Travel Review: Adventures in the Alps holiday in La Haute Savoie
- Credit: Archant
After a whole week zipping around the French Alps taking part in various extreme sports with my kids you might think you’d come back to England exhausted - but strangely I felt more vital than if I’d spent the time back flat on a sun lounger.
We went to Le Chinaillon, nestled in Mont Blanc’s foothills for a chalet holiday with a difference.
Having run a chalet myself for three winter seasons, I’m familiar with the concept where guests are usually looked after by kitchen novices who are out to make the most of the slopes and après ski.
I was intrigued to find out what the experience was like in summer, having always hopped the plane back home by the time my skis started sticking in the mud amid the melting snow.
With the promise of white water rafting, zip wiring in the tree tops, a guided hike in the mountains and mountain biking, my 11-year old twin sons and I were pretty excited at the thought of an Adventures In the Alps holiday.
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Pip Watkins set up the company to take advantage of the myriad of activities on offer in the stunning pristine mountains once the crowds depart in the spring.
Having never driven abroad before I felt as though my first adventure was to reach the chalet in our hire car - which Pip told me was necessary to access the various activities she’d arranged for us.
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When the GPS speaker told us the route from Geneva airport included roads without edges and asked if we wanted to proceed, I almost thought better of it.
But within no time I’d got the hang of it and was loving zooming around the winding roads, flanked by lush green trees and clear blue skies.
Eventually we parked up outside our perfectly placed chalet in the corner of the pristine looking village Le Chinaillon, and as soon as the engine was turned off we could hear the tinkling of cow bells.
Helen and Neil our hosts were there to welcome us, along with some delicious chocolate brownies they’d whipped up.
As I was tucking in, I heard qualified chef Neil joking with his fiancé Helen that he might just be the first chalet cook to be awarded a Michelin star.
When I sampled his cooking later that evening I realised he wasn’t far off the mark.
With dishes like mushroom cheesecake, pan fried hake with risotto and juniper berry sauerkraut, and lavender pannacotta, as well as blueberry and honey pancakes for breakfast, it became obvious this was not someone learning to cook as he went along, as I had been with wmy patient guests.
Neil’s slow roast lamb is to die for, and I’m hoping he will one day make the most of Helen’s dad’s publishing business to share his recipes in a book.
I know how much hard work it is to run a chalet, but Helen and Neil make it look like a breeze - which they say it is after managing a 45-room hotel last winter.
Bubbly Pip, who set up Adventures in the Alps several years ago, joined us for our first meal to brief us and our fellow chalet companions on the upcoming week, sharing her enthusiasm for the mountains and her wicked sense of humour.
She confided in us that when she goes climbing with her corporate clients she pretends not to be scared and this helps her overcome any fear.
I tried putting this to the test myself the next day when I was standing in the treetops, attached to two harnesses with a stunning view of Lake Annecy below. Beautiful as it was, it made me feel as though I was suspended a thousand feet above the ground.
I took my time getting around the six courses, taking the blue graded choices every time rather than the black challenges, which entailed challenges like monkey bars 15 metres up or zip wiring like Tarzan into a net.
My sons humoured me as I clung on for dear life and they ran around the planks dangled high in the trees, literally.
But as I took the last zip wire down to the ground and my five-year old daughter told me I’d done really well, I did feel a sense of achievement.
I also felt as though I’d had my fair share of adrenaline for the day, and we went to relax and cool off with a dip in Lake Annecy just down the mountain.
In Talloires you will find a shaded park which costs a couple of Euros for adults and a Euro for children to enter. With the surrounding hills populated with dense forests, I’m reminded of lush images of St Lucia, and we return several times over the course of the week.
The great thing about having Pip organise everything is that she knows the best places to go for everything, including the white water rafting course.
Franceraft sets off from just beneath Bourg St Maurice and the 22 kilometre river - the longest course in the region - fills up a whole exhilarating afternoon.
Robin who was going to guide us down the river gave us a quick briefing and I realised I was not going to be able to sit back and do nothing as I’d anticipated.
Within no time we were in the river and I was shocked at how choppy it was, and then absolutely mortified when Robin – who said he was going to take care of the steering – didn’t veer us away from the huge boulder we were approaching - which we then crashed into.
After a while I realised the boat was like a floating bumper car, and the bottom wasn’t going to rip out if it went over the rocky bits.
Then I started enjoying the rapids, and felt a sense of excitement as Robin shouted out “forward” and we all started paddling frantically as we approached another set of white water.
I began to imagine how much fun it would be to spend a whole holiday rafting, navigating some long river like Meryl Streep in The River Wild - obviously minus the
violent criminals. By the time we reached the bottom I was buzzing, contemplating returning one day to try out Franceraft’s more advanced route.
The next day brought us mountain biking - something I wouldn’t normally have signed up for.
But that’s the beauty of having everything laid out for you during the adventure week, as you get to try out experiences you might not have done otherwise.
I imagined it would entail traipsing up steep roads alongside cars, so was pleasantly surprised when our guide Franck took us down a rocky off-road route leading us to “la cascade mysterieuse” – a waterfall you’d never imagine was there.
After a small bit of uphill exertion we took the easy option and hopped onto the chair lift, and up the top headed down a dirt track which saw my head being bumped around the most it’s ever been in my life. I think maybe next time I could brush up on my technique to avoid this.
We stopped off at a lake teaming with thousands of tadpoles and the tiniest frogs I’ve ever seen, and then passed quaint chalets dating back centuries.
It was well worth having Franck along to show us routes we’d never have found for ourselves.
The next day our perfect weather descended into rainy skies, but we didn’t let that put us off our mountain walk.
Our guide - another Pip – kitted us out with waterproofs and Nordic walking poles, and we set off, headed towards the little white chalet we could see far up in the distance on the other side of the valley.
We passed up a steep forest path where the trees sheltered us from the storm, stopping to nibble at the wild strawberries on the way.
At the top the weather cleared and we stopped for a snack at one of the old summer chalets where Pip told us whole families used to decamp for the entire summer, bringing to mind blissful images of Heidi.
To top off the idyll a herd of 150 goats appeared with their bells tinkling, and we felt like herders as they followed us half way down the mountain, much to the delight of the children who took hundreds of photos of goats of all shapes and sizes, with names like Ibiza, Gourmande and Infusion.
Apparently it’s a national requirement in France that every year animals take names beginning with a different letter of the alphabet - this year it’s I.
For kids one of the nicest things about a holiday is meeting up with other youngsters, and the chalet provides the perfect setting for this.
My sons bonded the two teenage boys through the adventure activities we shared, while my daughter came to idolise their eight-year old sister who was also a little bit too young to join in with the more extreme sports, save the walking.
There was plenty for the younger ones to get up to, like paddling in the river and pony riding in Le Grand Bornand, as well as the sports base in La Clusaz, where there are trampolines, bouncy castles, and a summer luges on which youngsters can tobaggan in tandem with an adult – amazing fun at just four Euros a time.
The cost of the holiday is really a bargain when you consider the amount of activities laid on, and the fact every single meal is included apart from just one lunch and dinner when Helen and Neil have a well-earned day off.
After just one fun-packed day in Le Chinaillon I’d lost all track of time, a surefire sign of having broken out of the London rat race.
Spending time in the Alps in the summer will appeal to everyone of all generations, for the wealth of activities on offer as well as its sheer beauty.