Chalet fever

Chalet fever

 

I’m sorry I haven’t posted in a while. Sometimes the best part of traveling is just taking a step back and not doing anything at all. Well, except maybe snowboarding.

And the not-so-catchily named  Chalet Pierra Menta 2 in La Plagne was the perfect place to do just that.

Having worked the last two ski seasons,  enviously watching guests suited and booted before 9am when I was about to go up and start cleaning their rooms, I was determined to finally make the most of being a punter.

I rolled out of bed to  cooked breakfasts, dragged my sleepy arse out onto first lifts and spent my days knee-deep in powder. Stopping occasionally for Tartiflette or Irish coffee.

By the time I made it back to the chalet at the end of the day (via the most deliciously powdery tree run) I barely had the energy to tuck into the lovely homemade cakes left out by our host, Holly. (I say barely, on the first day I definitely had three slices…)

Throw in a quick sauna before dinner, plus unlimited chalet wine and it soon became obvious that I would struggle to even see eleven o’ clock, never mind actually leave the chalet…

But the great thing about Chalet holidays is that you don’t even need to leave the chalet in order to socialize. Chalet set up means you have a little ready made squad just waiting for you around the dinner table. Ten-ish strangers from all walks life, who feel like family by the end of the week.

And I know this is a traveling cliché, but I think in a chalet even more so than in a hostel, you meet people that you wouldn’t otherwise encounter. I mean when would I ever meet a financial adviser? Even though geographically we come from the same place, I definitely feel like I have more common ground with the random hippies that populate most dorm rooms.

Yet sitting around the table with a group of men who on first impressions I had very little in common with, it was surprising to see how quickly we all clicked. Well, most of the time anyway. I made a conscious effort to avoid talking politics…

On that note, although it didn’t seem like it at the time, I actually chose the perfect week to lose my phone. Being cut off from civilization (i.e. the internet) meant that I was able to switch off from the world, and remain blissfully unaware of all the horrible things that were going on in the world (AKA Trump)

Having said that, losing a phone off piste is no picnic. While I knew the chances of getting it back were slim to none, and the chances of it actually working were even slimmer, I couldn’t help but try and comb the patch of powder in between the lift and the restaurant where I’d lost it…

If you’ve ever tried looking for a needle in a haystack, I can assure you, this was far, far  worse. Picture a frozen haystack. Made of quicksand. On a hill. And then imagine you’ve just snowboarded for over five hours without a snack (ok maybe there was one snack.)

Needless to say there is probably a marmot somewhere with a very shiny new toy.

Anyway despite that minor set-back I actually had a really perfect week. I only wore real shoes twice. And one of those times was to have a go on the Olympic bob-sleigh track!

I’ve always thought of chalet holidays as something that posh people do, and kind of scorned the whole idea of having everything arranged and done for you…But the truth is, it turned out to be a lot cheaper and a hell of a lot easier than organising it all ourselves.

Skibeat have some unbelievably cheap deals, especially if you book last minute during quiet weeks…I’m not great at planning ahead but I’m already trying to pencil in a few weeks next January!

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Courchev-Hell 1850…What’s the appeal?

Courchev-Hell 1850…What’s the appeal?

 

Reigning down on lesser villages from an actual elevation of 1747, it seems the so called Courchevel 1850 is  falling short of more than just 103m…

Atmosphere for a start…

While France is hardly renowned for the charm of its ski resorts, I have to say that I expected more from the ‘playground of the rich and famous’ than the grey, tired, purpose built blocks that greeted me upon my arrival to 1850. Arriving a week before the start of the season, I could have been forgiven for thinking that things would liven up in due course, however I soon came to realise that empty streets, and the feeling that something must be going on somewhere else, were the norm in what seemed to be more of a cemetery than a playground.

