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Summer in Châtel

Châtel lies in the vast Franco-Swiss Portes du Soleil ski & mountain-biking area. Proximity to Geneva international airport plus TGV rail stations, has transformed this once-remote border village. One of the best ski resorts near Geneva, summer in Châtel is a must-do destination for challenging downhill mountain-biking coupled with an authentic Alpine experience.

Take a summer holiday in Châtel, Portes du Soleil

We’re no strangers to the Portes du Soleil, having skied from Châtel, Les Gets, Morzine and Avoriaz, but we’re intrigued to see how everything looks and feels in summer. We get a foretaste when we pass through Abondance and La Chapelle d’Abondance, both of which look relaxed without the disturbance of ski season traffic.

It’s a similar story in Châtel, although all three villages are year-round working communities. This time rather than skis we’ve brought bikes, so after checking into our apartment accommodation at Les Chalets d’Angèle, a few minutes from the village centre, we check over our bikes before stowing them in the secure bike room.


Châtel village in summer

The full Châtel summer resort review offers lots more insight and inspiration. Find ideas for things to do, places to visit, plus our tips to make the most of your summer holiday in Châtel.


La Belle Dimanche Alpine Festival

Alpine cattle line up for judging at the belle Dimanche festival, Châtel
Alpine cattle lined up for judging at la Belle Dimanche festival held in September.

The next morning we head out early and drive over to the car parking area serving the Pré la Joux and Pierre Longue chair-lifts. Spaces are already fast being taken by those planning to head up the mountain for the ‘Belle Dimanche’. Celebrated for over 40 years, this is a colourful celebration of traditional mountain life held in August.

Alpine horns
Crowds gather to hear the Alpine horn players.

Originally centred on the judging of the livestock breeds which play a key role in the economy of mountain communities, the event now encompasses a food and craft producers’ market, music and folklore plus demonstrations of traditional crafts, including cheesemaking, wood turning and artisan iron working.

Local traditions and livestock

Abondance cow with bell
Abondance cattle
Shepherd with sheep
Sheep mingling with the crowds

At the sheltered plateau of Plaine Dranse we join the crowds moving among the stallholders’ displays and sampling an assortment of local produce. After a brief pause to hear some authentic Alpine horns we continue our tour, swerving momentarily around some slightly confused-looking sheep being herded through the crowds by a shepherd and his dogs.


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We check out the Fantasticable zip-wire

After a quick look at the nearby Bike Park trail map showing green-, blue- and red-graded routes (along with some gnarly-looking black detours) down to Pré la Joux, we flee the crowds by riding the chairlift up to the Crête des Rochassons (1930m), the transition from Châtel’s terrain to that of Avoriaz. The onward views are dazzling.

The prominent ridge is also the launch-point for the Fantasticable, which fires zip-wire fans on two-stage flights of over 2.5km at heights of up to 240m while reaching speeds of around 80-100km/h. With lots of weekend riders it’s impressive, so we watch them for a while before heading off with the intention of walking back down to Plaine Dranse.

Cyclist looks at Trail Map, Châtel
Checking out the Trail Map at Plaine Dranse
Launching off on the Fantasticable, Châtel
Released and off on a high-speed flight on the Fantasticable

Downhill mountain biking: a steep learning curve

As it turns out, the most obvious route, a wide path shared by walkers and mountain-bikers, is steeper than it had looked, and strewn here and there with unstable scree. We’re about to get some timely insight. After a few minutes of being passed by experienced riders blasting their way down fearlessly it dawns on us that if we’d imagined tackling even tamer downhill trails here on our hybrid bikes then we were badly mistaken. That particular thought is reinforced during the chairlift ride back to the car when we glimpse groups of bikers tackling forest trails far below. We’ll put that one down to experience.

Mountain biker, Chatel, French Alps
Mountain biker descends from Plaine Dranse in Châtel, Portes du Soleil
Mountain bikers on forest trail, Châtel
Riding on the forest trails near Pré la Joux, Châtel

Skier on tree-lined piste, Châtel

Love to ski?

Read our Châtel ski resort review. Part of the fabulous Portes du Soleil ski area, we give you our unique insight on what it’s like to stay and ski in Châtel.


Walks and rides from Châtel

We ride a riverside trail over to Abondance

The Sentier des bords de Dranse is a 20km riverside trail down the valley from Châtel to Abondance. Equally accessible to walkers, it could be just the kind of terrain our hybrid bikes were built for. That lifts our spirits, so the very next day we ride down to join it and find out. Once on the trail we pass a few walkers, a lone runner and a couple of other bikers, but mostly it’s just us and the broad, shallow river.

When we’re level with La Chapelle d’Abondance we turn off for coffee and croissants at Le Fournil, whose range of fresh-baked breads and pâtisserie is mind-blowing. Below the village the broad valley narrows noticeably, with vibrant green pastures bounded by larch and pine forest. The track, though, remains relatively flat, until up ahead we glimpse the familiar Savoyard ‘onion’ spire of the historic Abbaye d’Abondance.

