Tag Archives: haute savoie

Cross Country Skiing in the Haute Savoie.

Interest in cross-country skiing is on the up and up. France has a very strong biathlon team, headed by Martin Forcade, a 4 time Olympic champion and 11 time world champion. Even  the UK has a current world cup competitor and Olympian, Andrew Musgrave.

As the cost of downhill skiing increases, as the pistes get busier and as people start to appreciate the benefits of daily exercise the interest in cross-country skiing will only improve.

Ski de Fond in Les Gets

Ski de Fond in Les Gets

It is often said that cross-country skiing is the best cardiovascular workout available. This will be because unlike running or cycling you will use both your upper and lower limbs to propel yourself forward. I should say that although this is true at the higher levels of skill, it is possible to cross-country ski at lower efforts too. If you see the number of retired folk on cross-country skis you will understand. I have likened it to swimming, it’s 50% skill and 50% fitness, though like swimming it still works if you lack one or the other. You just go faster with less effort if you take some time to learn the skill!

The cost of Cross Country skiing in the Haute Savoie.

There are many places listed below with free access. However if you are just starting out these free spots might not be a great option, because hiring kit might be an issue. For that you will need a nearby shop of a “Foyer”. These foyer are frequently the place where you start your day, and they can often hire kit. In this case it will cost between 10 and 15€ a day for boots/skis/poles. A day pass for the skiing will be around 8€ for the day. Few people will be out for more than a couple of hours, this means a half day pass won’t save you much. Usually about 1.5€!

For those who will be XC skiing more than a couple of times, buying equipment will make sense. At the most basic level everything can be bought from Decathlon for less than 300 €, beyond that the sky is the limit. A season pass for the whole of the Haute Savoie is available for €120, for the northern Alps at €150 and for all of France €210.

Below I have written a guide to places to go XC skiing around the Haute Savoie. I’ve listed these areas from the most extensive areas first, to the smallest at the bottom. This does not mean you should ignore the suggestions lower down, especially if you are new to the sport. For many a 5 km circuit is just fine!

Aravis (The altitude of each site is in brackets)

La Clusaz / Confins (1420m), 9€, 50 km+ of pistes probably the most extensive area in the Haute Savoie, snow-sure too. They stock snow (snow farming) from one season to the next to ensure an early start. laclusaz-nordic.com/

Manigod / La Croix Fry (1600m) 9€, 36 km, AKA Espace nordique du Plateau de Beauregard laclusaz.com/beauregard-plan-nordique

Grand-Bornand (1250m), 9€, 58 km with 2 biathlon areas (so with shooting ranges) at “Plans” in the vallée du Bouchet and at the stade Sylvie Becaert near the centre of Grand-Bornand village. Full details here legrandbornand.com/ski-nordique  The Grand Bornand is big news in the world of biathlon at the moment, it has recently hosted a round of the World Cup twice and has plans for more. The next one being in December 2019.  biathlon-annecy-legrandbornand.com/

World Cup Biathlon in Le Grande-Bornand Dec 2017

World Cup Biathlon in Le Grande-Bornand Dec 2017

Grand-Bornand / Chinaillon (1300m), free, 27km, accessed from the centre of Chinaillon.

Plateau des Glieres (1450m) 7.80€, 50 km+, an extensive and important site for the French. There is a huge memorial here to the WWII resistance fighters who took refuge on the plateau, supported by British air-drops but finally massacred by the Germans. Snow-sure and with an early start to the season thanks to snow-farming. Access is possible from Le Petit-Bornand but if you want to start from the foyer you will need to access it from the Annecy side and Thorens-Glières.

Praz de Lys with Mt Blanc in the background

Praz des Lys / Sommand (1500m)

8€ a day, 60 km of tracks, all levels. Extensive, snow sure and well known. 15 min drive from Les Gets and 25 min from Morzine. Yprazdelys-sommand.com/hiver/le-domaine-nordique

Grand Massif

Samoens (950m), 8.40€, 30 km of XC pistes, it goes by the name of Vallee-du-haut-giffre, with good snow it extends from Verchaix all the way to the end of the valley at Sixt-fer-a-cheval, however the foyer is at the end of the valley so you will probably start there.

