The Hills Are Alive… With The Sound Of Summer

8th May 2015

Think of the Alps and your mind will doubtless be drawn to the snowy surrounds of pretty mountain villages where every year thousands of people hit the slopes to ski. It may be time to think again: the Alps in summer has even more to offer, as Alex Gray and family discover.

Until last summer we hadn’t had a decent holiday since our eldest was born six years previously. The few days we’d tried here and there had never quite managed to fit the bill. By the time we’d packed a car full of baby and toddler paraphernalia, sorted out cot beds, stair gates and enough drinks and snacks to feed an army, holidays mostly consisted of constant risk-assessment, searching for a toilet and praying for good weather. But last summer our kids had reached 6 and 5 and were, frankly, becoming easier to manage. We wanted a holiday that ticked all our boxes: decent weather, a nice place to stay, and crucially, lots of activities for us all to do.

We headed to Morzine, in the French Alps, and struck gold.

Morzine is in the heart of the Portes du Soleil region which straddles the French-Swiss border and takes in 12 inter-connected alpine resorts. It took us a whole day to get there, admittedly, but it’s an easy drive, all motorways until the final two hours where the road gives way to a picturesque mountain climb. We arrived late one afternoon, stepped out of the car and instantly noticed something significantly different in the atmosphere. It took us a moment to work it out, and then we realised: mountain air, so fresh you could practically taste it. I kid you not; we could actually feel our health and vitality begin to creep back.

Bags dropped, accommodation inspected, the absolute first thing we did was pick up the seasonal Multipass. It means that from mid-June to early September you can climb aboard any cable car and chair lift, jump into most swimming pools and enjoy unlimited access to over 50 places, as well as a nice discount at dozens of others. We paid €2 a day each for four passes to last our entire holiday (under 5s go free). It was an absolute bargain. Just make sure your accommodation provider is an accredited member before you head off.

And then we hit the town.

It has everything you would expect from a supremely popular tourist resort, yet it hasn’t lost its charm. A large tourist office can help you with most enquiries, and there’s an abundance of restaurants, bars and cafés. But the real abundance is what there is to do. Here’s a whistle stop tour.

The Parc des Dérêches is a complex within the village that includes a treetop walk (where my fearless five year old son zoomed his way around), a horse riding school (ticking off my daughter’s number one favourite activity) and a heated indoor and outdoor swimming pool (used several times during our stay). In summer this area transforms from a ski-resort into a bustling mountain biking hub. Many of the ski lifts stay open: partly for sightseers, who can go up the mountain and hike their way back down surrounded by incredible views; but also because of the plethora of mountain bike trails that appear once the snow retreats. There are a fair few organisations running group or individual mountain biking tours, catering for the absolute beginner to the more experienced. Do your homework early; my husband made full use of the first bike hire shop we came across to go off on his own, but on the last day we found somewhere that offered family bike rides, which we wished we’d discovered earlier. And if mountain biking down a rough track at an alarming speed is your cup of tea then you’ll also like the Fantasticable in Châtel: a sort of zip wire where you can (apparently – I wasn’t brave enough) reach speeds of up to 100km per hour.

The activity that still gets talked about around here, was the Luge. Open only in summer (early July to early September each year), it snakes down the hillside close to the Pleney Gondola in Morzine town centre. Sadly, they do not partake in the Multipass scheme – or perhaps not sadly: if it did, we’d never have prized our children off it. Morzine is also a fantastic location for venturing further afield. We enjoyed the guided talk around the Devil’s Bridge Gorge, a walk around the stunning Lake Montriond, as well as a saunter around Lake Geneva. We much preferred Lake Annecy, however, where we headed to a popular swimming spot. We visited Chamonix and found it similar to Morzine but busier, with the stunning Mont Blanc as its backdrop. We spent a wonderful day in Sixt Fer à Cheval, classified as one of the most beautiful villages in France (and I’m not surprised), where we regularly stopped to paddle or let the kids stand underneath the waterfalls. Too icy for me, but they liked it.

Eating and drinking was pretty good too. It would be fair to say that we did not travel half way across the continent to sit and watch the kids on a bouncy castle. But when that bouncy castle is at the foot of a mountain, and the coffee is excellent, it suddenly didn’t seem like such a bad idea. The great thing about this time of year is that the village is buzzing, but it’s not crowded. We rarely struggled to park, we never had to book a table in a restaurant, and we always got a seat in a café. We would highly recommend the delightful patisserie La Bonbonniere on the main drag where our son spilled his entire mug of hot chocolate, and the restaurant La Chaudanne that catered to all our whims from flame-cooked steak to pasta.

The highlights according to my six-year-old daughter and five-year-old son: the Luge and the Luge and the Luge. For my husband it was the scenery, the variety of activities, the mountain biking, the weather, the fresh clean air, the great walking trails, great value for money with activity pass, the food and wine, the cable car rides – and for me? Two weeks of fantastic family time, during which we barely scratched the surface of everything we could have done: we could also have played tennis, gone ice-skating, white-water rafting, sky-diving, hot air ballooning, paragliding and mountain climbing. The list is pretty endless. By the end of the holiday, not only did we not want to come home, we had started to think about moving over.…


Getting there:
Although it’s a 12-hour journey, we chose to drive. We paid £177 for Eurotunnel and found it a pleasant, easy affair. The earlier you book, the cheaper the crossing. Top tip: Get the car fully serviced before you go, and don’t let your fuel tank run low on a Sunday; we struggled to find a petrol station open. Take your own bikes if you can; hire is expensive.

You can also fly into Geneva for around £120pp, but if you’re hiring a car do check whether you should come out the French or the Swiss side, and how to avoid being fined on the motorway. We picked up family from Geneva airport half way through our visit and were pleased to have this knowledge to hand.

We stayed:
In a beautiful self-catering apartment on the outskirts of the village, and would highly recommend it (particularly for the sauna in the basement). We paid £1,500 for two weeks.

The weather:
Temperatures in Morzine climb up to a very pleasant mid-twenties in summer. While we were there it only rained once, although locals said that July’s weather hadn’t been quite so kind, and packing for all kinds of weather is recommended.

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