consulted for Chamonix locals’ insider tips: words and pictures by BB

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“Perched at 2032m of altitude on the slope of Les Grands-Montets, just below the tip of the Glacier d’Argentière, is the classic stone Chalet Refuge de Lognan, which dishes up the best food to be found on this mountain, whenever the Lognan cable car is running.

Access is somewhat off-piste, which adds to this traditional refuge’s charm: you can ski to it either from the Herse chairlift or via the Point de Vue run that follows the glacier from the Aiguille des Grands-Montets cable car. In summer, the walk from the Croix de Lognan, through mountain flora and crossing glacial streams, has stunning views of the village of Argentière below the moraine of its mighty glacier.

The refuge is run by a local high mountain guide who is the grandson of Armand Charlet, one of France’s most celebrated alpinists of the 20th century. The restaurant specialises in traditional Savoyard mountain cooking, which keeps the fare simple and delicious.”

Saint-James, autumn/winter 2015

Giving classic French label Saint-James a fresh slice of contemporary cool. Photographer: Emmanuelle Margarita Stylist: Céline Merlet

Edgy monochrome.


Big sky.
The world is your oyster.
D-Day landings’ Omaha Beach, Normandy.


Fisherman’s cap, Sloaney sweater dress, leg-warmers and DMs.


Styling a top model.


Les Filles du Bord de la Mer.



The scallop capital of France.
Cool crew shadows.




Smiley stylist.
Pic of pix.
Stylist on the fence.
The coolest crew ready for take off.




Pretty French by an art-house film star.
The talk-of-town crew carting the gear home.




The last Black Weekend 2014

IMG_8675It might seem unlikely to many that a ski brand could host an edgy music festival, but there is no shadow of a doubt that Black Crows SkisThe Black Weekend is the most directional and coolest event to happen in the mountains. The festival evolved from a ski test day alongside the infamous Boss des Bosses competition with a DJ’s trance sound track, to a music-marketing tool for a niche brand of big mountain free-ride skis, conceived, designed and mostly skied-on in Chamonix, with a mantra of wild music and savage skiing.IMG_8697

Launched in December 2006, Black Crows Skis were devised by local pro free-skiers Camille Jaccoux and Bruno Compagnet, who only wanted to make the best skis for the type of skiing they loved: high altitude, big mountain, back country free-riding. Both being utterly non-conformist and cutting edge, means their brand’s identity has been cool, dark and extremely clever, ever since they hatched Black Crows – a birdsong reflected perfectly by The Black Weekend.IMG_8686

For its first 3 years the weekend saw a couple of hip Parisian DJs invited to Chamonix to play along with the local talent. Sadly, 2010 was the year of the last Boss des Bosses moguls freestyle competition in Chamonix, but by then The Black Weekend had garnered a reputation for throwing some of the best parties in the Alps, with talked about DJs from Berlin, Ibiza and Paris spinning progressive house tunes. This year the black brand took things to a higher level than ever before with big name artists DJing from as close to the top of the Western world as you can get by public transport – the north deck of L’Aiguille du Midi, at 3842m of altitude in the Mont-Blanc massif – while still nodding to the wild skiing history of the event, by supporting The Hot Dog Day, a freestyle moguls race on a much smaller scale than the Boss des Bosses, but at which local hero, who always skied the Boss des Bosses, Glen Plake performed true to style.IMG_8751

IMG_8907The festival opened on the Thursday evening to the tune of regular Black Weekend DJ Greg Boust warming up the chalet housing La Bergerie restaurant at the top of the Plan-Praz gondola on the slopes of Le Brévent mountain. Berlin techno master Sascha Funke playing live with his wife Julienne Dessagne as Saschienne, hotted up the small wooden building at 2000m of altitude further. IMG_8689And then Italian Berliners Tale of Us, just blew the roof off with their set. The wired crowd rode the especially late night running gondola down to the centre of Chamonix at midnight and piled into the chicest bar in town Les Caves to dance a second time to Sascha Funke DJing alone.

Tale of Us soared for the skies the next day with a stunning set up at L’Aiguille du Midi, during which wing-suit pilots base jumped off the deck above them. Their daytime spectacle at altitude was followed by a bouncy first set from Agoria, IMG_8992who kicked off his high end one day tour of the Chamonix valley in style, flying from Mont-Blanc to play to the Crows’ nest at Lognan on Les Grands Montets after We Are Knights’ gig and then up to Montenvers to spin again with Kosme, before finishing his Black Weekend grand tour with a party at the Chamonix ice rink in town.

