5 great reasons to spend your summer holiday in the mountains

1. Get active…
Instead of lazing on a crowded beach, discover lots of fun activities for the whole family to enjoy (and they’re free).

Le Lac de Tignes, canoes

Tignes is a great place to go if you love trying different activities. The SPORTIGNES card, free from your accommodation provider, gives you access to a huge variety of sports and activities, including tennis, trampolines, water jumps, archery, beach volley etc. You also get two entries to the Lagon swimming pool, one entry to the mini-golf, one to the multimedia centre plus free use of chairlifts for walkers. There’s also a weekly programme of events with music, contests and demonstrations.

Even if you’re not sporty, there’s plenty to see around the lake, not least a gentle stroll around the circumference, with picnic areas and restaurants along the way. Oh, and a renowned golf course.

2. Pull on your boots and go for a real walk…
There are well-signed trails for all abilities, including long-distance routes for experienced walkers (with mountain refuges for overnight stops).

Beaufortain, mountain view Areches The Beaufortain walking tour would delight anyone who adores Savoyard picture-postcard chalets and lush Alpine pastures, turquoise blue lakes, flower-filled meadows and herds of cows, bells-a-tinkling… a timeless image of the Alps. Join a guided tour with an experienced leader for an unforgettable Alpine holiday.

3. Let the train (and the tram) take the strain…
It’s easy to travel to the Alps by train from the UK, but the Tramway du Mont Blanc will take you to the top of the mountain too.

Tramway Mont BlancIn summer the world-famous mountain tramway remains as sensational as when it opened in 1913, and climbs all the way to the Nid d’Aigle (2380m), an epic journey of around 1hr 15min. There are two main departure points – Le Fayet and Saint-Gervais, with six stops en route, enabling walkers to follow varied signed itineraries.

4. Fnd out what a mountain bike is really for…
There are testing downhill trails where you can seek white-knuckle thrills in most Alpine resorts, with chairlifts specially adapted to take you and your bike to the summit. Those of a gentler disposition can enjoy cycling in stunning scenery around Les Saisies in the Val d’Arly where a bike-carrying bus service transports you back to the village.

Mountain-biking, Les Saisies,  Val d'Arly5. Discover real Grand Touring…
The scenic Route des Grandes Alpes runs for 684km from Lac Léman to the Mediterranean – an amazing Alpine experience, including many of the classic climbs and descents made world-famous by the Tour de France.

Lac de Roselend, Beaufortain

The Route des Alpes, as it was originally known, was conceived by the Touring Club de France in 1911, and during the 1920s soon became one of Europe’s most celebrated touring itineraries. The Route was finally completed in July 1937, with the opening of the 2770m Col de l’Iséran, the highest pass in Europe. Col de l’Iséran isn’t opened until early June and many Cols will close after the first snowfalls in October so plan your journey accordingly.

Summer Walk: Sainte-Foy Tarentaise to Le Monal.

Side view of chalet-style apartment developments in Sainte-Foy-Tarentaise, with La Rosière visible on the mountain side beyond.

This worthwhile walk begins at an altitude of 1550m in the ski village of Sainte Foy Tarentaise (above), which has a generous  visitor parking area which is signed as you enter the village. Clearly visible in the distance is the neighbouring ski village of La Rosière. The departure point for the start of the walk is indicated not far above the parking area by a rustic painted sign.

MP-Saint-Foy-Tarentaise-28558The initial gradient is quite steep but soon settles into a more or less steady climb through pine and larch forest, with occasional glimpses of the mountains – the ski areas of Villaroger and Les Arcs lie just across the valley. So far there’s plenty of shade to keep things pleasantly cool on a sunny day, and you’ll have the sound of birdsong for company.

Keep going eventually after a few steeper zigzags the path leaves the forest beside a much smaller unsurfaced parking area. This can be reached by car by following the road through St Foy and turning right above the main ski village onto a winding mountain track, although there’s no guarantee of finding a vacant parking space at the top – and of course by doing it this way you’ll miss the magical, near-silent world of the lower forest section.

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From here things open up and the path broadens into a track cut into the mountainside. For now the dense forest still hides the views, but bursts of wildflowers hint at what might lie ahead.

Sure enough, before long the gradient eases, levels off and then begins a gentle descent. Visible in the distance are the rooftops  of a tiny hamlet set among mountain pastures, although what really focuses the attention are the long-anticipated views which have suddenly opened up across the Haute Tarentaise valley.

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Ahead, tucked away out of sight in a valley below a hydro-electric barrage is the village of Les Brevières and beyond it the world-famous ski area of the Espace Killy, shared between Tignes and Val d’Isère. For walkers it’s a rich reward for the climb from Saint Foy, and at the approach to the hamlet is another, in the form of an opportunity to fill a water bottle from a refreshingly cool mountain spring signed as ‘eau potable‘.

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The hamlet looks and feels in every respect like an idyllic spot far removed from worldly concerns, but in winter the sense of remoteness is heightened, to the point where getting here after heavy snowfalls means making a rather longer trudge up from the ski village in snowshoes. We know exactly how much more physically demanding that can be, because we’ve done it ourselves – but there again the sense of achievement is correspondingly greater.

Beyond the hamlet the track continues its gentle descent and briefly enters a wooded area. After curving to cross a fast-moving stream strewn with boulders. In fact, this is more than no mere stream but turns out to be the Ruisseau du Clou river, which now flows alongside the path for a while, before making a steep descent into the valley far below.

Wide view of shallow valley with mountain stream beside footpath.

Once across the river the track enters a sheltered valley setting, with more coniferous plantations beyond pastures which are ablaze with wildflowers during our mid-July visit.

Visitors walking towards the village, showing the beauty of the mountain landscape.

A few minutes later, after a couple of lazy, sweeping arcs, the track passes between rows of upturned stones and passes a tiny limewashed chapel set beside a huge boulder. Visible behind it are two huddles of stone chalets roofed, as is the local tradition, with flat riverbed stones known as ‘lauze’. Welcome to Le Monal.

Tiny chapel, with chalets behind, in a sheltered clearing with trees and mountainsides.

Even in summer there’s a refreshing sense of remoteness here, a quality which means that things shut down completely soon after the first snowfalls of winter begin to make things impractical for habitation. For now, though, it’s a magical and privileged location.

Cottage garden with chalte and snow-capped mountains

That thought is not lost on the fortunate chalet owners, who manage to pack a lot into the brief summer period, including some cheerful cottage-style gardens and productive vegetable beds. While you’re here you can picnic or enjoy a drink or meal in a choice of two cafes, while resting your feet for the return trek and taking in the dazzling scenery.

Exterior of chalet-style cafe, showing larch roof timbers and restored stonework.

As you’ll discover if you decide to follow this path, the route itself is every bit as enjoyable as the destination, and serves up a succession of varied landscapes destined to change forever the perceptions of anyone who has yet to fall in love with the mountains in summer.

Return walk, showing track, river and conifer forests.

A final bonus is the sight of Sainte-Foy Tarentaise as most skiers will never have seen it, resplendent in summer mode. It’s the kind of revelation which draws us back to places we’ve come to love as skiers, and which have inspired a desire to discover the mellower side of their dual personalities. We’ve yet to be disappointed.

Stone chalets in the heart of the ski village, with summer flower displays and a mountain backdrop.