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Now imagine without the snow…

Having spent the previous winter in Alpe d’Huez, a smaller but infinitely livelier resort, the eerie calm on returning from the slopes after my first ride struck me as bizarre. Where were all the people? More importantly, where was the après?! For the first few days I searched in vain, roaming the town on a quest for wonderwall covers and pitchers of Mutzig. I quickly realised that all I was gaining for my efforts were dodgy looks and the dawning realisation that I’d just signed myself up for four months in purgatory.DSC_0078_1.JPG

After spending a few evenings nursing a glass of happy hour wine in the lovely- but- not-exactly- pounding Joe’s bar, I decided to bite the bullet and try the London-priced French bar l’Equipe. While I didn’t balk as much as my northern friend did at the prospect of 10€ for a spirit without a mixer, we certainly agreed that despite it being the liveliest place we’d discovered so far, this could not become a regular thing. Next on the trail was the Luge, a much more down to earth bar, bordering on normal if it weren’t for the fact that it was bizarrely placed in a shopping mall. It turned out that this placing wasn’t that strange after all, as the bar is marketed as ‘concept store, social life’ and is actually part of a shop selling everything you need to look like a try-hard on the slopes. While the staff were friendly and the dingy décor and ski videos made it almost feel like a seasonnaire bar, the fact that even the snowboards decorating the bar were for sale served as a constant reminder that everything in Courchevel 1850 has a price…

In one last desperate attempt to make a night of it, we decided to head to La Grange, the first nightclub to open for the season. While the posters plastered in the alley outside my room promised a seasonnaires welcome soirée, the bouncer’s expression suggested otherwise. As he gave me the once over with more sass than a high-school girl, he lingered disdainfully on my ski jacket and snow-boots before telling me that the club was full. By this point I was adamant that I wasn’t going anywhere, and proceeded to make his life difficult for the next twenty minutes as I slowly progressed from incredulous to enraged that I, as part of a group of young, not unattractive girls, was left to wait out in the cold, as a constant stream of middle aged and unsightly men were let into the apparently ‘full’ club. What was this parallel universe we found ourselves in? Eventually I think the bouncer either got sick of my shit, or realised that I was more of an eyesore in the entrance to the club than I would be hidden deep within its bowels and conceded defeat. We were in.

Having made it off the red carpet and into the club I had two instant realisations. The first was that there were more people in this room than I had seen so far in the whole of Courchevel. The second was that I was neither drunk enough nor rich enough to be there. There was not a scrap of ski gear in sight, and I was not about to pay the equivalent of a day’s wages to sip a drink under the withering gaze of girls with eating disorders. I had seen enough.

Time to branch out…

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Homely…

As well as the inauspicious greeting on the wall of my staff accommodation, (Welcom to hell, 666) my predecessor had also left me a clue in the form of a Funky Fox sticker left on my light fitting. After a quick google I learnt that the Fox was one the last bastions of seasonnaire life, promising cheap drinks, and fiiiiinally, live music. The only drawback was that the Fox, and as far as I could tell, anywhere else worth going, was down in 1650, or even lower. I also learnt that Courchevel 1850 used to have a great seasonnaire scene a few years ago, but pretty much all the reasonably priced bars had since been priced out by the arrival of the Russians and their luxury boutiques. While this did explain the disproportionate number of estate agents, I still struggled to grasp how this could have been allowed to happen, or more precisely, why.

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On Tuesdays we wear blue… Pretty much my only respectable photo of a night out from the season!

Having quickly conceded that Courchevel was not even slightly my scene, (quelle surprise…) I resigned myself quite happily to what I thought would be a quiet season to focus on my writing and fitness. However, it wasn’t the prospect of an underwhelming social life that bugged me (and in fact, that wasn’t even slightly the case) but rather the fact that my hatred for everything Courchevel stood for grew by the day.

I don’t just mean the ridiculous wealth and lavishness. I obviously expected that. What really disturbed me were the attitudes held by the clients of our own infinitely more modest hotel (one of the only two stars’ in resort.) It actually broke my heart to see people eating pot noodles in their room just so they could say that they went to the same ski resort as Wills and Kate. People paying through their noses for a dingy room with no amenities when they could have been relaxing in a spa hotel in another resort for the same price.  And what were they getting for their money? If they were expecting to be rubbing shoulders with the stars then they must have been bitterly disappointed. When people say Courchevel is exclusive they mean it, pretty much the only glimpse you get of the rich is when they totter out of Chanel straight into their chauffeured cars. And if you make it past the bouncers to have a cheeky browse then you’re far braver than I am.  