Cycle route along the banks of the Dranse river, Châtel
This cycle route from Châtel to Abondance is perfect for families.
Abbaye d'Abondance
The ‘onion’ spire of the Abbaye d’Abondance.

Along the way we pass a few walkers, a lone runner and a couple of other bikers, but mostly it’s just us, the river – more a broad, shallow stream, really – and a perfect summer day.

The bike-carrying shuttle bus

We emerge in the heart of the village of Abondance, looking picture-perfect with the extravagant summer floral displays that skiers never get the chance to see. It’s clear, though, that things are winding down for lunch and restaurant terraces are filling up. We’d planned a picnic so we pick up some cold drinks, a fresh baguette and a wedge of tasty local AOC Abondance cheese.

After an unhurried lunch with a view, we await the first of the afternoon’s shuttle buses. The driver hangs our bikes on purpose-built racks and we enjoy an effortless ride back up the valley to the market place in Châtel. It’s just a few minutes’ down to the Chalets d’Angèle, where we store the bikes, head up to our luxury apartment and enjoy a cool beer on the balcony.


Mountain pastures and trees, Collombey, Valais
Mountain pastures at Collombey, Valais.

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Walking the cross-border trails above Châtel

Next morning the bikes remain in their store, the idea being to find out how summer walkers benefit from the lifts which remain open. The Portes du Soleil are huge, and we know from experience that getting around takes time, even for winter skiers, so we’re surprised by just how much distance we manage to cover on foot. Unlike mountain-bikers, we can begin in the heart of village by riding the Super-Châtel gondola up to the Franco-Swiss border. At the top we follow a trail signed to the peaceful Lac de Conche, beyond which the trail winds its way through silent forestry plantations, with occasional glimpses of surrounding peaks.

The sense of remoteness from everything except nature intensifies when we make out the town of Montreux on the shores of Lac Léman through the heat-haze. Finding the Chalet Neuf mountain restaurant mysteriously closed, we make the final climb to the Portes de Culet. The views from the 1788m pass are truly magnificent but we look in vain for a potential picnic spot offering shade from the heat of the midday sun, so end up retracing our steps back to the cool of the forest. Most of the return walk to Super-Châtel amounts to little more than a gentle downhill stroll, and the blissful near-silence remains with us almost until we reach the gondola lift.


Abondance cattle graze the Barbossine Valley, Châtel
Abondance cattle graze in the Barbossine Valley

The Barbossine Valley

Chalet d'Alpage Barbossine mountain dairy and restaurant.
Lunch at the Chalet d’Alapge Barbossine

If you fancy tackling something on foot with an interesting lunch stop, head for the Barbossine Valley. Taking the cable car then chairlift to Morclan, follow the signposted footpath that will lead you to a descent through Alpine pastures with fabulous views. There’s a great lunch stop at a traditional dairy farm, after which, there’s an easy walk back to Châtel through the forest.


People at the foot of the Cascade des Brochaux
The cooling torrents of the Cascade des Brochaux.

Cascade des Brochaux

The next day we go considerably further, following a well-conceived succession of chair-lifts, starting from Pré la Joux. At Plaine Dranse we take the Rochassons six-seater up to the Crête des Rochassons (1923m), for a ride down to Les Lindarets on the bi-directional Chaux Fleurie, another six-seater. Finally, after riding the Linderets four-seater up to the Crête d’Avoriaz (1874m), where the ski village looms a short distance ahead of us.

From Avoriaz, we turn left to follow a footpath which takes us on a winding route down to the Cascade des Brochaux, a spectacular reward for almost an hour’s ramble.

Beyond the falls we follow another wayward path, this time following the stream from the falls through woodland and down the valley to Les Brochaux, where we break for lunch beneath a parasol on the terrace of l’Abricotine mountain restaurant.


Pointe des Moissettes

View from the Pointe des Moissettes

Having come this far, we can’t resist taking one of our favourite chairlifts all the way to the Pointe des Moissettes (2277m). Summer or winter, it’s an epic haul and the panoramic views from the Pointe des Moissettes are pretty spectacular.

How do you follow that? The following day we find out, by driving across the Swiss border above Châtel, heading round to Champéry, and taking the vertiginous cable-car up to the 1936m Croix-de-Culet and looking back across the valley towards the Pointe des Moissettes.


Châtel village in summer

The full Châtel summer resort review offers lots more insight and inspiration. Find ideas for things to do, places to visit, plus our tips to make the most of your summer holiday in Châtel.


Where to stay

We stayed in a 2-bed apartment sleeping 4-6 people costing from £789 per week (summer 2020). Prices per accommodation (not per person) including standard midweek ferry crossing with P&O from Dover to Calais, self catering.

