It’s not all about Snow Sports in the French Alps
Visitors gravitate all year round to one of the most beautiful alpine regions in the world in the Rhône-Alpes of France. In winter it is renowned for skiing, snowboarding as well as snow shoeing, sledging, dog sledding and organized party times and bonhomie. In summer there is still some skiing to be done on high glaciers but the main activities are mountaineering, rock climbing, mountain biking, hiking, swimming and even golf in some places.
For those of you who want to enjoy nature and scenery the French Alps have plenty of both to enjoy. There are towering mountain peaks, pristine lakes, cascading waterfalls sometimes frozen in winter and sheltering forests. Mont Blanc is s fitting focal point as the highest mountain in the European range at 4,808 metres so keeps its snowy mantle all year round. Mont Blanc is also part of the border between France and Italy, not far from Switzerland so reflects an international image.
There are plenty of options for organising a holiday or a short break in the region. AlpineElements.co.uk is a worthwhile website to check out for this season’s spring skiing or future reference.
The Savoie (Savoy) Region
People visit the Savoy area, not only for the activities but also for the culture and long history from when it was Dauphiné land and the ancestral territory of Italian royalty. Many of cities and towns in the area such as Chambéry, Annecy and Grenoble still retain palaces and buildings from these times and there are popular spa towns from Le Belle Epoch with natural springs like Aix-les-Bains, Gervais-les-Bains and Evian-les-Bain. The latter, of famous drinking water fame.
Annecy is a gorgeous alpine town that could be straight out of a fairy tale. The historic town sits at the edge of a lapping lake surrounded by a vista of French Alps. It is a place for gliding swans and vibrant flower baskets in summer. The cobbled streets link historic churches, Church of Saint-Maurice from the 15th century and Cathedral of Saint-Pierre from 16th century. The Counts of Geneva Château from 14th and 15th centuries is now a museum. The 12th century Palais de l’Isle is a museum on an island in the Thiou River. In winter Annecy is worth a visit for some history and culture.
Albertville is a mountain town founded by King Charles-Albert of Savoy in the 19th century and is great base to start for both cultural, nature and sporting activities. Conflans is the most historical part of the town if you want to check out its Gothic gates, historic houses, medieval walls and Baroque church. Catch a ride on the Col de la Tamié cableway for spectacular mountain scenery.
Clusaz and La Plagne major ski resorts are within an hour of Albertville. Clusaz comprises an area interlinked under five mountain peaks with over 80 ski slopes and a 130 kms of groomed piste. You might also try skating and sledging for some extra winter fun. The historic village of Clusaz has charming winding streets and tasty French food to sample. La Plagne is Frances largest single resort by area and offers dependable snow cover even in the warmest of seasons.
The grand area of Paradiski links Le Plagne to Les Arcs and Peisey-Vallandry for a massive ski area with many slopes on offer for skiers of all levels. The thigh burning 7km downhill run from the summit of Aiguille Rouge to Villaroger is sure to be a memorable day.
Les Arcs are four purpose built resorts on two sides of the valley and offer vehicle free accommodation and alpine peace and quiet.
Les Trois Vallées
Les Trois Vallées (The Three Valleys) is only 50 kilometers from Albertville and offers a huge interconnected area for snow sports with resorts such as Méribel, Courchevel, La Tania, Val Thorens and others. Together they form the largest ski area in the world so there is sure to be something you will find to your liking whether it is on the slopes or during après ski. You can choose ski in, ski out accommodation, quaint chalets, excellent apartments and other more family oriented areas.
The Portes du Soleil Area
The Portes du Soleil area is one the easiest accessed from Geneva, an easy short drive from the international airport. Portes du Soleil comprises 12 different ski resorts including Morzine, Avoriaz, Les Gets, Chatel, Abondance, Montriond, La Chapelle d’Abondance, and Saint-Jean d’Aulps. All the resorts offer high level of accommodation with charming chalets and snug lodges.
Morzine and the slightly higher in altitude Avoriaz are popular destinations all year round. Each resort offers slightly different aspects but all are great for skiing and snowboarding. Vehicle free Avoriaz is especially popular for family holidays.
La Chapelle d’Abondance is a favorite during winter as there are many trails available for snowboarding, skiing, and cross country skiing with natural scenery that includes Lac de Montriond and Ardent Falls.
The Belle Epoque town of Saint-Gervais is one of the most renowned spas of the Savoy region, famous for obvious reasons. You can indulge in warm thermal springs, relax with a massage, all surrounded by spectacular nature at any time of the year. From Saint-Gervais you can explore the Alps and make an ascent of Mont Blanc by foot or cable car. The popular skiing areas are linked by cable cars to ski areas of Chamonix and Megève.
Megève is centered around a medieval village from the 14th century with original cobbled streets winding through to quaint churches and the town square. The modern town has hotels, great shopping and up market restaurants to keep the regular influx of tourists happy. The skiing can be dependent on season because of Megève’s lower elevation but it also warmer for that reason and a popular summer resort.
Chamonix might be considered the jewel in the valley, sheltering as the town does under the majesty of Mont Blanc, nestled between the villages of Les Houches and Argentiere. Chamonix is second to none for offering all year round activities and amenities. Only a grouch would fail to have an awesome time in Chamonix.
Espace Killy is named after one of France’s most accomplished competition skiers and popular celebrity, Jean Claude Killy. Val-d’Isère and Tignes are the two large ski resorts linked in the area. There are more than 130 groomed slopes and 300 kilometers of piste to explore.
Grenoble is the old capital of the Dauphiné region and lies at the basin of Val-d’Isère (Isère Valley). The mountains tower over 3000m as a backdrop. Grenoble is full of beauty whether from nature or from historic buildings and fine arts. Two famous pieces of architecture are the Palais de Justice and the 16th century Chambre de la Cour des Comptes with its Early Renaissance façade. The Place de Verdun has the internationally renowned Musée des Beaux-Arts which houses priceless art by the Old Masters such as Goya, Velásquez, Rubens, Brueghel and more modern Impressionists and Contemporary artists including Picasso, Monet, Renoir, Matisse and Miró.
Visit the Rhone Alps Anytime for a Good Time
Perhaps this has inspired you to check out more than the slopes on your next ski holiday. Plan to include some exploration of some of the beautiful historic towns in the region like Annecy, Albertville or Grenoble for rest and recreation. I am sure you will enjoy the French ambiance, not mention the food and wine. But they require another story in their own right.