Day trips from Chamonix

Teenage Chamonix summer holiday wish list

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So the kids have been here for the last 8 years, each one has not greeted with great enthusiasm due to the usual teenage malaise, and us being horrible parents of course.  This year is different though. We’re bringing a  friend; a teenage friend….  So good is this that it’s prompted positive anticipation and almost (just almost) excitement. This is providing we follow the suggested itinerary and leave them at home to go shopping should we hit the high mountains..

I’m not sure how representative this list is of the average teenage girl, but it might be useful as inspiration for others coming to Chamonix for a few weeks. For me it is actually a nice reprise of the things they enjoyed when they were younger and haven’t grown out of yet (3 are from an ever popular blog I did 6 years ago!)

  1. Hurtling down the slides of the municipal pool on the edge of Lake Geneva at Thonon
  2. Stand Up Paddle boarding on Lake Annecy.
  3. Taking the 3 person inflatable canoe to the lakes at Passy near Sallanches.
  4. Riding the slides at the Richard Bossons sports centre in the middle of town.
  5. Cycling up to the Les Chavants lake in Les Houches and stopping for an ice cream, both on the way up at the terrace next to the super market and at the cafe on the lake!
  6. Popping into the amusement park in town and doing the Luge de Ete.
  7. A day trip to Lake Geneva, again, this time to the Aqua Park, full of flumes and typical tourist things.

You may have spotted the water based theme, so we’re very much hoping for good weather.  

I’ll let you know how we get on. Maybe we’ll be able to swap a swim session for rafting perhaps? We have a teenager with us who is rather unfamiliar with the great outdoors, so it could be fun ūüėČ

103rd edition of the Tour De France circles Chamonix

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It was announced today, that among the highlights of the 2016 Tour De France are a brutal 183km eighth stage from Pau to Bagneres de Luchon, followed by a monumental day in Andorra, stage 17’s finish on the Emosson Dam in Switzerland and a penultimate stage from Megeve to Morzine, via some of the Alps’ most testing climbs. ¬†Even Bourg-en-Bresse,¬†Sallanches and¬†Saint-Gervais Mont Blanc, all sorts of places familiar to us.

map_route

So it seems Chamonix is great place from which to watch next year’s TDF, so great in fact our place went a few days before the route was officially announced. A coincidence or an insider we wonder ? ūüôā ¬†

Today’s unveiling was greeted with great support by Chris Froome¬†It’s such an amazing, special race. I’m still 30 years old and feel I have a lot left in my legs.…¬†It suits me better than this year’s Tour,” he added, in reference to a course featuring two time trials that total 33.5 miles, compared to one short individual time trial in the 2015 race.

Full details of the the 21 stages can be found on the official website.

Va, va Froome!!!

Yvoire, a beautiful medieval village, but its neighbour Nernier is the forgotten pearl

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Having watched families galavanting on our favourite municipal lake in Passey, spurred on by our experience of¬†SUP in Annecy¬†earlier in the week, we promised the kids we’d buy them an inflatable canoe. ¬†With it being a little late in the summer season the Decathlon in Salanches was bereft of them so we needed to head to a place with a larger water mass; Annemasse, on the shores of Lake Geneva.

Located on the south of the lake, within the French part of the shore near Thonon Le Bain¬†, the journey was around an hour from Chamonix following the¬†E25 down the valley through Bonneville. Annemasse itself had little to write home about, but it was close to the lake. ¬†So we headed to a little medieval town I’d read about,¬†35 minutes away,¬†Yvoire. ¬†¬†It was reported to be one of¬†the¬†most romantic¬†small towns (population ca. 800) in France, 700 years old, packed with flowers and¬†beautiful¬†old¬†buildings, such as the one below.

blog yvonne 8

Give its description as ‘romantic’ and we had the kids in tow, we didn’t rush straight there. ¬†Instead, we followed signs to a place called Nernier, 2km from Yvoire, the hidden pearl of the lake. Nernier is such the poor relative of Yvoire, other than the restaurant shown below, there is very little you can find about Nerier written in English, which means the place is lovely and peaceful.