Joux Plane (1700m), 8.40€, 12 km of tracks, snow sure and picturesque. Quite a drive up from Samoens. More information about both sites here. valleeduhautgiffre.fr/domaine-nordique/

Flaine (1844m), free 2.5 km, an early season venue thanks to its altitude.  Also known as the Col de Pierre Carrée flaine.com/fr/hiver/ski-nordique

Agy (1260m), 8.40€ , 35 km, a big centre tucked away behind Saint-Sigismond, good foyer with lots of hire kit available and a welcoming bar/restaurant. centrenordiqueagy.com/

Alpes du Leman

Foyer des Moises (1100m), Only 4.30 €, an extensive 46.5 km of ski de fond pistes, situated between the Col des Moises and the Col de Cou, on the site of the summer gliding centre. More information here:  foyerdesmoises.com/,

Espace nordique des Mouilles (1083m), 8.40€ 20 km pisted + 20km itinerie  between the col du Terramont and the col de Jambaz. hirmentaz-bellevaux.com/espace-nordique/

Plaine Joux, Les Brasses (1200m), about 30km, situated in the Vallée Verte half way between Geneva and the Portes du Soleil (35min from the centre of Geneva). lesbrasses.com/fr/hiver/glisse/ski-nordique/

Portes du Soleil

Chatel (1000m), 8.8€ it’s not really in Chatel it is just 5 km down the valley in La Chapelle-d’Abondance, when the snow conditions are good there are 40 km of tracks. Also above Abondance there is small, free, snow-sure and flat spot at Lac de Plagnes. All the information can be found here: abondance.org/ski-de-fond

Morzine – Valle de La Manche (1100m), free, bus or car access from Morzine, often trashed by walkers! Most often in condition is from L’Erigné and up towards Chardonnière. Once you get to the valley around Chardonniere it’s very snow sure and quite flat, however getting there involves an ascent of almost 200m!

Top of the Pleney / Chavannes (1500m), so this could be termed Morzine or Les Gets. Free, take the lift as a pedestrian (you’ll need to pay for this), walk across the piste to a blue run, this is a 5 km circuit that runs over to Chavannes and back. You can also access this by driving to Chavannes above Les Gets which saves on the lift pass!

Les Gets – Mont Chery (1300m), free, a couple of 5 km circuits from the Belvedere to Mt Caly and back, lift access required again.

Avoriaz (1700m), free, accessed from the Supermorzine télécabine or by car to the parking at Séraussaix or the Col de la Joux Verte . 30km or snow-sure skiing at 1700m. www.avoriaz.com/Plan-des-pistes-de-ski-de-fond

Mont Blanc

Chamonix (1050m) 10€, 20 km of fairly flat pistes to start with, supplemented with snow making equipment. As you get closer to the Argentière end of the valley they start to get a bit hillier. https://www.chamonix.com/ski-nordique

Argentière (1300m) 10€, 15km, can be linked with the tracks at Chamonix.

Vallorcine, (1300m) 10€, 11km, compact and not accessible from the other areas.

Biathlon in Les Contamines

Biathlon in Les Contamines

Les Contamines (1170m), 4.30€ 25 km, and excellent area, heavily shaded and somewhat of a snow trap. Can be kept quite flat. Soon to be the venue of the only summer roller skiing track in the Haute Savoie. lescontamines.com/nordic-ski-domain/

Megeve (1400m), 8€ 38 km. An extensive and well looked after area. It’s up at the Altiport, varied rolling terrain. megeve.com/fr/glisse-ski/ski-de-fond/

I have mostly stuck to areas that are linked to ski resorts. The are a few other Foyer ski de fond I have not covered. Orange (near La Roche-sur-Foron). Semnoz (near Annecy). Saleve (near Geneva) and Chapelle Rambaud (in the middle of nowhere).

