Courmayeur and French Moonshine

We chose a brilliant day to take a trip through the Mont Blanc tunnel and visit the Courmayeur ski area. It was good to end this particular ski trip on a high. And this was the end for me because I fell and over-extended my left knee ligaments. No skiing for a month, was the French doctor’s prognosis. He also prescribed some tablets and a knee brace which I am wearing at the moment.

I have visited Courmayeur many times and it always slightly shocks me that Mont Blanc can look so different from the South. This is a picture I took from our lunch/cafe stop.

Mont Blanc (Monte Bianco) from Col Checrouit Courmayeur

It was a fabulous day, sunny and with good snow conditions. (except for the ice sheet where I fell!) Courmayeur, I always think, has a wider variety of conditions than the Chamonix valley ski areas. There appear to be more mountain chalets, more interesting forest runs and more wide sweeping red pistes, though there are fewer black runs. In general, I find that the skiing is gentler. This view towards the town gives some idea of the wide red pistes.

Aretu piste with a view down to Courmayeur

Aretu piste with a view down to Courmayeur

A week or so ago, while walking through Servoz village, near the church, I was suddenly aware of a very strong smell of alcohol. A travelling still had been set up in the church car park and locals were bringing barrels and buckets of fermented liquid for distillation and production of the local moonshine called eau de vie (water of life). The visit of this distillation facility

Distallation equipment on trailer about to be moved on

Distillation equipment on trailer about to be moved on after completing its work

is announced on village notice boards as the Les Bouilleurs de Cru . As I understand it, locals have the right to collect and ferment fruit from their property and have it distilled tax free. Apparently, in 2008 the law was changed and since then the first 10 litres are taxed at 50% of the going rate. The liquor is for personal and direct family consumption and must not be sold. The right to distil 10 litres of alcohol without being taxed was first gifted to Napolean’s soldiers and some farmers. I have not yet found a clear description of the current regulations, which appear to have regional precedents. But I have read that since 1959 the right to distil alcohol has become personal and not inheritable. So the tradition and practice seems likely to die out in the near future.

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