More information, special offers and booking:
Peak Retreats
023 9283 9310(UK)
reservations@peakretreats.co.uk


Lac du Chevril, Haute Tarentaise

The Réserve Naturelle de la Sassière

If you’re in the Haute Tarentaise in summer, perhaps based in Saint-Foy Tarentaise, Tignes  or Val d’Isère, you’ll have access to a network of  footpaths whose well-signed routes will take you away from the man-made landscapes of the resorts and into some truly magnificent mountain scenery. In these wild places there’s a strong possibility that along the way you’ll see wildlife, and in the height of summer there are spectacular displays of wild flowers.

Footpath to the Lac de la Sassiere, Haute Tarentaise

Footpath to the Lac de la Sassiere, Haute Tarentaise

La Sassière lake lies at the head of a wide valley which is a popular destination for walkers who can reach it easily on foot via the main path (about 40 minutes walk) from the car park. However, there’s a more interesting higher footpath with much better views making a more satisfying circular route (allow 2 hours). From the lake, there’s a possibility of continuing on a footpath to the foot of the glacier. Protected as a natural reserve, the valley is an area being used to study the Marmotte – in summer you will almost certainly have sightings of these creatures or hear their calls.

Lac de la Sassiere, Haute Tarentaise

Lac de la Sassiere, Haute Tarentaise

To reach the start of the valley, turn left off the D902 just after Tignes on a road signed to Le Franchet and La Sassière. It’s a long climb with splendid views back to Tignes. Eventually you reach the Barrage de Saut where there’s ample parking. To follow the upper path, ascend to the right above the barrage (you’ll need good walking boots and plenty to drink). This footpath is narrow and often rocky, with some steep sections.  If this sounds difficult, follow the main path – an easy walk suitable for all ages though the track steepens towards the lake.

 

 

Wide view of shallow valley with mountain stream beside footpath.

5 great reasons to spend your summer holiday in the mountains

Summer holidays in the French Alps are becoming really popular. There are lots of activities, wonderful accommodation at a reasonable price and a really friendly welcome, not to mention the amazing scenery. Nowadays, everyone can get to the top of the mountains via key lifts, open specially for walkers and cyclists to access the best trails and viewpoints.

1. Get active…

Instead of lazing on a crowded beach, discover lots of fun activities for the whole family to enjoy (and they’re free).

Le Lac de Tignes, canoes

Tignes is a great place to go if you love trying different activities. The SPORTIGNES card, free from your accommodation provider, gives you access to a huge variety of sports and activities, including tennis, trampolines, water jumps, archery, beach volley etc. You also get two entries to the Lagon swimming pool, one entry to the mini-golf, one to the multimedia centre plus free use of chairlifts for walkers. There’s also a weekly programme of events with music, contests and demonstrations.

Even if you’re not sporty, there’s plenty to see around the lake, not least a gentle stroll around the circumference, with picnic areas and restaurants along the way. Oh, and a renowned golf course.

2. Pull on your boots and go for a real walk…

There are well-signed trails for all abilities, including long-distance routes for experienced walkers (with mountain refuges for overnight stops).

Beaufortain, mountain view Areches The Beaufortain walking tour would delight anyone who adores Savoyard picture-postcard chalets and lush Alpine pastures, turquoise blue lakes, flower-filled meadows and herds of cows, bells-a-tinkling… a timeless image of the Alps. Join a guided tour with an experienced leader for an unforgettable Alpine holiday.

3. Let the train (and the tram) take the strain…

It’s easy to travel to the Alps by train from the UK, but the Tramway du Mont Blanc will take you to the top of the mountain too.

Tramway Mont BlancIn summer the world-famous mountain tramway remains as sensational as when it opened in 1913, and climbs all the way to the Nid d’Aigle (2380m), an epic journey of around 1hr 15min. There are two main departure points – Le Fayet and Saint-Gervais, with six stops en route, enabling walkers to follow varied signed itineraries.

4. Fnd out what a mountain bike is really for…

There are testing downhill trails where you can seek white-knuckle thrills in most Alpine resorts, with chairlifts specially adapted to take you and your bike to the summit. Those of a gentler disposition can enjoy cycling in stunning scenery around Les Saisies in the Val d’Arly where a bike-carrying bus service transports you back to the village.

Mountain-biking, Les Saisies, Val d'Arly

5. Discover real Grand Touring…

The scenic Route des Grandes Alpes runs for 684km from Lac Léman to the Mediterranean – an amazing Alpine experience, including many of the classic climbs and descents made world-famous by the Tour de France.

Lac de Roselend, Beaufortain

The Route des Alpes, as it was originally known, was conceived by the Touring Club de France in 1911, and during the 1920s soon became one of Europe’s most celebrated touring itineraries. The Route was finally completed in July 1937, with the opening of the 2770m Col de l’Iséran, the highest pass in Europe. Col de l’Iséran isn’t opened until early June and many Cols will close after the first snowfalls in October so plan your journey accordingly.

