Courmayeur, both a town and a ski resort, boasts nearly as many ambitious, full-service restaurants as it does lifts on the slopes. Even on bright sunny days with powdery trails, the big question tends to be, “What’s for lunch?” The village, nestled in a snug valley on the south slope (the Italian side) of Mont Blanc, Europe’s highest peak, is a typically sleepy mountain town for much of the year with around 3,000 full-time residents. But when the ski season kicks into high gear, its restaurants, bars and cafes all come roaring to life. It’s a favorite winter escape for residents of Italy’s fashion capital, Milan, a straight two-hour shot up the highway.
For the urbane crowds in from the city on winter weekends, Courmayeur is as much an epicurean as snow-sports destination, known for its mountain cheeses, wild game and cured meats, and for its increasingly serious restaurants. Top tables on and off the slopes can book up weeks in advance. The region’s minerally white and earthy red wines come from some of the highest altitude vineyards in Europe. The sparkling Cuvée des Guides is made 7,000 feet above sea level on the slopes of Mont Blanc, with a tasting room atop one of the state-of-the-art Skyway Monte Bianco cable car stations.
While the drive from Calgary to Jasper can easily be done in a day, I recommend taking at least a week to travel there and back. That leaves plenty of time to find adventure off the main road, spend some nights in the backcountry, and explore each town along the route.
When it comes to eating, exploring, and slumbering in the best log cabins, here’s a road-tripping itinerary that’ll get you away from the crowds and out among those big rocks.
CALGARY – DAY 1: Eat, shop, and stock up on snacks in a city nicknamed “Cowtown” – The bureka plate from universally adored Sidewalk Citizen (618 Confluence Way SE, Calgary, AB) is an ideal breakfast—the sesame-topped, feta-filled pastry is stuffed with a fried egg and served with a lemony cucumber and tomato salad, a hefty spoonful of hummus, and the housemade green or red harissa.
CANMORE – DAY 2: See how they do afternoon tea Rockies style – For dinner in Canmore, Where the Buffalo Roam Saloon (626 Main St. #2, Canmore, AB) is an intimate candlelit bar and restaurant popular with locals.
BANFF – DAY 3: (Safely) scale a mountain, then go back in time
Enjoy the fruits of their labor during dinner at Farmstead, the James Beard Award-winning restaurant, known for its hyper-seasonal dishes like thyme-basted golden beets and hen of the woods mushrooms drizzled with pine syrup.
As one of the pioneers in the farm-to-table movement, Blackberry Farm is better suited for traveling foodies who’d rather roll up their sleeves in the garden than idle all day by the pool. On a pastoral 4,200-acre farm and estate in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains, the food here has a real sense of place: ingredients are tilled from the gardens, milk and cheese is provided from the livestock, and wild mushrooms and blackberries are foraged from the surrounding area. Even the award-winning craft brewery utilizes sour cherries and persimmons picked right off the grounds.
From a Wall Street Journal online article by Margot Dougherty:
JAMES BEARD AWARD-WINNING RESTAURANTS line cobblestone streets, breweries turn out serious suds and the lobster roll is in a constant state of upscale reinvention. Portland, Maine, is a food-lover’s fantasyland, but the culture goes well beyond the plate. Works by Renoir, Homer and Picasso hang at the Portland Museum of Art, and Mother Nature puts on an all-seasons show. Set on the water—the Casco Bay islands make for picturesque day trips—the former capital of the state is rife with trails winding through its parks and promenades. Visitors are prone to mid-hike epiphanies: Why not live here? Soon after novelist Richard Russo and his wife, Barbara, moved to town, daughters Kate and Emily followed. Emily opened PRINT, a bookstore in artsy Munjoy Hill. “Our roots in Portland are very deep,” said Mr. Russo, whose new book, “Chances Are…” was written there. “I can’t think what would get us out of here now.”
Unlike its European models or even local markets like Eataly and Le District, Mercado Little Spain is not set up to provide the ingredients for tonight’s dinner. What it is useful for is on-the-spot eating of almost unparalleled quality.
I was well into my fifth meal in the complex before I came across a dish I didn’t really like; as a general rule, everything is good, which is not something restaurant critics are in the habit of saying. After eating twice in each of its three sit-down restaurants and stitching together another half-dozen meals out of items sold individually at the bars, kiosks and so on, I’m ready to declare that Mercado Little Spain offers more delicious things to eat per square foot than anywhere else in New York.