Je ne raclette rien The rEblochon will not be televised

This is day 2 of our 2019 Christmas market holiday to Annecy, France. With the majority of Friday being taken up by transport issues of one kind or another, Saturday was our first full day and we had pretty much just one thing in mind: cheese.

First things first, Helen tells me she’d spent all night having different dreams about eating cheese. Honestly. I, however, had no dreams, and have woken up only with a sore back because this mattress is shit.

We got up pretty late and left the hotel about 11am or so. There was evidence of it having rained earlier in the day, but by now the sun was out and skies were mostly blue. The streets were busy, and the old town looked lovely in the daylight. It’s only a minute or so from our hotel reception to this, for example.

Unlike on Friday evening, Helen was adamant that breakfast (or, given the time, lunch) today would involve sitting down indoors. Accordingly, we wandered around discovering that pretty much nowhere – at least, nowhere appealing – was selling food until midday. We still have much to learn.

But, like I said, wandering around the town was nice enough itself. Annecy is sometimes referred to as the Venice of the Alps, what with all the canals and stuff.

Eventually finding ourselves back at the Christmas market, it was way more popular than it had been the previous evening. Helen was resolute that we would not be eating there, however, so we weaved our way through a few more streets we’d yet to explore.

Eventually we found ourselves outside a restaurant next to the water that was already selling food, and was pretty empty. This was at about 1150. A couple of friendly waiters showed us in and to our seats and we looked over the menu. At pretty much exactly 1200, tons of other people showed up and took up all other available seating. Really, in this part of the world there seems to be definitive mealtimes at which everyone eats, in conjunction with all the shops closing for 2 hours.

We opt for a “plateau Savoyard”, a dish meant for one person – our waiter is very confused by our desire to share it. It’s a platter of local specialities, what with Annecy being in the Savoie region ‘n that. What you’ll see here is cheese and lardons in a dish, a load of cold meats and salad with some more cheese, and a savoury apple crumble containing cheese.

It’s not as spectacularly nice as either of us had hoped. The savoury crumble might take a bit of getting used to, I didn’t really care for two of the meats. But the leaves and the baked cheese with lardons were dead nice.

When paying, we were thanked for being their first lunch customers. I think they were very pleased we didn’t eat much and vacated a table quickly.

Outside, there were ducks swimming against the water flow by a weir. Crossing the bridge back into the market we walked through and beyond, making our way to a cheese shop.

The cheesemonger here sold us masses of cheese. She asked if we were travelling with it, and we are, so she vacuum packed it. Apart from the two cheeses we knew we wanted to buy - reblochon and vacherin mont d’or - we were at her mercy for suggestions. I tried to explain I’ve never had a cheese I don’t like, but not sure she understood. She did tell us that it’s her dream to visit London, because she loves Harry Potter and shopping.

With quite a lot of cheese in a bag to carry, we popped back to the hotel to deposit it on our balcony, what with not having a fridge. When we left again, I requested that we take a slight detour in order to find a place called Beer o’Clock, apparently Annecy’s best craft beer venue. After a wrong non-turn, we found it just inside the entrance to the old town. Apparently 1.30pm is not actually beer o’clock, since it doesn’t open until 4pm. Well fine.

A patisserie caught our eye, as a potential place to buy Sunday morning breakfast. In particular it was showing off, in Helen’s words, “pain au chocolat as big as yer head”.

Next, into a charcuterie to buy a pimento saucisson. Then a walk up a very steep hill to Annecy’s chateau. Perhaps we’d do some tourism that isn’t based on food or alcohol?

To our side there’s a load of mossy rock, looking every bit like a terrarium except without the being-small-and-in-glass-indoors bit.

The castle, up top, is shut. There are a few people hanging around. Apparently it doesn’t open until 2pm, presumably once all the staff have finished eating in one of the town restaurants. We’re not that bothered to wait around, especially as we expect there to not be much we’d understand – but also because the weather is so great, we want to exploit being out in the daylight.

The views in all directions are lovely, mountains everywhere. We make our way down a different steep hill than the one we started, though our progress is almost instantly delayed by the presence of animals.

First, I am somewhat transfixed by a group of sparrows flitting about in the trees on top of a wall – but then we’re both amused by a blackbird that turns up, stands on the wall, and starts clearing it of all the leaves. Chirps, picks up leaves in beak, throws on ground, hops along a bit, repeat.

