On selected dates in summer you can experience something completely different with a bird of prey show and dinner up on the Brevent mountain, with stunning views of Mont Blanc and its glaciers.
It's a great experience for animal and food lovers alike, and has been taking place in Chamonix for the last couple of years. Last night was the first event of the summer calendar and since it's something I've often wondered about doing, I booked in with a friend and waited eagerly (no pun intended) to get up there.
The arranged meeting point once you've got your tickets is the the Brevent lift base station at 19:15, where we were serenaded by a duo of Medieval-looking musicians and greeted by a man with a large grey eagle on his arm. The musicians were in good spirits, promising to have us all dancing by the end of the night and the eagle was just beautiful - very graceful but powerful looking as it sat eyeing what was going on around it - mostly us taking lots of photos.
We headed up the gondola to the Bergerie de Planpraz Restaurant, where a large spread of canapes and sangria awaited us (non alcoholic fruit punch was laid on for the children). There were in the region of 80 of us up there enjoying the nibbles, which included some really tasty terrine, a vast range of cured sausages and some delicious gazpacho - there was plenty to go around. After trying a little bit of everything on offer, one of the falconers came over and asked us to start taking our seats for the main show, but reminded us not to take any nibbles as the birds may want to take a bite..
There were quite a few young children in the crowd and it didn't take long for a few willing (and one slightly scared) volunteers to be called up to the front of the stage. One boy dragged a lure and was chased by an eagle, whilst two others got to call and hold a vulture on their arms.
One of the most impressive birds we saw was the 'baby' condor. At two years old it already had a wingspan of around 3-4 metres and as it hopped and partly flew between two of the falconers you could see its enormous wings and long flight feathers unfurling in front of you. I was in Peru earlier this year and was lucky enough to see three in one afternoon in the wild (at a distance) but nothing prepared me for how huge these birds are when you're sitting just a few feet away from one.
The presentation by the falconers is all in French, however they do speak English if you want to ask any questions. They explained that condor numbers worldwide are in decline, told us the ages that all of the birds can live to, some of their individual histories and how long they can stay in the air for.
We headed back to the terrace of the restaurant for some soup, served to us by staff in Medieval dress from a cauldron and then headed inside to warm up, eat the main course and see more from the birds. It's pretty cold up on the mountain as soon as the sun goes down, and although the restaurant does provide blankets, it's a good idea to wear trousers and take a fleecy jacket with you.
In the restaurant the Medieval theme continued with us being serenaded by the two musicians. Even the menu appeared on a small rolled up scroll on the tables (our was in English) or on shields on the walls over our heads. Our main course was a hay-smoked loin of pork with heritage carrots and potatoes, which was really sweet and succulent with an interesting back note of, well.. hay! This was followed by a sweet brioche topped with figs, candied chestnuts and roasted pears and accompanied by a creme anglaise - a very different dessert with really excellent flavours.
Between courses, three more birds were presented to us, and were taken around the room but also flown at very low levels over our heads - quite an experience especially when you consider the size and power of their wings. The eagle owl was particularly chatty with amazing orange eyes and at the end of the meal came Nelson, the bald headed eagle, a very handsome fellow indeed who is worth waiting until the end of the evening to see!
Nelson is pretty famous in his own right, he's the bird that raced a wingsuit flyer from the top of the Aiguille du Midi - of course Nelson won! One of the other eagles wore a back pack camera and flew over the Mer de Glace (video below) for some pretty spectacular results and also. He's also given us some great POV footage of the UTMB race from last year too.
This really is a show that just keeps giving right through until the end of the evening - after the phenomenal display of a range of birds of prey and the excellent meal, it was back to the terrace for a digestif of Genepi and a few final tunes from the musical duo. The cable car then starts running for the return journey back to the valley. This is an exciting spectacle in itself; the views from the darkness of the cable car down onto the lights of Chamonix town are spectacular. A really great way to end a truly memorable evening.
There are four dates left this summer if you want to come and experience the show for yourself. Find all the details including prices & how to book tickets on our events calendar.