Who needs the snow?
Summer time in the Alps can be as much fun as winter. Eve Middleton and Zo� McIntyre have found 30 ideas for enjoying your holiday among the mountains, valleys and lakes
1 Cycle lane
When it is completed this year, the Via Rhona bikeway will cover more than 700 kilometres, running alongside the River Rh�ne from Lake Geneva to the Mediterranean. Cycling specialist Cyclomundo has an eight-day, self-guided tour of the upper section – taking riders from western Switzerland down to Lyon through 265 kilometres of breathtaking scenery against the background of the Alps – perfect for les sportifs. Prices from €940 per person.
Tel: (Fr) 4 50 87 21 09
2 Branching out
Experience the majesty of the Alps from the treetops with a visit to one of the Accrobranche centres in the region. Once securely fastened into the harness and clipped on to the safety wire, you are free to tackle the zip wires, rope bridges and other challenges along the agility assault course at whichever level feels most comfortable to you. Don’t forget your camera to capture some truly spectacular photos, not to mention facial expressions!
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Tel: (Fr) 4 75 67 52 20
3 Flying high
For a unique way to see Mont Blanc, take a trip in a private four-seater Mousquetaire aeroplane from Meg�ve’s Altiport on the outskirts of the ski resort. Soar into the air and see herds of goats scatter among the most secluded parts of the mountainside as your pilot sweeps up and over the snow-capped peaks and valleys. There are three routes, differing in length from 20 to 40 minutes. Prices from €66 per person.
Tel: (Fr) 4 50 21 03 21
4 Natural tendency
Courchevel may conjure up images of white slopes and apr�s-ski, but the resort is also enticing in the summer. The Rosi�re outstanding natural area at the foot of the Avals Valley has nature trails for even the most sedate walker; the botanic trail is maintained throughout July and August to showcase the area’s flora and fauna. Keep an eye out for lily of the valley, lady’s slipper orchids and gypsophila along the mountainside slopes.
Tel: (Fr) 4 79 08 00 29
5 Relaxing break
Taking part in all those Alpine activities can be tiring, but one way to relax is at one of the area’s spa towns. Take a trip to the shores of Lake Geneva, where Thonon-les-Bains (tel: (Fr) 4 50 71 55 55, www.thononlesbains.com) is known for its mineral waters from the Versoie spring, or opt for nearby �vian-les-Bains (tel: (Fr) 4 50 83 10 00, www.eviantourism.com), home to the eponymous mineral water. Further south, the thermes at Aix-les-Bains (tel: (Fr) 4 79 88 68 00, www.aixlesbains.com) are said to help with joint problems as well as providing good old-fashioned relaxation.
7 On the right track
Relax and take in an azure-blue sky, rolling green valleys and mountain peaks on board the Mont-Blanc Express, the charming train service linking Saint-Gervais-les-Bains/Le Fayet with Vallorcine close to the Franco-Swiss border. Services depart about every hour, so you can get off at one of the villages or resorts en route, including Servoz, Les Houches, Chamonix and Argenti�re.
Tel: (Fr) 8 92 33 53 35
6 Biking trail
Summer is the perfect opportunity to get in the saddle and try some downhill mountain biking. Make life easy for yourself and ride the t�l�si�ge to the peaks with your bike on board – it’s also a great way to take in awe-inspiring views as you plan your route down the mountainside. Information on opening times and prices can be found at the main tourist office in individual resorts.
7 On the right track
eRelax and take in an azure-blue sky, rolling green valleys and mountain peaks on board the Mont-Blanc Express, the charming train service linking Saint-Gervais-les-Bains/Le Fayet with Vallorcine close to the Franco-Swiss border. Services depart about every hour, so you can get off at one of the villages or resorts en route, including Servoz, Les Houches, Chamonix and Argenti�re.
Tel: (Fr) 8 92 33 53 35
8 Fun in the sun
Base Nature Aventure near the Lac d’Annecy is an outdoor playground for grown-ups and children. Its cliffhanger course is a fantastic way to experience the Alps; after a briefing session, participants are secured and equipped with carabiner, harness and lanyard before setting off across the cliff faces, bridges and adapted crossings. A 90-minute session costs from €22 per person and no experience is needed.
