The Toquisimes Food Festival is held in the village of Megève in France’s Savoie region – famous mostly as a ski resort – every October and is a showcase for local producers. For three days the sports complex, Le Palais de Megève, is transformed into a huge food market.
There are also tastings, cookery demonstrations and gourmet lunches. I get to sample products delivered from the area’s farms including cheeses like Reblochon, Beaufort, Tomme and Raclette.
Various restaurants around town offer special Menus Toquisimes for around €35 and a large tent on the main square is the venue for foodie competitions.
If you want to know the winners of the best Pâté Pie, Mountain Soup or Chartreuse this is the place to be.
The big ticket is the Fondue contest, and a small but enthusiastic crowd watches as a panel of distinguished chefs taste and pronounce their verdict.
Megève, literally the village on the water, was a quiet farming town until the 19th century when the parish priest, Father Ambroise Martin, had an idea.
Inspired by what he’d seen in Italy, he came up with a scheme to erect fifteen chapels and oratories depicting the stations of cross, on the slopes above the town.
Work took place between 1840 and 1878 and this Megève Calvary began to attract pilgrims to the “Savoyard Jerusalem”. So much so that hotels and lodging houses were built to accommodate them, the beginning of tourism.
After WW1, Baroness Noémie de Rothschild was a frequent visitor to St Moritz, but didn’t get on with the German aristocracy. So much so that she decided to establish a ski resort in France and bought a huge area of land in Megève.
Together with her husband, Maurice de Rothschild, she built the Mont d’Arbois in 1921, a luxury hotel equipped with an ice rink. More chalets followed and she went on to create the first cable car in 1933, an airfield and an 18-hole golf course.
By the 1950’s Megève was one of the most popular ski resorts in Europe and attracted many wealthy individuals and celebrities, including Jean Cocteau, Sacha Distel, Charles Aznavour and Brigitte Bardot.
It features in the 1963 film Charade, where Audrey Hepburn’s Regina Lampert meets Cary Grant’s character and is still the playground of the rich and famous.
In spite of its celebrity, Megève is still a thriving farming town as I discover when I accompany a herd of cows down from their summer pastures.
It’s a family affair with three generations taking part in the celebrations. They tell me they’re passionate about the quality of their milk and the excellence of the cheese they produce.
In all, around 45 farms supply around 75 eateries including 35 mountain restaurants. Among the elite are its four Michelin-starred restaurants which boast a total of seven stars among them.
The Flocons de Sel is one of only 27 restaurants in France to hold the coveted three stars. Here Chef Emmanuel Renaut has an “eat local, build local” philosophy and he gets up early to forage for wild mushrooms and herbs. On the night I sample his food, there is plenty of porcini, truffles and other varieties peppered among the courses. Unlike a classic French menu, vegetables feature heavily including a delightful parsnip and beetroot gnocchi in a horseradish consommé. Of course, there’s sympathetic wine pairing and the service is perfect, closely supervised by Madame Renaut.
My final meal is a Toquicimes lunch at Le Palais to raise money for the French Bocuse d’Or team. I tuck in with relish – after all, it’s not every day that I’m given the opportunity to eat for France.
Other Activities in Megeve
Mountain trails: Of course, if you’re going to indulge in fine dining, it pays to get some exercise. In the winter the ski slopes are justly renowned but you can keep fit in any season. An extensive network of mountain trails and cycle tracks circle the town so I set out on an e-bike. This makes light work of the hills and I’m soon staring at Mont Blanc in the far distance.
Fly over Mont Blanc: Even though the famous mountain is visible from the town, there’s no better way of getting up close than in a small aeroplane. The Altiport de la Cote 2000 is just outside, nothing more than a strip of asphalt amidst green pastures. It’s a bright and sunny morning as I climb over the wing into the small single-engine Musketeer. We’re soon above Megève’s Mont d’Arbois (at 1833 metres) and make our way to the Mont Blanc Massif above the Chamonix Valley.
Our target, at 4808m looms up front, towering above its rivals, and we follow the Argentiere Glacier. A swift left turn around the Aiguille Verte brings us above the Mer de Glace, its snow pristine. There’s a certain amount of twisting and turning as we get alarmingly close to the sheer rocky pinnacles of the Aiguille de Midi. It doesn’t get any better than this.
Getting to and around Megeve
FLY: EasyJet has return flights to Geneva from London Gatwick from £47.
Aerocime offers flights over Mont Blanc cost from £144 pp.
MORe INFO: Megève has tourist information.
The next Toquicimes Festival takes place in October 2021.