Fuel your inner adrenalin junkie or pamper the princess inside. Courcheval in the summer has it all.
The lure of the mountains without snow is not a break I had considered previously, but when a friend offered up a Chalet in the mountains and my staff rates to Geneva, I couldn’t miss the opportunity. Having spent hours researching Switzerland and it’s surrounding areas for work, it was high time I saw it for myself.
I never expected there to be so much to do and, to be honest, associated the idea of the summer in the mountains as something for later on in life. I was so wrong. Everything from paragliding to luxury spas is at your doorstep, all against the most stunning backdrop.
I flew direct from Jersey to Geneva at 11am, hired a car from Geneva airport and got to the mountains in time to sample the wine selection in the afternoon sun. The direct two hour flight saves so much hassle not having to connect through London and the drive past Lake Geneva is stunning. There are so many people cycling along the Lakeside that you feel guilty in a car. It felt just like an episode of Dawson’s Creek as everyone chilled by the water, without the sickening scenes from Katie Holmes and Joshua Jackson.
The chalet was in a village called Le Praz. At 1300 metres, it was a short drive up to the famous Courcheval 1850. Being just ten minutes away, it was hard to keep away. I have never been in the winter, but it’s going to be hard to pick another resort for some winter fun now I’ve had a taste. Not everything is open in the summer, but I could tell from the abundance of bars and cafés around that it’s an impressive party town when the season begins.
I knew that cycling was a big thing in the summer, but no matter how fit I may think I am, the idea of cycling up a mountain did not appeal. On further investigation I learned that you in fact descent rather than climb on the organized tours which was much more acceptable. During the briefing I learned that in France, they not only drive on the other side of the road, but the brakes on the bikes are also the wrong way around. When I told Lorenzo, our instructor, that I wasn’t actually aware which was my front and back break at home he clocked I wasn’t a regular peddler.
The experience was amazing – you pick up some speed and there is an element of challenge, plus I actually learned how to mountain bike properly and felt like a seasoned pro by the end of the afternoon. I’ve never been on a bike for so long and I didn’t even notice. I did a beginners course, but there are lots of harder options for those who know their back brake from their front. All bikes can be hired and with the afternoon rolled in it’s only about €40.
The adrenalin junkie inside me has well and truly woken up so I sign up for white water rafting, horse riding and paragliding to complete the week. A complete beginner at everything, but that didn’t matter. Horse riding is a steal at just €20 for an hours lesson. Keen to get you some good experience, the instructor puts you through your paces so your trotting and turning within the hour. For those more equine minded, there are tours through the mountains which I can only imagine would be a welcome difference from the Jersey country lanes.
By far the most mind blowing activity is paragliding. Unlike skydiving or bungee jumping, there is no extreme speed, but this must be the closet thing to flying out there. After driving up the mountain, strapped to a pilot, you basically walk together off the side of the mountain. From 3000metres, you decent to around 1300m and during that time, the pilot searches for natural thermals in the air to keep you airborne. Being so high certainly gives the best view of the stunning surroundings and you swoop the Vallees like a bird. Paragliding is also available in the winter, you just use skis, still stunning, but I imagine you cannot grasp the expanse, depth or beauty of the mountains when they are covered in snow. But I’m keen to test this theory in the winter.
When the spring arrives in the mountains, the melting snow obviously needs to go somewhere and the natural rapids created down the mountains are ideal for rafting. In teams of 5-6, you’re talked through all the safety necessities before heading in. Rowing together as directed, your find some great currents and it doesn’t take long before you’re spinning down the rapids. You even head in for a swim, to experience the strength of the water first hand. A well organised activity with the option of some faster rapids at the end of everyone is up for it!
A manicure lover by heart, all this exercise had to be balanced out with some aroma inspired activity. Courcheval, being the winter playground of choice for the world’s rich and famous, I knew I could seek out a fancy spa (or two!). The standard was phenomenal from the service to the treatments, but what really made it special were the beyond impressive designs. At the 4star Chabichou hotel in 1850, the pool was split into sections with varying water temperatures for a multi sensory experience. Cloaked in relaxing lighting a subtle music, it’s divine. I chose a ‘Carita Supreme Facial’ that worked wonders, but the highlight was picking a choice of music – always irritated by panpipes, I went for a relaxing ‘lounge’ option. Nice touch. The Manili hotel down at 1650m had just opened for the season and was of an equally high standard. The prices for treatments was reasonable
Interspersed with Chanel, Luis Vuitton and Hermes shops in the resort, it’s clear who the clientele are in the winter. Visiting in the summer, everything is half price and just about affordable for the common man. A fortune can be saved on luxury ski wear, sunglasses and designer shoes. Jimmy Chou, Alexander Mcqueen and Fendi shoes are a steal reduced by at least 50%.
If you love the mountains in the winter, a visit in the summer is a must. With as much, if not more activities available, you’re never bored. If relaxation is more your things, the spas could easily keep you entertained with the odd afternoon crepe and glass of wine over the mountains thrown in. A classic French experience in the allure of the mountains, it’s one you’ve got to add to the bucket list.