blog yvonne 1

So we were able to park the car for free and walk the 5 minutes to the small harbour and launch our new kayak for it’s maiden voyage. Marvellous.

blog geneva boat

The lazy afternoon enabled me to wander around the village practically undisturbed, snapping way to my hearts content.

blog yvonne 3

Without bumping into hardly anyone, wandering past artists’ residences, with the cobbled streets to myself.

blog yvonne 7

Boating over, we continued on the last 2km to Yvoire our final destination. ¬†It was also the final destination for many hundreds of other people, as you can see below, we certainly weren’t on our own.

blog yvonne 5

However, busy places are popular for a reason, as there was no doubt it was a pictersque medieval village with many beautiful views including the famous Yvoire castle. The large number of restaurants, cafés, boutiques, art galleries, studios, and souvenir shops were certainly buzzing and a testament to its appeal.

blog yvonne 4

We were glad we’d seen the award winning town, but for us, its small, peaceful neighbour, with its empty seats was the real find.

blog yvonne 9

 

Montreux Jazz festival is just over the (big) hill

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When we drive to Chamonix we seem to do a mini tour of Europe before hitting the valley.  Initially skirting the north of France, straight into Belgium, then Luxembourg, back into France, a tour through Switzerland and finally over the Col de Forclaz down into Chamonix.  Phew!  This globe trotting route is driven by the avoidance of peage and cheapness of diesel of course, but it does take you through some lovely places.

Once such place, on the edge of Lake Geneva as you come over the hill at Saint-Leiger La Chiesaz from Bern, just off the E27, is Montreux. ¬†Admittedly, you can’t see much of the town from the road, but the whole vista is lovely and you can imagine how gorgeous it must be at the waters edge.

It wasn’t until the last year it dawned on me why the name on the sign kept jumping out. ¬†After all there are many lovely areas on the banks of the lake, so why did that name keep rising to the top? Then, as if by magic, it was a trip to Majorca that caused the realisation for me. ¬†The inflight magazine had an article about the legendary jazz festival held there…

Of course, the Montreux jazz festival and custodian a Freddy Mercury statue looking out over the lake.

Originally a pure jazz festival, it opened up in the 1970s but today presents artists of nearly every imaginable music style. ¬†Today’s festival lasts about two weeks (having grown from its initial 3 days) and attracts an audience of more than 200,000 people. ¬†The festival was originally held at the original Montreux Casino, which burned down in December 1971 during Frank Zappa’s performance which inspired Deep Purple’s penning of the infamous “Smoke on the Water”.

So it’s a place that has a latent place in your pop knowledge whether you know it or not.

Having checked out this year’s lineup, it’s also somewhere worth a day trip or two, given that its only about a 2 hour drive from Chamonix.¬†Confirmed artists include The Chemical Brothers, Emeli Sand√©, John Legend, Sin√©ad O’Connor, Lady Gaga, George Ezra, Paolo Nutini, Hudson Mohawke, Portishead, Lionel Ritchie, Dub Inc, Lenny Kravitz, George Benson, Baxter Dury, The Kooks, Lilly and The Pricks, Hot Chip and many others. ¬†Some concerts are free (as are the 8pm jam sessions), even though most venues charge.

The most is also made of the beautiful location’s assets with jazz boats sailing at designated times round the lake with jazz, blues and swing bands performing on board.

Unfortunately with it falling just before the school holidays (3rd to 18th July) its doesn’t work for us yet. ¬†There will be other years though I’m sure.

The 2015 programme and booking details can be found here.

Other ideas for day trips from Chamonix are on this link, should you, like us not be there at the right time.

Our intro to Stand up Paddleing in Annecy

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You can’t beat that sitting on the waterfront feeling when the weather is warm and balmy. Accompany that with historic old buildings,¬†a proliferation of restaurants, municipal outdoor swimming pools and boat rides and you have a great day out. So I suppose that is why many of our guests head to Annecy during their stay.

It takes about an hour to drive there from Chamonix, all on major, well sign posted routes.

