Indulging in a slice of slope-side cake is one of the great pleasures of a ski trip. Finding the best on offer is a quest to be taken seriously.
Some of us skiers will do anything for a quality cake. I’d say that the moment you decide, midway through a particularly satisfying run, that it is time to reward yourself with a slice of tarte at one of the mountain cafes is one of the happiest to be had on the slopes.
As any fanatic knows, this can lead to disappointment: all too many cakes fail to live up to your fantasy. So, in order that any readers planning a visit to Verbier can look forward to their cake with confidence, I have been doing some intensive research.
I avoided the big restaurants at the cable car and chairlift stations, focussing instead on smaller, more characterful café-restaurants that are worth a detour; all are ski-in, ski-out. The house specialities turn out to be various takes on the fruit tart; after careful investigation, I can confirm that all are superb.
One of the venues, Chez Dany (00 41 27 771 25 24), is not on a patrolled piste but a marked “itinerary” – effectively a pretty track through the forest, dotted with chalets. To find it, take the red run that leads from the Les Ruinettes chairlift down to Médran, and look for the signposted turning off to the left.
House speciality at this cosy wooden chalet is a raspberry tart, consisting of a flaky pastry base filled with whipped cream and smothered with glazed raspberries (CHF 6). Laetitia Boumard, the pastry chef who conjures up these slices of pure pleasure, recommends savouring them with a glass of local white wine.
The other cafés are located in the sunny Savoleyres area overlooking Verbier. This is neglected by aficionados of the couloirs and powderfields on the Mont-Fort and Mont-Gelé, but it is popular with families, fans of tree skiing, leisurely lunchers and tarte lovers.
On the north side of the ridge, just above the bottom of the Le Nord six-person chairlift, is Chez Simon (00 41 27 306 80 55; www.chezsimon.ch ), a café among the trees that specialises in just one tart – in large quantities.
Bruno Diebold is one of two chefs who make up to 20 big baking trays of apple tart a day (CHF 4), each providing up to 26 slices. The apples come from a village at the bottom of the mountain, Riddes: in fact this stretch of the Rhone valley is as famous for its fruit brandies as its wine. The apple tart is “as simple as you can make it”, says Bruno, “with nothing surplus”: just pastry, apples, cinnamon, sugar and a little cream. He recommends tasting it warm, with a glass of vin chaud (mulled wine).
Two other top stops lie on the sunny slopes on the other side of the ridge, a few turns below the Savoleyres Sud draglift, on the long blue Planard slope that leads across the mountain to Carrefour and to the bulk of Verbier’s ski area.
La Marmotte (00 41 27 771 68 34; www.lamarmotte-verbier.com) is a large restaurant in traditional chalet style, whose dessert menu always includes the chef de cuisine’s celebrated tarte tatin. Fabrice Girel bakes a couple of these caramelised apple tarts a day, serving them with vanilla ice cream (CHF 11). Do look out for the specials, which change every fortnight: if you visit over the next ten days, it’ll be a mille-feuille aux poires (CHF 12).
Just a few yards away is perhaps the most idiosyncratic venue of all: Le Namasté (00 41 27 771 57 73; www.namaste-verbier.ch), a café that feels more like a cluster of cosy living rooms. The exterior is decorated with all manner of fantastical metal sculptures created out of old agricultural implements that the chef, Jean-Lou Margelisch, welds in his spare time.
The speciality here is maple syrup tart (CHF 6). Jean-Lou said he “only started baking these because I have a friend from Quebec. Now everyone asks for it.”
When it arrives, served by Jean-Lou’s wife Annick, it looks alarmingly thin, but the layer of maple syrup filling, savoured warm, turns out to be so rich, sweet and swooningly sumptuous that I was left gasping with happiness.
So, which of the tartes is the best? I couldn’t possibly say: I urge anyone with an interest to try them all, and make their own mind up. Bon appétit!
- Further information: the Warren Smith Ski Academy (www.warrensmith-skiacademy.com), the Switzerland Travel Centre (00800 100 200 30, www.MySwitzerland.com) and the local tourist office (www.verbier.ch).
- Train tickets from the UK to major Swiss cities are available through Rail Europe (0844 848 4070; www.raileurope.co.uk); onward travel within Switzerland through the Swiss Federal Railways (www.sbb.ch)
- Equipment rental through Ski Service (00 41 27 771 67 70; www.skiservice.com).