The various French websites that cover this subject are:

https://www.nordicpass74.com/ (for the Haute Savoie)

http://www.savoie-haute-savoie-nordic.com (for the 2 Savoies)

There is a great map that covers the area here. https://skidefond74.com/ 

 

The Cheeses of the Haute Savoie

Recently a local friend offered me some Abondance cheese. Although I love cheese, I normally avoid Abondance as I find it too acidic. However this Abondance was different, much smoother, creamier and less likely to remove the inside of my mouth. I asked if he knew why this cheese seemed so much nicer. He replied that it was because it was made from the milk of a cow that had been fed over winter. He explained that I had to go to the local market and explain to the artisan what I was after. It was a surprise (although perhaps it shouldn’t have been), that a cheese will taste different, depending on what the animals have been eating. Another sign we have lost the connection between the land and our food.

The changing seasons effects the flavour

Understanding how the changing seasons are reflected in the evolving flavours of the local cheese can be a real eye opener. Mountain cows spend 5-6 months indoors, normally being fed on grass cut locally and stored from the season before. This is a high calorie diet that leads to a rich creamy cheese. After the snows melt, the animals emerge from the farms and return to the fields for the new grass. The resulting spring milk sees fat and protein content drop. Spring cheeses tend to be lighter bodied. In late spring and early summer the grasses and wildflowers go crazy, and the grazing animals have a rich and varied diet. It should not be a surprise to note a floral taste in these cheeses.

At the end of September (or earlier if the weather dictates) they’ll be brought back down into the valleys for a short time before going back into their sheds

in November. It’s a system of farming known as transhumance. These changing flavours are not apparent in mass produced cheeses, the manufacturer’s adjust the fat and protein content to maintain a constant product. Local mountain producers make their cheese from the milk provided by their animals each day. To experience this seasonality you need to seek out a smaller, artisan cheesemaker. It’s the same with many foods such as honey and even bottled water. The trouble is we are fed blends of all these items from the supermarket and the subtle flavours disappear.

There are plenty of people in the Haute Savoie to whom the supermarket is a last resort, they may produce some of their own food, share and swap what they have with their friends, purchase from local producers at the farm door or in the market. For some cheese, ham, saucisson and various alcohols never come from the shops.

The cheeses you will find around the Haute Savoie.

Abondance, from the Vallée d’Abondance and the Abondance cow. Dates back to the middle ages and the Cistercian monks. The name of this cheese is protected, so it can only come from the Haute Savoie. The milk is first warmed in a copper cooking pot known locally as a “marmite”. Think of a pot of Marmite.

Beaufort, really a Savoie cheese, it comes from around Beaufort, but also extends through the Tarentaise right down to the Maurienne valley. The summer version of this cheese “Beaufort d’été” is easy to identify as it will be marked on the rind. It comes in huge 40kg “ronds”, made from lait cru, so unpasteurised milk.

Chevrotin, goats cheese from across the two Savoie’s, rich and creamy, comes in much smaller 300g packages.

Reblochon, from the Aravis in the Haute Savoie and the Val d’Arly in the Savoie, it dates back to the 13th century. Apparently the farmers in Thônes would milk their cows in front of their lords and pay their taxes on the milk produced. However they would not milk the udders dry, when they returned to their farms they did a “reblocher” (which in French means a second milking) and used the milk to make cheese. It is the main ingredient in Tartiflette.

Raclette, probably the most famous local cheese, but originally from our neighbours in the Valais, Switzerland. It is now not only produced all across the Alps but in the Auvergne, Franche-Comté and Bretagne regions of France as well as in Québec and even Australia! Raclette is made from cow’s milk, unpasteurised or pasteurised. It melts beautifully and has a mild flavour. Originally the farmers would cut one of the 6kg ronds in half, warm it over their wood fire and scrape the melting cheese onto their bread and potatoes. This is where the name comes from: “Racler” is the French for “scrape”.

