If you’re looking for a summer holiday that has the potential to be a bit different, definitely active and also great value, we suggest you head for the hills- or the mountains to be accurate.
The ski season is now over in the Alps and the pistes are rapidly transforming into glorious flower strewn meadows just made for walking through. These meadows are at the heart of the flavour of local cheeses and the farmers put their livestock out to graze the lush pastures, walking them up from their overwintering sheds. This is known as the Transhumance and is, as always, a good excuse for a celebration involving much food and Savoyard wines.
The gentle “donk donk donk” of the cow bells is a wonderfully bucolic sound that is, at times, the only thing you will hear. With the crowds of skiers gone, peace and quiet aren’t difficult to find as summer sun transforms the former snow fields. It’s now considered low season and so accommodation prices offer great value (see price panel below). Traditionally resorts would close completely but more and more are now realising that people enjoy summer in the mountains too. The key element is keeping the chair/bubble lifts open giving easy access for walkers, mountain bikers (both cross country and downhill), hikers, bird watchers, runners and even fans of wild swimming. Anyone who hankers after clean air and stunning views will be on cloud 9.
Areas such as the Portes du Soleil are leading the way with their game changing ‘Multipass’ scheme. Just an hour or so from Geneva airport the domain straddles the French/Swiss border with attractive Alpine village resorts on both sides (plus some more modern resorts such as Avoriaz). The Multipass starts at a staggeringly reasonable two Euros per person per day and this gives you free entrance to all manner of local attractions, as well as unlimited use of the lifts in all of the 12 resorts. The regular bus service between resorts is also free.
To get the lowest priced Multipass you need to stay with one of the approved accommodation providers and this includes a number of UK tour operators such as Ski & Summer Morzine , who have catered and self catered chalets in the pretty village of Morzine. A catered chalet makes a lot of sense during an active mountain holiday. Having a good breakfast before setting out and then a meal, usually with wines, prepared for you in the evenings means you can really make the most of your days (and there’s no cooking, cleaning or washing up!!!).
For hot, lazy days Morzine has a fantastic outdoor pool complex (free for Multipass holders) including Olympic size swimming pool, slides and more. There are also tennis courts (again free) and an aerial assault course (plus a plethora of restaurants and bars).
Morzine is a magnet for mountain bikers from all over the world which leads to a great atmosphere in the town in the evenings. Some companies specialise in catering for this market. Run by mountain bikers, for mountain bikers, Drift Riding Morzine provide affordable, hostel-type accommodation in a chalet, plus tools, equipment, videos, garage, garden, BBQ, photographer and trail experts – everything that a rider wants as they tackle the 650km of bike trails in the Portes du Soleil.
Each resort has something to offer, including the quirky Mechanical Music Museum in Les Gets (which is also another great destination for mountain bikers of all abilities) or the ride of a lifetime, Fantasticable near Chatel. This white knuckle ride whizzes you from one side of the Abondance valley to the other, roughly three kilometres, at speeds of up to 100 kph. If you fancy the adrenaline rush but don’t fancy travelling too far afterwards, Lagrange Holidays offer self catering accommodation in Chatel. Also, VIP Chalets have accommodation in Les Gets and are offering a free Multipass for the duration of holidays booked with them in 2014. Peak Retreats also offer summer self catering accommodation in Morzine, Les Gets and Chatel, as well as throughout the Alps
The resort of Avoriaz sits higher up the mountain above Morzine and was built in the 1960s. At the time its architecture was cutting edge and for a while it was THE jetset resort. However, tastes change and the angular buildings are not to everyone’s taste (they are certainly different to the traditional Alpine chalets). The purpose built resort has just had a multi million Euro refurbishment and as part of this there is a new indoor tropical water park, Aquariaz . Accommodation in Avoriaz is almost exclusively provided by PV Holidays (Pierre et Vacances)
Once inside Aquariaz, Tropical plants grow throughout the pool complex which features a ‘river’ with a gentle current, a water playhouse, climbing walls and a chill out spa zone. If you tire of admiring the fauna you can increase your heart rate by hurtling down the aquatic half pipe that will drop you 10 metres or tackle the climbing wall. For non thrill seekers we suggest you relax in the outdoor spa. Entrance is not included in the scheme but only costs from 8 Euros per adult per day.
The Multipass is certainly an attractive way of experiencing the beauty, as well as the thrills, of the Portes du Soleil in summer. However, the rest of the Alps are also open and areas such as the Three Valleys, Maurienne Valley, Chamonix Mont Blanc, Tarentaise etc…etc… all have lots to offer the summer visitor. We’ll be exploring these is greater detail in future articles.
SAMPLE PRICES (correct as at May 2014)
Ski & Summer Morzine
- Chalet Bonbon, Morzine £65 pppn half-board. A refined experience aimed at the active mature walkers, nature lovers, cross country bikers.
- Chalet Savoy, Morzine £60 pppn half-board. A well appointed chalet perfect for families with active children.
- Chalet Le Nantégué £40pppn half-board. A chalet to cater for all things MTB.
- Les Gets – 4* Les Fermes Emiguy – indoor/outdoor pool, wellbeing area and fitness room. Close to the resort centre. Apartments available from studios to 3 bedroom apartments (sleeps 8). Off peak from £62pp and peak weeks from £114pp for 7 nights, self-catering and includes ferry crossings.
- Morzine – 4* Hotel Les Airelles – friendly, family run with indoor pool and in the centre of the resort. Has onsite spa and wi-fi. 7 nights half-board inc. return ferry crossings from £552 per adult and from £245 per child.
- Chatel –4* luxury Chalets d’Angel – superior residence with free wi-fi, onsite spa and pool and short walk to the village. Spacious, fully equipped apartments available from 1 bedroom (sleeps 4) to 4 bedrooms (sleeps 10). 7 nights, self-catering inc. return ferry crossings start from £130pp off-peak and £160pp for peak weeks
Other useful online resources
Regional tourist office website www.savoie-mont-blanc.co.uk
Association of British Travel Operators to France – For details of holiday companies www.holidayfrance.org.uk
See our Flight Finder for details of flights to Geneva.