Things to do when its raining
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.
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.
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.
The lazy afternoon enabled me to wander around the village practically undisturbed, snapping way to my hearts content.
Without bumping into hardly anyone, wandering past artists’ residences, with the cobbled streets to myself.
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.
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.
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.
Ok, like the rest of the Alps, it’s not been the most snowy start to the season which has meant some people have had to wait a little longer than hoped to try out the new gondola at Argentiere. Yesterday CMB updated the routes open for pisted skiing and have opened other routes for sight seeing only. It currently strongly advises that off-piste skiing is avoided due to thin snow layers.
So the current areas open for skiing are:
Domaine des Grands Montets (Argentiere) for skiers
- New Plan Joran gondola, Argentière – Lognan & Lognan – Grands Montets cable-cars, Bochard gondola, Marmottons & Tabé chair-lifts.
- Ski sur les pistes suivantes : Bochard, Marmottons et une variante des Grands-Montets « départ 3300m en direction de la piste de Bochard par le col des Rachasses »
- Skiing on the following trails : Bochard, Marmottons, Grands Montets variante (Departure at 3 300 m via Col des Rachasses to rejoin the Bochard trail).
Domaine de la Flégère for sightseers & weak skiers
- La Flégère cable-car & Les Evettes chair-lift.
- Skiing on the Evettes trail.
Domaine de Balme (Le Tour) for sightseers & skiers
- Charamillon & Vallorcine gondolas, Autannes chair-lift.
- Skiing on the Caisets trail (return trail from Charamillon to Le Tour).
And for sight seeing and excursions only you have:
- Domaine du Brévent for sightseers ONLY.
- Domaine des Houches for sightseers ONLY
- Bellevue cable-car & Prarion gondola.
- Aiguille du Midi, Montenvers Mer de Glace and Tramway du Mont-Blanc.Planpraz gondola & Brévent cable-car.
Unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be be any imminent dump alerts, but it looks as though snow is forecast from 27th Dec onwards, so fingers crossed for more lift opening soon. Little solace if you are there already perhaps, but fortunately Chamonix does have a range of non-skiing activities to keep you entertained when poor snow stops play. You may need to look at the specific winter opening times, but here are a few ideas.
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.
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!
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.
!! 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.
Guide de Haute Montagne, Ski-Joëring,
Débardage équin, moniteur d’équitation (BPJEPS)
504 chemin des Eaux Rousses
74310 Les Houches
Tél-fax : 0033- 4-188.8.131.52 – Mobile : 0033-6-13.08.33.58 – mail : firstname.lastname@example.org
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:
Centre équestre du Mont-Blanc
130 chemin du Paradis
74310 Les Houches
So says Fiona Sims of the Sunday Times, and I must admit I have to agree with her.
Although this region of France has some of the smallest vineyards in France, they are of course proud of them and are synonymous with the French scenery.
The Wine Route of Savoie comprises 3 marked circuits:
– Combe de Savoie close to Chambéry.
– Chautagne and Jongieux, near the Lake Bourget
– Léman and Arve in the northern part near Lake Geneva.
Montmélian (73800) seems to be the centre of the Combe de Savoie wine tour region. This is 105km (about 1 and a half hour) from Chamonix by the D1212 or 161km by the more major A40 and A41 route. The drive itself to get there is rather scenic, with Montmélian being on the edge of the Massif des Bauges national park. Check out the route to get there.
The route around the Montmélian area takes in the elegant white wine area Apremont and Abymes and the red wine Chignin, a map of which is here. This particular route covers 16 villages and is probably the shortest in distance, overlooked by the Chartreuse mountain range. Addresses of the individual vineyards are found here.
Chautagne and Jongieux route can be found in a similar direction, towards Aix Les Bains.
Alternatively take the drive in the opposite direction over the Forclaz pass towards Martigny, Switzerland. Driving along the Rhone river valley, past the wine vineyards of the Swiss canton of Valais. This is probably the Léman and Arve tour. I say probably as we’ve not done it ourselves, so if you do it, please let me know how you get on. We’re told that Sion is a medieval city with the Chateau de Valére perched above the city within the Valais and is worth a visit apparently.
If you are interested in learning about the grape varieties themselves, this is a useful site by Vin de Savoie. The principle white grape variety being jacquere, almost exclusively found in the Savoie, being zippy grapefruit and lemon zest in flavour. The site also has facilities for selecting vineyards or grape for example.
And to start the spring off nicely the wine producers open up their tasting rooms and cellars to all, on the closest weekend to 1st May.
There is also a family walk through the vineyards with a tasting of wine and local food, held in a different cru each year on Sunday at the end of July.
Last year was quite fraught for Chamonix’s Vox cinema. At the end of 2010 there was a threat of closure, and petitions were generated. Thankfully the “Community of the Chamonix Valley Communes” agreed to pay a grant of 70,000 euros per year for 3 years, ending 2013. This was with the proviso that the management will invest in digital and 3D projectors soon after this period.