High veiw of cattle grazing above mountain valley at Chatel

Summer Walk – Alpage de Barbossine, Châtel

Châtel lies at the end of a long and rather beautiful valley. Viewed from above, the village forms a pleasing splatter of chalets surrounded by pasture and forested slopes, rising to the craggy peaks of the Portes du Soleil mountain area. Rubbing shoulders with the Swiss border, Châtel is one of 12 villages, both French and Swiss, which make up this huge area, where winter and summer holiday adventures are made a reality by an extensive network of tracks, trails and lifts.

Low view of footpath sings and walker on path above Chatel

The trail begins beside the Morclan chairlift top station

To make the most of a visit here it’s essential to talk to your hosts or visit the Tourist Information Office for ideas. During our own week-long stay we wanted a get-away-from-it-all walk, and to sample some local produce, so we asked the Tourist Office team what they would recommend. That’s how we found ourselves standing at the head of the glorious Barbossine Valley taking in the breathtaking views. Far below us we could just make out our destination  – the Chalet de Barbossine, where we were assured we would find a great lunch made with AOC Abondance cheese.

High veiw of cattle grazing above mountain valley at Chatel

In winter the Barbossine valley becomes a black ski piste

We’d started the day by taking the Super Châtel lift, then the onward chairlift to Le Morclan at 1970m. If you have a Portes du Soleil Multi Pass (free if you’re staying for two nights or more with a participating accommodation provider) all the lifts are free. From the Morclan top station we found the footpath sign to Barbossine and followed the ridge, while enjoying some amazing views. At the Col de Folière we followed a footpath sign to ‘Chalets de Barbossine’ and found ourselves at the head of a deep valley.

View of walker on mountain footpath in Summer above Chatel

The path zig-zags down the initial steep section

It was pretty obvious that the descent we were about to undertake wasn’t exactly going to be a gentle stroll. A challenging black ski run in the winter, the path zig-zags to ease the downward route through steep mountain pasture. We had company – the herd of Abondance cows, who were clearly much too busy grazing to bother us, and who didn’t seem to mind the slope at all. We, on the other hand, were glad when the terrain finally flattened out a bit, and we could take in more of the scenery. By this time we could clearly make out the individual farm buildings below and were hungrily anticipating our lunch.

View of chalet restaurant with with mountains above Chatel

The chalet enjoys a spectacular location

The Chalet de Barbossine is only open during the summer (in winter the cows are housed in the valley and the farmers’ summer quarters are closed up). In good weather you can sit outside beneath parasols at picnic tables, although there is indoor seating. The proximity of the cowshed and the handful of fragrant cows occupying it is surprising at first but we soon get over it, it’s not long before we have our food and anyway we’re happy just to be here. As well as running the café, the farmers also make the Abondance cheese, as we see when the farmer goes into the ‘cave’ to replenish the kitchen. You can read more about this tasty regional cheese in our feature Alpine Regional Cheeses on the website.

Wide view of walkers on mountain footpath among summer pastures

The lower section is a gentle stroll

Appetites satisfied we leave the Chalet and rejoin the path, now a proper farm track, and making a gentle descent through meadows and trees. It’s a pleasant hour’s walk through the forest on a hot summer’s day. We eventually begin to hear traffic and glimpse chalets as we emerge at Super Châtel. We then join a footpath, signed back to Châtel, which as it turned out was quite cut away by a rocky stream and very steep. Our advice would be to avoid this and follow the road – if you’re lucky you could even catch a passing shuttle bus.

Wide view of cycle and footpath with mountains and village of La Chapelle d'Abondance in distance

Sentier des bords de Dranse, Châtel

We’re no strangers to the Portes du Soleil, having skied from Châtel, Les Gets, Morzine and Avoriaz. All the same, we’re intrigued to see how everything looks and feels in summer.  Our apartment accommodation at CGH Les Chalets d’Angèle in Châtel holds happy memories and overlooks the Dranse valley. It’s just a short ride downhill from there to join the Sentier des Bords de Dranse, meaning Dranse riverside trail.

Bike route and footpath sign between Chatel and Abondance, French Alps

Bike route and footpath signage shows both times and distances

Cycling les Bordes de Dranse

The Sentier des Bords de Dranse is a 20km trail which follows the course of the river down the valley to Abondance. Equally accessible to walkers, it’s an easy trail and the perfect way to get right back to nature with the minimum of effort – just the kind of thing our hybrids – ‘VTCs’ – were built for. The initial quick run down through a tract of forest is about as steep as it’s likely to get, and we’re soon onto a near-flat path with the river dancing and flashing on our left.

Bike rider beside cycle route and footpath with river

The cycle trail runs alongside the river Dranse.

Coffee & croissants

On our right is a now-grassy expanse which we’d previously crossed in glacial temperatures behind a team of sled-dogs. Today, though, we’re glad of some tree shade as we roll with little effort and in near-silence beneath a cloudless sky. The relaxed run continues, with a few photo stops, until we’re level with La Chapelle d’Abondance, where we turn off, stand on our pedals and power our way up to the village in search of an unhurried coffee and croissant break.