Only another 5 or 6 steps later, at the entrance to a hotel’s car park there’s a cat and a dog. The dog seems a bit like a puppy, and wants to play with the cat who is having absolutely none of it. An old French man next to us is roaring with laughter and we feel bad for not being able to speak with him.

Back in town we snake through a few passages we’d yet to take, going next to the Palais d’Isle - a building with a varied history including being a prison for a while. But still, with the weather being so good we opted to go past it. Forecast is for rain on Sunday so it’s a back up plan.

The city streets and market are heaving. As we stop to buy stuff in one of the shops, I’m wondering what the sticker on an adjacent lamppost means. It has the EU circle of stars, the word FREXIT, and a big cross. Is this pro-Frexit, crossing out the EU? Or anti-Frexit, crossing out the word? Whoever they are they need better visual design.

Having failed to find anywhere that would sell me a Coke Zero, and being a bit dehydrated, Helen offers me the option instead of having some mulled wine. Go on then.

I have the traditionnel, she has the skieur. The latter is €1 more expensive than the former, and results in Helen feeling hammered almost immediately. Whatever it is they put in it seems to have been mightily strong. Her temporary leglessness slightly delayed the start of our walk around the lake, much to my amusement.

Our route to the lake is alongside one of the small canals, full of privately owned canoes it seems. At the end is a bridge with a pretty special view.

In fact, everything is special from here on. The lake is incredible. We’re of course lucky to have come on such a beautiful day, but good lord what a wonderful place this is.

There are quite a few large swans. Some of them are making a real effort at washing themselves.

There are plenty of people doing the same thing, because why the fuck wouldn’t you? The air is clear, the lake is mostly still, the views are stellar. Also about 50% of people seem to have dogs. Perhaps that’s an exaggeration, but there really are a lot. One family have four huskies, three of which are young and troublesome. The other, larger one keeps barking at them, and it very much looks like that’s the mother trying to control its unruly kids.

Both of us take loads of photos of the same incredible views at slightly different angles, every few steps. It’s hard to self-curate here.

At the far end of the lake we know there’s meant to be an aviary, so we sit at a bench and check on google maps where it is. Oh, it’s directly behind us. Well good.

Turns out it’s not that good, mind. It’s a very large round caged bit of the park in which there are ... all the kinds of birds we’ve already seen on the lake and in the town. Swans, ducks, geese, sparrows. OK so some of the ducks are a bit different and there’s also peacocks and chickens, but it’s not exactly exotic.

Next to here is a stupidly expensive and posh hotel with a casino. Whatever. S’pose the surroundings are alright.

Of more interest is the little piers leading out to the slide into the lake that opens during summer. Again, many people with dogs.

It’s great here. Neither of us can really get over it, since we hadn’t really researched into what to expect.

We are, at this time however, discussing the relative merits of Annecy vs Innsbruck. I still love me a mountain - not just to see, but to go get a cable car or funicular up, and views downward. I think I’d be extraordinarily pleased to revisit Annecy in winter but Innsbruck in summer for better walking.

Anyway. I digress. We turn back on ourselves and walk directly towards a blindingly bright sun, making my eyes hurt with all the squinting for most of the return walk.

We stop a few times, including to sit on a bench directly on the water. There have been few vessels out there, but at this time a lone paddle-boarder appears.

Also, the moon rises over one of them there mountains.

Well that was all quite good. Back by the city we walk round the grass next to the historic 1906 merry go round, which is merrily going round but not particularly photogenic. Beyond that we’re back where we started.

As expected, town is crazily busy. In the market we make a beeline for the man selling aligot, not that we are quite sure what it is yet. Turns out it’s a big stodgy mix of mashed potato, garlic, and cheese. Because of course. We share the smallest size they do, Helen can barely have a third of it. It’s not light food.

We avail ourselves of some vin chaud blanc and go sit outside the market, on a bench by the touristy boats at what counts as a “port” around here. Helen is DESPERATE that we go on a boat trip on Sunday, having seen how great the lake is.

Less pleasingly, she absolutely cannot cope with the crowds as we attempt to walk back through it so bollocks, we cross the river and walk through that bit of the old town with all the closed restaurants again. By now it’s just gone 4 o’clock, which means it’s beer o’clock, and we walk to Beer o’Clock.