Tomme, a mountain cheese, so found all across the French and Swiss Alps. Made from cow, sheep or goat milk. It’s identifying characteristic is that it is made from skimmed milk, the fatty milk having been used to make butter. Soft in texture and lightly flavoured with a distinctive ‘croute’.

 

Golf in the Haute Savoie

The Haute Savoie is known for its lakes and mountains, though rarely for it’s golfing opportunities. Despite this there are a number of excellent golf courses available in the area. We have reviewed them here.

Chamonix : an interesting and very playable golf course set in stunning scenery. A short season, open from the end of June until mid September. Not that posh in comparison to some of the others. Really nice restaurant and friendly staff. 56€ to 91€

Golf in Flaine, courtesy of Flaine OT

Megève : definitely posh but less interesting as a golf course, thanks to its altitude (1320m) the greens are often in poor condition. 40€ to 75€

Annecy : two courses around the lake : Talloires : expensive in high season, a short but hilly mountain-type course kept in excellent condition, especially the greens (which are notoriously small). Giez : longer and more playable “parkland” course, worth a visit, friendly atmosphere and decent pro-shop (a rarity). €59 to €75

Evian Masters : open February to November, a splendid championship course with fantastic practice facilities. Best time to play is just after they’ve had the Ladies Masters in September. €55 to €105

Esery (near Bonneville along the M40 motorway) : really nice and fairly challenging parkland course, super fast and very big greens, superb club house, shop and restaurant. Absolutely worth a try.

Golf in Flaine, courtesy of Flaine OT

Divonne : (just about in France, and technically not in the Haute Savoie either! 30min north of Geneva), open all year, rumour suggests it might be better than Evian. 50€ to 100€

Bossey :(at the foot of the Saleve, near the cablecar), mostly open all year very challenging course, Jean Van de Velde is a regular! Only available to non members during the week.

Aix Les Bains: (in the Savoie, 30 minutes from Annecy), old parkland course with character and in good condition. Playable throughout the year.

The following are not really comparable to the others, but then they don’t pretend to be, they are often half the price. Thanks to their altitude they have short seasons (sometime in June until sometime in September)

Flaine : At an altitude of 1900m, 42€

Les Gets : 1400m of altitude, a personal favourite, very hilly and fairly difficult too, take some snacks and plenty of balls. The TripAdvisor reviews tell all. 33€

Avoriaz : 1700m altitude, the only 9 hole course here. 25€-30€ for 9 holes, 40€-50€ to go round twice!

The avalanche report explained

The avalanche report is a great place to find unbiased information about the snow conditions and the weather forecast. Obviously it should always be the first port of call before a trip off piste too. It’s updated at 4pm each day. So it’s ready to be checked the night before a trip out. The forecast is made by real people using real observations and not by a computer model that is taking a guess!

There is a separate forecast for each region. I’m concerned with the Haute Savoie, AKA the Alpes du Nord. It’s all accessible from the following link.

http://www.meteofrance.com/previsions-meteo-montagne/bulletin-avalanches

Here I will deconstruct the forecast for tomorrow. Wednesday February 8th 2017.

 

avalanche forecast

You can see the region is split into 3 areas. The Chablais, Mont Blanc and the Aravis. I’ll choose the Chablais because that is where I live. Tomorrow you can see the risk of avalanche is 3 (marqué), this translates as “considerable”. This is the level at which most people get hurt! When it gets to 4 (fort / high) or 5 (trés fort / extreme) skiers tend to worry more and take conservative decisions.

  • To be more precise its level 3 at over 2200m metres and level 2 under that height. So basically it’s 2 in 95% of the Chablais. The flag for 3 will fly in the resorts though.
  • There is also an avalanche “rose”, that’s the compass symbol. This attempts to let you know if there is more risk on one side or other of the mountain. This often happens because the danger will depend on the wind direction on the preceding days. In this case the risk is the same on all aspects.
  • Finally there is a short description of the hazard. So in this case some small to medium avalanche might release spontaneously. Whereas a skier could release anything. This is important because skiers are generally buried in avalanches they have released themselves.