We don’t have to go too far to find just what we’re looking for: Le Fournil. The service is friendly and the range of fresh-baked breads and pâtisserie mind-blowing. One coffee and pastry later and we reluctantly leave the shady outside table and hop on our bikes to get back on the trail.

Wide view of cycle and footpath with mountains and village of La Chapelle d'Abondance in distance

The riverside trail passes the village of La Chapelle d’Abondance

The only way is down. And then…

We’re around the halfway point along the route (altitude 970m), so after rejoining the path back at the riverbank we resume our leisurely, slightly downhill run towards Abondance. Along the way we pass a few walkers, a lone runner and a couple of other bikers, but mostly it’s just us, the river – more a broad, shallow stream, really – and a perfect summer day. We’re still in the mountains, though, and to prove the point we eventually round a bend, part company with the Dranse and meet a short, steep climb which defeats even our lowest gears. After a quick push we’re on the flat again, re-mounting and gazing around us at a changing landscape.

Distant view of the Abbaye d'Abondance and mountainside, French Alps

The onion spire of the abbey church in Abondance

Alpine cheese, and an onion spire

By now the once-broad valley has narrowed and the surrounding peaks feel as if they’re closing in. Everything is vibrant green, however, and spread across their billowing contours are fertile Alpine pastures bounded by dense tracts of larch and pine forest. The track, though, remains relatively flat, and ahead of us we glimpse the familiar Savoyard ‘onion’ spire of the Abbaye d’Abondance, founded in the early 12th century. The track passes farm buildings, a few chalets and the local garage before emerging in the heart of the village. It’s an attractive spot, but is already starting to wind-down for midday, so we pick up some local AOC Abondance cheese, a fresh baguette and cold drinks.

Summer view of cyclist and walker on track near Abondance, French Alps

The final stretch of the Sentier des Bords de Dranse near Abondance

Abondance: a cheese-lover’s paradise

Things move at a relaxed pace, as summer visitors ahead of us get the full cheese dégustation experience, but once we’re provisioned it’s time to look for a picnic bench. Experience has taught us that a shady one can be a big ask in the mountains, so we try riding up to the nearby Esserts gondola ski-lift, currently in summer hibernation, which might just offer some welcome shade. It’s a pleasant but ultimately fruitless detour, so we decide to head back to a bench we’d spotted beside the track which brought us here from Châtel. Again there’s no shade, but it’s vacant and a great spot in which to reflect on the trip.

We’ve covered some distance, the easy way

The Sentier des bords de Dranse probably won’t suit most of the riders who come here for a white-knuckle challenge. Instead it offers the perfect way to ease into the most natural of surroundings, with plenty of time and distance to enjoy them. Getting back to Châtel is undemanding, too, with the option of a shuttle bus return ride if time is tight or weather conditions suddenly deteriorate. We’d do it all over again in a heartbeat.

Walkers at Le Monal, Sainte Foy Tarentaise

Summer Walk: Sainte-Foy Tarentaise to Le Monal.

This worthwhile walk begins at an altitude of 1550m in the ski village of Sainte Foy Tarentaise (above), which has a generous  visitor parking area which is signed as you enter the village. Clearly visible in the distance is the neighbouring ski village of La Rosière. The departure point for the start of the walk is indicated not far above the parking area by a rustic painted sign.

MP-Saint-Foy-Tarentaise-28558The initial gradient is quite steep but soon settles into a more or less steady climb through pine and larch forest, with occasional glimpses of the mountains – the ski areas of Villaroger and Les Arcs lie just across the valley. So far there’s plenty of shade to keep things pleasantly cool on a sunny day, and you’ll have the sound of birdsong for company.

Keep going eventually after a few steeper zigzags the path leaves the forest beside a much smaller unsurfaced parking area. This can be reached by car by following the road through St Foy and turning right above the main ski village onto a winding mountain track, although there’s no guarantee of finding a vacant parking space at the top – and of course by doing it this way you’ll miss the magical, near-silent world of the lower forest section.

MP-Saint-Foy-Tarentaise-28559

From here things open up and the path broadens into a track cut into the mountainside. For now the dense forest still hides the views, but bursts of wildflowers hint at what might lie ahead.

Sure enough, before long the gradient eases, levels off and then begins a gentle descent. Visible in the distance are the rooftops  of a tiny hamlet set among mountain pastures, although what really focuses the attention are the long-anticipated views which have suddenly opened up across the Haute Tarentaise valley.

MP-Le Monal-28562

Ahead, tucked away out of sight in a valley below a hydro-electric barrage is the village of Les Brevières and beyond it the world-famous ski area of the Espace Killy, shared between Tignes and Val d’Isère. For walkers it’s a rich reward for the climb from Saint Foy, and at the approach to the hamlet is another, in the form of an opportunity to fill a water bottle from a refreshingly cool mountain spring signed as ‘eau potable‘.

