Summer in the Alps: A Mountain High in Morzine

 
Summer in the Alps: A Mountain High in Morzine

Sarah Daly enjoys an Alpine adventure with her family and discovers how the Morzine ski resort comes to life in summer.

The first time I visited the Alps in summer, about 20 years ago, I thought I had found the most beautiful place on earth. Life has changed since then, and so have the holidays we enjoy. Then, I walked hand in hand through an Alpine meadow above Lake Geneva with my boyfriend and enjoyed romantic meals for two in idyllic mountain restaurants. Now, he’s my husband, and our two teenagers and neurotic elderly dog were along for the ride.

As a result, there was less romance and more adventure on this holiday, although happily we still managed to squeeze in some superb meals. Some of the adventure, I must admit, was well outside my comfort zone. Take white water rafting for instance. I was rather hoping I wouldn’t have to, but the rest of the family was determined.

In summer hiking, biking and other activities take over from skiing

In summer hiking, biking and other activities take over from skiing © Sam Ingle

We pulled on wet suits, life jackets and crash helmets and headed for the river. The safety talk – all given in English – would have been more reassuring had we not been told that the river, La Dranse de Morzine, was unusually full. It should have run at about 15m high in July; instead, heavy rains put it at 40m. I listened to the instructions on how to paddle the raft as if my life depended on it. Given that the safety briefing included contingencies for falling out, dragging someone else back in and capsizing, it felt as though it did. What followed was awesome, beautiful and exhilarating. And I am absolutely never doing it again. I’m very glad I did it – and that I lived to tell the tale – but that particular parental duty is now fulfilled. My kids can find someone else to jump in freezing Alpine meltwater with next time around.

A typical Alpine chalet

A typical Alpine chalet © Sam Ingle

Hiking is much more up my street – or mountain as it turns out. Morzine is part of the Portes du Soleil ski area, and the resorts have an innovative approach to making the most of the terrain in the summer. For just €2 a day, between mid-June and mid-September, you can buy a multi-pass, which gives you unlimited access to chairlifts, cable cars and gondolas across the domain, as well as free or reduced price access to sporting, heritage and cultural activities and attractions. If you’re a glutton for punishment, you could hike up the mountain and take the lift back down. I’m just a glutton, so we used the pass to get to the top of the lifts, hike to restaurants serving hearty local cuisine, and either hike back down again or take a lift.

An aerial view of the village

An aerial view of the village © Sam Ingle

Haute cuisine

One of these restaurants was at the top of the Nyon cable car. Called Le Refuge, its setting is idyllic. It offers diners the chance to catch their own trout in the large crystal clear lake it overlooks or in a smaller pond on site. These are then cooked and served while you wait. I went instead for the classic Savoyarde fondue – bliss in melted cheese form – followed by a delicious blueberry tart. Afterwards we took the chairlift to the Pointe de Nyon, which has breathtaking views over towards Switzerland and Mont Blanc. We didn’t have long to enjoy it though, as the lift operator pointed to the dark clouds rolling in. He followed us down in the chairlift as the dog shivered and shook on my husband’s lap and we wondered what would happen if lightning struck. I’m pleased to report that it didn’t, although the storm that night was spectacular to watch from the warmth of our cosy and well-appointed town-centre apartment.

The following day we headed to the beautiful Abbaye d’Aulps, about a 10-minute drive from Morzine – or an easy (and free with the multi-pass) bus ride away if you prefer. An art installation added atmosphere to the ruined site and bilingual signage allowed us to uncover some of its fascinating history. Inside we learned more about the life of the medieval monks who inhabited the abbey and outside there was a beautiful physic garden, filled with medicinal and culinary plants. A tea room on site serves intriguing medieval herbal infusions, as well as light meals.

Abbaye d’Aulps

Abbaye d’Aulps © OT Morzine-Avoriaz

Explore on foot

Later that day, we booked a guided walk with cheese as its goal, something I can fully get behind. It started at the peaceful and atmospheric Lac des Mines d’Or. The chances of finding the gold they are named for are slim, but our wonderful guide, Émilie, made the walk through the forest and up to the farm fascinating.

We learned about lots of alpine plants and their use in food, medicine and – of course – local liqueurs. And the cheese did not disappoint. The local farmer/ producer, explained how he makes various different cheeses on site to sell locally. These include the traditional Tomme de Savoie, a smooth, rich hard cheese, and Chevrotin, a goat’s cheese with a distinctively sharp and creamy taste.

Our visit also included a leisurely stroll around the Lac de Montriond, a short drive from Morzine, and up to the nearby Cascade d’Ardent waterfall. Further along the valley from the Pointe de Nyon, from which Mont Blanc and the Swiss Alps are visible on a fine day, is the Pléney gondola. A brisk walk from the top of this is a restaurant called Le Vaffieu, where we enjoyed an exceptional meal. Highlights included the white wine and chestnut liqueur aperitif and my favourite French dessert: the café gourmand, offering a smidgen each of crème brûlée, brownie, blueberry tart, lemon cheesecake and a madeleine. After that particular meal, we decided a walk back down the mountain was essential, so wound our way through Alpine meadows every bit as beautiful as I remembered from our first visit all those years ago.

I love the picture perfect Alps in winter, but skiing is not for me: I’d much rather visit in summer and enjoy the outdoors without the risk of frostbite. And I still think the Alpine landscape, full of wild flowers, lakes, waterfalls and spectacular views, is the most beautiful place in the world.

Hiking through Alpine meadows in summer reveals some of the most beautiful scenery in France

Hiking through Alpine meadows in summer reveals some of the most beautiful scenery in France © Sam Ingles

Morzine essentials

Getting there…

By car

We drove to Morzine, in Haute-Savoie, picking up the autoroutes not far from Calais. Travelling this way is quicker – a nine-hour car journey, which we chose to do in one day – but does incur toll charges. To avoid these and see more of the countryside, you could plan an overnight stop and take the back roads.

By train

Fast trains also run from Lille to Lyon and then on to Annecy, with some smaller stations and connecting buses.

Further information

en.morzine-avoriaz.com for details of restaurants and activities mentioned in this article. en.portesdusoleil.com for details of how to get a multi- pass and what it includes.

guides-morzine.com/en to book a guided cheese-tasting or wildlife walk.

en.morzine-avoriaz.com/webcams.html gives you the chance to see what you’re missing – or planning to visit – in real time.

7aventures.com if you fancy white water rafting, canyoning or kayaking.

ibexbeer.com for a range of craft beers brewed in Morzine.

snowandtrek-morzine.com offers a range of self-catering and B&B accommodation in and around Morzine in summer and winter.

From France Today Magazine

Lead photo credit : Hiking through Alpine meadows in summer reveals some of the most beautiful scenery in France © Ollie Godbold

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Sarah Daly lives in Pas-de-Calais and has written for a number of national, regional and local publications, including The Guardian, Museums Journal and French Property News. She is also a freelance museum consultant and writes a blog, My Ch'ti Life, about her adventures in France.