“The mountains are so silent,” Kathy said as we finished the fourth course — the cheese — of a quite exceptional five-course meal at Hotel Aguille du Midi near Chamonix. “They just sit there.”
No. They stand, actually, towering 10,000 feet and more above the floor of the Chamonix Valley.
We have settled in at this hotel for seven of the last nine days of our most remarkable French adventure. Weather.com be damned. It forecast nothing but rain for the week, starting yesterday. But yesterday the sun darted in and out of the clouds and today broke perfectly clear.
Sunday we hiked a stretch of the South Balcony, facing the Mont Blanc range, with our friends Fran and Egon Stirnemann from Bern, Switzerland. We started on a pass above the village of Argentiere and took the always safe course in the mountains of turning back as the afternoon clouds gathered after we ascended to a terrific lookout point. Today we finished the hike, taking the lift to Flegere above Chamonix and walking toward Argentiere on the same South Balcony stretch.
Both hikes were short, perhaps three miles. But if, as a younger man, I measured a good day in the mountains in miles walked, these days I’m happy to smell — and photograph — the flowers. And, of course, to stop frequently to watch my silent friends, the Alps — those spikes of snow-covered rock and fractured glaciers climbing into the clouds.
It may yet rain the rest of this week. But we’ll stay put. We’ve had our mountain-trail fix. We’ve had a full plate of touristic travel, too. At worst we can sit and sip wine in the umbrella-covered garden of this lovely hotel.
I confess: Slow-lane travel has moved awfully fast since we left Aix-en-Provence. Even as we’ve enjoyed a glorious montage of moments, June has sped past. I carved most of the first two weeks out for reporting at three traditional businesses that have survived the near-death of their industries by finding a way to balance the past, regional pride and innovation in order to keep centuries-old crafts afloat. We’ve walked through the vineyards of Beaujolais and Burgundy, and tasted their fine wines as well. We’ve explored the ancient canals and walls of Strasbourg and Annecy.
Now it’s time to rest, I think, to take a vacation on our vacation. It’s time, too, to take stock, to make sense of our quite extraordinary six months in a country and culture we’ve come to love and learn from. I’ve enjoyed sharing our experiences with you, too, my readers, loyal or occasional. The very process of keeping a daily blog has proven a way of thinking about this extraordinary time as it passes. And I’ve learned more about the process of blogging, from mistakes and successes both.
Please expect nothing terribly profound from me these last few days as we prepare for our flight back to Boston. It’s not my style to pontificate. But I do have some thoughts, and I’ll share a bit more than random snapshots this last week. That I promise.
For now, though, let me enjoy the sunshine by the pool. It could be our last. When we came to this hotel, we knew we’d found a room economique beneath the Alps for $95 a day in an old chalet adjacent to the main building. We knew it had a pool. We didn’t know we’d have a balcony with a view from and for the gods. Or that the restaurant here would be so good that you’ll find it in the 2014 Michelin guide. Or that dinner would be five courses served in the garden looking skyward at the pink cliffs above. Last night’s meal started with a vegetable soup. Then came fish in a rich and delectable sauce, a beautifully cooked piece of beef in a caper sauce, a heaping cart of cheese to choose from and a dessert buffet.
Today we skipped lunch. Call it training for tonight’s dessert buffet.