MP-Saint-Foy-Tarentaise-28571

The hamlet looks and feels in every respect like an idyllic spot far removed from worldly concerns, but in winter the sense of remoteness is heightened, to the point where getting here after heavy snowfalls means making a rather longer trudge up from the ski village in snowshoes. We know exactly how much more physically demanding that can be, because we’ve done it ourselves – but there again the sense of achievement is correspondingly greater.

Beyond the hamlet the track continues its gentle descent and briefly enters a wooded area. After curving to cross a fast-moving stream strewn with boulders. In fact, this is more than no mere stream but turns out to be the Ruisseau du Clou river, which now flows alongside the path for a while, before making a steep descent into the valley far below.

Wide view of shallow valley with mountain stream beside footpath.

Once across the river the track enters a sheltered valley setting, with more coniferous plantations beyond pastures which are ablaze with wildflowers during our mid-July visit.

Visitors walking towards the village, showing the beauty of the mountain landscape.

A few minutes later, after a couple of lazy, sweeping arcs, the track passes between rows of upturned stones and passes a tiny limewashed chapel set beside a huge boulder. Visible behind it are two huddles of stone chalets roofed, as is the local tradition, with flat riverbed stones known as ‘lauze’. Welcome to Le Monal.

Tiny chapel, with chalets behind, in a sheltered clearing with trees and mountainsides.

Even in summer there’s a refreshing sense of remoteness here, a quality which means that things shut down completely soon after the first snowfalls of winter begin to make things impractical for habitation. For now, though, it’s a magical and privileged location.

Cottage garden with chalte and snow-capped mountains

That thought is not lost on the fortunate chalet owners, who manage to pack a lot into the brief summer period, including some cheerful cottage-style gardens and productive vegetable beds. While you’re here you can picnic or enjoy a drink or meal in a choice of two cafes, while resting your feet for the return trek and taking in the dazzling scenery.

Exterior of chalet-style cafe, showing larch roof timbers and restored stonework.

As you’ll discover if you decide to follow this path, the route itself is every bit as enjoyable as the destination, and serves up a succession of varied landscapes destined to change forever the perceptions of anyone who has yet to fall in love with the mountains in summer.

Return walk, showing track, river and conifer forests.

A final bonus is the sight of Sainte-Foy Tarentaise as most skiers will never have seen it, resplendent in summer mode. It’s the kind of revelation which draws us back to places we’ve come to love as skiers, and which have inspired a desire to discover the mellower side of their dual personalities. We’ve yet to be disappointed.

Stone chalets in the heart of the ski village, with summer flower displays and a mountain backdrop.

Starting Young On Skis

Start skiing early enough and the benefits will remain with you for life. That’s one theory which makes perfect sense, so when our granddaughter turned three years old ahead of another ski season, we wanted to give her the kind of start on snow we never had. Like families everywhere, we then began pondering which resort to choose for a ski break to satisfy both her and the adults in our party, who were already seasoned skiers.

ESF children’s Piou Piou Club at Les Eucherts, La Rosière

France offers a mind-blowing choice of mountain resorts, whose ESF (Ecole du Ski Français) instructors are adept at welcoming raw beginners from across the globe and getting them off to a confident start on skis. Here and there, though, some teams and facilities had particularly impressed us, and not necessarily in big-name resorts. When we began to factor-in considerations like transfers from budget flights, dependable snow conditions and proximity of self-catering accommodation to debutante areas we opted for La Rosière. It’s a medium-sized, family-friendly resort with extensive cross-border skiing for the adults and the prospect of returning clinched it.

Toddlers learn to snow plough on skis at the ESF Piou Piou Club in Les Eucherts

As our trip would take in more than one resort rail travel wasn’t an option for us, so we drove across France to La Rosière while 3 year-old Edie and her parents flew from the UK into Chambéry airport and hired a car for the transfers. Both journeys went smoothly and our self-catering apartment at CGH Les Cimes Blanches was as spacious and well-equipped as expected. It also has an on-site SkiSet rental shop, whose staff knew exactly what Edie would need for the ESF La Rosière Piou-Piou Club.

Having mastered some basic skills the young skiers proudly receive their ESF certificate and badge.

We’d booked her into six days of morning sessions, and on Day One joined the other families arriving with their own youngest members. After an upbeat, smiley welcome and handing them over to the team of instructors we were asked to head somewhere  out of sight, so as not to be a distraction from what was planned for the session. We got that, and so did the kids, who simply trotted  off to meet their new friends.

Of course, “out of sight” didn’t stop us sneaking an occasional peep at how things were going between our own runs on the mountain, and while riding the nearby Roches Noires chairlift. The kids, though, weren’t in the slightest bit interested in what might be happening outside the dedicated Piou-Piou area – to them it was just a fun playgroup with added snow.

