Kids activities

Chamonix, the new centre of the ice cream parlour?

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Although Chamonix is currently having one of its best early season for years with lifts open in November, its with fondness we look back at those warmer sunny days….

It’s always fun to ring the changes in a familiar area, but this was a trend we’d not anticipated. Stupid really as you always see ques for ice cream during summer evenings in the Market Square courtesy of this place.

Given our loathing of queuing we prefer the place on the Avenue Michael Crozier near the museum. This little place (Mer Des Glaces) is open winer and summer (well it would have to be with a name like that).

It was while walking towards the SNCF station on that same avenue that we spotted a few trendy looking stools outside a cafe. It then hit us that with this amount of ice cream parlours Chamonix has truly landed on the summer map for those other than hard-core outdoor types.

So we kept our eyes open when wandering around town and we were amazed how many more we saw.

Cote Macarons walking out of town towards the hotel Alpina.

Chez Rochford

And of course Chalet 4810 who converted from a rock shop into a patisserie a few years ago


These 6 are just of course the ‘tip if the iceberg’ as many of the restaurants make their own and are famed for such delicacies. A little hunt around identified our next door neighbour L’Impossible as a leader in this field.  The local speciality of Chestnut ice cream has even inspired famous chefs to create their own Mont Blanc.

Neither Facebook or Trip Advisor seems to have cottoned on yet though, so watch this space.

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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 😉

Could this be a Geocachers new obsession?

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I’ve just got home after my usual Saturday morning run with the dog. Nothing remarkable in that, admittedly. Unlike many regular runners though I’ve resisted the temptation to record my speed, metres climbed, course records, kudos points etc. Until today. 
My new found way of recording running achievements is slightly different to the norm though. It’s Pokémon Go. It actually added 20mins to my normal run but the dog didn’t seem to mind. Those extra 20mins enabled me to find all sorts of weird and wonderful creatures.

I just love the way it puts the beasts on the right background. 

So on my first run out I managed to achieve level 3, which I didn’t think was bad for a non gamer. But I lost loads of balls on this batty thing. Clearly a trick to doing him!

I don’t think I’ll be playing every time I run, but it certainly appeals to the part of me that enjoyed Geocaching. Running around new places to find little surprises.

This of course works nicely in the Chamonix valley with all its foot paths. I’m not sure if it’s in France yet but I know the US ski resorts have had playing it. So I’ll keep my eye open.

The teenage cycle routes for those who loath exercise

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We’ve got to that stage of having young teenagers….. :-/  Short walks aren’t much of a challenge (even though the suggestion of them is received with grunts of distain) so we are at that strange stage when some of the kids activities still have an appeal, or at least the promise of an ice cream (provided you’ve estimated the right number of ascent stretches!) almost warrants the whining and you feel you’ve done your good parent bit and at least got them to exercise for an hour or so.  So we thought we’d share with you the two routes we took.

Route 1: to Plan Praz.

This is the trip they requested based on memories of good times on zip wires and canoes in cold water.

The bit from our apartment is a little hairy as you cross the main road RN205 in order to circumnavigate the town centre to avoid hundreds or tourists, but once you are on it, it has a marked cycle path.  After you’ve crossed the railway line,  it’s specifically sign posts you on to a green cycle route which brings you to Bois du Bouchet (the main hang gliding landing site and skate park).  From there the route is off the roads and you can add extra distance by putting in a lap of the woods near Les Bois.  Even doing that though its still only 5.5 M if you chose not to enter the park from the direction of Les Tines higher up the valley than Les Praz, shorter if you decide not to put the woodland loop in.

So it was quite a useful gentle ascent up the valley to get the kids used to cycling again, and of course it had plentiful refreshments available. It was also a hand experiment to see if the dog could cope with running along side a bike too.

The Garmin route  out is available should you want to down load it. Ignore the 40 min time element of it though as we stopped for a bit.

And here is the return route quicker at just over 20 mins.

Bois du Bouchet cycling with the dog

Route 2: Les Houches, Les Chavants.

