Anonymous review of Les Servages d'Armelle
This review is taken from our guidebook, Mr & Mrs Smith Hotel Collection: France.
I like driving south to the sea. Mr Smith likes driving north to the mountains. We are driving north.
I watch as the signage changes to ‘edelweiss this’ and ‘glacier that’. We pass a big white peak. We take the turning off towards Les Carroz and I realise I am cold, and nervous. Cold because the temperature has dropped, and nervous because Mr Smith, an artist, a gourmet cook and a man of impeccable taste, can be a very difficult man to please.
When we enter Les Servages d’Armelle, I am hit by the smell of pine and the sound of a crackling fire. The dark honey colour of the untreated timber mingles with our hostess Armelle’s smile to create instant warmth. And yet all I can think about, as we follow her up the ample staircase, is when Mr Smith is going to launch his redesign. Will he bang on about the golden section? And what particular curse will he cast upon the fittings and fixtures?
Once Armelle has shown us to our suite and the door has closed with a wholesome click, Mr Smith gets to work. He circumnavigates the enormous timber bed with its clouds of white linen. He listens to the hushed action of the dimmer switches. He contemplates the ceiling-height log fire. He releases water from the chrome showerhead, and runs his finger over the sophisticated knobs that await the bathrobes, still snug in their wrapping. Then he parts the wooden louvred shutters and slides the glass doors open to reveal a panorama of mountain peaks floating in a sea of cloud like oeufs a? la neige. All of this he does without saying a word. Could this, I wonder, be the day on which Mr Smith is silenced by another’s good taste?
Outside the hotel, work is being done on ski slopes and lifts by men in quilted jackets; inside, we are naked and being pummelled to jelly in our private hammam. We collapse in a sweat, first on the granite bench of the steam room, and then on the firm but giving mattress, and finally we stand under a cascade of water illuminated so beautifully that it is like standing under a sunlit Victoria Falls. Now we are playing with our Anglepoise reading lamps. ‘We should get some like this,’ I say. ‘This,’ says Mr Smith, finally, as he pours himself a glass of Badoit, ‘is perfect’. Yes! I think. ‘Yes, we should,’ he says. ‘But why would anyone need a reading lamp here? I suppose if you were too old for sex or just starting out and needing a manual...’ ‘Dinner?’ I say.
We are seated on leather chairs in a cosy corner of the restaurant and, though it seems we are the only guests, we feel completely at ease. In fact, although we have come face to face with the ultimate irritants to a musician and a painter having supper – a speaker above us piping unwanted music and a blood-red painting glaring down at us (we only ask for one of them to be turned down) – we are laughing. With our view, through the glass, of industrious chef Pascal Flecheau, the logs sizzling in the grate, the sturdy antique furniture and white linen and, of course, the cheerful attention of Armelle, we are as comfortable and content as if the restaurant were buzzing. And it soon is – minutes later, half the village and their children turn up to bask in the glow with us.
From the excellent wine list, Mr Smith chooses a Burgundy that smells properly of camembert. Through the wooden hatch and onto our plates comes freshwater shrimp bisque, stuffed squid, fillet of beef, roasted kumquats and wild mushrooms. A big green salad, though not on the menu, is prepared for us. Everything is comme il faut. Our wine glasses are refilled somewhat over-eagerly by the waiter, who reassures us, when we gesture helplessly at the cheese platter (which boasts tommes de this and that, a melty Reblochon and a mammoth Beaufort), that the cheese will still be there in the morning. And indeed it is, along with fresh crusty bread, home-made jam, eggs, ham, Savoie yoghurt and an excellent bowl of Illy coffee prepared by Armelle, with a country jug of steamed milk. A perfect pre-ski breakfast.
Behind every great hotel there is a great host: Armelle, dainty and Alpine-pretty, is at reception to welcome you. She is in the restaurant at breakfast, lunch and dinner, happy to answer questions about anything from the local pottery they use to walking itineraries. When I ask for a sandwich before a trek, though she is busy serving, she makes it with the same care with which she seems to do everything else, and it is the best sandwich I have ever eaten (admittedly after a two-hour climb, while gazing at Mont Blanc).
It is clearly Armelle’s standards that are being met at every turn, and her love of elegant but functional design that prevails. And it is she who finally manages to silence and, indeed, satisfy Mr Smith. Even the gutters are fashioned from logs, for goodness sake, and Mr Smith is very fussy about gutters. I realise, as we drive south after two delectable nights, that I love Armelle, and the mountains, and log cabins, and the north, and above all I love Les Servages, where we have relaxed more than we have in the eight years of marriage we came here to celebrate.