By Heather Garlick
Six day trip ideas within a 2 hour drive.
Whether you’re a lounger, a mountain biker or a lake swimmer, it can be difficult to contemplate leaving the green pastures and steep slopes of the Portes du Soleil. But the area is also really well placed for day trips to many other interesting and beautiful destinations across the Alps. Though all of the towns and cities listed here are between 40 minutes and two hours away by car, they offer a real contrast to Morzine, Les Gets and Avoriaz. So whether you’re here for the short, medium or long term, it’s worth taking a day in one of these beautiful and varied cities. Beware – lakes feature to an almost unnatural extent!
There are few people who can visit Annecy without, at some point during their stay, emitting the words ‘I could really live here’. And who can blame them? Annecy is blessed in many ways: a beautiful old city, a chic and compact shopping area criss-crossed with canals, waterside restaurants serving fresh seafood. But what really recommends itself is the relaxed, easy-going atmosphere, a product of the city’s lakeside lifestyle. In the sun, residents of all ages assemble to sit beside the still waters and eat, drink, chat, play or exercise. Dogs are walked, rollers are bladed and glances linger across picnic sandwiches.
For those who are not content to sit and stare dreamily across the lake there’s plenty more to get stuck into in and around Lake Annecy. Waterside vendors rent out pedalos, motorboats and kayaks. There are also regular boat trips to enjoy the pretty villages positioned along the waterfront of what is rumoured to be the cleanest lake in Europe. Cycling is a big deal here as well, with an especially flat and quiet route along the west bank. Of course, swimming in the clear waters is a special treat when the summer sun has taken the edge off the Alpine tributaries.
Between June and October Annecy holds a number of renowned festivals, including the Annecy Festival of Animation between June 10th and 15th. Don’t miss the Annecy Lake Festival on August 3rd, a fireworks display set to the rhythm of music, first celebrated in 1860 in honour of Napoleon III.
Annecy is about 1½ hours away by car. For more information visit www.lac-annecy.com.
Go to Lyon to eat, and drink, and probably eat some more. It’s the gastronomic capital of France, and since France is the gastronomic capital of the world, it’s pretty much heaven for anyone looking to work on the size of their waistband.
Although Lyon does boast 14 Michelin starred restaurants, the real highlights are the Bouchons – traditional eateries serving Lyonnaise recipes. Don’t expect oversized plates, diminished portions and cheffy smudges. Do expect a warm atmosphere and groaning plates of food. Bouchons tend to serve particularly meat-heavy dishes. Saucissons and quenelles feature regularly alongside cheek, brain, bladder, blood, lard and many many ways with tripe.
Lyon is also particularly well placed for wine, a stone’s throw from Cote du Rhone and Beaujolais and with a host of other wine growing regions close at hand. For a truly comprehensive understanding, it’s possible to book onto one of the many tours which leave Lyon regularly. However, for the more casual quaffer, many vineyards will be welcoming to lone rangers and the more table-based gourmet can even drink in the extensive wine lists the city’s 2,000 restaurants have to offer.
For a much more informal insight into food and eating, Lyon has lavish food markets along the banks of the Saone every morning apart from Monday. Here foodie tourists shop alongside local chefs looking for fresh goodies for the evening’s service. There is a focus on local produce but Lyonnaise producers sit alongside vendors from the South of France, Spain and Morocco, lending the market a cosmopolitan edge. For a higher concentration of local goods, the Marche de la Croix Rousse is laden with local fruit and veg and hosts an organic extension every Saturday.
Lyon is about 2½ hours away from Morzine by car. For more information visit www.en.lyon-france.com
Freddie Mercury stands immortalised, gazing out onto Lake Geneva, one arm raised in exaltation. He has every right to be happy. From his stance in Montreux he is able to observe Lake Geneva from what is probably the most enviable viewpoint. Here, the only things intruding on the top-to-bottom view of the lake are the fronds of weeping willows and the occasional mists which drift off the mountains. In the evening, the sun sets on the horizon, striping the full length of the lake with gold and silhouetting the surrounding Alps of France and Switzerland.