The next stage is to click on the area that concerns you to get the forecast in detail.

avalanche forecast 2

Here there is more detail on the stability of the snow cover.

  • Spontaneous avalanches: some releases are possible on the very steep slopes/couloirs/changes of slope in the form of a flow or a crack (slab). The size of these avalanches will often be small but could become quite large in the cold areas that have not yet slipped since the snowfall on the weekend.
  • Skier released avalanches: A big crack (slab) is possible on the less steep slopes, not sunny, and not effected by the strong wind on Saturday. Be careful on the ridges and changes of slope angle in various aspects.

That is a bit of a mouthful. Worry not, the next bits have more pictures.

 

avalanche forecast 3

On these images you can see the actual amounts of snow that fell at 1800m and the forecast amounts.  Also the weather forecast for Wednesday, it looks to me like light snow all day, the rain/snow line is starting at 900m and dropping to 700m. The wind starts out from the NW and then strengthens from the NE. Wrap up warm, that’s a windchill of less than -10C!

avalanche forecast 4

  • Here is a pictorial representation of the snow depths on the north and south side of the mountain. You can put your skis on around 800/1000m, once you get to 1500m there is a really decent depth of snow which is starting to settle. Tomorrow you can expect fresh snow all day and a bit of a north wind.
  • The “tendance” is always interesting, here they predict the risk will remain the same on Thursday and drop (become safer) on Friday.

The next bit of the avalanche forecast is new. It gives the history over the last 6 days. You can see how it was warm last week and has cooled off a bit since then. It also charts in blue the rain/snow line and how it has fluctuated as the two fronts came through.

The second chart shows the wind speed and direction. You can see that on Saturday the resorts had 100km/hr winds over the tops. Anyone skiing that day will confirm that 90% of the lifts were shut! It’s significant from a avalanche point of view though, these winds will have built up accumulations of snow on the lee (sheltered) slopes, in this case a SW wind…means slabs on the NE slopes.

 

avalanche forecast 5

The final charts are self explanatory. Showing the evolution of the avalanche risk and the snow depths.

So there you have it. The avalanche report. A mine of information.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Property Prices across the Haute Savoie

I am often asked about current and historical property pricing data in the Haute Savoie. It is a fair question. In the UK very accurate and open data is available. The answer for France is not quite so straightforward. The Notaires collect all the data, it is publicly available on a broad scale. More accurate information is available on a pay basis, it’s not easy to get though. the free stuff has to be read with caution!

Below is a coloured map of the Haute Savoie, the redder the colour the more expensive the commune. It makes sense, Chamonix, Megeve, La Clusaz, Annecy  and Les Gets come out as the most expensive. Followed by Morzine, Combloux and the rest of the Chamonix valley. Manigod, Le Grand Bornand and  Chatel follow along after that. Samoens should be in that last group too but a quirk of stats has knocked it down a peg.

prix immo

You can click on the image and make it huge or go to the website I took it from.

http://www.meilleursagents.com/prix-immobilier/bonneville-74130/

Take the actual value/m2 with a pinch of salt, this always reads too low in our experience. The price trend graph looks about right though. But read the title, it is for the whole of the Haute Savoie and not for each commune as it seems to suggest on the website! So it shows a massive price increase between 1999 and 2007, a small drop for the following 2 years and then stability. We think this will start to climb again at the end of 2015 and into 2016 driven by the weakened Euro compared to Sterling.

property price evolution

If you zoom out a bit on the commune map you start to see what sort of bubble there is in the ski areas. We already know that you only have to drive 15 minutes from the resort to see the prices half, well looking at this and you’ll see you have to drive an hour from the resort and the prices drop to 25%.

prix immo 2

Campsites in the Portes du Soleil

The campsites around the Portes du Soleil are “fine”.  However they cannot be compared to the really big campsites available around France. No swimming pools in the campsites around here! I’ve made a list as a resource.