You can also take the longer route over Megeve, park and cycle into the old town using the fantastic cycle paths that now take you just about from Alberville to Annecy following an old railway, so it’s nice and flat. ¬†The path begins at Ugine which is about 20k out of Annecy.

Cycling near Annecey

Its been a few years since we visited the old town, but from what I can remember and have read, walking around the town you have a range of cultural buildings you can explore such as the Palaise de l’ile, which looks beautiful sat on the side of the canals within the old town, but not particularly exciting inside.

You also have Ch√Ęteau d’Annecy which has spectacular views of the town and lake. It has a small entrance charge and then you are pretty free to wander around the 12th century building and its newer additions viewing the eclectic mix of modern and traditional art, alpine furniture and local artifacts.

Although I can not claim to say we have been I read an interesting post on Trip Advisor regarding Annecy that I thought is worth highlighting given it was written by a family. The Conservatoire de Art et Histoire
(a former seminary building up the hill to the left from the chateau) has an exposition which is a gem for anyone who perhaps has had their fill of castles, traditional tourist stuff and “art”, but is interested in film and animation in particular, and likes interacting with what they are seeing. The writer visited it on a damp day in Annecy with his two young kids (7 and 11), who loved it so much they had to return the next day – which wasn’t a problem as it is free. The exposition is organized a bit haphazardly but takes you through early cinema and animation to modern animation artists and chances to play with old stroboscopes and other moving picture machines, as well as very modern flip books and films. Many of the films and almost all the explanatory notes are in English and French, and there is a distinctly international flavour to the exhibits reflecting the international animation festival held in Annecy each year. We are not talking Disney here, but generally independent animators. There are a wide variety of films included in the exposition and via a computer installed near the entry – graduate films, shorts etc.¬†are shown.

So it was with the desire to muck about with animations our kids decided that they’d like to go to Annecy for the day. ¬†Dad of course, had different ideas given the forecast was so nice; “I’m not being¬†cooped¬†up in some old smelly building on a nice day, etc. etc.”. ¬† So Mum came to the rescue and suggested we try the latest craze of Stand Up Paddle Boarding (SUP), given there wasn’t a piece of white water in sight.

Phew, relief, something the whole family wanted to do :-). ¬†In fact we enjoyed mucking about on the water so much we actually didn’t get as far as visiting the old town, or any of the museums, so I’m afraid I still don’t have photos of that bit to show you.

But I do have some photos of SUP ūüôā

2014-08-22 12.35.43

We used:

NCP SUP (about 20 min cycle from the old town, almost next door to a public beach)

166 Chemin de Vers Rives

Sevrier

74320

They have a sister company on Lac Leman at Evian too, so we may well be heading there in the near future as well.  Incidentally we only had about 5 mins tuition before we set off as it was very straightforward, you just need a good sense of balance and an awareness of how to approach wake waves head on.

Annecy

Les Contamines makes a nice day trip skiing for families

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Last year while in Chamonix for Easter with the kids, we thought we’d go where the snow was good. ¬†This meant that we had a number of days in the valley of course, but if we also kept an eye on the conditions within a reasonable drive elsewhere.

I downloaded a great app called iSki France that took your position and let you you quickly assess the general conditions (depth of snow, number of lifts open, weather conditions and date of last snow) in surrounding areas.  If you click on the resort itself it then gives you more details about length of slopes, web cams, shops and even piste maps.  One of its best features is that it can do this list sorted according to the freshest snow first, closest resort and highest number of lift open.

Having run around the general area through those daft UTMB races a range of names were ringing bells, so we choose Les Contamines Montjoie.  Apparently during the TDS race, 50 miles in, it has a heart warning band to welcome the competitors into the check point just before you drop into the valley.  There is of course no snow that time of year so he wanted to see what it was like.

