From the refined to the downright decadent, the Alps are a-twinkle with Michelin-starred restaurants. Tips down and lips poised, Leslie Woit skis straight for those Michelin stars.

Part 1.

No one loves me, everybody hates me, and it’s not because I’m thin, either. My two-week ski tour through the Alps fixed that. After nearly a dozen stellar Michelin-starred meals — more than 50 courses liberally paired with corresponding vintages, varietals, and the odd Negroni to get the ball rolling — I’ve been left with a muffin top, a pervasive low grade hangover, and an off-putting air of gleeful smugness. Who says skiing to lunch is for sissies?

My cunning alpine plan whipped my friends into a frothy velouté of jealousy: crisscross Switzerland and France to ski the best resorts, stay in the most glittering mountain hotels, and gorge my carnal appetite at a different Michelin-starred restaurant each and every day. Sometimes more.

Skiing to lunch, a seriously good lunch, and rolling seamlessly into Europe’s most revered restos for a succulent dinner is nirvana for skiers like me — maybe like you, too — who love food and wine. Life‑affirmingly magnificent food and wine. There is nothing more satisfying than a long morning in the powder or corduroy, skiing from lift to lift, past an onion-domed chapel here, through a clutch of fragrant hay-filled barns there, to arrive at the ultimate destination: a Michelin mountain temple of gastronomy. It’s sybaritic, self indulgent, and a whole mess of fun. Champagne and caviar, lobster lollipops, flaming soufflés … Like the Magi visiting the Messiah, join me as I follow the stars. We can make new friends later.

La Marmite
St. Moritz
Michelin Stars: None (but you can’t do St. Moritz without a visit to La Marmite)

“I don’t give a shit about stars. A chef’s philosophy is what’s important.” This from Reto Mathis. It’s high noon and we’re swilling pink champagne at his iconic restaurant La Marmite. “They have to be good,” he declares. “The rest is B.S.”

Bottoms up. My morning arrival via first class rail carriage revealed much about St. Moritz well before its impressive panoply of luxury hotels came into view. Snaking from Chur towards the snowy heart of the Engadine, I settled in among a bounty of matching luggage, hairless dogs, and fur coats. Their various owners appeared tanned, well dressed, and serene. But there’s always one. Breaking the silence, a troutmouthed woman hissed angrily into her phone: “I’m coming immediately to see you. My neck has fallen.”

St. Moritzers come for the glamour and stay for the magic, including the kind served on-piste at La Marmite. With the timing of Houdini, Mathis’ famous Alsatian Flammkuchen — truffle pizza — arrives. “Ja, I got this tarte flambée thing going,” he laughs, “then I pimped it.”

Harry Winston and hiking boots, polo ponies and sled dogs. Pimping your way round St. Moritz is so easily done. Though long-maned Reto Mathis doesn’t have his own star, he is maestro to many. Head of the annual St. Moritz Gourmet Festival, for more than two decades he’s invited the world’s finest Michelinstarred chefs to cook at the famous ticketed event.

E c c o S t. M o r i t z
Michelin Stars: Two

After my extended pink ‘n’ pizza pit stop, the Engadine is awash in afternoon Alpenglow and I’m late for my date. With the flick of the maître d’s finger my Michelin lunch is ended just in time for dinner. I swoosh to the valley floor, where an immaculately dark-suited driver waits to usher my skis and me into a sleek black Range Rover and dispatches me swiftly to Ecco, a gold-lined jewel box located in the five-star Giardino Mountain hotel, tucked into the itsy-bitsy graffiti-etched hamlet of Champfèr. Out I spill onto a witty, royal purple carpet and roll to the door of an 18th-century convent school, now home to Ecco St. Moritz and Switzerland’s youngest Michelin‑starred chef, wunderkind Rolf Fliegauf.

Ecco’s chef is young, culinary-ly brave, and faultless. In a gold filigree room, I join 27 other diners. Austrian Zalto stemware, weightlessly fine, is lovingly filled and refilled by upbeat all-female waitstaff. With eight courses ahead of us, we begin with delectable bites resting on pebbles and tiny beds of dry hay. Our poetic meal also includes a garden of cress with gold-plated Victorinox scissors for self-harvest, a coin of foie gras stamped with the Ecco logo, Norwegian lobster with pumpkin and sea buckthorn … oh, and a lovely quote from Robert Louis Stevenson: “Wine is bottled poetry.”

After Seven
Michelin Stars: One

The following day is a moveable feast on rails. Over seven hours, the Glacier Express winds from St. Moritz to Zermatt through 91 tunnels, more than 291 bridges, and across a universe of mountainscapes. When my little red train enters the canton of Valais, I’m surrounded. No fewer than 38 peaks soaring higher than 13,000 feet, including the Toblerone-tastic Matterhorn, tower above Zermatt.

