27/09/2016 07:35 BST | Updated 27/09/2017 06:12 BST

Far From The Madding Crowd - A Best-Kept Ski-Cret!

Wouldn't it be nice to spend all day in a major ski area - and then escape to a quiet mountain village far from the madding crowd - and enjoy the most delicious meal you've probably ever had?

Well you can. Skiing's cognoscenti will point you to their various favourite "secret satellites" - tiny resorts that are linked with major ones, where you can enjoy the best of both worlds.

For me, there is no better example than the time-warp village of Vaujany - a small, rural, delightfully unfashionable village, with chickens and farmyard noises and smells - yet linked with one of France's biggest ski areas. It was once rather splendidly described by one wit as a village "whose monstrous cable-car links it with the vast ski area of Alpe d'Huez like a worm-hole between parallel universes".

The link was forged through somewhat bizarre circumstances almost worthy of a film. Under French law, since a major hydro-electric scheme (said to be the largest in Europe) was constructed down the valley, Vaujany is paid an annual business tax - which is regular and far more beneficial than "compensation".

Not knowing quite what to do with the vast sum they received, the villagers decided to build a huge cable car to link with Alpe d'Huez. Because of its size the lift looks incongruous in such a rural retreat, but it brings revenue to the village and allows guests to retreat from the hurly burly of one of France's biggest ski circuits and savour the tranquillity of a quiet backwater.

Says Nigel Purkhardt, who bases his tour operation Ski Peak here: "This secure income stream underwrote some eye-popping expenditure by the village fathers, allowing them to establish Vaujany as a bona fide ski resort, building the 160 person cable-car and Montfrais gondola, a cavalry of snow-cannon securing skiing conditions on all the pistes, a state of the art crèche, a swanky leisure centre with indoor swimming-pool and spa facilities together with gymnasium, ten-pin bowling and an ice-skating stadium that now hosts the national championships!'

"Vaujany is still very much back-door skiing with direct access. There are still chickens and goats, but some of the old peasants have passed on so this is slowly ebbing away.....enjoy it now whilst you still can....the last generation of French peasant farmers are on their last legs. "

As for good food, I can honestly say I enjoyed the best meal I've ever had in the mountains at one of Ski Peak's chalets, Chalet Saskia, courtesy of its New Zealand chef, Marcus Cull.

I still have the menu!

Amuse: (as in Amuse Bouche, a sort of pre pre starter!) Curry popcorn, with a filo cone with warm chicken liver garlic pâté and port poached apple madeleines au chorizo (spicy pork sausage baked in a sponge cake)

Pre starter:

Tom yum soup with shitake and baby corn, spring onions


Seared scallops with rock melon, sage, trout caviar, squid ink onion tempura and passionfruit beurre blanc

Main course:

Pork trio: Belly poached in pineapple, fillet of pork, shredded belly with chestnuts and apricots rolled in Palma ham, served with parsnip purée, snow pea shoots and pickled turnip


Apricot and rosemary sorbet


Poached pear in white wine filled with St Agur (blue cheese), walnut tuille, port gel and celery foam

Pre dessert:

Cuban rum, lemon jelly, coffee with white chocolate foam, banana praline, rosé poached rhubarb,

rhubarb gel, pink peppercorn crystalline


Spicy chocolate fondant, coconut jelly, mint, fig sorbet, coconut opaline

Petit Fours:

White chocolate lime fudge, pine-nut praline truffle

Bon appétit!