I just couldn’t get my head around why anyone would want to come to Courchevel 1850. Yes, the mountains are amazing, but you can access them from any of the other villages in the Three Valleys, all of which are infinitely more ambient and far prettier. I can’t help but think that in going to Courchevel people aren’t paying over the odds for a special experience, but rather like in the designer boutiques that dominate its streets, they’re paying for the concept.

Confessions of a Courchevel housekeeper, Part 2

Confessions of a Courchevel  housekeeper, Part 2

 

While I spent roughly a third of my time as a housekeeper asking myself what I was doing with my life, it was almost worth it for some of the stories that I’ve got from the season… In this sequel I focus on the more entertaining side of my time as a housekeeper…

 

1. C’est la MERDE

 You can tell a lot about someone by how they leave their room- especially knowing that a stranger is going to have to deal with it. It still baffles me how people can walk out of their room, look me in the eye and smile, knowing that I’m going to have to flush three times in between gags when I enter their putrid bathroom. Is the length of your log some kind of weird pride thing that I don’t know about? Like seriously, Snapchat it to your mate if you must, but I definitely do not need to see it.  It also astounds me how many people seem to be suffering from IBS, and I wonder whether I should start telling people not to drink the tap water, when about 80% of  toilets are pebble dashed every morning. On the other end of the spectrum it always makes me laugh when couples, clearly in the honeymoon period, spray copious amounts of perfume into the little unaired toilet cubicle. Admirable though their intentions may be, what happens when she realises that his shit doesn’t actually smell like Dior’s Homme Ideal??

2. C’est l’AMOUR

This is what you really want to hear about right? The dirty stuff.  All that grimy hotel sex. I have to admit that this was one of my greatest apprehensions on starting the job, but luckily for me, and somewhat depressingly for everyone else, there doesn’t seem to be much action happening between my carefully laid sheets. It makes me feel better about my practically celibate existence when I go into a young couple’s room and see that the duvet is barely crumpled and  still tucked in at the sides. Either some seriously lacklustre missionary is all that’s going  down or they’re all too tired from snowplowing all day…

While most of my guests are reasonably well behaved however, when it goes wrong, it goes very wrong. I can almost tolerate the usual soggy sheets, sticky flavoured lubes and used condoms but nothing could have prepared me for the Dutch girl who (on a family holiday, no less…) had period sex almost every day. And I don’t mean that she put a towel down and left a bit of a smear, I mean it looked like a crime scene.  I’m not one to judge, but for everyone’s sake- just do it in the shower.

 

3.C’est le BORDEL

I always wondered why the French and the Greeks used the term ‘brothel’ to describe a mess/ a shitty situation. Until I had to clean up after Russian prostitutes. It turns out they really are messy puppies (and mean to boot.) Thankfully our modest establishment was a place for them to rest and recuperate during the day as opposed to an, ahem, place of work. Nevertheless, cleaning around all their vials and bottles, jewellery and accessories was no joke. Not to mention the facial syringes.  Cleaning up after them made me question my life choices even more than I usually would over the course of a room, playing my usual guessing game of where would I rank on a list of the world’s most overqualified cleaners. I don’t mean that in a snobby way, dusting around their designer bags I was almost in awe that they could make such a lucrative living from such a glamourous lifestyle- this is Courchevel after all, more sitting in clubs sipping Cristal than standing on street corners. Although they spent about three hours getting ready to go out (which made the rare glimpses of their unmade-up faces pretty frightening) as they tottered back up the stairs in their heels and furs as I served breakfast, I couldn’t help but think to myself rather bitterly that they probably come into contact with less bodily fluids than I do in a day….

 

4.C’est WANK

My eyes have also been opened to novel and creative ways of masturbating.  The phrase tickling the kipper has always made me giggle, but I never would have guessed that smoked salmon offered a route to self-gratification… Apparently if you’re from Marseille it does. I’d like to say that the sight of sticky salmon crumpled up in toilet paper put us off eating the unopened pack that the gentleman had left behind, but mountain prices are way too high for seasonnaires to pass up on such a tasty treat.

One of the most important things to remember when cleaning a room is to check that nothing has been left in any of the cupboards. I’m sure a guest would have been even  more shocked than my colleague was to have found a courgette and a cucumber in the bedside table of  a room that didn’t even have catering facilities….Not as creative as Mr. Salmon-Dance but still made us giggle.