IMG_8716The fringe festival at the après ski sessions in town on the Friday and Saturday late afternoons, had DJs playing outside shops and on the terraces of cafés under bluebird skies, as well as inside bars, which injected a fresh slice of clubbing cool to Chamonix’s bourgeois centre ville. As Bruno Compagnet put it: “We live in place that takes itself very seriously, so with The Black Weekend we’re doing something different and not serious at all.”IMG_9065

The third day showed no slowing of pace, as Jennifer Cardini (a genius bit of booking on International Women’s Day) IMG_9010proceeded to keep skiers dancing after Rocky’s performance set them off at the Lognan nest in the afternoon; to then totally rip up the rule book of Chamonix clubbing with a banging late night set at a last minute rearranged venue. Jenny had been lined up to play out the biggest party night of the festival, originally set down valley in Les Houches with edgy electronica band Jabberwocky performing live and Ibiza heavy-weight Michael Mayer spinning techno. The majority of this huge night was relocated to La Lucarne, the bar at the Chamonix ice rink, apart from Jennifer Cardini’s inspired set for which the Black Crows and their flock of Chamonix clubbers trooped across town to the BackRoom of night spot Amnesia to enjoy.IMG_9149

IMG_9157The final day saw a live gig from Hypnolove and the mighty Michael Mayer playing under the sun on the snow at Lognan, with locals screaming their extreme delight as a wing-suiter zoomed over the crowd. This show was followed with French electronic artist YoggyOne performing live and Berliners Dada Disco DJing at a pool party in the early evening, with a special surprise guest appearance by DJ Ricardo Villalobos at the final closing party in Les Caves, finishing off the weekend on a high and taking the standards of dance music played during it to dizzying heights.

So, what of the skis and the skiing? The Black Weekend’s core premise is to promote Black Crows Skis. Throughout the weekend the full range of skis, including the newest, yet to be released models were available to test at Lognan Crows’ nest on Les Grands Montets. I confess I was somewhat seduced by trying out a pair of Viators at the 2012 Black Weekend. I was worried that as a high-end clubber in retirement, I had been swept away by hearing the techno and trance that I loved (of which not a huge amount is heard in Chamonix) while trying out skis on my favourite mountain above my village home; and this combined with the coolly persuasive marketing play on ornithological words had convinced me I wanted wings I could not fly.IMG_9019IMG_8970

I actually ended up soaring around 12 months later for a pair of Camox Freebirds. With these feathered friends in my ski quiver, my skiing immediately went up several notches. The Camox Freebird is an all-mountain touring ski – light, durable, responsive, reliable and, above all, extremely enjoyable to ride. My Freebirds are my go anywhere, particularly if it’s up high and off piste, ride anything skis, while the imagery and branding are an appropriate reflection of the wild, back-country, free-ride, combat skiing they handle so well. I can’t imagine skiing on anything else now – because once you go Black, there’s no going back.

The complex logistics of a winter trancey music festival in a mountaineering resort did not stop its loyal fans from following every turn of events to make this year’s Black Weekend a huge success. Few managed to see all four of the Agoria performances, as that involved racing from one long high mountain lift to another and finishing down town late after an extreme schedule. Last minute venue changes due to strict local licensing laws didn’t stop clubbing regulars and festival fledglings from packing out the parties, as the populace of Chamonix do everything to extreme, even clubbing, so were un-phased by having to make small journeys to enjoy their adventurous partying.IMG_9133

The artists and DJs might be unknown to the mass market charting club scene, but by leading the edgy French electronica scene or being influential in Berlin and on Ibiza, they fit with the black ice cool of the Crows’ perfectly to set The Black Weekend ever at the leading edge of dance festivals, even if it seems hemmed in by the geography of its stunning location – it couldn’t be anywhere else, because Black Crows hatched out in Chamonix and birds might migrate, but always return home to nest.


Classic Tragi-Comedy

It was as if someone had flipped a switch: the day that August rolled into September – even after one of the hottest summers on record – temperatures changed. We still had 30 degrees plus in Athens/Attica in the afternoons, but suddenly evenings were only 20 degrees and everyone started wearing jeans and jumpers. It felt weird sleeping under covers and not having a fan whirring at 100 miles an hour and blowing directly on me in bed, after 3 months of hot and humid nights.