Tel: (Fr) 6 07 56 90 58
9 Casting off
The deep, still waters of the Lac du Bourget (the largest freshwater lake in France) are popular for a spot of fishing, which will give you plenty of time to take in the majesty of the surrounding landscape. If you would rather someone else took charge of the hunting and gathering, there is always the option of relaxing with a picnic on one of the wooden jetties. The spa town of Aix-les-Bains is on its shores.
10 Hot air
During the first weekend of June every year, the inhabitants of Annonay celebrate the F�te de la Montgolfi�re with aerial displays. It commemorates the occasion on 4 June, 1783 when the Montgolfi�re brothers, who were born in the town, demonstrated the world’s first hot-air balloon flight in the Place des Cordeliers. It’s a great time to take flight – book your own hot-air balloon trip for a special way to mark the occasion.
Tel: (Fr) 4 75 69 32 50
Golfing enthusiasts shouldn’t miss the chance to tackle some of the 18-hole courses dotted around the French Alps. The resort of Les Gets claims to have the only golf course with views of the summit of Mont Blanc and is holding its stage of the Golfy Cup tournament on 19 August. A round of golf and other leisure activities can be arranged during a stay at Chalets1066, which has apartments with optional hotel services in the resort. A two-bedroom apartment in the middle of August costs €513 for a week.
Tel: 0121 288 0586
12 Barking mad
The concept of cani-rando –where hikers stride up the mountainside pulled along by husky dogs harnessed to their waist – may seem challenging in theory, but in practice it is a fun and friendly way to see the Alps. The Maurienne Valley which runs along the course of the River Arc to the south-east of Chamb�ry, prides itself on this activity, which sees groups do anything from a morning walk to a day’s outing.
Tel: (Fr) 4 79 05 23 66
13 Iron will
If you have ever wondered about the iron footholds set into Alpine cliffs, these are via ferratas (roads of iron). They were first created by the Italian Army to transport men and equipment over the Dolomites, but have been developed in the rest of the Alps and other mountain areas as a leisure pursuit. Participants use bridges and footholds as well as cables and ladders to cross the routes which in France are graded on six levels, from F (facile) to TD (tr�s difficile).
Transhumance, the practice of moving livestock up to the mountains in spring and bringing them back down for the winter, is an age-old tradition that still survives in the Alps. The F�te de la Transhumance involves sheep or cattle being ushered through village streets, accompanied by music, dancing and plenty of food and drink. Head to Saint-Jean-d’Arves in the Maurienne Valley, La Rosi�re near the Italian border or the Retour des Alpages in Annecy for some festive fun.
15 Bounteous beauty
The Rh�ne-Alpes region offers 13 Plus Beaux Villages de France, which are designated for their charming character, traditional architecture and commitment to preserving the environment. A visit to any of these communities provides a fascinating glimpse of Alpine culture. High up in the mountains are Bonneval-sur-Arc (pictured) in Savoie and Sixt-Fer-�-Cheval in Haute-Savoie, drop by for a taste of traditional France.
Tel: (Fr) 5 55 84 08 50
16 Castles in the air
Standing proudly above the Lac d’Annecy, the Ch�teau de Menthon-Saint-Bernard is an impressive reminder of Savoie’s history. The soaring turrets peaking out from the mists add to the romantic appeal of a castle that has been occupied by the same family for more than a thousand years. Guided visits are held during the summer until 30 September and cost from €8.
Tel: (Fr) 4 50 60 12 05
17 Village life At the annual F�te au Village in Les Contamines-Montjoie on 22 July inhabitants in traditional dress will re-create life from times gone by with demonstrations of artisanal crafts (including woodwork), singing and dancing, cookery workshops and tastings of local produce.
Tel: (Fr) 4 50 47 01 58
18 Green thinking
The voies vertes in the Alps are a fantastic way to enjoy the dramatic scenery of the mountains. Completely car-free, these long, smooth paths are open to all and are free to use. The 11.5-kilometre stretch between Chamb�ry and the Lac du Bourget is particularly impressive, allowing visitors to take in the verdant landscape. Strap on your rollerblades, take to your bike or simply pull on your walking shoes to make the most of the area’s beauty.
19 Young adventurers
A stay at the residential summer camp in the traffic-free village of La Tania, 1,400 metres up in the Vanoise valley, will keep your children occupied. The week’s holiday with Mountain Adventure Camps includes rafting, rock climbing and mountain biking. After a lungful of forest air, youngsters can exercise their minds with French lessons. The price is €990.