Now this one was a little further with quite a bit more climbing involved, but it still only took us 41mins to get up there, including a few stretches of pushing bikes up hills with the accompanying whining.  Admittedly, the last time the girls cycled up there one was in a bike trailer and the other on the back of a tag along, but they were vaguely familiar with our end destination given it was at the bottom of the Prarion ski lift.

cycling les houches

So this route went down the valley on the Promenade de L’Arve (the path that takes the UTMB runners out of Chamonix, and TDS runners back in), going past the old horse riding place and past Les Houches train station, before going onto Les Houches village itself. Then you more gently meander up the village more gently to Lake des Chavants.

The area itself has a small rock climbing face, pony trecking and an ariel adventure park.  Perhaps the most important part for our kids though was the new Guingette des Chavants cafe though, fully equipped with crepes, pop etc. plus cider for the adults.  The building itself is marvellously contemporary and offers you the opportunity to regain your breath whilst sitting over the water listening to the fountain and watching a little fishing or rock climbing.

 les houches cafe

After refreshments, the journey back down the hill, through Les Bossons felt a lot quicker, as can be seen on the garmin route of our nearly 11 mile round trip.

So bear with it we say and make then earn their tea 🙂

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 Château 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 🙂

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

Up La Jonction: family walks

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Not always do you want to be walking for the whole day, but a short jaunt out to stretch your legs is appreciated. Sometimes the walk might only be to exercise the dog.  On this particular occasion we fancied a dog walk close to the flat but trying somewhere other than our usual round trip to Cascade du Dard.

So Chalet du Glacier du Boossons it was. Les Bossons village itself is a few KM down the valley from Chamonix town.

Sign at the parking spot at the bottom on the Bosson chair lift
Tremplin de Mont

As you can see, from the car park at the base of the Bossons lift (in the hamlet Le Mont) the walk is only around an hour. The cafe is just a 5 mins walk from the top of the chair lift too, but that would only be cheating of course …

As with most walks in the valley the path is well marked and generally steep.  Great for wearing the dog out if members of the party walk at different paces. Lots of rosy cheeks created by the 1,400m ascent.

The cafe, nestled at the side of the world’s longest altitude drop glacier, (basically it starts at the top of Mont Blanc and stops around 200 metres above Chamonix), has the usual pleasant mountain snacks and drinks and spectacular views.  It also has one other interesting addition: an outdoor museum of Air India memorabilia.

An Air India aircraft crashed down on November 3 1950, close to the summit of Mont Blanc. The crash killed all 48 people on board. As a result, every so often the glacier releases part of the plane or belongings of it’s passengers.  Photographs of these and details related to the event are displayed on boards along the walk between the chalet and the best view of the glacier at that height.

Chalet du glaciers des bossons

Our walk was the easiest, but there are also more challenging walks as you continue up the mountain. The chalet is the starting point for hiking to the cottage of the Pyramids, this hike is suited to intermediate hikers giving you a view of the entire glacier, the crevasses and ice pyramids. That part of the walk takes approximately 2h30mins, for which you can again be rewarded with refreshments.

From there, is the start of the famous hike to the famous Jonction, for more experienced hikers, which leads you to the gates of the mountain, to 2,589m. The hike to the Jonction from the restaurant The Chalet du Glacier takes approximately 4hrs

The Jonction is the last rocky outcrop before the kingdom of ice, allowing magnificent views of the glaciers of Bossons and Taconnaz. This route was taken by Dr. Paccard J.Balmat and during the first ascent of Mont Blanc in 1786. – our guys did the Goûter route though, so it doesn’t feature much in their write up.  I think I’ll have to leave that walk for another time.

If you’d like more ideas for short family walks, have a look at this, or even this in Servoz.

Or if you fancy something a little longer, check out the Goldhawk project.

 

Hate heights, but love a rare view?

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So how good are you with heights? What about suspense films? Ok, yes all very confusing the film ‘Touching the Void’ was about scary falling climbers and it turns out that ‘Step into the Void’ is a drug inspired video.  However, which ever way you look at it the Aiguille du Midi’s new viewing platform will probably prompt your pulse to race.

The “Step into the Void” is a glass room built around a metal frame. Three glass walls, floor and ceiling panels, allow visitors to control their vertigo and experience 1035 meters of space under their feet in total safety! Admire the views from a dramatic perspective! Anyone with vertigo can step in, assured. It’s installed on the uppermost terrace of the Aiguille du Midi (3842m).

