Holidays & Travel

Why the Alps are rapidly becoming a year-round family break

It’s best known as a ski destination, but if a snowy holiday leaves you cold, book a mountain break for the summer, says Josie Clarke.

The observatory of Megeve
The observatory of Megeve (Alamy/PA) The observatory of Megeve (Alamy Stock Photo)

“Bend your knees!” our guide shouts as a wobbly line of children and their shrieking parents blast down the slope after him. The warm breeze of a 24C day in the French Alps rushes through our hair as we speed through green pastures bursting with summer flowers. We nudge our e-scooters into fifth gear and take off.

The mountains are a favourite destination for me and my son, but after last winter’s season stymied by unreliable snow conditions – we cut our losses and made a summer trip to Megeve, an exceptionally pretty resort complete with cobbled streets and stunning views of a still snow-capped Mont Blanc, and just an hour’s drive from Geneva airport.

A long-time family favourite, come the warmer months it trades its immense playground of ski runs stretching up either side of a valley, for a host of action-packed activities for all ages, set to a soundtrack of birdsong and cow bells.

(Megève Tourisme)
(Megève Tourisme) (Megève Tourisme)

We set off on our first morning under blue skies into the cool of a sun-dappled forest above the village, backpacks full of local produce for a picnic and guided by Megeve Tourism’s ExplorGames app, which has the children cleverly engaged via their phones deciphering clues to find their way around a trail dotted with churches, grottoes, bridges and waterfalls. There is not a single complaint about walking, steep climbs or boredom today, with the children instead laughing about how much easier the clues would be in England.

By lunchtime, we’ve leaped all over the mountain and are genuinely thrilled at having solved the brain-teasers to reach our destination, absolutely starving after logging 20,000 steps.

Walking the trails above Megeve. (Josie Clarke)
Walking the trails above Megeve. (Josie Clarke) Walking the trails above Megeve. (Josie Clarke)

We take the Rochebrune cable car – the very first cable car in France built specifically for skiers in 1933 – to an altitude of 1,753 metres and the starting point for a wealth of hiking trails and mountain bike circuits.

We set out our picnic blanket and spend two hours gazing at Mont Blanc as she reveals herself between gaps in the clouds, feasting on baguettes stuffed with local cheese and ham, strawberry biscuits from the village bakery and washed down with juice made from fruit grown in nearby orchards.

Picnicing at the top of the Rochebrune cable car, Mont Blanc in the distance. (Josie Clarke)
Picnicing at the top of the Rochebrune cable car, Mont Blanc in the distance. (Josie Clarke) Picnicing at the top of the Rochebrune cable car, Mont Blanc in the distance. (Josie Clarke)

The day’s fun is far from over though, and after a quick rest at Mamie Megeve, the family-focused hotel complete with buckets of free sweets at every turn and its own mini games arcade (that helpfully doesn’t require any coins, parents will be relieved to know), we are off to the village for an evening of bowling and pizza.

Megeve – at the more luxurious end of the ski resort spectrum – does child-friendly with flair, and we dine on gourmet pizzas washed down with mocktails for the kids and local gin alternatives for the adults. Then it’s back to the hotel, one eye on gathering rainclouds for the deepest sleeps we can remember.

The night, however, is not without its drama. Thunder rocks the valley and lightning provides a spectacular show, the gentle stream outside the hotel’s windows becoming a raging torrent as sheets of rain pour down. However, while the rain might have wiped out a day of a beach holiday, Megeve is well-prepared for mountain weather in the form of its enormous Le Palais sports complex, complete with indoor ice rink, climbing walls and indoor/outdoor heated pools.

The outdoor pool at Le Palais Megève (Megève Tourisme)
The outdoor pool at Le Palais Megève (Megève Tourisme) The outdoor pool at Le Palais Megève (Megève Tourisme) (MegeveCommune)

We start the morning with a breakfast of croissants and hot chocolates before hitting the climbing wall, where the children learn to belay each other under the watchful eye of instructors. Then it’s into the outdoor heated pool, where we sit in the steaming water in the rain, relaxing under back-pummelling fountains and in the pool’s in-built lazy river, imagining how it must feel to experience this surrounded by winter snow.

By now, the weather has truly set in, and so there’s nothing for it but to head straight to the afternoon tea to end all afternoon teas at the Grand Hotel du Soleil D’Or – specifically its gourmet La Chocolaterie.

Here, we watch as staff make steaming hot chocolate over stove tops, while tables laden with every delectable cake and biscuit imaginable await selection. The drinks come with chocolate stirrers, mounds of freshly-whipped cream and blueberry marshmallow, but what follows would have even the biggest chocolate lover’s eyes bulging – a huge slab of chocolate bread topped with a generous mound of shaved milk chocolate.

In an effort to clear some space after our chocolate extravaganza, we grab a break in the weather to ride the Telecabine du Jaillet up to the 16m-high Giant Swing, which offers spectacular views over the valley towards Mont Blanc. Below us, we see hikers making their way up the trails, mountain bikers charging down and even a disputed sighting of a marmot.

From here, we make our way slightly further along the valley, where a teepee in the middle of a meadow is our venue for the famous Savoyard fondue. We enjoy a glass of wine or juice on the deck, awestruck as Mont Blanc glows white in the sunset, before retreating inside under fairy lights to feast on bread slathered in cheese, as rain drums down on the teepee’s roof.

We’re all sleepy, relaxed and happy to have experienced the mountains in summer, crammed with fun and good food – and free of concerns about whether the sun will shine, and if we’ll manage to secure a sunbed.

As my son says: “It’s like winter, but better.”

How to plan your trip

A two-night stay at Mamie Megève costs from €128/£111pp (two sharing) with breakfast.

Swiss Air (swiss.com) flies from London Heathrow to Geneva from £102pp.

For more information, visit megeve-tourisme.fr/en/.