Aside from the stunning Chateau de Chillon – one of the most photographed castles in the world – seated waterside to reflect its glory in the lake, the big reason to visit Montreux is its world famous jazz festival. This year the festival will take place between July 4th and 21st with Prince as the headlining act. He is to be joined by greats from Leonard Cohen to Wycleff Jean with Sting and Bryan May in between. Unfortunately, many of the tickets for the bigger names sell out fast, but in addition there are many free open-air concerts.
Montreux is about an hour and a half away by car. Since it is in Switzerland, Montreux operates with CHF. It is usually possible to pay in Euros but change is given in Francs. For more information visit www.montreux.ch
Medieval Yvoire blows its little horn loudly. It is a member of the Association of the Most Beautiful Villages in France and ranks as one of the international laureates of floral decorations. Fortunately, its various claims and boasts are not empty. Its steeply cobbled streets, doused in blooms of the brightest colours are enchanting. A wander down to the shore will reveal a tiny port, lined with gently chiming sailing boats and a 180° view of Lake Geneva. Activities are somewhat limited, but Yvoire is perfect for wandering and admiring.
Unfortunately narrow winding streets don’t lend themselves to the legions of tourists marching through the village every summer. A trip in August can sometimes seem like an Easyjet check-in queue suffering extensive delays. You can escape the crowds by boarding the quaint paddle steamer and heading across the smooth waters of the lake to Nyon or taking up roadside residence in one of Yvoire’s terraces and watching, as what looks like the entire population of the world passes by.
But it is as the light softens that Yvoire really shows its majesty. The tourists begin to head home and the little streets and flower-filled squares return to something closer to their summertime population of 800. This is the perfect time to be in Yvoire, the medieval streets are quiet and the sun, beginning to set across the lake, glimmers off the onion shaped tower which sits atop the church.
Yvoire is less than an hour away from Morzine by car. For more information visit www.yvoiretourism.com
If you really can’t get enough of those mountain vistas, we are perfectly placed for a quick hop across to Chamonix. Remember to take a heavily wadded wallet though, as even a day trip to Cham can make a massive dent in the budget.
Variously called “the birthplace of Alpinism” and the “death sport capital of the world”, Chamonix is true action territory, even hosting that Alpine chase scene in the 1999 James Bond film, The World is Not Enough. The area is pretty comprehensive in terms of adventure sports, from paragliding and white water hydrospeeding, right up to ice climbing – reserved for the truly committed adventurer. It is also possible to ski the glacier throughout summer.
If your Alpine inclinations lean more towards an ‘all the gain, none of the pain’ philosophy, check out the Aiguille du Midi, a double cable car climbing almost to the pinnacle of one of the highest peaks in the Alps. The final, almost vertical ascent to 3842m is worth braving for the stunning views of Mont Blanc and the Alps. This trip is not for the faint-hearted, agoraphobic, vertigo-prone or light of purse (a day’s unlimited Mont Blanc pass is €54 for adults). Remember to take plenty of warm clothing and slap on a high factor sun cream.
Chamonix is just over an hour away from Morzine by car. For more information visit www.chamonix.com
It’s pretty difficult to think of Evian without visualising a clear bottle with a blue, pink and red label. And indeed the town of Evian-les-Bains owes most of its fortune to the widely acclaimed healing qualities of its famous mineral water.
Largely known as an elite resort, having hosted and treated various royals, Evian has a very stately air. The broad elegant streets are bordered on one side by majestic buildings, displaying a cross section of elegant continental architecture, and on the other by Lake Geneva. It’s a place of relaxation and rejuvenation where tourists come for the healing powers of its famous waters.
The waters of the springs are well exploited in Evian-Les-Bains. There is a wide range of medicinal and therapeutic programmes as well as the normal collection of beauty and relaxation treatments. Apart from visiting the bottling plant, the most obvious thing to do in Evian is take advantage of some of the healing qualities of a spa. There are a range of luxury options available but, fortunately, there are also the more budget-friendly public baths, Les Thermes d’Evian. Luxury and relaxation excepted, perhaps the most invigorating thing to do is fill up an empty bottle directly from the source at one of the town’s little springs. Nothing tastes as good as getting something for nothing.
Evian is less than an hour away from Morzine by car. For more information visit www.eviantourism.com.