Les Contamines is a 40 to 50 min drive down the valley hanging a left through St Gervais heading up the D902. It has ¬†24 lifts and goes up to 2,487m, with the lowest piste area around 1,600m so it keeps good snow for quite some time. ¬†The majority are red runs, so it suited family skiing nicely. Maybe because it was late season, but there weren’t any queues for the lift and the runs on the Hauteluce side (south facing) were particularly quiet. So a pleasant change for gentle skiing. ¬†Not sure it would keep us busy enough for more than a day or two, but a nice place to visit.

les Contamines

Les Contamines (of which the ski lift was slightly outside) seemed a quiet village, but looking at the itinerary of events had a rather active local community. Which is probably why Coline Mattel, from the village has just won bronze is ski jumping in Sochi 2014 (a celebatory party for which will be held on the 21st February).  So its a good place to start your athletic career.

So if you want to grab the opportunity to stay in out place w/c 15th or 22nd March 2014, you too could have an interesting jaunt just outside the valley too.

Hang gliding and Paragliding in the Alps

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You often see para or hang gliders circling overhead while wandering around the town or the slopes. I’m never quite sure whether they are the result of tourist provision or serious sports people. Having done a bit of digging around it seems to be a bit of both.

My brother in-law used our place last year during the spring to do some hang gliding the local area¬†friends from his UK club in ¬†and seemed impressed, which is one perspective. ¬†Last year also saw friends of ours with a 7 year old son treat him to a parapente¬†experience, i.e. a tandem paraglide for his birthday, so I suppose that’s a personal example of both.

It’s the more serious stuff I’m intrigued in though, as during the lift opening seasons it seems pretty obvious where you can launch from and fly. ¬†So where can you launch and land when the lifts are closed?

Firstly I  discovered this map  by Oliver Guenay which at least confirmed that Chamonix was a serious location in terms of flying.  Given that the  mountains  perhaps provide the best thermalling and cross country scenery it might not be a surprise.

from a book by Oliver Guenay
from a book by Oliver Guenay

Then I found this great appraisal of the area from The Alpine Flying Centre. (They are a British BHPA school and offer BHPA РEPC and CPC paragliding beginner courses from April to November). Their review gives a great feeling for the types of flying during different times of the year. Extracts below:

Winter:

  • During mid-winter months Chamonix has excellent and gentle flying, ideal for the new alpine pilot wanting to experience massive top to bottoms, gaining air experience and learning more about alpine launching and landing approach techniques in high altitudes conditions.
  • From early February onwards the sun reaches the valley and good thermals rise giving excellent conditions. The potential cross country flying is then very good: ‚Äėcats-cradles‚Äô, triangles, out and returns or straight distance flights are possible.
  • To leave the valley in the Passy/Varan direction to the west you will need to be at least 2700 metres asl. and have very light winds. Any significant wind from the west will slow your progress. The ground speed reading from a GPS will assist.
  • To venture off in the direction of Verbier to the east you will need a day with very little or a very light westerly wind, and easy height gains to 3000 metres or more. There are often very strong valley breezes down low in the Martigny Valley in Switzerland so care is needed!

Spring & Summer

  • Spring and summer offer a variation of conditions that can become quite strong by early to mid- afternoon. Excellent flying can be found during the early part of the day and late in the afternoon and evening but then from Plan l Aiguille on the other side of the valley.
  • In spring and summer and when the conditions become too strong in Chamonix Valley, it is worth driving down to Plaine Joux, opposite the viaduct, just outside the valley to the south west.

Autumn

  • The autumn weather in Chamonix provides much smoother flying conditions, however, many of the cable cars may be closed for maintenance, making access to some sites impossible. So check for opening/closure times.

 

They have even helpfully put together a site guide, which details etiquette, launch and landing sites with co-ordinates, along with access and hazards to be aware.  A very thorough document that can be checked out here.

So, yes, there does seem to be plenty of sites still available when the lifts are closed.

So now to track down these people who have flown to tell their tales and ¬†see if I can borrow some photos…

Andy’s Chamonix hang gliding trip

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My brother in law, the guest blogger, sharing a little about his trip to Chamonix last April.

“We had an excellent weeks flying towards the end of april mainly from Plaine Joux, a ski resort with the landing in Passy. If the weather is off Annecy is an hour and a half away.

The appartment has a garage long enough to store most gliders when not in use and the wifi made weather checks much simpler as English could be selected.

