Any minute now, the Tour de France cyclists will be toiling over the Col de la Croix-Fry and passing the world’s most stereotypically delightful Alpine chalet-hotel, in the post-card prettiest part of Haute Savoie. Ugly ski resort development lies out of sight on the other side of the hill. On this side it’s all lush meadows, gooey cheeses and do-re-mi.
The Chalets-Hotel la Croix Fry was created by Marie-Ange Guelpa Veyrat, sister of the notorious farceur Marc Veyrat of Annecy, Megève, Veyrier and the gastrosphere. Marie-Ange dressed the part of Maria and could play the governess when required. She was an obsessive collector and when it came to Alpine clichés left few unturned, filling the place with an astonishing array of rustic clutter – old farm tools, dolls on doorways, sheepskin upholstery. The hotel and its hamlet of chalet annexes was nowhere near big enough for her collection, and moving about required full concentration and no little agility if you were to avoid tripping over a stuffed ibex or impaling yourself on an antique pitchfork.
Now that Marie-Ange has moved on, her son Eric Guelpa has taken over the pots and pans department. If Michelin and Gault Milllau are to be believed – I still do – he has added serious quality to sugary charm. The restaurant is named after Marie Ange, and the hotel website suggests that her decorative style has not changed, although there may have been some thinning of knick-knacks. If you are looking for an archi-romantique bolthole close to excellent skiing (La Clusaz), look no further.
rissoles aux cèpes, tourte au reblochon, soupe de polenta aux truffes, omelette aux bolets, pintade marinée dans son jus de mondeuse, selle d’agneau au jus de thym, féra du Léman avec carbonara de poireaux, soufflé glacé au génépi, mousse de myrtilles et d’agrumes …………
A favourite travel memory has me driving down to La Croix-Fry via Paris with a friend’s husband, in my white convertible Ford Escort – a croc in car form, if ever there was one. I had been invited to visit the hotel and review its honeymoon suite, and offered David a lift when I discovered he had a meeting in Geneva to attend and was in no hurry to get there.
I can date the stay exactly – April 10th 1992 – because we set off on the day John Major won the general election and when I knocked on David’s door at the sublime Bel-Hotel in Clichy the next morning, he was still asleep in his armchair in front of the telly. I had great difficulty rousing him, but “Wake up, David, if we don’t leave soon we’ll be too late for lunch in Beaune,” did the trick.
There was something a little prim about La Croix-Fry in the days of Marie-Ange, and she took a step back when David and I introduced ourselves on arrival. Better still was the look of horror on her face when, in response to her question – red or white? – David replied: ‘pour commencer, une bouteille de chaque.’
Chalets-hôtel La Croix Fry, Manigod, Haute Savoie 0033 450449016. Rooms from 150 euros