Then on the 11th of September it rained for the first time since June. ‘Autumn is a second spring, when every leaf is a flower’, wrote Albert Camus and nowhere is this truer than in Greece. The longed for autumn rains give all the plants a growth surge and trees take on the fluoro green of new shoots, while all the plants’ colours brighten as the summer dust is washed off their foliage and petals.

Autumn in Athens, means that it might be a bit chilly to swim in the mornings, but it is still nice and warm enough to take a dip off the beach in the afternoons. The die hard senior Athenians, who swim every day of the year, get in the water no matter what the weather – they have their regular time and place and swim with fins, hats and sunglasses – they might not be swimming that hard and taking much exercise, but they are swimming daily none the less and the water will most likely make them live forever. Every New Year, there’s a report on local television, interviewing Athenians who swim year round and it generally features the same folk.

The shops are full of wintery clothes in dark shades and heavy fabrics, which seems a bit farcical when it is 30 degrees outside and everyone is still wearing shorts and sandals. But the shopping in Athens is amazing. And in a financial crisis is seriously competitive – bargains are to be found all over. If you want edgy looks at keen prices, you browse the racks in the boutiques of the backstreets of Pireaus. For designer labels, high art, antiques, Greek and Euro-chic it is downtown Athens – Kolonaki and Plaka. For the hip musos, clubbers, media and contemporary crafts it’s Gazi and Psirri. And if you just want an up-market high street on the beach, you hit Glyfada.

It is sad, however, to see so many businesses go to the wall in these tough times. Pireaus, the port of Athens and traditionally its much less glamorous neighbour, has been hit very hard, with shops closing down, buildings left empty and renovation projects remaining near derelict. Even in the wealthy beach suburb of Glyfada, I was shocked to see a really good eaterie disappear within 6 weeks of my discovering it – I was dismayed when I suggested going there one Sunday lunch time to find that it had closed for good.

While on the subject of food, I have been living all summer on a fairly staple diet of souvlaki – classic Greek sandwiches, which we would call kebabs in the UK (but are far nicer than those horrific things you buy late at night after the pub and you are too drunk to care what they taste like). Souvlaki is traditional Greek fast food/barbecue: there’s a number of variations on the theme, depending on what meat you want (lamb, chicken, beef or pork – on a wooden skewer or cut from a gyro or meat balls) and how you want it (wrapped in pitta bread, on its own or with salad), but it is all fresh and tastes great. I love the fact that McDonald’s doesn’t make a profit in Greece – the Greeks much prefer eating that which is Greek and traditional.  Some souvlaki shops, such as Bairaktaris in Monstiraki, downtown Athens, have been in business for 100 years and attract local and international celebs.  Souvlaki, it seems, will never go out of fashion in Greece.

There are such wonderful things to buy here and at such incredible prices (particularly when I think about returning to the high French Alpine economy) that I have gradually been doing my Christmas shopping – ideal for the family in Australia, with their upside down seasons and beach lifestyle, I can get much more appropriate pressies for them in Greece. While for myself I have picked up cowboy boots for 60 euros, stunning jewellery and body adorment for less than 50 euros apiece in precious metals and with real stones.

The jewellery traditions and culture of hand crafting it are very strong in Greece. There is a jewellery museum down the road from the Akropolis, the Ilias Lalaounis House, and hundred of shops where you can buy directly from the gold and silversmiths who have made every unique piece thay are selling. Very inspiring if you are into jewellery – which I am. Late in life, I’ve had an elegant and exotic ear piercing – done in Pireaus, which is most appropriate for a wannabe pirate…

My confusion over Greek men continues, however. After some research and particularly painful mind games, I realised that much of their odd behaviour in relationships, is to do with Greek women – many of whom have similarly tricky temperaments to French women. French men are persistent because French women say ‘non’ a lot; Greek men are persistent for similar reasons. In France it is seen as coquettish and charming for women to be a bit bad tempered – in England the men would write off such behaviour as being a stroppy bitch. In Greece, women like to cook for their men, make the house nice for them and dote on children, but complain endlessly if they are not given the opportunity to do this and are terrible nags. But then Greek men are hopeless in the mornings, unable to get up early unless a lady is gently waking them and brewing fresh coffee. Which explains why the women become so nagging: they have to ask men over and over to do things for them or questions or whatever. Greek men hate being nagged, but obstinately ignore what women are trying to communicate, until they are good and ready to respond – usually after the 10th request!