Walk into the void

Walk into the void

Chamonix.net reliably tells us that each of these glass panels is custom built to the highest standards for safety and clarity. The five glass panels (12mm thick) consist of three layers of glass binded together. The structure can withstand winds of more than 220km/ h and a maximum temperature of 60°.

The construction has been designed by Pierre-Yves Chays and the work began on 19 September 2013.  The “Step into the Void” was inspired by the “Skywalk”, the huge glass walkway overlooking the Grand Canyon in the US state of Arizona.

Although operated by CMB, there isn’t much on their website about it yet, but I’ve seen that you need to wear slippers while inside it.  I’m intrigued to know if its an extra fee as I would imagine the queues will be rather longer to try it out.

Aiguille_du_Midi

Pony trecking and hacking in Chamonix valley

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Its good to have friends come to visit with different interests, it prompts you to do things that don’t usually fit into your visit.  And that’s just why we did horse riding this summer.  The kids have done the 10 minutes pony walks in Plan Praz, but never in the UK or France done an hour on a horse. Although our friends were competent riders Christophe and his wife Cathy recommend we go at the level of the least experienced, which actually worked well for all and did result in a little cantering once they were established. Definitely big smiles from my girls as they were quickly put at ease.

We found the stables via the internet and Chamonix.net.  We had come across them before when looking into dog sledging in the winter, but had never made enquiries. Their website actually didn’t do their accomplished English any justice as they replied to my Google translated email in perfect English. They advised that we booked and asked about the height and weight of the riders to make sure they had the right safety equipment and horses ready.

Ski Jorering

Being seasoned UTMB fans who geocache their stables in Les Houches were easy to find on the Balcon Sud just under the Jesus statue. Given it was that race time of year we were treated to the Buff runner Anton Krupicka using the path for a promotional photo shoot before he did the big event itself. It provided great entertainment watching them run in slow motion as the cameras whirled away while waiting for the kids to return. (We also caught a nice sun tan while admiring the view.) – Poor Anton pulled out at Trient, 138.9KM, from pain in his hamstring and Achilles the day after.  We didn’t trip him up, honest!

Anton Krupicka

It’s an activity we’d recommend doing, and it now sounds as though you needn’t be put off by inclement weather as this month they have just opened a 1,000sqm covered paddock in Les Houches itself. So congratulations to Cathy and Christophe, we wish you well with expansion.

 If you are interested in their contact details you can find them below with some information about their pricing too.

Beginners (novice)

!! only walk 

1 hour : 26 euros 

2 hours : 50 euros

 

Confident riders (walk -trot-gallop) : 

 2 hours : 50 euros

1 day trek : 120 euros (you bring your lunch with you) – 3 riders minimum – 6/7 hours on the horse –  No beginners

3 days trek : 410 euros including 2 nights in “refuge”, 2 dinners, 2 breakfasts and 2 lunch packs – No beginners.

 

Christophe ANDRE
Guide de Haute Montagne, Ski-Joëring, 

Débardage équin, moniteur d’équitation (BPJEPS)
504 chemin des Eaux Rousses
74310 Les Houches

Tél-fax : 0033- 4-50.54.54.22 – Mobile : 0033-6-13.08.33.58 – mail : christophe.and@hotmail.fr

www.skijoeringmontblanc.com 

P.S.  Having gone past the site this year (2014) we spotted that they had taken the Ski Joering signs down so we assume that the best way of contacting them is as follows:

www.centreequestredumontblanc.com

Centre équestre du Mont-Blanc
130 chemin du Paradis
74310 Les Houches

Fête des Guides 2013, or ‘how many ways are there to descend a rock face?’

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Having had to cancel plans to go a number of years ago due to torrential rain, I’m pleased to say that the family managed to attend this year. I’m mentioning ‘the family’, as opposed to ‘we’, as I wasn’t in France at the time, so you are going to have to rely on my 10 year old daughter’s photography skills to get a feel for the action…

Annually the Mountain Guide Association (Compagnie des Guides de Chamonix) run a weeks long series of events in the valley (mid August) to celebrate their achievements and raise money for their benevolent fund.  It culminates in fireworks and various displays of agility on the Friday night at des Gaillands site and rock face where the whole back road entry to Chamonix is blocked off.  As its a fund raiser a small entry charge is made, but I understand it is well worth the money, but don’t forget your blanket to sit on and coat to wrap up warm.

