French spa town features pure water and culinary delights
Once landed in Geneva, my option to exit the airport on the border of France instead of Switzerland seemed logical, as Evian was my final destination. Alas, it was not France, but through the Switzerland exit where I began my hourlong drive along Lake Geneva to France’s southeastern region of the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes.
It was sunset when I arrived at the Hotel Ermitage at Evian Resort. I was literally surrounded by water; an assortment of Evian bottled water filled my room, while outside, a panorama of Lake Geneva at dusk hypnotized me. I’m certain I spotted a party on a yacht in the distance, but nevertheless, I relaxed with my own party: a glass from a slender bottle of 2012 Domaine Delalex Marin Clos du Pont, enjoyed on my private patio. This elegant, single-vineyard white is made from grapes that drink glacier water, and its taste exhibited stone, almonds and mountain herbs.
Like an impatient child waking on Christmas, my next morning I drew the drapes — and then my breath — and opened my gift of a visual explosion that began with window boxes of fuchsia-stained geraniums overlooking a Monet-inspired garden to the mist on Lake Geneva, to the majesty of Mont Blanc massif beyond. It was a scene drawn from the pages of a fairy tale.
That afternoon, I headed to the source of world-famous Evian water, where visitors can sip it to their heart’s content, or submerge themselves in the soft, mineral-rich “eau.” I could have spent days there, but I would have missed my facial at the Spa Quatre Terres at my hotel.
Could it get any better than this? Why, yes, it could. Dinner at the plein-aire La Table at the hotel that night defined magical realism. On a deck surrounded by yet another pink-and-blue sunset sky, I devoured the hotel chef’s local fish delicacies and a few portions of the best baguettes in France (shared by tiny finches who stole crumbs from abandoned tables).
The sensory experience in eating a Croque Madame at lunch on my day of departure remains one of the most vivid impressions I took home from my visit to Hotel Ermitage. I luxuriated in this simple sandwich’s authentic flavor, made with Jura Massif Comté cheese, as well as impeccable service at La Bibliothèque — which translates to “the library” — a restaurant lined with volumes of books written by masters past and present. As literary as it is gastronomic, menu items were listed in chapters and verse, with “memorable lower-case” dishes and “upper-case dishes” to sweet “tender words.” I left Evian feeling nourished, body and soul.
• ¼ cup butter
• 2 slices of bread
• 2 slices white chicken or white ham (the real “croque madame” is chicken)
• 2 oz. Comté cheese
• 1 egg
In frying pan, melt half the butter; then spread the remaining butter on the slices of bread. Fill the sandwich with chicken or ham and cheese. In a separate pan, cook the egg, sunny side up. Cook the sandwich until browned to liking, and place the egg on top. Serve with a small green salad and vinaigrette.
— Courtesy La Bibliothèque restaurant at Hotel Ermitage
Charlene Peters is a passionate explorer of indigenous dishes throughout the world. She can be reached at email@example.com.