Behind the scenes at a high-altitude restaurant in Val Thorens

At the heart of the Val Thorens ski area in the Alps, we spent a day at Chalet de la Marine, a high-altitude restaurant well known to regulars who fancy breaking up the day’s skiing. Follow us in the footsteps of the teams who work hard at 2,500 metres in order to pamper you at the top of the slopes!

Here we are at the heart of the famous Three Valleys ski area in Val Thorens, the highest resort in Europe. Nestled on the slopes 2,500 metres up, Chalet de la Marine is a family affair. Since 2005 it’s been run by Arnaud and Cédric Gorini, two brothers born in Val Thorens into a family passionate about hotels and restaurants, who now have several establishments in the resort.* In the middle of the Dalles slope, Chalet de la Marine hosts two restaurants: a self-service bistro on the ground floor, and a traditional restaurant upstairs where the daily challenge is to serve fresh, high-quality cuisine at 2,500 metres.

*Chalet de la Marine, Chalet des Deux Lacs, five-star Hotel Pashmina and four-star Hôtel des 3 Vallées

8:30am: Staff arrive to ski at Chalet de la Marine

Every morning, the chairlift opens exclusively for them! The entire mountain restaurant team at Chalet de la Marine come to work on foot or on skis. At this time of day, the tracks are deserted and the silence deafening. Jennifer and Corentin are the first on site; they’ve worked together at Chalet de la Marine for seven years. Behind the peak of Caron, the sunrise illuminates the mountains and everything looks magical.

9am: Snowmobiles deliver fresh produce

There’s no choice: in winter, fresh produce arrives at the restaurant by snowmobile! Delivered in resort, it’s then packed onto snowmobile trailers to make its ascent to Chalet de la Marine via the ski slopes. A true gastronomic challenge of everyday life: green salads, in particular, are very afraid of the cold and must be packed with the greatest care before this journey. It’s less treacherous for cheese and mountain charcuterie, which is very popular with skiers.

9:10am: The mountain terrace is set up

The sun begins to shine on the slopes of the ski area of the 3 Valleys, and Corentin sets up the large terrace that will welcome skiers seeking a break in the sun. Snow is everywhere, so the first task is to clear it before setting out the tables. Welcome to high-altitude living!

9:15am: The Chalet’s head chef arrives in the kitchen

Under her big cap and well wrapped up in a jacket, the head chef salutes her team. At 31, Mathilde Mattera has been in charge of the kitchen here for three years. She expertly revisits recipes by Romuald Fassenet (Chef Consultant Chalet, Michelin-starred chef and Meilleur Ouvrier de France). Her challenge: to cook for, on average, 185 people (320 on busy days), at 2,500 metres above sea level. Here, the bias is resolutely qualitative: Chalet de la Marine is the only mountain restaurant in the Alps to have obtained a ‘fourchette’ in the Michelin guide.

10am: The boss checks the stocks

Arnaud Gorini takes a note of merchandise stocks. During a single winter season, Chalet de la Marine sells no less than 500 barrels of beer and 4,500 bottles of wine, not to mention the thousands of cans of soda and bottled water! Storage is a real headache here.

10am: The pastry hour

Pastry chef Florian Bleu is starting his first season at Chalet de la Marine, mastering how to cook at altitude. Since the air is very dry, he adapts recipes for pasta with cabbage, moistens the biscuits more than usual, and puts more egg whites in the macarons to prevent them drying out. Under these conditions, the dessert buffet approved by pastry chef consultant Xavier Brignon (Vice-Champion of France desserts 2009 & 2011) has something to delight all foodies before they head back to the slopes.

10:30am: Work in the kitchen begins

Mathilde Mattera and her team are busy behind the stove: every day, their first customers are their colleagues at the Chalet, who have lunch at 11am. Today, she makes them a beef stir fry.

11am: the first guests arrive

The bistro on the ground floor has been open since 9am this morning, but the first customers begin to flock around 11am. The sun is out and the terrace fills up quickly: between two descents, we stop to enjoy a hot chocolate. There’s a stunning panoramic view of the surrounding mountains and the Belleville valley at the heart of the 3 Valleys.

1pm: Blue lobster, scallops and truffles

Here you can enjoy blue lobster salads, duck parmentiers, monkfish with lemongrass or scallops served on a creamy risotto, which Mathilde shaves with truffle before sending it out to the terrace. The cuisine served in the traditional restaurant also makes space for mountain specialities. Diners can enjoy fondue with morel mushrooms or croziflette with farmhouse Reblochon. Also very popular are the assortments of charcuterie and cheese from Savoie: Reblochon, Tomme de Savoie, Beaufort and Bleu d’Albertville, not forgetting the inevitable gratin dauphinois. What a way to warm up!

1:15pm: Full sun!

On the terrace, guests enjoy the sun before donning their skis once again. This is the time to treat yourself to a final little coffee facing the slopes, while discussing the afternoon’s ski route. Since Val Thorens and the 3 Valleys have a lot to offer skiers, it’s worth waiting for the next break in altitude! It’s also worth visiting Chalet de la Marine at night, when the valley is full of twinkling lights, for a cosy chair and a magical view of the surrounding mountains. The restaurant can collect you and take you up and down the slopes in a snocat.

Val Thorens in the French Alps