We never flew Chamonix as the Brevent cable car was closed for servicing. The hang glider landing in Chamonix is for braver or more skillful¬† pilots than me as it’s quite tight and surrounded with trees. We opted to play in Annecy as you can see from my mates video below.”

In my earlier blog about hand gliding in the alps¬†and the links within it, it makes reference to the potential hairy landing site in the middle of town near the Leisure Centre (Le Bois du Bouchet). ¬†The¬†landing site is not visible from the place you take off, so I don’t blame him for heading down the valley for his first flying experience of the valley. But from a spectator sport that field is great fun.

Servoz, Les Gorges de la Diosaz, top food and water falls

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l’Auberge les Gorges de la Diosaz¬†√† Servoz Vall√©e de Chamonix Mont-Blanc is a marvelous restaurant just around the corner from the famous gorges themselves.¬† I was going to start the post with reminiscing about the gorge walk itself, but then I saw the photos again and its the sumptuous food that is my abiding memory.¬† So lets start with the restaurant then….

George de la Diosaz restaurant, Servoz

Not bad for a lunch out with the kids hey? ūüôā

Its own website describes it as ‘semi gastronomic’, but its listed on the Via Michelin website as charming and good value even though it doesn’t have one of it’s stars. Well we certainly enjoyed our 3 courses for 25Euros, the ladies even treated themselves to a glass of the fizzy stuff.¬† The children’s menu at 15E didn’t disappoint either.¬† Given that Servoz is about a 15 min drive down the valley from Chamonix, it probably explains the reason for the good value.¬† The human touch was added at the end of the meal when the chef Marc Serres tore a strip off his 8 year old for doing pretty similar naughty stuff to our kids.¬† We offered him ours for disciplining too, but he unfortunately declined.¬† He didn’t realize we were still on the terrace I might add, but it made us laugh.

Gorges de la diosaz collage

The trip is not only worth it for the food (the village has another lovely restaurant we’ll talk about at a later date), but for the walk up to the old derelict chapel of St Michael’s which is about a 3.5 mile round trip from the climbing wall that you see as you enter the village from the main road. – The roadside crag has some extremely challenging overhangs and the south facing schist is hot work in summer, so cooling off in the caf√© opposite can be useful.

The quiet village of course also has the famous Gorges de la Diosaz with its suspended footpath that traces the torrents of water for about a 15 min assent to the Cascade du Soufflet where you can stare down at the abyss. There are many notice boards on the path with information about the local flora and fauna, but the most amazing photos are right at the top showing a helicopter rescue of some misguided canyoners who had to be winched to safety from the pool just above the Cascade de Soufflet. Entrance is seasonal, June to September and between 3.5E and 5E.

servoz gorges

Other things you might want to do with the family can be found here.

Jardin de Cimes, Passy, a lovely botanical afternoon out

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Friends of ours are currently planning their trip to Chamonix and wanted suggestions for things to do. Of course there are the walks and cable cars, but there are also botanical gardens often forgotten about. This reminded me to dig out the photos of our trip to Jardin des Cimes on the Plateau de Passy.

Its round about a 40 min drive up through Passy taking you into some of the more typical French villages, off the beaten track a bit. Its aim is to be organic and prides itself in its charitable status and kindness to nature. Being located on the side of the valley its views as you might expect are extremely pleasing. It has a number trails through the garden, including sensory ones if I remember, taking you back to the ice age and bygone eras. Its well laid out for children trails, with many guides tours. If you hit it at the right time there are also kids crafts and recitals.

Like all good French locations it has a cafe offering lovely fresh local produce. Checking out the website the prices seem very fair, 10E for a children’s menu and 16E for an adults 3 course lunch.

Its a lovely easy way to enjoy a piece of culture in the mountains without your crampons. If you don’t have plans to stop for lunch you can manage to complete your wandering in about 1.5hrs.

Its 15E for a family of 4 and opens between late May and early October each year.

61, impasse des Gures ZAE des Egratz
Passy
74190
France

Access: 447, route du docteur Davy, le Plateau d’Assy, 74190 PASSY