Tel: 0845 644 0658
20 Taking it slowly
The Chablais Alps, lying between Lake Geneva and the Massif du Mont Blanc, offer a great getaway for anyone looking to relieve the stresses of modern life. A self-guided walking holiday gives you the freedom to go at your own pace and lose yourself amid the pastures, forests and pathways. Inntravel, the slow holiday specialist, has devised a seven-night walking route south of �vian-les-Bains which will give you time to get off the beaten track and absorb the majestic surroundings. Prices from �835. Tel: 01653 617 002
21 Music in the air
Along with outdoor summer activities,including hiking, archery, golf and mountain biking, the resort of Les Gets (www.lesgets.com) is staging its 15th International Mechanical Music Festival from 20-22 July, when the sound of more than 100 barrel organs will fill the air. For accommodation, Lagrange Prestige’s chalet complex, Les Fermes Emiguy, includes a spa, steam room and pool. A two-bedroom apartment at festival time costs �570 for a week.
Tel: 0207 371 6111
22 Action package Thrill-seekers will get the adrenalin pumping at a multi-activity week in the resort of Chamonix, with rafting on the rapids of the River Arve, a guided mountain bike trip through stunning scenery and awe-inspiring rock climbing. This package from Neilson Lakes and Mountains is aimed at all ages and fitness levels. Prices are from �699 per person based on four sharing a one-bedroom apartment.
Tel: 0844 879 8155
23 Hidden gem
The Jardins Secrets at Vaulx near Annecy have been lovingly created by Nicole and Alain Moumen over 7,000 square metres of what was once a humble farm surrounded by wasteland. Over the years they have built delicate tiled walkways meandering through flowerbeds alongside wooden galleries and cobbled courtyards in a style reminiscent of the Alhambra in Granada.
Tel: (Fr) 4 50 60 53 18
24 Rail away Touring by train is a great way to enjoy a wider range of landscapes in one trip as magnificent vistas unfold while you relax in a comfortable window seat. Companies such as French Travel Service offer tailor-made, high-speed rail trips with hotel stays in several destinations.
Tel: 0844 848 8843
25 A personal touch
If you really want to be at one with nature, why not stroll among the flower-filled Savoie meadows on guided walks run by Erick and Marie-Claude Cl�ment? This enthusiastic couple are eager to pass on their knowledge about the flora and fauna found around their mountain chalet hotel nestling in a small village in the Val d’Arly. This holiday is part of the Belle France summer programme and costs from �785 per person.
Tel: 01580 214 010
26 Lakeside camping
The Saint-Disdill� campsite near Thonon-les-Bains is just five minutes’ walk from Lake Geneva, so there is the chance to play on the shingle beach and take part in water sports against a mountain backdrop. The campsite has family facilities of its own, including inflatable slides, a playground and tennis court. A two-bedroom ‘Edelweiss’ mobile home for two adults and two children in July costs �573.
Tel: 0845 268 1938
27 Cosy cabins
Stepping out of your own secluded wooden Alpine chalet and taking in the wooded mountainsides will set you up for an active day out and about in Haute-Savoie. The Le Villard Faverges chalet, available through French Country Cottages, sleeps up to five people, making it a perfect getaway to share with friends or family. It is also within a cycle ride of the Lac d’Annecy, with its water sports, sailing, beaches and waterside restaurants. Prices from �1,002 per week in summer.
Tel: 0845 268 0807
28 Great glaciers
Who said skiing was just a winter sport? The Grande Motte glacier outside Tignes rises to more than 3,500 metres and has 20 kilometres of ski runs, a vertical drop of 750 metres, a snow park and an ice grotto in its summer area. Around the resort there are other more traditional summer activities such as white water rafting, biking and hiking. Peak Retreats has a choice of hotels, chalets and apartments in Tignes.
Tel: 0844 576 0170
29 Family strides
At Les Contamines-Montjoie,children and parents will be put through their paces on a guided family walking holiday. Three Alpine trails ensure that all leg lengths and energy levels are catered for. The walks can be combined with afternoon activities for the over-eights such as rafting, climbing and rope courses. Twin-share prices start from �629 per adult.
Tel: 0845 470 8558
30 Flora and fauna
Keep your eyes open and you may well spot far more than swathes of lush green meadows unfurling against the snow-capped peaks. The carpeted banks of mountain flora are home to wildlife that is particular to the area. See if you can tick off chamois, ibex and marmottes from among the cliffs and fields of wild flowers.