Big family reunion as three siblings from around the world (France, UK and New Zealand) and their families converged in the ski town of Samoëns, France late in October (2013 — I’m still ‘catch-up blogging’).
The big plus? House rentals extremely reasonable that time of year, in between summer season and ski season! A five bedroom house for only a thousand Euros for the week! The negative? Well, coming from the sunny south of France, the plummet in temperatures was a bit offputting — admittedly I was hoping we’d end up in Catalonia or Tuscany for our reunion 🙂 But rain or cold couldn’t dampen the fun we and our kids all had for the week. The first time all the little cousins had been together, aged 3 to 7 years, and it was mad and LOUD! And awesome.
I’d never heard of Samoëns before… it’s about halfway between Geneva and Mont Blanc. It’s in the ‘Haute Savoie’ region of France (which for me means that the cuisine is heavily based on potatoes and cheese… mmmmmm!!!! Tartiflette!!) It’s a charming town, graced with the appointment of a ‘Ville Fleurie’ which means it’s recognized as one of the most beautiful towns in the country. And it’s an easy drive to some fabulous activities and sights.
I’ll be clear up front… there were no real downsides to this trip, other than the fact that the weather back home was better, and the fact that Buddy is the youngest of his cousins, and wasn’t physically able to keep up with them on some of our walks in the mountains.
We arrived via Italy, and travelled through the long (and shockingly expensive) Mont Blanc tunnel linking Italy and France. About 40 euros to access the tunnel! This is the site where there was a terrible fire some years ago, many perished, and a lot of money was spent modifying the tunnel to hopefully eliminate such a terrible catastrophe again. Needless to say I was eyeing every emergency exit we passed so I knew exactly where to go should anything go wrong!
The others came in from Geneva airport (the UK clan), and from a road trip up through Lyon and Annecy (the NZ clan), and we were all together under one roof by dinner time. And then the good times rolled for the whole week! Planning another family reunion, hopefully in about 3 years time, because it was priceless to have the whole clan together.
Highlights from the region:
Snapshot: Aiguille du Midi. This is the 3,843 meter peak in the Massif Mont Blanc range, and is accessible by cable car. We drove the 40 minutes to Chamonix (which is at the base of the French side of Mont Blanc), as the bro-in-law had been up to the summit several decades ago, and was quite desperate to do it again. Sadly, as we could obviously see on the drive in, the winds at the peak were so high that the snow was blowing sideways. Cable cars were closed for safety, and weather forecast was not good for the foreseeable future. Still, we hedged our bets and got a 2 day ‘open pass’ which meant that we could come back a second day, without being consecutive, in order to take in the attractions. They covered the cable car up Aiguille du Midi, the cable car up the Brevent peak (behind Chamonix, across the valley from Mont Blanc) and the train de Montenvers which takes you up the mountain to the glacier fields. Pricey… but we were hopeful that the weather would clear, and we made the best of the day exploring Chamonix and taking the cable car up to the Brevent peak.
And a few days later the weather cleared! In hindsight, I’m so glad it did because this was undoubtedly the highlight of the trip! Good thing bro-in-law was so insistent.
Aguille du Midi is the worlds highest vertical ascent cable car. You take the first cable car to Plan de l’Aiguille (about halfway up) and then the second cable car is EXTRAORDINARY!! It takes you up to 3877m, and the last part of it is almost straight vertical. Some of us felt a bit dizzy and lightheaded from the altitude. The views from the summit over the french, italian and swiss alps was amazing. We could see Zermatt in the distance (the iconic Matterhorn), and it truly felt like you were on top of the world. The highest peak in the European Union. The kids were delighted to have a snowball fight at the halfway station (no way the could do that up top… bitterly cold!! But at least the cafe had decent hot chocolate!)
As a sidenote… a few weeks ago they opened up the ‘Step into the Void’ Glass Skywalk at the summit station of Aiguillle du Midi, which has the glass floor experience of seeing straight down 1035 meters, with views to Mont Blanc peak. It was still under construction when we were there. Pity we missed it… will just have to go back!
And another sidenote… the train de Monveners was not particularly interesting (seen one glacier, seen them all) but since you pay for it with the pass, you may as well use it! Buddy always likes a good train ride anyway… it would have been better had we been able to walk down the hundreds of stairs to get the ice fields, but no way Buddy’s wee little legs could have done that. During the season there is a gondola to take people all the way down from the viewing station to the ice fields.
Snapshot: Chamonix. It’s a hugely popular ski town (which I’ve never been to). It was very quiet end of October, as it was evident that everyone was gearing up for the upcoming ski season. But it was nice enough, with a large pedestrian center lined with (of course) shops and restaurants. But for all it’s commercial appeal, it was still charming. Maybe will have to try skiing here one day?
Snapshot: Accrobranche in Morillon. While the Cable Car up Aiguille du Midi was the high point for all the mums and dads… no doubt the accrobranche course in Morillon was the high point for all the kids.
Accrobranche is a high ropes course, where you are attached to safety cables by harness at all times. There was a 1 metre high course for kids 3-6 years, a mid-height course for those 7-10, and then the high course for ado’s and grown ups. Buddy and his 4 year old cousin mucked about on the lower ropes course and zip lines, while his two older cousins (6 and 7) ventured higher up. They had a blast, and asked to go back a second time before the trip was over.
I’m kind of wishing I’d had a go too… the grown up course looked awesome, and had a zip line across the lake! But I have found an accrobranche course here near Nice, which is closed for the season, but will open again end of February.
Snapshot: Sixt Fer a Cheval. Would have loved to have had more time to take some walks through this area. Every direction you looked there were cliffs and waterfalls… it’s a horseshoe shaped canyon, and there are supposed to be beautiful hiking trails ranging from easy to advanced. But it was the end of our rainy day when we ventured here, so the best we could do was to just take it all in, and engage the kids in a game of ‘who can stomp on the most mushrooms’. (which bro-in-law from the UK totally did not appreciate)
Tip: The ‘Cascades de Rouget’, en route to Sixt Fer a Cheval was a great little stop. You can walk right up to the massive waterfall… expect to get a bit wet, and wear solid shoes with rubber soles!
We did loads of other lovely walks… there is no shortage of them to choose from. One of the best, considering we had 3 year old Buddy in tow, was the Col de Joue Plane loop. It was a picturesque walk around a mountain pass overlooking Samoëns and the valley. At the far end of the loop is a look-out spot with a cross… epic views. The walk wasn’t too steep so buddy could manage, and it had some lovely alpine flats he could run on. But it was muddy. Very muddy! 🙂
Geneva is also an easy day trip. Bit of a tip? Unless you’ve already purchase the ‘vignette’ (a pass to drive on the highways in Switzerland), then DON’T TAKE THE AUTOROUTE TO GENEVA. They’ll make you pay 40 Euros for the annual vignette, even if you’re only heading another few kilometers across the border for lunch. We should have taken the scenic route over the mountain passes…. ah well. Live and learn.