Camping in the Haute Savoie

The best campsite in the Portes du Soleil is probably in Chatel.

Camping L’Oustalet 4*
http://www.oustalet.com/

For the Morzine area there are two.  I know some people prefer the camping in Essert Romand, though Le Pré in Montriond offers better access to the river trail for bikes and dog walking.

Essert Romand
Camping Les Marmottes
http://www.campinglesmarmottes.com/

Montriond
Camping Le Pré 2*
http://www.savoie-mont-blanc.com/en/offre/fiche/camping-le-pre/74356

The best views are from this one in Les Gets, though it is quite a hike up the hill. No website that I can find.

Camping d’été La Grange Au Frêne
http://www.lesgets.com/les-gets/hebergement/campings.html

Camping in St Jean d’Aulps is just by the main road . It is walking distance from the shops though and it’s on the river trail and very near the stables for horse riding.

Camping Le Solerey
http://www.valleedaulps.com/camping-le-solerey-1.html

For short stays, there is the municipal camping at La Baume. It’s bound to be the cheapest option too.
Camping Municipal De La Baume, call 04 50 72 10 06, open July and August

camping 2

You don’t have to go far for some bigger and better options though.

Samoens
Camping Le Giffre 3*
http://www.camping-samoens.com/

Or there are a number down by Lac Léman (Lake Geneva). These two are by the beach at Excenevex.

Camping La Pinede 3*
http://www.camping-lac-leman.info/

Camping La Pourvoirie des Ellande 2*
http://www.camping-lac-leman.com/

Rain across the SE of France, the Haute Savoie gets flooded!

After 36hrs of continuous rain the Haute Savoie has woken up to floods, damage and a fair amount of clearing up to do. According to the Dauphine Libere, the rainfall figures are:

– Est de l’AIN : 50 à 80 mm localement 130 mm à Chézery
– SAVOIE : 50 à 90 mm localement 140 mm (Valmorel, Aillon-le-jeune)
– HAUTE-SAVOIE : 60 à 100 mm localement 175 mm à Thônes, 190 mm aux Gets.
– ISÈRE : 50 à 80 mm sur le relief, localement 120 mm à St-Pierre-les-Egaux, 160 mm au Verney.

You’ll see that Les Gets takes the rather soggy biscuit.

I took this picture yesterday, the Passerelle in St Jean d’Aulps, shortly after the Commune turned up with a digger and removed it!

passerelle2

a before and after video of the bridge.

.and then this was taken the next day, if you watch you’ll see a big tree being uprooted.

I’ve been out this morning and taken quite a few pictures around Morzine and St Jean d’Aulps.

passerelle

This is the same spot, the bridge is gone, the river is twice as wide and the school is starting to lose its playground.

river trail 2

Further up the valley, this is the “river trail” across from Carrefour, or it was, it’s totally gone and there is no prospect of replacing it. If things carry on like this we’ll lose the road next.

river trail

More “river trail” pictures, this one is up by the Plagnettes roundabout.  No sign of the trail here. This at least is repairable.

Plagnettes

Plagnettes again, near Morzine, the owners of the house probably had a sleepless night.

verd

Lac de Montriond and the Verdoyant.

montriond lac

The Bout du Lac end of the lac.

Les Mouilles

Near my house!

Some background to the episode here.

http://meteonews.fr/fr/News/N4270/Pluies-abondantes-en-France-ces-derniers-jours

The previous record for rainfall in Chamonix was 59mm (May 2010), this time they got 81mm. Les Gets got 190mm!

A refuge in the Alps

Taking time out to go and visit an Alpine Refuge could well be one of the most memorable things you can do in the Alps. I try and visit one each year with my family and these trips never fail to disappoint. In fact I’ve been visiting refuges for the last 20 years, summer and winter, manned or not, I think each has left a memory to treasure.

Refuge Vogealle, nr Samoens

Refuge Vogealle, nr Samoens

What is a refuge?