So much for outside. Indoors, Heinz Julen is local boy done good — an internationally acclaimed designer and exceptional artist whose funky fixtures and furniture grace … well, everything. His Backstage Hotel is home to a groovy dine-in cinema, and Vernissage, a trendy art-bar, as well as After Seven, a one-star Michelin restaurant. Julen’s signature chandelier, a hanging orchestra of spoons, chains, and musical instruments, dominates the airspace as we settle in for a glass of champagne. Soon, the waiter brings me the shopping list — at least, that’s how it reads. Celery, red cabbage, Angus beef, coriander, guacamole, cashew nuts … a dozen ingredients are submitted for approval or rejection, and then Chef Ivo Adam gets busy accordingly. The high-concept surprises keep a-comin’: A hunk of dough arrives to bake in its own hot stone, timed by an hourglass, and served with kitschy, mini-Matterhorn shaped butter. The vibe is urban baroque and so, too, is the meal itself. It’s inventive and just a little wacky, like the Switzerland we love.

L e 1 9 4 7
Michelin Stars: Two

Gateway to the largest ski area in Switzerland, Verbier (aka Verbs) rocks morning through night. From skiing the backside of Mont Fort, to catching a flashing glimpse of local wingsuit rider Géraldine Fasnacht, to boogying under Hotel Farinet’s open roof with Prince Harry … respite from such happy hard-living is perched at the pinnacle of the village. Le Chalet d’Adrien, an inn of infinite charm and comfort, is home to our next starry spread.

The labor of love of “retired” CEO Brigitte de Turckheim-Cachart, one of the allures of the 29-room boutique hotel is the gastronomy. The hotel’s 31-year-old chef, Mirto Marchesi, hails from the Italian part of Switzerland and is by all accounts a Swiss terroir-iste. The lamb from Cotterg grazes only miles from Verbier, fresh perch is teased from Lake Geneva, and frogs hail from Vallorbe just beyond.

The white truffles are sourced from Alba and accompanied by my all-time favorite Corton Charlemagne; the flavors are fresh and Mediterranean, and the effect is a welcome diversion from the rigors of big-mountain, late-night Verbier. Sit comfy and settle in. All that dolce vita is capped with a magic box of Swiss chocolates on wheels. The day’s final accomplishment is making the climb to retire, replete and relaxed, one floor up. The wingsuit will have to wait.

L a B o u i t t e
St. Martin de Belleville
Michelin Stars: Three

Poke me with a fourchette à escargot for saying this, but it occurs to me as I cross the snowy frontier at Le Châtelard that my heavenly days in Switzerland were only a pre-game warm-up — a fabulous bit of foodie foreplay — to France.

France is the home of the Guide Michelin, which was first published in the year 1900. Even then, tires didn’t wear themselves out: Michelin stars originated in the company’s desire to get Europe driving, and a Frenchman will drive a long way for a good meal. My road, of course, is white and fluffy, across Les Trois Vallées from Courchevel to Méribel, over to St. Martin de Belleville, and finally down a gentle meadow to the door of the Alps’ all-time finest ski-in restaurant: La Bouitte.

I have been skiing to lunch at La Bouitte since it was a one-star at the edge of St. Marcel. And there it remains, right where René Meilleur opened it 40 years ago: the first restaurant of a self-taught chef in his home village. In 2015, La Bouitte earned the highest award possible: three Michelin stars, as well as galaxies of fans from around the world.

“Plus de gras, plus de crème!” His words go straight to my heart, though I know they’re aiming lower. Two white-jacketed sous-chefs approach Chef Meilleur with a new dish for his approval, a comely palm-size tin of Petrossian caviar married with omble chevalier, egg, parsley, and cream. The result is top-heavy with caviar. He passes me he creation and I help myself to as huge a dollop as propriety permits. Possibly huger. “You are the first, you’re in luck!”

I certainly am. I lucked into morning coffee and caviar with Chef Meilleur before lunch service begins and we sit down to talk about how he celebrated his third star last February. It was, he claims, work as usual until May. “And then we drank a lot of champagne.” As always, Madame Meilleur is in front of house, and son Maxime co-chefs in the kitchen. “Nothing has changed since the third star,” says Maxime with a grin, wielding a plate of saffron cream-filled beignets (to call them donuts would be like calling Catherine Deneuve cute). “We work hard and we deserve it.” Many agree. The day after the three-star announcement, 600 requests for reservations arrived, many from three-star groupies. One Hong Kong couple flew into Geneva, then hopped on a helicopter to St. Marcel, simply for dinner. They jetted home the following day.

Keep an eye out for part 2 in the next few weeks!
Part 2 Restuarants:
A l b e r t 1 e r
L e 1 9 2 0
F l o c o n s d e S e l
I G N I V by Andreas Caminada

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