Although the village of Chamonix is breathtakingly beautiful, we were anxious to do some hiking and get out into nature. We decided to eschew the gondola or chairlift, and hike our mountain using leg power. The Alps make Tahoe look like a molehill. It’s either up or down and not much in between. Despite the cool air, we were quickly sweating and huffing. Slowly, but surely, the valley floor started to drop away below us. The forest was thick and spotted everywhere with funny little mushrooms that made me think alternatively of the Christmas tree ornaments my parents used to have from Germany, and of gnomes. We stopped occasionally to pick from the wild raspberry bushes that grew here and there along the trail.
We had a somewhat vague destination of the halfway point of the gondola drop off but as we climbed we encountered a sign advertising goat cheese. Who doesn’t love a goat? Change of plans. Who cares about the gondola? Let’s go see goats! So we peeled off to the left and started the hour hike to the farm.
By the time we got to the farm we were really gasping for air. Chamonix looked like a toy village on the valley floor below and we were at eye level view with the paragliders that seem to flock there. They looked like little cocoons floating under an arc of color, suspended by spider webs. There was a wooden sign tacked to the door saying “Ouvert 1330” so we sat to catch our breath, take in the view and wait. At about 13:45 we started to hear the tinkling of little bells. The goats are coming! The goats are coming! Down the mountain they came, trickling like a stream, bleating, jumping off rocks, butting one another, pure joie de vivire. Behind them came the shepherd and his dog. The herd meandered into their barn, all that is, except Billy who marched over to investigate us. The man spoke a word to his dog. There was a streak of fur as the dog rushed to herd Billy back to the barn. Billy spun and charged with his impressive horns, the dog feinted left and then in for a nip of the teeth to Billy’s flank. Billy shook his head with indignation and sprang away to join the rest of the flock. We stood and gawped. The man wiped the sweat from his brow, closed the gate, and walked over to say “Bonjour!”.
He opened the door to his little stone and wood chalet and asked if we’d like anything. There were rounds of fresh goat cheese sitting side by side on a shelf in the cool, dark interior. The word “crepes” was scrawled on a piece of wood outside. That seemed impossible up here in the mountains away from electricity or refrigeration, but he assured me it was possible and I watched him reach into a basket for a couple of eggs and set to work. It seemed he lived up there in the mountains, herding his goats and making snacks for hikers. What a life! The crepes were still hot and melted the Nutella inside. The round of ivory goat cheese was so fresh it had no goaty flavor, just sunshine, spring water and green grass. We set upon our mini feast like hungry wolves and then sat in the sunshine soaking up the warmth and the view, rested and full, and ready for our hike down.
It’s a good lesson, no? What unexpected delights you can find if you are willing to be flexible and change your plan mid-stream…