It’s empty enough that we have a choice of seats, but that’s of secondary concern to figuring out how we actually drink. Upon entering, we see 12 beer taps... not behind a bar. There is a counter, next to fridges full of loads of bottles and cans, but the draft stuff is self-service, it seems. Uh, OK. The barman is super helpful, explaining to us how it all works: we buy one of those cards above, onto which we load money. Then, at each tap, you put the card in this little NFC slot and the screen shows you how much credit you’ve got left.

Then, you pour beer into your glass and as you do so the credit goes down while the cl you’ve poured goes up. The screen even displays your name; when he asks if I have a nickname I say no, just Darren, so on the screen when we get beer it says “JUST DARREN”. Ha.

Here’s me pouring the house pilsner.

I fucking love this. After the pilsner I drink them out of the porter - because there’s only 10cl left in the tap, boo - and then an IPA. Helen has a kriek then a Berliner Weiss sour, then back to the kriek. Because of how the system works, we spend precisely the €20 loaded onto the card – though had we not drank it all, any credit left on it is valid for another year (and that year resets each time you go back in).

Also, right, I use Untappd to check my beers in – and my personal rule has forever been that I can only check in a beer if I drink a quantity that can be bought in its own right. And here, I can buy tiny amounts! Woohoo!

Because we’ve been carrying a bag of stuff around all afternoon, and since the hotel is nearby, we again pop back to our room before heading out for an evening meal. We reckon we understand things now: it’s about 6.45pm when we leave and restaurants all open at 7pm. So by being early, we should be good to get a seat.

Our preferred venue is Le Freti, because I’d looked at its website a couple of weeks ago and they have 16 types of fondue on the menu. Fuck yes fondue.

There’s a few people hanging around in what could possibly be called a queue. Hmm. There are other choices nearby, so we poke our head around the corner through an alleyway at another place that caught our eye - Le Chalet. But, oh my god, that had a queue of like 30 people or so. Shit, do people really queue up for the grand 7pm opening of restaurants around here?

Back at Le Freti we decide the answer to that question is yes, because by now there’s a genuine queue of 12 people or so. We join it, and behind us it grows rapidly. At about 7.01pm a waiter starts to let people in, firing rapid questions at each group in the queue. How many people? OK. Have you booked? OK. If not booked, you have to sit outside and there will be NO RACLETTE. OK that’s fine by us.

Lo and behold, we’re seated outside next to a heater (mercifully). All the tables bar one fill up rapidly, and by 7.15pm disgruntled folk are getting turned away. Having got everyone sat down, the waiter then rushes around with ruthless efficiency, in exactly the order from the queue, handing out menus then taking drinks orders then delivering drinks then taking food orders then delivering food. It’s so damn frenetic but brilliantly done.

We get a wine, a beer, and the house fondue. Because, I repeat, fuck yes fondue.

There are options which come with weird stuff like potatoes and salad and charcuterie, but ours is just fondue and the exactly right amount of bread to eat the whole damn lot. It’s AMAZING.

I think this might be the first real fondue I’ve had in my entire life. Back in 2014, Helen and I were meant to go for fondue on our second date but, if memory serves, I had to work late which meant we missed our booking. Then a couple of years later she booked us seats at this thing on the South Bank where you sat at a bench with strangers and the food was a bit crap. So this, at the age of 45, is really my debut. I suspect had I discovered it at the age of, say, 25, then I wouldn’t have actually reached 45.

Once we’ve finished, we think it’s probably a good idea to try and walk some of the cheese bloat off. So, another circuit of the town and back towards the market. It’s way less busy than it had been all afternoon, because of course most people in the town are now packing out all the restaurants. This makes buying two more skieurs a quick and simple job, and once again Helen declares she is hammered pretty much as soon as she finishes it. I really don’t know what’s in it, and it does not have the same effect on me.

The main reason we came back to the market was to hit up the stall next to the aligot, which is selling craft beer and spirits. They have Megadeth branded “Tout le Monde” beer but I’m far from interested in that. Rather, we got a couple of bottles of fruit beer for Helen and a stout and an IPA for me.

Back at the hotel we opt for a drink at the bar first. I walk away to the loo, hearing behind me Helen say “he wants a beer, but not that green one” to the barman – who, it turns out, had a feeling I didn’t like it and he doesn’t like it either. Bah.

In the room I have the stout as a nightcap, and it’s delicious. I’m told the same is true about the apricot beer, but frankly I don’t believe that for a second.

Created By
Darren Foreman