Watching impossibly glamorous men and women hurtling down mountains in Sochi, I was moved to dig out my ski gear, pack a flask of whisky and head for the Alps.
With Geneva based friends I motored across the border to the French alpine ski resort town of Megeve. The powder was perfect, the skies were blue and the wine was cold. This is the playground of Europe. People here are at leisure, either because they’ve made their money and don’t have to work, or because they belong to a labour union and don’t have to work. Everyone else is either Chinese or Russian, en route to Switzerland where the bankers are know to run excellent laundries.
I don’t understand the point of labour unions. In the West they exist in sunset industries facing severe price competition from low wage developing countries. The union’s response is to demand better working conditions and even higher wages for their members. The businesses they work for inevitably go bust. Then the unions blame foreigners and lobby the government for an industry bailout. It all seems like an expensive waste of time.
In Switzerland everything is unionised and regimented – combining German levels of inflexibility with French levels of inefficiency. The results can be occasionally farcical. Stores close for lunch. The Swiss Air Force recently refused to scramble to intercept a hijacked Ethiopian aircraft because the incident took place outside of office hours. You can’t make this stuff up! Read the story here.
On the slopes however, everyone was having a grand time. We were settling into aprÃ¨s ski drinks at the Club Du Mont D’Arbois. A Saxophonist jumped onto a make shift stage and did his thing. It was totally cheesy, but the mountain backdrop made everything magical. My friends, the secret agent man and his handlers, were grooving to the tunes. A man in a chef’s hat was spinning cotton candy for the kids. In front of the saxophonist there was a woman doing a pole dance. Family entertainment in France is a weird and wonderful thing.
As the evening shadows lengthened we made our way to The Lodge Park, one of the nicest and most historic hotels in the area. Soft light and a sense of warmth greets you as you walk in the door. The service is efficient and discreet. A fire crackles invitingly. The decor is a mix of fur, leather, stuffed animal heads and antlers – with a touch of rock and roll. If Heidi came down from the mountains and went on an acid trip, this is how she would decorate!
I have not been able to find a decent cocktail in the mountains. Stick to wine or spirits of which there is an excellent selection. You will find rare Swiss grown wines which are excellent and rarely make it out of the region. The Chasselas, a white grape varietal, is particularly interesting.
Back in Geneva the only thing one can do is have an early dinner. The town pretty much shuts down by 9pm. Geneva prostitutes must be the hardest working girls in the industry – there literally is no other form of entertainment. Here’s my list of favourite restaurants in Geneva:
Cafe du Centre – a Classic French cafe in the centre of the old town. It’s attracts a discreet cafe society of everyone who’s anyone in the city.
Restaurant Au Carnivore – a restaurant for meat eaters. Steak tartare is a house speciality. Try the tartare and vodka combination. Vegetarians can probably find a pickle on the menu.
Restaurant In Fine – fine, ambitious food in a small elegant restaurant. The spoils of a successful divorce settlement I’m told. The woman who owns the place was smiling.
The only reason to visit this part of the world is to go skiing or to launder something. I can’t vouch for the laundromats, but the skiing is fabulous and the people watching is great fun. SantÃ©!