Where I come from, girls generally just lie back and think of England – it was bred into them during the world wars of the last century. Although, while many Greek men are encouraged by this, I think they might be a bit scared off by the ladette behaviour illustrated by Brits in the popular resorts on Rhodes, Kos and Corfu. And strong, self-starting girls who get up early in the morning, do chores and work out – all before breakfast – completely freak them out. So I’m a little stymied.

But then, Greece has largely gone out of fashion for many British holiday makers – it is quite far, it is nothing like as cheap as it used to be when the drachma was the currency. Although, this year that has changed with the country being near bankrupt, it is bargain central. But Greece will always be in fashion for the Greeks – particularly those who live abroad (mostly in the UK and the US). At the kiosks here I can buy all the English newspapers, English Hello, Tatler and British Vogue. A lot of what is shown on the telly is in English with Greek subtitles, which is great for practising my reading of Greek.

Athens might be 2000 km farther East from home than Chamonix, but it feels a lot closer. I shall miss it.

Aegean Dramas

Well, it sure is a long hot summer in Greece this year – no regular Meltemi winds to cool Attica and the islands, means that temperatures have topped 40 degrees Celsius on several occasions.

But if you want fresher airs and cooling breezes you go to the Northern Cycladic Islands, such as Tinos – home to the legendary cave of Aeolus, god of wind. And if you are on a Greek Islands sailing holiday, then everyone wants to go to Mykonos – the island where anything goes…

The trouble is, is that sailing around Mykonos and Tinos is not easy. Some superstitious Greek skippers won’t go to Tinos, because they don’t want to rattle Aeolus’ cage. Yet, all guests and bare boat charterers want to go to Mykonos – a decision many regret as they endure a bumpy ride to get to the island. Then after that, they are struggling to tie up in the marina in a Force 6 or 7, often 8, with anchors are getting tangled, boats being blown on to walls and each other. The rush hour around 6pm in the evening in high season at the marina in Mykonos is better than any TV soap opera, as small sail boats, big stink pots, ferries and fishing boats jostle for some kind of pecking order and a spot in the crowded port.

Once you are tied up, though, it is all worth it: the beach bars and restaurants on Mykonos might be expensive, but they are truly stunning in style. The island’s scenery has been preserved by not allowing non-Cycladic Island architecture to spring up in the name of development. Mykonos Town (the Chora) is a classic old Cycladic village of narrow streets separating white box Greek houses and tiny churches. Myth has it that the streets were made so narrow, so that the pirates and partiers who colonised the island centuries ago, could ricochet drunkenly along them to find their way home late at night. It’s amazing how pirates always find cool spots and turn them into hot spots.

There is plenty of pirate influence in contemporary Greek culture – anyone who works in boating in Athens lives in Paleo Faliro, the southern beach area, populated by yachties, skippers, captains, pirates, smugglers, gangsters, charmers and other louche livers. I live on the edge of the area in Kalamaki, which has a huge marina and is the place to get anything done to do with boats. But it is all myth – the area is very safe, I swim every day I can and it is friendly and as interconnected as Cowes on the Isle of Wight.

The interconnectedness of the area is a feature of all of Greece. Everyone knows everyone or is related to someone that they know. It is not considered rude in Greece to ask complete strangers how old they are, where they live and if they are married. When I queried this (after being utterly shocked as a British woman that I was being personally interrogated within seconds of being introduced to someone) to a friend, explaining that it is seen as very offensive to ask a woman her age in England, he laughed and reminded me that there are only 10 million people living in Greece and so people are always checking whether or not they are related to a potential new mate.

But this doesn’t make the dating game any easier… Not only have I learned that Athenian men generally have more than one girlfriend, I have also gleaned that the most important woman in a Greek man’s life is his mother. As many men live with their mothers when they are single, you are bound to cross the paths of these matriarchs. It is quite common for the older generation to speak less English that their children, as I found when I was trying to organise a date with a guy who lives in Pireaus with his mum. Whenever I phoned his house and asked to speak to him in English, his mother hung up on me.

To escape the heatwave, I went to Mykonos for work. It was a somewhat stressful experience, as we were doing corporate day and evening sails in up to 30 knots of wind, but somehow I managed to run the much moving bar efficiently enough to be offered a bar job in the gay Jackie O bar in the Little Venice area of the Chora. Then it was off to Santorini to pick up a yacht and deliver it back to the mainland.

