Friday, June 23, 2017

Try the “Mountain Man” restaurant near Montreux, Switzerland

Chateau Chillon in Montreux, immortalized by Lord Byron, sits
in the shadow of Le Montagnard  (wikipedia)

VALLON DE VILLARD, SWITZERLAND -- This is a story about perseverance and dedication. In its own personal way it is a love story for it say everything you need to know about  human spirit It is about humility. It is a .story about a Swiss chef who rarely left his beloved hills overlooking Lake Geneva outside Montreux, Switzerland, and it is a story about the determination to do something with your life that brings pleasure to others through your own talents and gifts

His name was Hans Odermatt, and he was one of those people you never forget.
Lord Byron would have
enjoyed knowing Hans
Odermatt  (wikipedia)
It wasn’t so much his hand-knitted woolen socks that made him distinctive.  Nor was it his home-made wooden sandals with broad leather straps.  It wasn’t even his Santa Claus beard that grew down to his chest.  Rather it was his indefinable and intangible spirit; an aura that touched nearly everyone who walked into his little restaurant in Vallon de Villard (Villard Valley), the mountains  that overlook Montreux, Switzerland.

Hans Odermatt was a simple man.  In his youth, he was a carpenter by trade.  When the armies of the world surrounded Switzerland in the 1940s, Hans left his beloved mountains and traveled to Australia where he learned to speak English.

Later, when the war was over, he returned to Zurich where he enrolled in culinary school before moving back to the hills of Lake Geneva.
Steamers criss-cross Lake Geneva between Switzerland and
France throughout the summer  (wikipedia)
Using his life’s savings, Odermatt purchased a 17th century farm in the 1960s.  Recalling the carpentry skills of his earlier life, Hans went to work on the stable and transformed in into a restaurant.  Working with his own hands by day, Hans gradually and methodically built his dream.  In the evening, in order to earn enough money to pay his bills, Odermatt prepared fondue and raclette for the villagers who lived in the countryside.
Golden Pass train glides past
vineyards above Lake Geneva

The restaurant was rustically appointed with wall paintings by Alexandre Guhl and decorated throughout with a large collection of old farm implements. Even today, visitors are captivated by the depictions of traditional Swiss country life that permeate the restaurant. 

When the restaurant was completed, Hans Odermatt continued refining his culinary techniques by expanding his menu and perfecting his craft.  Soon, Le Montagnard Restaurant became well-known throughout the region.  So popular did his establishment become that the rich and famous quickly discovered Odermatt’s kitchen.  William Holden.  Richard Nixon.  Richard Burton.  David Niven.  Even Charlie Chaplin and Charles Lindbergh were visitors at Le Montagnard
Fireworks light up the Geneva sky in August  (wikipedia)
Each night, when his cooking chores were finished, it was Odermatt’s routine to sit in a corner booth of his restaurant with a glass of red wine and proudly observe his domain.  Elegant cuisine, its preparation and the pure enjoyment of his customers savoring each delicious morsel became a passion for the little Swiss chef.

For many, the thought of personally preparing meals for some of the most celebrated people in the world might have been a powerful aphrodisiac for their ego, but not for Hans Odermatt.  When asked about his famous clientele, Odermatt answered humbly, “It’s the villagers who are most important to me.  They come every night, and the rich and famous don’t spend any more than the peasants do.”
Mary Shelley wrote
Frankenstein while staying
in Geneva  (wikipedia)

Indeed, Hans Odermatt was a simple man, for he understood the blessings of life.  He had a sixth sense about what made life worth living; what true quality of life was all about and a love of the natural order of things he saw daily in his beloved hills of Switzerland.

Hans Odermatt is gone now. He died doing what he loved most, cooking in the place he built with his own hands. Today Le Montagnard still operates with limited service, much as it did during the early days when Hans Odermatt served his traditional Swiss specialties to his neighbors on the hillside.

As Hans would express to others, he had no need of a calendar because he could tell what day it was in the spring by where the flowers bloomed on the hillside outside his window. 
The majestic breathtaking Alps add to the aura of Montreux and
Byron's Castle of Chillon  (wikipedia)
Hans probably never heard of Thanksgiving, but he was a man who lived each day of his life with thanksgiving in his heart.

Le Montagnard means “The Mountain Man.”  It’s easy to find.  Just take a taxi from Montreux about 4 miles up into the hills.  The driver will know where it is.

And somewhere from a corner of heaven Hans Odermatt will be watching you dine with a glass of red wine in his hand.

(*Author's note: Pictures of Hans Odermatt are rare and difficult to find. I possess one transparency that was taken in his corner seat at Le Montagnard. When I am able to get it digitized, I will add it to the article.)