Reassured, we then spent each morning skiing further afield before returning to collect a hungry Edie and have lunch together back at the apartment. As for the afternoons, at first we just played around in the snow, but as Edie gained confidence on skis we were able to venture onto a nursery slope together.

Toddler in ski gear, La Rosière, French Alps

Free learner slopes and a play area make the most of the sunny aspect of La Rosière and provide fun activities for the whole family.

For the confirmed skiers it was a fun week, and for Edie and her fellow Piou-Pious it was a turning point. At the end of the final morning session  each new skier was awarded an ESF certificate and a medal as proof of her ability to move around on skis and descend a gentle slope unaided. It also means that next time she’ll be able to join an Oursons (Little Bears) group to learn to ski gentle green pistes and make mini-slalom turns. After that she can progress through another five levels if she wishes, and out-ski us all.

We stayed with Alpine specialists Peak Retreats at 4-star Les Cimes Blanches in Les Eucherts area of La Rosière. 7 nights self-catered accommodation includes return Eurotunnel crossing with a free upgrade to Flexiplus on most dates. Accommodation only packages available. Ski equipment, lift passes and transfers also bookable. Holidays are fully ABTA bonded.

Toddler in ski gear, La Rosière, French Alps

Ski Clothing for Children

Four packing tips for your child’s first ski holiday

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Skiing holidays are great fun for the whole family, but if you’re taking your child for the first time, knowing what to pack for them will be incredibly important. Here, Steve Cochrane, Managing Director at Childrenswardrobe shares his top four packing tips for your child’s first ski holiday.

1.5 million UK residents go on at least one ski holiday per year

Skiing holidays are among some of the most popular holiday types, with reports revealing that 1.5 million Brits flock to ski resorts at least once a year (LHM Marketing). Along with learning a new skill, there’s a great opportunity for the whole family to get in some exercise and be out in the fresh air. Check out our feature on Ski Holidays with Kids to help you make the most of your family holiday.

Keeping your child happy with the right gear

Once you’ve booked your holiday, it’ll be time to get everybody’s ski gear. And, when you’re taking your child for the first time, it’ll be very important that you pack the correct things for them. Here, I will be sharing my packing tips for your child’s first ski holiday.

Buy their ski gear in off-peak seasons

Children grow incredibly quickly, and while you’ll want to invest in reliable gear for them, you have to be prepared for them to outgrow these things pretty quickly — especially if they’re particularly young. So, I would advise planning ahead and buying their ski clothes during sale periods for these items. For example, try shopping the after-Christmas sales in non-specialist shops as they tend to rotate their stock quicker than ski shops do.

Another hack for finding discounted ski gear is to buy it in off-peak seasons, like the summer. But, just make sure that if you’re buying in advance, you take into account how much your child can grow in the period leading up to your holiday and sizing up.

Packing Tips

 

Your child will need plenty of outfits for your trip: something to keep them nice and dry while they’re on the slopes, and clothing that they can wear on an evening for your family meals.

Although they’ll be out playing in the snow all day, it can be very warm and sunny at the top of the mountains, so it’ll be best to go with lots of thinner layers rather than thick ones. When you’re packing your little one’s case, you should make sure you have the following ski essentials:

The Ski Essentials for Children:

  • Thin thermal tops and leggings for a base layer.
  • Fleeces or sweatshirts for mid-layers.
  • A waterproof ski jacket.
  • Ski trousers (known as salopettes).
  • Plenty of thick socks.
  • Ski helmet — these can be rented if you don’t want to splash out on one.
  • Goggles.
  • Ski gloves and glove liners.
  • Ski boots — these can also be rented.
  • Snow boots
  • Après ski outfits

As well as planning their ski outfits for the duration of your trip, you’ll also need to think of what they will need for evenings. Depending on what you plan to do, you should make sure you at least have a few pairs of smart and casual trousers, tops and comfortable shoes for them to dress in. It’ll also be worth checking whether your resort is holding a themed night, so you can pack an outfit that’ll make your kids feel part of the fun.

Choose the right materials

The clothing you choose for your child’s skiing gear should be insulated enough to keep them warm, but made from breathable fabrics that will wick away any moisture. So, make sure you’re looking for materials that have both of these properties: nylon, merino wool and polyester will all work great. For your outer layers, like your salopettes and ski jacket, these will need to be waterproof to keep your little one dry while they’re out on the slopes.

Don’t forget warm accessories

When you’re all taking a break from skiing or relaxing on an evening, you’ll need to make sure your child has enough cosy accessories to keep them warm. This should include a pair of woolly gloves, a scarf or buff to keep their neck and face warm, as well as a hat with flaps to cover their ears.

If you expect the sun will be beaming down when you visit, you’ll also need to prepare them with a pair of sunglasses to shield their eyes from the UV rays and some high SPF sun cream to prevent your little one from being burnt.

