The hills are alive with adventure
Summer in the Alps is a holiday made in heaven, as DAVID WHITFIELD found out in Morzine, France
I’M not going to beat around le bushe – this is a great holiday.
While the charms of the Alps during the winter have long been known to skiers, snowboarders and gluhwein drinkers, there are still those who believe that a mountain holiday is not a ‘proper’ summer break, and that the lack of sunbeds and banana boats somehow diminishes the holiday experience.
This, then, is the holiday to put those people in their place.
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Morzine sits around 15 miles south of Lake Geneva, an hour or so from Geneva airport and within yodeling distance of the Swiss border.
It’s a charming enough place, with a decent supermarket, town square and a good range of restaurants.
There’s also a great swimming complex featuring a 50m outdoor pool (my best was 60 seconds dead, thanks for asking, the Olympic selectors can probably rest easy) and an ice skating rink.
But what makes it stand out is its immediate surroundings and the huge range of facilities nearby. Steep slopes rise up from the town in every direction and each valley road going out of the centre takes you towards a challenging walk, hidden lake, or breathtaking cable-car ride. It’s a haven for hikers, para-gliders, and mountain bikers.
A couple of miles outside the town centre is Chilly Powder, a collection of three independently-run catered chalets which has been welcoming winter and summer guests since 1996.
You might find you don’t aim to spend too much time here, given everything there is to do in the area. But if you have spent the day out on the mountains, on returning the chalets are a real sight for sore eyes and sore feet.
There’s a hot tub in the garden, sauna in the basement, a bar off the dining room and a pool table in the library. Each room is styled around a particular theme, but not to the extent that it’s overpowering. And the evening meals – eaten in a group with all the chalet guests around a large table – are of a genuinely high quality (and the free wine which accompanies each meal is not bad, either). Add to this owners and staff who are genuinely helpful, friendly, and knowledgeable, and you have pretty much the perfect base from which to explore the surrounding area.
To list everything there is to do would be overwhelming. But a few of our highlights were swimming in Lac Les Ecoles near the village of Les Gets; canoeing on Lac Montriond; hydrospeeding (basically holding on to a big float going down a river) near Thonon; and getting great views of Mont Blanc from most of the mountains we went up.
Facilitating all of this adventure is a pass which is quite the best value I’ve seen in any resort, anywhere – a multi-pass which for just one euro a day gives you access to all the area’s chairlifts, cable cars, swimming pools, tennis courts and ice skating rinks. Given that the cable car alone could cost you 20 euros for a family of four for one trip, this really makes the holiday. The pass is available to those staying at particular hotels, B&Bs and chalets, so check if your accommodation is part of the deal.
It strikes me that there are two reasons which combine to make this such a good family holiday. On the one hand, everything is very child-friendly – all the activities are run on the basis that every member of the family will have a go. But at the same time, there’s no over-emphasis on unnecessary health and safety concerns. For example, at the Indiana Parc high-wire centre in Morzine (22 euros for adults and big kids, 16 euros for littl’uns) we were given a five-minute safety briefing, and then it was a case of – ‘off you go, don’t kill yourselves but have fun’. Which we did. And at a market in Les Gets we all had a go at doing our own carvings using an electric jigsaw in one of the stalls. No safety helmet, no thick gloves – the sort of thing that would give an English council the heebie-jeebies, but which passes without comment in France.
Only one place we visited didn’t pass muster, and that was Les Lindarets, more commonly known as the ‘goat village’. Based on the premise that a lovely Alpine village can only be improved by letting goats run wild literally everywhere, it does what it says on the tin – and if that lights your candle then fine, but we made a hasty retreat from the smell and the trampling hooves. No matter. There are so many other places not too far away to visit in any case – Evian, Lake Annecy – that two weeks in the summer will just fly by.
And I hear it’s not bad in the winter, either.