Summer in the French Alps
Whilst the pandemic has largely had a damaging effect on the tourism industry, the French Alps have enjoyed unexpectedly lively summer seasons with some resorts reporting record-breaking figures. With plenty of outdoor activities, gorgeous scenery and fresh mountain air, the French Alps are the perfect antidote to quarantine in the city.
Home to some of the best-loved ski resorts in the world like Val d’Isère, Méribel and Chamonix, the French Alps are synonymous with world-class winter sports. However, come May when the snow melts away, the French Alps transform into a delightful summer destination. From exploring the ribbons of hiking trails and swimming in Alpine lakes to mountain biking and paragliding, the mountains have something for the whole family to enjoy and owning a property in the French Alps is the perfect way to embrace the Alpine art de vivre. In this article, we take a look at what’s going on in some of our most popular resorts in the French Alps.
The call of the mountains remains strong
Following a period of slight decline, over the past five years or so, the French Alps have become increasingly popular with holidaymakers with the total number of overnight stays rising by 1.4m between summer 2014 and 2019.
Though overall the number of tourists dropped in 2020 August 2020 was the only month where the number of overnight stays in hotels exceeded 2019’s figure and some resorts in the French Alps revealed that they saw record-breaking occupancy rates. For example, the director of Les Carroz’ tourism office commented that this summer was one of the busiest in years with the second week of August registering an incredible occupancy rate of 70%.
Emerald Stay, our trusted rental management partner in the French Alps, also noticed that holidaymakers were spending longer breaks in the French Alps (+58% longer in fact when compared to 2019) and chalets were a key driver in this change. With fewer international visitors, particularly from the USA, Saudi and Russia, local markets became increasingly important and Emerald Stay saw an increase in visitors from France and the nearby countries of Switzerland and Belgium.
Why the mountains?
After spending months cooped up inside, the idea of spending the summer in the French Alps has never been more appealing. Pretty much all of the activities are outdoors which is not only a welcome break after spending so much time at home staring at the same four walls but a safer alternative to a traditional city break where many of the attractions, like museums, galleries and theatres, are inside where COVID-19 transmission is higher.
Though the French Alps were more popular in the summer than Ile-de-France last year when it came to hotel stays, they were still not as busy as the coast, which is the go-to destination for domestic tourists. This made the French Alps a more tactical choice for savvy holidaymakers who wanted more space to enjoy their holiday safely and wanted to bypass the infamous traffic heading to the coast. With international travel pretty much off the table, nationwide pent-up demand for a holiday after months of quarantine and a heatwave, the route to the South of France was especially busy and was backed up with traffic jams of up to 760 kilometres in length.
So, what’s next?
With a lively summer of events on the horizon, easing of international travel restrictions and greater confidence in travel thanks to the vaccination programmes, it could be a very successful summer in the French Alps this year. Summer 2021 is already looking bright with Emerald Stay commenting back in May that occupancy rates for summer ahead were already 6 ppts higher than the previous year.
However, if 2020 has taught us anything, the rules regarding travel can change very quickly, derailing even the most well-thought-out break. To help resorts, the Savoie Mont Blanc agency has launched a €2m marketing campaign titled “Montagne, Mon tempo” which is all about extremely flexible cancellation policies. Targeting families and young people who are unsure whether they should go on holiday this year the campaign will be heavily promoted online.
One of the great things about Val d’Isère is that it is one of those rare places where it is possible to go skiing during the summer for about four weeks between June and July. Though the local slopes are now closed, you can head over to nearby Tignes, Val d’Isère’s Espace Killy sibling, for glacier skiing up until the end of August.
From 7th to the 9th of August, Val d’Isère will be hosting L’Avaline, a Savoyard fair that will bring together some 100 exhibitors selling local produce and handicrafts. A real family event, there is also live music from local talent, a brass band as well as activities specifically for little ones such as fun workshops, donkey rides and games.
E-biking enthusiasts should check out the first-ever edition of the Tignes & Val d’Isère E-Bike Festival, a three-day event starting on 30th July. Meet with fellow enthusiasts and try out the latest bikes from more than 30 renowned brands, compete in the Bosch MTB challenge or hire an e-bike to explore some of the best cycling routes in Val d’Isère. Foodies can combine their love of dining with cycling on the RANDO GOURMANDE route which is a beginner ride with stops at five local eateries.
