Peak summer in Morzine

Who needs snow? Ditch the skis to discover the French Alps with year-round appeal


A few years back, Morzine was named the most popular ski resort with British tourists — so visiting when there isn’t even a hint of snow might seem counter-intuitive. But unlike some of the purpose-built Alpine resorts, village life continues in Morzine year-round: home to a permanent population of 3,000, there’s plenty to tempt you into the mountains during the summer.

Located at just 1,000 metres, it’s pleasantly green in summer while the clear air is a welcome respite from the heat (and crowds) of many of France’s coastal resorts, while accommodation is a fraction of the price of the ski season.

It’s tempting to believe that summer activities in mountain resorts are all about the high-adrenaline activities: paragliding, white-water rafting, canyoning and mountain biking. But while all these activities are available in Morzine, there is plenty more for those — like me — who prefer to take life at a more sedate pace.

E-bikes have exploded in popularity over the last few years, and they’re perfect for exploring on the slopes. While you still have to pedal and put some effort in (these aren’t mopeds after all), the battery means you can go almost anywhere, and you won’t have that ‘screaming for mercy’ feeling in your thigh muscles, even on the steepest hills.

In fact, it’s coming down which requires some technical know-how — or at least nerve — unless you stick to the extremely easy tracks and paths which I’m used to. My guide Lionel Reymond from Synergie MTB quickly worked out that my (arguably somewhat ridiculous) fear of standing up on my pedals for steeper descents meant that his planned route to the Col de Cou and the Swiss border would perhaps be a bit beyond me.

Instead we followed an easier trail past a high bridge where more adventurous souls were canyoning down a waterfall, and up to Col de Joux Plane at 1,700 metres, which has stunning views of Mont Blanc and a very welcome café, just as popular with the fitter bunch of lycra-clad cyclists on their road bikes.

From here, we rolled back down the hill before reascending along a pretty river path to the Lac des Mines d’Or for lunch. While there were once mines here to give the lake its name, there is no real evidence that gold was ever found, though rumours remain.

As well as traditional, well-signposted hikes, you can join several themed walks each week. Designed more to teach visitors about the local plants than to challenge their fitness levels, they’re short, easy and suitable for all ages.

I opted for a Botanic Walk with Michel Rostalski, who showed us which plants had which medicinal properties, varying from natural aspirin from la reine-des près (or meadowsweet) to ones which can help fight fatigue or relieve stings, as well as some which are poisonous. We were invited to choose a (non-lethal) plant along the way which appealed and at the end, add it to alcohol in a jar to make our own tincture.

Other walks on offer include a Discovery Walk where you forage for edible food and use them to create an amuse-bouche on your return. Alternatively you can spend half a day forest bathing — a form of meditation while enjoying the wooded surroundings.

Various walks and workshops are offered free of charge by the tourist office, while others cost just a few pounds. There are special themed days and weeks throughout the season too, often including extra activities from wellbeing and sport through to a weekend themed around heritage.

There’s plenty for families as well, including a two-week Kids’ Kingdom Festival every year, with free workshops and entertainment. My own children learned to walk on stilts, ‘wrestled’ in sumo fat suits, had their faces painted and watched ethereal creatures dressed as butterflies dance when we visited.

Outside the festival weeks, there’s still lots for children to enjoy. Watch a sheep dog round up both sheep and geese at the Pointe de Nyon, at the top of the Nyon lift, or enjoy a ‘shepherd’s morning’ learning about ewes, goats, basic shepherds’ tasks and the practice of transhumance (bringing animals up into the mountains for summer).

Kids can also get up to close to rabbits, ducks and geese, as well as meeting birds of prey which are part of a rescue programme before watching them fly. There’s a restaurant and bar too with a large terrace where you could easily hang out for an afternoon or for bad weather days, upstairs you’ll find France’s largest ball pit.

When skies are clear, take the chair lift onwards up to visit le Pas de l’Aigle: a viewing platform sitting 2,019 metres high, which juts out over 350 metres of vertical drop with a dizzying section of glass floor at the end and spectacular views of Mont Blanc and Lake Geneva. There’s a hiking trail to follow back down if you’re feeling energetic — or you can simply get back on the chairlift.

One of the joys of travelling in France is enjoying the cuisine, and while most restaurants here will offer the mountain staples of raclette, fondu and tartiflette, there are plenty of other options if you’re in the mood for something different.

La Chamade has a string of beautifully-presented dishes on its interesting menu, including many vegetables and herbs grown in chef Thierry Thorens’ garden, or foraged from the mountain paths. My entrée of roasted char (a local fish) with braised fennel velouté was delicious.

Afterwards we followed the waitress down to the cellar to choose from an array of both local and international cheeses, followed by an infusion of fresh herbs. The cellar also houses the ‘cheese bar’ where you can enjoy informal cheese platters, surrounded by giant teddy bears and large sculptures made by the chef himself.

Another good place for a light meal and a drink is the Bec Jaune microbrewery, where their own beer is served alongside small dishes such as kimchi or freshly-baked bread with olive oil, seeds and nuts for dipping, as well as a range of filled wraps and flatbreads.

My accommodation was equally full of character. The Farmhouse is Morzine’s oldest building, with just three owners since 1771. In previous incarnations, it housed a cobbler’s shop, carpenter’s workshop and even the town’s only prison cell.

Since then, it has been lovingly renovated by British owner Dorrien and his wife Di, with the dark wooden beams and local slate flooring carefully restored. It’s a friendly, homely place to stay with a sitting room and bar to relax in, as well as a large garden with mountain views.

You’ll find everything from simple apartments to high-end chalets such as the five-storey Zems Lodge in Morzine though. For something distinctly different, you could even spend a night in the tree top bubbles at Mines d’Or — the transparent bubbles have 360-degree views (and bathroom facilities in a chalet next door).

As far as I’m concerned, no week in the mountains is complete without a trip to a spa, even if you haven’t been skiing, and you’ll find several options in Morzine.

Along with hotel spas, there’s also a surprisingly quiet and relaxing one in the public pool complex, which also has both indoor and outdoor pools. Pick up the Portes du Soleil multipass and you’ll get free entrance, as well as use of the lifts and activities including tourist trains and mini golf in Morzine and the 12 resorts of the Portes du Soleil.

For sunny days, Lac Montriond just outside the village has its own swimming lake with children’s area, as well as a larger lake where you can rent paddleboards, not to mention plenty of room to sunbathe. Or join outdoor yoga classes by the lake from Strength and Serenity, which also runs sessions with English-speaking teachers in a purpose-built yoga studio.

With so much to do, this is one mountain retreat where you won’t miss the snow for a moment.

Getting There

Geneva airport is around 90 minutes from Morzine. Flights with easyJet cost from around £100 from London, and from around £250 from Manchester.

Transfers cost from around £20 one way with companies including easyBus.

Doubles at The Farmhouse cost from around £85 per night, B&B.

For more information and details of the multipass, visit

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