Your child’s first skiing holiday will be one to remember, so make sure you get them prepared for the fun times ahead with my top four packing tips.

Skiers looking at mountain scenery above Les Gets, French Alps

Why Spring is the Best Time to Learn to Ski

Springtime in the mountains and the ski slopes beckon those who want to make the most of the snow before it melts. But learners can benefit from starting to ski in the spring and we’re going to tell you why.

Skiers relax in the spring sunshine at the Roches Noires skilift, La Rosière, French Alps

  • The snow

The conditions in spring are usually ideal for learners. The snow is soft and generally easier to ski than in mid-winter when the slopes can be hard and therefore, faster. And if you should fall, then you’re likely to have a softer landing.

  • Fewer people

The most popular time to ski in France is traditionally around Christmas and New Year, then the half-term school holidays in February. In springtime, such as at Easter or outside of the main school holidays, there are generally fewer people on the pistes. Learners can start to ski in safety, without having to look out for other skiers.

  • The psychological barrier

Sometimes the main barrier when starting to ski, especially for adults, is psychological – you’re afraid! Ski resorts have therefore opened more and more safe, fun spaces where learners are well looked after. These areas are often at altitude so there’s no problem with lack of snow as the ski season draws to a close.

  • The price

By level or by sector, there is almost certainly a skipass that will suit you. This year is a particularly good time to make the most of the Skiing into Spring special offer by France Montagnes at many French ski resorts. For every ski package purchased, you can get an adult beginner package completely free*.

  • The diversity

On those long, stress-free days of spring, make the most of the sunshine and relax! Two hours of skiing now and then, taking part in other activities alongside, then a pause on a café terrace….there’s no pressure. Learners can please themselves – ski at your own pace and it becomes a pleasure.

  • Freedom

In springtime when the sun’s rays are warmer and days are longer, there’s no need to wrap up like Michelin man! Learners will be more comfortable and relaxed wearing technical,  lightweight clothing. Without all those layers, feel lighter, more relaxed and ready to enjoy learning to ski.

*Skiing into Spring

To celebrate Skiing into Spring, ski resorts are offering an exclusive new deal: For every ski package purchased, no matter the age of skier, you can get a adult beginner package completely free.
This package includes ski lessons, equipment hire and the ski pass. See the list of resorts and to book http://www.skiingintospring.com/free-for-beginners

 

 

Health Benefits of Skiing

“Skiing can change lives” say experts

  • An average day skiing will see you burn three times as many calories as a normal day
  • Skiing is proven to help deal with depression
  • “Pushing limits can do wonders for self-confidence”, ski fitness expert
  • Plenty of physical and mental benefits to skiing

Skiing helps to develop valuable life skills and carries plenty of physical and mental health benefits, leading experts have said.

A brand new guide reveals the benefits of skiing extend far beyond spending a bit of time with family and friends, and can actually help shape you as a person as well as improving your physical shape.

The Health Benefits of Skiing, produced by award-nominated ski agents Ski Line, breaks down all the key benefits of a ski holiday and offers hints and tips from top instructors and fitness gurus on preparing, as well as advice on how to avoid injury for first-time skiers.

Lynn Mill, a former professional skier and current instructor at www.valdskiinstructors.com, said on behalf of Ski Line: “The lifelong skills learned just by being out in the mountain environment are priceless and many of my students have grown up to be adventurous, proactive and successful even in areas with no connection to snowsports.”

“It planted life skills for them.”

She added: “It clears the mind, allows people’s heads to get away from the everyday worries for a few hours and is really fun once you’re up and running. It also does wonders for your core and leg strength as well as your cardio system and proprioception.”

Physical benfits of skiing

Neil Maclean-Martin, a ski-fitness expert of BeFitApps, says skiing can change lives “in many positive ways.”

“The beauty, for many, is the amazing mountain environment and that it is so easy to push limits and conquer fears. The rush is hard to beat.

“Pushing limits can do wonders for self-confidence, satisfaction and helping you to set perhaps new unforeseen goals in all aspects of your life.”

Skiing is a very active sport, and an average day on the slopes will see you burn around 3,000 calories. To put that in perspective, that’s around three times as many calories as you would burn on an average working day!

Skiing helps free yourself from every day worries

Aside from potential weight loss, working out at altitude and the physical exertion of speeding down the slopes will leave you much fitter than when you started, with the lower body in particular undergoing a strenuous workout.

But the mental benefits might be the most revealing aspect, with a survey from BMC showing that not only did 99% of skiers claim to have a higher fitness level than their peers, but 93% were reported to be freed from depression.

The slopes can be an ideal place to let go of the tensions of home life and experience an adrenaline rush, while it can also help you get to know your body better.

Mental benefits of skiing

For more information on the physical and mental benefits of skiing, as well as hints and tips on how to prepare ahead of a first trip to the slopes, visit Health Benefits of Skiing, by award-nominated Ski Line.

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