nearly everyone we know in Paris. The first thing that caught my eye as we entered our room was a vase filled with yellow Daffodils from my loving husband, one for every year since the day of my birth.
The room was awesome and warm, with a large patio full of snow, a living room, a breakfast room off the patio, and a humungous bedroom with a soft king bed covered with what looked like the coat of a wooly mammoth.
There were two TVs (as if we were going to stay in the room to engage in such banal activities) and plenty of closets and dressers into which we could unpack and store our clothes. I was so tired, I just plunked down on the bed and nearly fell asleep until dinnertime.
Dinner at our hotel was fit for a gourmet. It was an assortment of Savoyard specialties. Restaurants in this domain highlight the best products to interpret the Savoyard culinary heritage, but not only. Thus, the cheese platter offers the only Brie de Meaux to benefit from a farm label, itself produced on a property belonging to the family of Baron Benjamin de Rothschild. Epicureanism is still expressed in the impressive wine list at the Restauant Relais in our Hotel Mont Blanc and other restaurants like La Ferme de Marie,
where the vintages of Baron Edmond de Rothschild's Wine Company are prominent. Appetites are hearty after a day of skiing. The famous journalist and mountaineer from Chambery, Mathilde Maige-Lefournier, was quoted in her 1920 article "Megève or the Glorification of Skiing" -- "I believe that Megève was created for skiing and skiing was invented for Megève." Neither Ted nor I ski, but seeing other visitors walking around like elephants in their heavy ski boots and carrying their skis and poles with broad smiles on their hungry faces was a delight. It made me hungry just watching them, whether they were on their way to the ski lifts or on their way back to the village for a well-earned meal. We spent a couple of days exploring the town and a day of shopping. Then we drove
to Chamonix for lunch one day to sit surrounded, at a much higher altitude, by several pristine, snow-laden peaks of breathtaking majestic beauty that I can't recall ever seeing in California.
It was nearly impossible to take my eyes off the grandeur of those astonishing Alpine giants, except perhaps to gaze at my husband's joyful face in the bright sunshine and the fresh cool air.
The sight of the final course of cheese and sweets
added to the excitement and the taste of the village. Chamonix-Mont-Blanc (usually shortened to Chamonix), is a resort area near the junction of France, Switzerland, and Italy in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes. "Siri, please play songs of the Auvergne sung by Kiri Te Kanawa," I requested for the occasion as we drove higher and higher toward an even loftier altitude befitting a soprano's voice. At the base of Mont Blanc, the highest summit in the Alps, is renowned for its skiing. Year-round, cable cars take visitors to several nearby peaks with panoramic views, including Aiguille du Midi above the town, and Pointe Helbronner, across vast glacial fields on the Italian border, not far from Milan. Many years ago, we stayed with friends in the Summer at their home in Thonon-le-Bain on the French shores of Lac Leman, just across the vast lake from Geneva. I remember the many day trips we took that year from their home to Geneva, Lucerne, Lausanne, Bern, and one overnight trip up the twisty road to Chamonix. The plan was to have dinner in the warm sunshine on the terrace outside our modest hotel, to bed down early, and to wake at the crack of dawn to take the cable cars up to the summit of Mont Blanc to enjoy the view. Surprisingly, when we opened our eyes in the morning, we found ourselves in the middle of a blizzard; the violent flurry of fresh snow now obliterated the cable car cape. We were saddened but thankful that we could soon drive back down the mountain. Our next day trip was to a place called Grande Roc, a commune on the French side of the lake, far above the resort town of
Evian (famous for its water). We had been invited to Ted's cousin's home high up in the mountains for a surprise dinner. Unlike the mild temperatures below, it was snowing on and off and lingered just below freezing on the Roc. We took great pleasure in helping to light up a pile of wood laid in the massive fireplace in the living room overlooking the lake and the Swiss coastline. It turns out that in 1291, Switzerland had become independent from the Holy Roman Empire (which was once said to be neither holy nor Roman) on August 1st, which was the very day we all sat bundled up in woolen blankets in the cold on cousin Deana's terrace. We watched the entire coastline and the mountains across the lake sparkling with fireworks for over two hours. It was the most spectacular Independence Day celebration we had ever witnessed in any country, anywhere! Now those memories seemed so near yet so far away as we found ourselves back in these same Alpine wonders, now in the late Winter but with the same cheerful sunshine warming the village as it had done in that Summer long ago.
We do hope to have more mountain vacations and fewer strikes at home in Paris in the future! À bientôt !