Everything was going well, in spite of the fact that we were going upwind in a catamaran in a Force 7-8, until we lost an engine and sprung a leak off Cape Sounio. Unfazed, I started bailing and organised us a tow into Lavrio, where we then had a crazy moment hauling the boat out of the water in the dark and a howling gale. But we did it and the boat was saved and easily repaired. You have to hand it to the Greeks, they can get anything done in a flash if necessary – you have to pay cash and dispense with bureaucracy, but at least things happen when they need to.

To celebrate our safe return and to appreciate the beauty of summer, we did a trek of Cape Sounio under the last August full moon. The archeological site of the ancient Temple of Poseidon was open late and free for all, so we were not alone in our venture. But the sky was full of shooting stars big enough to show up beside a moon so bright that the Aegean Sea was lit up so we could see as far as the island of Kithnos to the East. And there is nothing more appropriate for yachties in Greece than to worship at the temple of Poseidon – it was a truly charming evening.

Olympic Games

I thought I had seen and heard it all in the social maze that is London with regards to the dating dance of life, but no – try running the marathon that is dating Greek men in Athens…

Most of my Greek friends are men and all of them seem to have at least 2 women on the go and at least two mobile phone numbers – one for work, one for social and some have a third ‘for the women’. It is fairly standard for Athenian men to have one girlfriend for behind closed doors and another that they wheel out for family events and special occasions.

Greek men are very open about the fact that they might want to date you, but will then never follow up on the initial meeting or enthusiam until their wife or long-term girlfriend is out of town, which means you don’t hear from them and assume that they are not interested. And then you get called out of the blue and end up having three dates with them in a week. After which you might not hear from them again…

Hilariously, there is also no subterfuge about whether or not they are married – one guy told me he was ‘a little bit’ married, while another said to me that he loved his wife, but still wanted to take me out. I was more than a bit bewildered by all of this, until I made friends with a very wise single woman, who plays the men soundly at their own game. Said lady has a young lover, two daters – one married and one divorced – with an intellectual on/off partner for all the other times.

Then one of my best mates, who is very much single at the moment but has had good relationships with some truly stunning women, told me that it is often better to have a number of entertaining summer flirts, ideally out of Athens in the country or the islands, as most people in the apparently civilised society of Athens are busy being married and messing around – so the locals’ tip is have fun, but don’t get involved.

Athens is a calmer, quieter place in August, as most people shut up shop and disappear for the month. It’s insanely hot at this time of the year, so you can understand why everyone wants to go to the islands, but the city itself is on the beach and with less traffic and people in town, those who have to stay for the holiday month, take back the city for themselves. It is in fact a very cool city: it has a low crime rate, an excellent cultural scene and miles of beach. There’s some of Europe’s top shopping, fabulous food and ancient history to soak up everywhere. There are also masses of leafy squares where you can sit in the shade of a cafe and put the world to rights in that most Mediterranean of ways – over coffee.

Most Athenians would argue that it is way too hot in August to work too hard and so much of the sultry day is spent resting and then the place comes alive at night when the temperature drops a little. Cinemas are busiest for their late shows from 11pm, bars don’t get going until well after midnight and walking home at 3 in the morning is a bit like catching the last train in London: there are plenty of other people doing the same.

Athenians are, however, very parochial. When I decided to embark on a journey across town to an inner city suburb, where a cinema was playing a particular film I wanted to watch, I couldn’t find anyone to give me directions, as none of my friends knew the area. In general, people know where they live, where they work, where their folks live and that’s all they need to know. So I set off with a street map that was to a titchy scale, into the dusk, to an area that was residential and so not terribly well lit. It was too dark for me to read my map and it and all the street signs were in Greek anyway, so I was struggling from the outset. After several Greek versions of a wild goose chase – Athenians are hopeless at giving directions and I was getting them in very difficult to understand Greek English – I finally found the open air cinema I was after and settled down to watch a Swedish film with Greek subtitles, which was a further linguistic challenge. Somehow I managed to enjoy the movie.

Then I was in the country for the weekend and got invited to a beach party, which most people didn’t know how to get to, or how to get back to Athens from afterwards. In a ludricrous comedy of errors on the day after, in the middle of a heat wave and a fuel crisis and with thumping hangovers, we managed to run out of petrol in the middle of nowhere and had to flag down a lift to my car, which was also low on petrol, but was parked at a marina where we knew we could get some. Crazy days of summer – Greek style.