After turning over a new leaf in my world of physical fitness by embarking on a hiking trip to Chamonix, France, I found myself in a much needed yoga class. Lying on my back, I listened to the woman guiding the practice as she talked about how when we are children things are magical. In our youth, our minds are untainted and open to magical moments. As we become adults, magic seems to be harder to believe in, and our minds become more closed. As a tear trickled down the side of my cheek, my being was filled with happiness, and I was overcome with the realization that my magical moments began in my adult life.
After a long journey, our first steps through the town of Chamonix, France, were nothing less than magical for me. It had been a while since we had ventured to a European mountain town, and I was just as awe struck as the first time.
The town is literally engulfed in mountains. Every where you look you are drawn into the spectacular view of snow capped mountain peaks. The heart of the town consists of a few blocks dotted with patios, cheese and charcuterie shops and patisseries. The only signs of modern day living are a Subway and a McDonalds. The streets are filled with people meandering about peering into shop windows and walking dogs of all types and sizes. People sip café on outdoor patios, rain or shine, chatting away. Even the most skeptical personality would have a hard time resisting the charm and romanticism that engulfs the air. I felt like I had stepped back in time.
Jet lagged and dazed, we wandered through the town and found a covered patio to shelter ourselves and watch the rain fall. As I sipped red wine, I found myself watching all the people milling about and was quickly and completely lost in the moment.
In a place like this, daily life takes on a new meaning. I loved being able to stroll leisurely through the town and carefully select items to compose a perfect picnic. The fromage et charcuterie shops provide walls of cheese, hanging legs of prosciutto, and baskets of sausages infused with a multitude of herbs and spices. The patisseries offer glass cases brimming with edible works of art including macaroons, chocolates, croissants, and tarts. A carefully composed picnic of such fresh ingredients is a very rewarding experience. Even more so if you are able to enjoy it on a peak where you have both earned your picnic and the view.
During the course of our stay, we enjoyed an abundance of French culinary delights. I am quite certain that I ate at least my own weight in cheese. French cheese may be one of the most spectacular things on earth. After our first big hike, we found ourselves at a cozy little table decked out with a miniature heating lamp, an enormous block of raclette, and a platter of charcuterie. The raclette is perched on the device directly beneath the heater. The idea is to scrape off the cheese as is melts and to pair it with meat, bread and potatoes. Then of course, there is the fondue, which is simply another form of dousing everything into melted cheese. I think my favorite fondue of this trip was the Fondue Royale, which was an enormous pot of melted cheese mixed with champagne. Needless to say, we quickly found ourselves enjoying many forms of the most amazing fromage. A new discovery for me was the dessert which consists of a soft, white cheese and either local honey (in this case, miel de la montagne) or fruit sauce. It was nothing less than amazing that I came back home the same weight as when I left. I think the hiking saved me.
Of course, all of this dining must be accompanied with the appropriate beverage. I relied on James who has become increasingly good at selecting red wines. We also enjoyed the local beer and the strong and robust café. For me, the most enjoyable part of partaking in a beverage in a French mountain town is the aspect of human interaction that always accompanies it. Weather it be vino, beer, café, or any other liquid in a glass, the social interaction around the taking of a beverage is very strong. The patios are occupied seven days a week, and especially around the time of happy hour. It is a part of every day for people to meet up and catch up. In a place like this, I always find that my internal being simply slows down. It becomes natural to take meals slower, to sip drinks slower, to sit on a patio and people watch, and to socialize more both with the people that I am with, and with other patio goers. In a place like this, you would never be rushed out of a restaurant or a café. A single beverage could take hours.
Part of the magic in place like this is the complete lack of feeling rushed. As my soul is infused with fresh mountain air, and my being finds a slower pace, I find a deeper connection with myself. Naturally this results in some very valuable reflection, and a deeper connection with James. Sitting on a patio, or listening to music in our room with a mountain view, topics would surface out of the wood work. We would find ourselves reflecting on our life together, and how we got to this point. It is so easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of business life back home. In a place like Chamonix, all thoughts of a schedule vanish, and my entire being is allowed to move into a completely different space.
Another ingredient in the magical atmosphere is the architecture. Typical of Europe, things don’t have to be new. Everything doesn’t have to look the same. The architecture is interesting, quaint and beautiful. I found myself walking through the same street many times and seeing something new each time.
This interesting blend of culture, and the general romanticism of the town naturally results in very unique places and experiences. Chamonix is a particularly busy hub that is host to many different people and cultures. Thus, we experienced a host of wildly different spots. We frequented The Pub, which did attempt to look like a typical pub, but was still lost in the French quaintness of Chamonix. This was the place where people gathered to watch football (soccer) matches. As we happened to be there during Euro Cup, this was a busy spot. After dinner one evening and in search of a digestif, we wandered into The Social Club. This place is almost beyond description. Tall, elegant candles were the main source of lighting, creating a cozy and warm setting. The place was decorated with old, beautiful antiques. The service was classy and of the upmost quality. As I sipped a cognac based cocktail from a silver goblet, and James enjoyed an old fashioned infused with local Genepi, we were engulfed in a tiny world all its own. One evening we dined in a lovely restaurant, decorated like an old cottage with rows of hanging copper pots, strings of cow bells, pictures of snow capped mountains, and old newspaper clippings of mountaineers achieving great summits. Places like this are almost indescribable.
Being swept away by the romanticism of this gem of a town, I was reminded that my magical moments started in my adult life. The magic for me came when I got married and my husband introduced me to little European mountain towns. After all these years, it was even more magical to feel as swept away as I did the first time I saw such a place.