 

C’est FINI!!!!

So while life as a housekeeper can be exhausting and demoralising there are also moments where it is just  hilarious. Next time you’re living it up on holiday, remember that  a) house-elves aren’t a thing and b) someone very real is silently judging you, probably cursing you, and then more than likely recounting the whole story to the bar later on!

Confessions of a Courchevel housekeeper, Part 1

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First confession: I didn’t actually clean in this…

For about five months of the year I like to take a break from my busy lifestyle of traveling the world /sponging off my mum to actually do some proper paid work in French ski resorts. This year, that mostly consisted of cleaning up after disgruntled Russians and unruly Brits in one of the most exclusive ski resorts in the world. It also involved a lot of soul searching and some pretty big life revelations…

Ever wanted to know what’s going through you housekeepers mind? Ok, probably not, because I bet it’s never even occurred to you. Just in case you are curious, here are some of my confessions from my time as a housekeeper, which will hopefully remind you that your bed is made by a human, who is probably having a worse day than you…

 

  1. As someone who has stayed in a lot of hotels, I’m ashamed to say that I’d never really given much thought to the people who clean my room before. I mean obviously I tip in poorer countries, and at least try to keep it tidy, but it’s never occurred to me that the fallout from a night’s pre-lash can ruin someones day, whilst a ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign can actually make it. If you want to do a good deed a day whilst traveling, pass up on housekeeping if you don’t really need it (I mean do you even notice beyond the folded toilet-paper end, seriously?)

    And please, for the love of God, don’t pee in the shower!

  2. Every day is a struggle. Cleaning is exhausting and let’s face it, demoralising work. (Four months on, and I still have shoulder issues from polishing…) But as a seasonnaire, I always had the mountain as motivation and a reason to stay.  This made me think of all the people who don’t have this luxury, people who work themselves to the bone in this degrading job to feed their families, unable to draw comfort from promising themselves as I did every day that I would leave if it got any worse. I could tolerate the feeling of powerlessness, knowing that come May I would be leaving, and my final pay package would fund my full recovery on a beach somewhere. However, this didn’t stop me thinking almost every day about my grandmother who worked as a housekeeper for thirty years, walking miles to work in the Greek sun, having already done a morning’s work in the fields at dawn,  all whilst raising four children. I bet she still didn’t complain about stingy tippers as much as I do…

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    Putting things into perspective…When the first run of the season makes up for the 72 hour week!
  3. Cleaning people’s rooms gives you a unique and often creepy insight into people’s lives. There’s something oddly intimate about it, as you tend to build up an image of a guest over the week, from the books left out on the side, to the products that they use and even where they leave their pyjamas. It’s always fun trying to match a guest with a room during breakfast/ bar shifts, but it get’s a bit creepy if you accidentally let certain information slip when you’re chatting to them in the bar after work…
  4. I’m definitely judging you, and your housekeeper probably is too. From the women with Chanel handbags but Primark pyjamas to the single men whose rooms smell of women’s perfume, I’m drawing allllll kinds of conclusions.  
  5. I sometimes try your perfume/hand cream/fur coats. Come on, I have to have a little bit of fun.
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    Not these though. Jeezus...

     

  6. I sometimes play God. When the lovely man in 209 told us that he needed his room cleaning thoroughly because his boyfriend was leaving and his unsuspecting wife was arriving, a receipt for an expensive dinner for two may have found its way from the bin onto the bedside table. She didn’t need to waste any more of her time with him.
  7. Tips are nice, but snacks are sooo much better. And free alcohol is the dream. Changover days have been saved by packets of Haribo and crates of beer left on the balcony. We’re basically scavengers, and even leftover toiletries mean more beer money at the end of the day.

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    We named him Dmitry
  8. I’m basically a pro at guessing where you’re from, without peeking at your reading material/ passport. And you guys really perpetuate stereotypes. Bulgarians invariably have a holy icon on one bedside table and a bottle of Vodka on the other, and almost every Asian family who stayed brought a rice cooker with them. Stereotypes aside, there were loads of quirky patterns that I never would have guessed. British people can’t seem to leave the country without a week’s supply of home comforts (fyi, leaving Dairy Milk on the bedside table =playing with fire) while French people’s rooms seem eerily tidy by comparison, with an extensive collection of medicines, balms and grooming tools. They make their beds to perfection but almost always leave skid-marks and a trail of pubes around the bathroom.  My favourite guests by far are the Norwegians though, as I often have to check the list to see if the room has already been cleaned and then look for signs of human activity.