Due to the generous donations it means that English and French speaking people alike have the opportunity to watch current and classic films from around the world each day from around 4pm. Fitting for a cinema located in the Alps it also runs a programme of mountain related films mid evening a few times a week in July and August. The programme is varied, catering for adults and children alike on its 3 screens. So even if the summer weather is a little inclement you can retreat into the cosy old cinema, ditto the winter.
The cinema is easy to find, opposite the Tourist Office, near the main square, 22 Cour Bartavel +33 (0)4 50 53 03 39. You can’t miss its great mural full of actors and film sets. Ticket are 8 Euros for adults 6 Euros for children.
We’re very much looking forward to our last trip to Chamonix for ski season 10/11. However, given how late Easter falls this year, and the fact that the weather is so mild, the snow ain’t great. According to the Chamonix Daily Dump Snow Report 31st March, there is no snow base below 2,000m and it was raining at Montenvers.
fortunately for us, we’re happy to take it easy on the skiing front, because we know we’ll be going back again. However we still want to make the most of our holiday and keep the kids amused. The hunch is it’ll be lessons in the morning then other things in the afternoon.
So here are a couple of things we might be doing again:
- The ice grotto at the top of the Montenvers Railway. The kids had great fun last year, and I understand there is even a geocache up there 🙂 La Grotte de Glace, so that would be a nice bonus find while we’re up there, particularly given how few finds its had.
- Swimming at the indoor pool of the Richard Bozon Sports Centre.
And here are somethings we haven’t tried yet that sound a good idea
- A drawing and painting lessons for beginners and improvers. A local artist Catherine Kartal, a renowned painter and art teacher who will bring out your hidden talents I gather. Apparently the lessons are either in the open air or in her studio, both of which seem to be in the centre of Chamonix.
- Photographic exhibition in the central library. Photos are from the South of India and may well make you think of warmer climbs. Entrance is free.
- And I’m also wondering if we might improve our French by listening to the story telling sessions in the libraries dotted around the valley. Some how the kids don’t seem to keen ……
And I suppose there are always some of the summer activities we found to do in the area when it was raining in the summer, such as the museum, mini golf or bowling.
The Compagnie du Mont Blanc have also been thinking about what else we might want to do is mud stops play. For every on-line purchase of a MONT BLANC Unlimited lift-pass from 3 days or more at the promotional price from 4th to 15th April 2011, ladies you can exclusively enjoy activities that have been specially selected for them at a highly preferential price. …. Link to their ladies week suggesting spas, culture, nature etc.
Having become comfortably used to temperatures regularly hitting the 30s in previous summers, I must admit I’d become a bit complacent in my packing and not paid too much attention to filling cases with jumpers and trousers. A bit daft really when one of the highlights of going to the Alps is to see snow-capped mountains. Nevermind, a good excuse to go shopping 🙂
So with Chamonix being principally an outdoor holiday, we had to discover some alternative activities if we were to stay dry. So, here are some of the things we found to do to keep the kids entertained and damp free.
- Bowling. A place we have walked past so many times in Cham Sud, but never visited. The kids were delighted. During wet weather it opens at 2pm, (as opposed to 5pm on dry days) and stays open until 10pm. Although each game isn’t cheap (9 Euros per adult, 7 Euros per child I think), they offer a bowl and drink package where for an extra euro you can get a drink (soft or alcoholic). A drink, bowl and pizza package is also available for 14euros.
- Indoor mini golf. Located above the bowling alley, it’s nice and dry, if not a little quick 9 holes. 5 Euros per person, a round which you can string out at quiet times.
- The Crystal Musem at the Espace Tairraz. Although Daddy is almost allergic to museums we managed to pass an hour and half without too much stress. It comprises two exhibitions: “Les Hommes and Les Glaciers” and a crystal display. The main exhibitions was of course very appropriate to the location with many pictures, exhibits and films relating to the geology of key glaciers around the world, the history of Mont Blanc’s conquering, environmental aspects etc. It also had a rather interesting chunk of the Indian airplane that crashed into the mountain during the 60’s. The crystal exhibition had a little history on the crystal hunters, but most importantly lots of lovely sparkly stones of various hues. Bling with labels, the kids loved it!
- Alpine museum. You get entry to both museums for the price of one. We didn’t actually get to visit this museum as it was felt by the male member of the family that one museum a holiday was enough. But we had tickets for it, so I thought I’d include it in my list 🙂
- Geocaching. Not as daft as it might first appear as there are many just on the edge of car parks that only take a few minutes to get to. For example Montee Divine opposite Les Houches at the foot of the Jesus statue, Vue sur les Grandes on a river bank near at Les Tignes and Toute vapeur near Montenvers station in the middle of town. Well if you are going to go for a drive you need a reason to stretch you legs don’t you.
Although we had a good few days in the wet we didn’t get a chance to try some of the other things like the indoor climbing wall in Les Houches, the cinema or ice skating. So every cloud has a silver lining I suppose, leaving us something to look forward to the next time it rains.