Tomorrow morning I have to be up early to catch a train, and so today I left work at six and walked home through Central Park in the late August rain. Naturally, I wondered what I would have for dinner. A small container of Citarella pesto and several cups of hot French onion soup have dominated my meals this week--not that I'm complaining--and so as I walked under the plane trees I thought about the other wonderful meals I've recently had in the hopes of striking culinary gold. Within a minute, my mind settled on the Refuge du Miage.
Our first view of the Miage Valley, from the Col de Tricot
On our first day of backpacking, NCT and I took a gondola from Les Houches, just south of Chamonix, up the Mont Blanc massif to Bellevue, and then hiked past the nose of the Bionnassay Glacier and up the Col de Tricot. As we lunched on slices of dried sausage, crusty baguette, Pink Lady apples and blueberry yogurt--all of which were being eyed hungrily by a flock of vocal sheep--we looked down on the Miage Valley, where we would be spending our first night on the trail.
After a hot, rocky, and relentless descent, we arrived in Miage and were greeted with a stunning view: the Dôme du Miage, complete with glacial waterfalls streaming down to the grassy valley floor. We dropped our packs in the trekkers' bunk room, hiked up the valley to see the waterfalls, then walked back past grazing horses and cows to our dinner, which was awaiting us on the Refuge terrace.
Les Chevaux et Les Vaches
Seated at the other tables were backpackers from Spain, France, and the Netherlands--all of whom were camping among the flowering rosebay willowherb--a Belgian who shared our sleeping quarters, and a raucous party of four French families (the very excited children slept in the bunk room above ours). When we sat on the wooden picnic benches, the hostess set an enormous yellow ceramic bowl filled with bright green lettuce leaves, juicy red tomato segments, and a mustard vinaigrette sprinkled with chives before us. The sun set behind the Col de Tricot and bathed the Dôme in a calming alpenglow; NCT and I ate the crisp delicious salad while the evening air cooled. Once finished, we watched in amusement as the children, who were all seated at the same long picnic table, fought over their salad bowl with slices of bread; they were each trying to scoop up the remaining vinaigrette!
Refuge du Miage
The hostess then presented us with a beautiful omelette of impressive height and width; when sliced open out spilled thin steaming slices of potato, each enveloped in a thin layer of cheese. NCT and I estimated that at least six eggs had gone into ours, and the Spaniards received one of even greater size. Our conversation ended as we each savored the dish--the eggs were of an airy yet filling consistency that I always try to achieve with my own omelettes, and they were perfectly seasoned. I ate about a third, and NCT devoured the rest; a few days later, after we had hiked into Italy, he commented that he had actually dreamed about the omelette. That's how good it was.
As we watched the children, who had finished their omelette and were now clasping giant ice cream cones topped with whipped cream, run around the field abutting the terrace, NCT and I partook of the cheese platter--NCT purloined my leftover fromage for our lunch the following day--and then tucked into an elegant blueberry tart, complete with its own ring of chantilly. I ordered a verbena tisane and warmed my hands on the hot china cup as dusk settled over the valley. We were both quiet; the combination of a delicious meal and a friendship comfortable with content silence let us each enjoy the alpine evening.
Over the next several days, NCT and I savored beef stew at a French farm on a cold wet night, cappuccinos on the mountainous Italian border, and Globus baguette sandwiches on the cathedral steps in Lausanne, but the Miage meal stands tall in both of our minds. It was on our first night after backpacking together, and the glacial valley provided a setting not only of unmatched beauty, but also of heightened anticipation. It promised many more incredible days to come.