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    Too much snow is NOT A THING!!!!
  9. While I have a pretty good reason to be miserable during housekeeping shifts (when powder days mean housekeeping takes twice as long because people stay in, as there is ‘too much snow’…) It shocks me that despite having hands that are raw from the chemicals, not to mention the aches and pains from carrying/bending/polishing,  I am rarely the most miserable person in the hotel. Guests who supposedly ‘have it all’ but can’t crack a smile over breakfast before a day’s skiing/shopping make me wonder when, or rather if, they will ever be happy.

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    This view actually makes waking up at sunrise to work bearable…
  10. Finally, If you don’t give a shit then I don’t give a shit. I know I’m supposed to clean every room to the same standard, but let’s face it, if you don’t respect yourself enough to flush the toilet after you’ve used it, or rinse blood/snot stains off the shower before they crust, then I can only assume that you don’t care about streaks on the glass or crumbs on the floor. On the other hand if you are a clean and tidy person then I will go the extra mile to make your room spotless, knowing that you will appreciate it, and all of my hard work won’t be undone by the morning.

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    All guests are equal…But some are more equal than others!

15 Things I learnt this winter

15 Things I learnt this winter

Having just got back from working a winter season in Courchevel, I decided to reflect on some important (and not so important) things that I’ve learnt over the last few months…

  1. There is a dog whose job it is to find people after an avalanche. And he has special doggy goggles!avalanche dog.JPG
  2. You should never, ever, ever (I really can’t stress this enough) sit on the hill with your board in front of you. Especially not at the top of the DC park. Especially not when there’s a pro comp on…(Yes, I learnt the hard way) hit n run.JPG
  3. Snowflakes actually really look like snowflakes! Yeah…This not being my first season I probably should have cottoned on to this a bit sooner…But look how perfect they are!snowflakes.JPG
  4. Marsbar toasties are fucking amazing. Raclette is good and all that, but….This ❤toastie.JPG
  5. Seasonnaire fridges (aka the balcony) are a great idea until you get some hardcore frost. I guess this isn’t what people mean when they talk about freezing their eggs…frozen egg.JPG
  6. Chanel and Armani make snowboards…I didn’t learn who actually buys them, but if you find out- give them a slap from me.chanel board.JPG
  7. Sometimes when you’re out skiing, you just have to stop for some Dior…dior ski.JPG
  8. Some people bring Sainsbury’s croissants with them when they go on holiday to France…croissant.JPG
  9. Some people travel with more beauty products than I have ever owned in my life…makeup
  10. Snowboarding is even more fun in the dark.snowboarding in the dark
  11. The tunnels to Italy all close during the winter (except the Mont Blanc one) …I really wish I’d learnt this before driving all the way up to la Rosière…At least the views were nice though. And it’s not like I was hungover or anything. Oh wait…la rosiere.JPG
  12. Being single has its perks…I may cry myself to sleep at night but I ain’t waitin’ in no queue…single perks.JPG
  13. When in doubt, always opt for the café gourmand…cafe gourmand.JPG
  14. Chair- lift signs give the best advice, although this may be the saddest lesson I’ve learnt all season…be happy.JPG
  15. No matter how shit things get, a beer on the top of the mountain in the sun makes everything OK…heineken.JPG

Converting my mum to France…

As a pretty dedicated Francophile, it has always frustrated me somewhat that my mum- who has taken me around the world, encouraged and lets face it, funded my own travels- has never really got France. I’m sure other language students will understand my predicament, whilst people who haven’t experienced an all-consuming romance with a foreign country might find it a bit strange; it’s kind of like introducing your parents to the love of your life, and them thinking you could do better…