By foot, by bike or even horse, the resort is truly breathtaking in the warmer months so be sure to spend some time just exploring the local area and taking in the gorgeous Alpine scenery. Take a look below at how beautiful Val d’Isère and the nearby Chevril Dam is in the summer months.
A true year-round town and well-deserving of its Famille Plus certification, Châtel is just as delightful in the summer with activities to keep young visitors entertained including a programme of events throughout the first week of August just for kids. One of Châtel ’s most iconic spots, Lac de Vonnes is perfect for fishing as the lake is home to minnows of up to 80cm and various types of trout. The lake is great for paddleboarding too.
M-BMX® Biathlon is a new addition to Châtel. This unique challenge begins with laser shooting and then the participants take on one of two cycling routes. There is an easier green route and a tougher blue route where one will need to navigate tree stumps, stones and wooden modules. Test your dexterity and your accuracy!
Not for the faint-hearted, Fantasticable is a must-visit during the summer. Soaring up to 240m above the ground, this zipline flies you at speeds of almost 60mph above the Plaine-Dranse offering an incredible birds-eye view and a rush of adrenaline.
Though Chamonix offers skiing for all abilities, it has made a name for itself as a destination for extreme skiing with incredible runs such as the unmarked Vallee Blanche which descends a steep 2,400m. In the summer it offers some challenging activities too for those who want to push themselves such as Via Ferrata, a network of paths built into the rock face using cables and ladders or climbing the lofty Mont Blanc. There are plenty of fantastic hikes too, the most famous of which is the hike to Lac Blanc. This 12km return hike takes about four to six hours to complete and the route is beautiful – it’s a must-do when in Chamonix. Keep an eye out for marmots, eagles and ibex along the way.
A family favourite, the resort’s chocolate box architecture, proximity to Geneva and, of course, the 650km of slopes of Les Portes du Soleil make property for sale in Les Gets so sought after. A real year-round town, Les Gets has a lively summer season and has emerged as a major destination for mountain biking enthusiasts. Here you will find the Les Gets Bikepark which is the largest mountain bike park in Europe offering over 128km of marked tracks of varying difficulty. There are even some tracks specifically designed for e-bikes.
Les Gets also plays host to the annual MTB World Championships. Whilst the event this year has come and gone, cycling enthusiasts can take on the cross-country route for themselves in September by signing up for Alambike – a fun 24-hour relay. You can compete in groups of four to eight and the goal is simply to clock as many kilometres as possible. All proceeds from the event will go towards two local charities.
One of Les Gets’ most famous spots in the summer is Lac des Ecoles a large lake monitored by the watchful eyes of lifeguards that’s perfect for swimming and children will enjoy the Witbit park inflatable obstacle course. The lake is framed by large grassy banks for picnicking, sunbathing or even barbecuing.
Launched for summer 2021 and a wonderful activity for families, Alta Lumina is an enchanting nighttime walk that uses a mix of music, light and imagery to tell the fantastic story of a travelling musician.
This week, Alpe d’Huez hosted one of the most famous events on the resort’s calendar: the Alpe d’Huez triathlon. The event comprises two triathlons L and M – L is the most gruelling with contestants this year swimming 2.2km, cycling 118km before running 20km to the finish line. There is also a more accessible duathlon which includes two running phases separated by a bike race. Children are not forgotten either and may compete in one of the four kids’ triathlons.
For the very best view of Alpe d’Huez, you can take a cable car up to the Pic Blanc, the highest point of the Alpe d’Huez and the third highest peak of the Grandes Rousses Massif. Awarded three stars by the Michelin guide, at the top one will enjoy panoramic views over the lakes, the verdant pastures, ochre rocks and the snow-capped mountains. It’s a spectacular experience.
The resort also has an impressive array of hiking and cycling routes. Often appearing in the Tour de France, cycling in Alpe d’Huez has one of the most challenging climbs of the event where cyclists must take on 21 hairpin bends. This is a must-do for serious road cyclists up for a challenge.