I used to call them “huts” but the term tends to confuse the uninitiated. In fact I’ve just done a quick web search and Wikipedia has a long article on the subject here the term “Refuge” is hardly mentioned. The problem with calling them Mountain Huts is this really doesn’t do them justice. Many of them are extremely well appointed with small dorms or bedrooms, inside toilets and 3 course meals served every evening. The latest ones do have hot showers too but unless they are heated via the local hot spring I won’t be using them (please see Eco Living? below).

Vogealle dorms

Sleeping arrangements at the Vogealle

Where do I sleep?

The traditional refuges have communal dorms, long sleeping platforms provided with pillows and blankets. The major downside with these is people that snore. You would be well advised to take some ear-plugs! Refuges that have been renovated in the last few years will probably have bedrooms that sleep 6/8 people. These are ideal for most groups and families and reduce the noise considerably. These more modern places may have duvets instead of blankets too. Either way, you will need to use a sheet sleeping bag.

wine in refuge

Sometimes more closely related to a high mountain hotel!

What to take?

Refuges are not hotels, but then again they are not bothies either. So what should you take? Beyond your “normal” day kit for the mountains you probably only need to take a sheet sleeping bag, either to protect the duvets and reduce the requirement for laundering or to make the itchy blankets a little more comfortable. I usually take a fresh t-shirt, socks and underwear for the evening and don’t forget most of them are at quite an altitude so the evening might be quite chilly. A torch can be essential, especially if the toilets are outside. But whatever you do, try and travel light, the less you have to carry the more you will enjoy the walk!

Bouquetin near the Refuge Presset

Bouquetin near the Refuge Presset

Which refuge?

I live in the Haute Savoie so my recommendations are based on this. In the Massif du Mont-Blanc alone there are 50 to choose from, there is loads of information on the web and a book that covers them all too. I’ll cover a few here:

The following have shortish walks so would suit families.

Refuge de Loriaz, Chamonix, old style
http://www.refuges.info/point/370/refuge-garde/aiguilles-rouges/refuge-de-loriaz/
2 hrs of walking, 680m of climbing (from the valley) or start from the dam at Emosson, same time but much easier walk.

Refuge Tinderets, near Chatel, old style
http://www.refuge-abondance.com/
1 hr, 295m, very basic, very lovely

Refuge Folly, Samoens, old style but with small dorms and fresh food.
http://refuge-du-folly.perso.neuf.fr
2hr15min, 561m, lovely spot, donkeys for the kids to play with too. These guys are running an old refuge but with excellent eco-credentials. Have a look at the “Ecologie” page on their website.

Refuge de Varan, Passy (nr Chamonix)
http://www.varan.tourdesfiz.com/
1hr45min and 520m, amazing views of Mt Blanc.

walk to Refuge Presset

Walk to Refuge Presset

These two are a little farther to walk, maybe best left to the more experienced.

Refuge de la Vogealle, 1902m, Samoens, recently renovated
http://www.refugedelavogealle.com/acces.html
3hrs15min, 950m of ascent, a really smart refuge in a great location.

Refuge de Presset, 2514m, near Beaufort (Savoie), brand new
http://refugedepresset.ffcam.fr/
A CAF (Club Alpin Francais) refuge, discounts for members. Various routes 800m of climbing, about 3hrs.

Monta Rosa Refuge, 2,795m sleeps 120 near Zermatt

Monta Rosa Refuge 2,795m sleeps 120 near Zermatt

Eco Living?

Placing a building that can accommodate up to 100 people high in the mountains will have an obvious impact on the environment. The most extreme example is the new Refuge du Gouter, at 3,835m altitude on Mt Blanc, it accommodates 120 climbers each night. There is no running water so most of it is collected as snow and melted. Although the building is covered is solar panels the energy uses by this number of people is enormous. The very latest technology is being used to mitigate the impact but the people using  the facilities need to be educated too and foregoing a hot shower for one night will go a long way! The other step forward the modern refuges have made is how they deal with the toilet facilities. Nowadays they have managed to bring the toilets inside the buildings and make them water free.  A huge advance on the old system which I won’t be describing here.