I can’t really blame her for her lack of enthusiasm, considering her first two experiences on the other side of the channel consisted of 1. Navigating the mist and the rain of the Pas-de-Calais to drag my ungrateful and miserable ten year old self around WW2 sites, and 2. a drawn out coach holiday to Disneyland Paris with my even less grateful and even more miserable self. Actually based on those experiences it’s a wonder I even grew to like the country…

Anyway, as my inexplicable love for France grew, fuelled by Baudelaire and red wine, my mum was obligated to come and visit me wherever my obsession took me, Bordeaux, Montpellier, the Alps…And while I’m sure she enjoyed these trips, I can pretty much guarantee that if it weren’t for the prospect of not seeing (wonderful) me for another few months, she would have considered her time much better spent in an olive grove in Greece or better still, on a beach in the Caribbean.

So last week while embarking on our road trip to Italy, I gave myself the challenge of trying one last time to convert my mum to France…

Arriving in Calais is never a good start, lets face it. I’m from the rainiest town in the UK and I still find the place grim. I didn’t have the most festive start planned for the journey either, and we spent the morning distributing donations to refugees in ‘the jungle’. My mum was then treated to a rant that began with the terrible handling of this humanitarian crisis and ended with institutional French racism and the birth of fascism. Not exactly how I was planning on selling her the virtues of France… Time for a well needed pastry-stop.

Her face lit up perceptibly at the counter of Paul in the service station. For those of you who don’t know, Paul is a French bakery franchise, and was almost single-handedly responsible for my 5kg weight gain in the first month I moved to France. We’re talking fresh pastries, glazed tarts, macaroons… A ridiculously impressive spread for motorway services. Not a dry muffin or a pre-packed sandwich in sight. Add this to the fact that dogs are welcome and it was definitely France:1, UK:0…

After stuffing our faces we headed straight for our first stop- Rheims. Rheims is famous for its great big Gothic cathedral, where all the old kings of France were crowned. I had seen photos and had painstakingly tried to sketch it during my art A-level, but I was still awestruck by the sheer scale and the detail. It’s pretty pimp. Not even the scaffolding on the front window could ruin the view- if anything it made it more impressive trying to imagine how it would have been built back in the day. While mum was pretty impressed by it, I think what really struck us both by the end of the week was that wherever you go in France, every dull grey city that you drive into has this beautiful historical centre…It’s a gift and a curse as far as a road trip is concerned because you just want to stop everywhere!

After a bit of a drive through the Champagne region, including a night-time stop off at the fairy-tale like Troyes, Dijon was our next destination. Apart from the mustard, I hadn’t really heard of Dijon, but it quickly became my new favourite place. It’s basically like walking down Diagon Alley, little winding streets, Tudor-esque wooden beams and wonky roofs, contrasting with marble churches and turrets.

We ducked into a little restaurant on the main square to take shelter from the rain and try the local specialities. Snails and Boeuf Bourguignon need no introduction, but I was a bit ashamed to admit that after all these years I’d only ever tried snails in Morocco, and hadn’t been the biggest fan. Since ‘when in Rome’ was the motto of the trip (although we didn’t actually make it that far south) I decided to give them another try. It can be argued that anything would taste good if you cooked it in that much butter and garlic,but I have to say that the snails were actually delicious, and had a subtle but quite interesting grassy taste. While they’re not knocking Raclette off the top spot any time soon. I would definitely have them again.

For a bit more fairy-tale charm (and because I was gagging for some Savoyard fondue) we decided to make Annecy our next stop. This little city at the foot of the Alps is basically the poster boy for Europe, as far as anyone outside of Europe is concerned. The lake, framed by snowcapped mountains and medieval turrets is probably one of the most Instagrammed and #wonderlust-ed images in existence, and I knew my mum would lap it up. On a clear day. Unfortunately, on that particular day, we could barely see over the lake, let alone the mountains. We were lucky enough to be there on a market day though, which almost made up for the weather, adding to the old-world experience, and definitely stacking up brownie points for France. After a morning of wandering we had a lovely lunch on the river (confit du canard and entrecote, merci beaucoup) and then decided to head towards Mont Blanc, with a stop-over in Chamonix.