Any way, here goes, a couple of picture to try to illustrate the range of feats they saw. Descending on:

  1. Mountain bikes
  2. Skiing
  3. Gangman style (adults on the rock face, kids accompanying as a chorus from the side)
  4. Montenvers train
  5. Going down in a lift (which was being fixed while it was moving, all planned of course!)
  6. Hang gliders
  7. A yeti walking down

They also saw picture of Mont-Blanc being projected on the rock face  along with marmots and even a man tight rope walking above them.  Apparently all these exciting things weren’t quite as random as they seem, as each was used to illustrate an element in the Mountain’s history, narrated with enthusiasm.  So not just a fun night out but educational too.

Fete de guides 2013 collage

5 more summer things to do with kids in Chamonix

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It’s great to get all the fab feedback about the usefulness of our apartment’s blog. Thanks. One of the topics I get the most emails about is the kids activities,  so we thought we’d pull a few more ideas together. So here we go with another 5.

1. Ice skating: This can be found at the Richard Bossons sport centre over the road from the swimming pool.  The opening times tend to be shorter than the main sports centre, and subject to changes if Chamonix’s Ice Hockey Team the Chamois are playing at home, but a good fun couple of hour, complete with kid’s penguin supports if necessary.
We actually managed to catch a bit of a local friendly when we first popped in, which I must say was quite exciting, albeit benefiting from quieter crowds. Dates for the local Chamois team are found here.
image

2. Paradis des Praz: This is a great little find, particularly for the younger members of the family. Its an outdoor play area with pony rides, swings, zip wires, tethered canoe, sandpit and stepping stones. Admission is free, with only a charge made for the pony rides, providing you use their licensed snack bar. We have spent some great afternoons chilling our rose in the stream while the kids play under the shelter of the pines. Its open all day in the summer and during weekend afternoons for the rest of the year and school holidays.
Its located almost on the Petite Balcon Sud footpath about 2.5KM from Chamonix centre. So you can access it that way or walking from the golf club car park situated in La Praz village north of Chamonix town centre.

Les Praz, 74400 Chamonix Mont Blanc
33.(0)6 61 73 23 00

Paradis des Praz

3 Town train: Ok this one is a bit of a cheat as we’ve not been on it but we’ve seen it around a lot. Chamonet tells us it goes from 10am to 7pm and makes its way past the sights of Chamonix with a multi-lingual commentary telling you about the history and culture of the area.It leaves every 30 minutes from outside the Post Office, the Montenvers Train Station and the Aiguille du Midi lift station. It costs 5€ for adults and 3€ for children and operates throughout the summer months only. So worth a go when you’ve only a little time in the town.

4. Aiguille du Midi cable car: If you know the area for skiing this might seem an odd standalone entry. When it was built it was the highest cable car in the world and the second stage is the longest single span of any lift. So with facts and figures like that no wonder there are ques outside the ticket office everyday. – a good idea is to book online beforehand! Its a trip worth doing summer or winter for its amazing views, (don’t forget your jumpers in the summer though no matter how hot it might be in the town though.) Pretty much all of our friends have done this during their stay and they have some super family photos to prove it.
Should you decide to do it in the winter you even get treated to the bizarre sight of foolhardy people shuffling down an ice ridge (with or without crampons) to start the decent of the Vallee Blanch.

aguile du midi
5.
Montenvers railway: So if you are on the Compagnie du Mont Blanc booking your tickets for the Aguille you may also wish to consider the train ride to the glacier, another almost unique experience. As well as the ubiquitous café (plus hotel of Victorian grandeur), it has a museum and ice grotto to visit. You also of course have a great view of the Mer du Glace glacier too.
For the brave among you, you can always walk between Aguille du midi mid point and Montenvers on the Balcon Nord. A flat and busy route, suitable families with moderate perseverance. We did it when our youngest was about 7 I think. Rather foolishly the maddest member of our party persuaded us to walk down the mountain having reached Montenvers. We managed it but walking for the numbers of hours you have as your age was pretty tough for the kids!

Walking the balcon nord

So there we have it 5 more activity ideas.

If you’d like to see our previous suggestions for sun and rain activities (and even rubbish snow) follow the links.
And some short walk ideas or two are also here.

If you done something interesting you think we’d enjoy we’d love to hear your ideas.