Books and games to pass the time

Books and games to pass the time

 

Swimming in the Haute Savoie

The French Alps are known for the mountains. Most of our activities involve climbing up and down the Alps, skiing, walking or biking. Sometimes it’s easy to forget the mountains make a beautiful backdrop to the many swimming and watersports opportunities too. During the short summer months the Alpine lakes and numerous outdoor swimming pools come into their own.

swimming in warm water with snow in the background

At the end of the winter I decided to enter the Traversée du Lac d’Annecy, an annual event held on the “Quinze Août” a bank holiday in France. Over 2000 people take part in various swims across the lake with distances of 1km, 2.4km and 5km. As a result this summer has been a summer of water for me. I started my training in May in Thonon les Bains. The “Thonon Plage” could be one of the best swimming pools I’ve ever been too. Even in May they have two heated pools, a 50m pool and a 25m laned training pool. The main pool is surrounded by a glass wall which creates a sun trap. The 25m pool is surrounded by hardwood decking and thanks to the lack of surrounding wall it gives the impression of an infinite pool with just Lac Leman as the backdrop. This picture was taken on a cold windy day. The pool was 28C and I had it to myself for an hour. Not bad for the entry price of 3.20€. In July an open water swim starts and finishes at the plage, the “Rives Ripaille“.

thonon plage

 Just up the road is the swimming pool at Evian, “Evian plage”, again 50m and surrounded by beautifully manicured grass. Once the lake has warmed up there is a secure swimming area in the Lac Leman too. This doesn’t happen until about July at which point the lake temperature is about 21C.  This pool is great for the kids as the (free) slide is enormous and will keep them occupied for hours. Wind direction and temperatures are available from windspots.com.

evian swimming pool

Morzine swimming pool is the most local to me. Oddly I don’t have any photos of it! There is a new (opened in 2012) 25m indoor pool and in July and August the 50m open air pool is open too. The “Club des Nageurs Morzinois” is one of the summer only swimming squads in the area. There are others nearby in Samoens, Evian and La Roche-sur-Foron. These “club estivale” only train outdoors and compete against each other for the 2 summer months. This suits many of the squad as they spend more of their year on skis! Thanks to Morzine’s new-found status as a triathlon training venue you could easily end up swimming next to the likes of  Jodie Stimpson and Alistair Brownlee. Stimpson in particular seems to have spent most of summer 2014 training around and about. Maybe it’s the altitude they like?

paddlle board on lac montiond

© reelfunmedia.com

Or perhaps it’s the Lac de Montriond? A 1km long lake just 5 minutes outside of Morzine. Quiet and thanks to its altitude (1057m) this summer it has been rather cold. Summer 2014 has not been a good summer, we have had no period of sustained heat to warm the higher mountain lakes. I’d be surprised if it made it over 15C. I swam a length in June but even with a wetsuit that was a bit of a trial.

Lac de Passy is well-known to swimmers and triathletes from Chamonix. It has hosted the Mont Blanc Triathlon for several years now. 2014 saw the first edition of the Traversée du Lac de Passy too. The water is clean and thanks to its lower altitude (550m) it often hits 23C in a warm summer.

passy lac

There is a beach, café and some miniature boats for the kids to play in.

lac passy activities

Lake Annecy is world renowned and  has plenty of beaches and access points. The most well-known is the “Plage de l’Imperial” which is surrounded by plenty of parking.  Further along the east side are beaches at Veyrier-du-lac and Menthon too. Thanks to it’s lowly height (445m), shallow sandy bottom and large surface area it’s another warm lake, the temperature of the water can be found on the web, it’s updated every couple of minutes on the annecy-meto site.  Considering it was August. This year’s Lake Annecy swim was pretty cold, even then the water was still 20C so it was better in the water than out!

lake annecy swim