The road up to Chamonix was beautiful. We decided to ditch the motorways, or more specifically the tolls, and take the  Route des Grandes Alpes. Our scenic route took us through little alpine villages and ski resorts, winding up and down mountains that went from flame red autumnal forests to snowcapped wilderness. Reaching Chamonix was actually a little bit disappointing after the dramatic landscape that we had just passed, but the hotel spa definitely made up for it! In the evening we ventured out into the town centre, which although was quiet and out of season still had the charm of a ski resort.

We had, unfortunately, visited Chamonix at pretty much the worst possible time of the year. It had just started to snow, so hiking was not permitted without a guide, yet there was not enough snow to do anything fun in either. Not too put off, we took the lift (the highest in Europe!) up to the Aiguille du Midi, which has views of Mont Blanc spanning three different countries. Pretty impressive. On a clear day… Unfortunately, once again, it was not a clear day, and the placards labelling the mountain range seemed to be taunting us against a backdrop that was mistier than the previous night’s hammam…

As we queued up for the Mont Blanc tunnel into Italy, I couldn’t help but feel a little frustrated by the weather. While I think my mum was mostly joking when she said she wasn’t surprised to see so many people queuing to leave France, I couldn’t exactly call my mission a roaring success. The weather had thwarted us at pretty much every turn, and while I had tried to show my love at her best, it was as if she had turned up hungover and in last night’s clothes.

After a few hours in Italy, I started to realise that all hope was not lost. After stopping in the beautiful Courmeyeur, only to find all its restaurants closed at 3pm (what?) we pulled up to a service station, expectations high after recent experiences in France. When presented with our meals, I think we would both have preferred to chow down on some frogs’ legs… Dry pasta, moulded into the shape of a microwavable bowl and now standing upright on a paper plate, held up by its charred edges. Could this really be Italy?? I’m sure even Britain’s infamously vile Little Chef would have blushed at the sight.

Although things in Italy were thankfully uphill from there, we were both relieved a few days later when we passed the little blue sign informing us that we were back in France. Apart from the little wave of satisfaction I always feel when I see a border as it should be, I also knew that my mum was glad to be back in a country where I could ask for directions if we were lost, order a meal with a degree of certainty (well, most of the time anyway) and more importantly, communicate to a vet that we needed to get the dog vaccinated before returning to the UK.

We had managed to arrange a last-minute visit to my cousin Theo in Antibes, and my mum was finally treated to the joys of the south of France when we woke up to the sun rising over the harbour in the morning. I also enjoyed not being in the metaphorical driver’s seat as Theo took over as tour guide and showed us around the beautiful old town. Strolling past people sprawled out on the beach, and even swimming in the sea, it was hard to believe that a mere few hours drive away was like going beyond the Wall in Westeros.

Unfortunately we didn’t have long to basque in the sunlight, and after a long overdue steak with blue cheese sauce we were on the road again, taking a detour through the underwhelming and slightly nauseating Cannes. After making the long awaited stop off at Paul only to find it fermé, Mum decided to tug on my heartstrings and suggest a detour in order to have dinner at my favourite restaurant in Montpellier, L’Entrecôte. I don’t know wether it was the prospect of the unbearable nostalgia for my Erasmus days, or my digestive system subconsciously informing me that a second serving of steak in a day was a faux pas, but I couldn’t face going back to my old uni town.

Instead we opted to make Avignon our last stop. Having visited the town from Montpellier a few years earlier, I knew that it would be the jewel in the crown of this trip. Entering through a narrow arch in the city’s walls under the moonlight there was somthing magical about navigating the little winding streets, deserted out of season and out of hours. Turning a corner and being faced with the splendour of the Palais de Papes was even more magnificent in this light, and only slightly eerie. After a whirlwind tour of the fortified city, we had one more crepe in France before hitting the road for one last time.

Looking back on this trip I’m pleased to say that as well as converting my mum to France, I also rekindled my own love for the country. I surprised myself in spewing out facts and theories that I had learnt over the course of my degree, suprised not just that I remembered but that I still cared. In the space of a week we passed through all four seasons and about a millennia of history, as well as consuming the equivalent of a small petting farm. The trip may not have gone exactly as I had planned, and my mum may not be signing herself up as a frequent traveller on the Eurostar just yet, but I’m sure that when she’s packing her bags to come and visit me in Courchevel this winter, she’ll be doing so with a bit more enthusiasm!