Morzine: Discover a heightened sense of adventure

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Paragliding, snowmobile safaris, luxurious chalet life and superb slopes – Morzine is the perfect place for a family skiing holiday, says Adam Leigh

In the summer of 2009, convalescing after a brief but acute illness, I found myself taking stock of life. I'd spent too many years playing things safe and sticking to familiar ground. So I vowed to do the things I'd always made excuses for avoiding: I would seek out new experiences and acquire new skills – and I'd make it a point of principle to say yes to pretty much anything that seemed daunting or unfamiliar.

Which is how, after a near-lifetime of procrastination, I finally learnt to ski at the age of 43 – and why, one sunny morning last month, I was soaring 1,600m above snow-dusted forests and Alpine pastures in Morzine, with Mont Blanc dead ahead, and just a few kilograms of nylon keeping me airborne. Tandem paragliding, or "parapente", is the sort of activity from which, in my previous life, I would have run a mile. But in keeping with my new, open-to-anything, go-with-the-flow philosophy, it was impossible to turn down.

Parapente – which might better be described as jumping off a mountain with a large kite attached to your back – is all the rage in these parts, just one of a number of adrenalin-based activities available to visitors. And judging by the delighted reactions of my wife, Kate, and two young sons, it's pretty much off the scale for exhilaration.

My own response was more ambivalent. White-knuckled, I endured the 20-minute flight in silence as my pilot, Florence, took me swooping over and across the valley. The scene was undeniably spectacular, yet as I looked down on the skiers silently snaking down pristine pistes far below, I reflected that however adventurous one's intentions may be, some of us are simply designed to live with our feet on the ground.

Morzine has been a favourite with the northern European ski-and-snowboard set for the past decade, and is clearly having something of a moment, with chic new chalets and upscale bars and restaurants open for business up and down the town. Little wonder, perhaps, since the town and its mountain-top twin sister, Avoriaz, sit at the centre of the vast Portes du Soleil ski region, with around 650km of prime piste straddling the Franco-Swiss border – and all covered by a single lift pass. Plus, it's barely 75 minutes by road from Geneva airport, meaning you get more precious hours to do the things you want (parapente, anyone?), rather than travelling.

The town has a youthful, funky feel, while retaining a good deal of old-world Savoyard charm. In addition to the burgeoning chalet scene, there's a smattering of small to medium trad-style hotels – and a pleasing lack of big chains to taint the atmosphere. The après-ski scene is lively, but stops short of full-throated raucousness.

Our quest for adventure wasn't limited to action sports. In an unprecedented act of social derring-do, we'd opted to stay at Au Coin du Feu, an immaculate chalet-style hotel run by Francesca and Paul Eyre, who arrived in town separately 17 years ago, met, fell in love and never left. The couple first began renting rooms to holidaymakers in 1995 and their company, Chilly Powder, now operates three chic chalets in the hamlet of Les Prodains. Word of mouth has clearly played a big part in building the winter clientele, many of whom return year after year.

Au Coin du Feu is on the big side for a chalet, sleeping about 50. Meals are taken communally – the very thought of which would have been enough to bring my pre-epiphany self out in a rash. But finding myself in fine company, I enjoyed the conversation as much as the food. Francesca's background is in catering, and it shows in the quality and consistency of the kitchen, which turns out truly impressive three-course dinners each evening, as well as tasty cooked breakfasts, exceptional cakes and pastries at teatime, and a separate early-evening meal for the children.

Our room was cosy and comfortable, with a good view of the mountains. Isaac, nine, and Noah, seven, slept upstairs in their own spacious mezzanine – when they weren't playing pool in the games room. There is satellite television and a sound system in every room, although with so much else to do, you're unlikely to switch them on. For those with younger children, the chalet has a lovely daytime crèche.

Amie, the chalet manager, had thoughtfully arranged for a local hire company, Doorstep Skis, to come and fit our equipment in situ, so we could get cracking as soon as possible. Au Coin du Feu is just two minutes' walk from the bottom of the main téléphérique up to Avoriaz. The 65-man cable car, it must be said, is not one of the technological marvels of the world. But it does the job well enough, and work is due to start later this year on a shiny new €30m lift, linking Avoriaz with Prodains, and onwards into central Morzine.

Squatting on a rocky shelf overlooking Morzine, and constructed in a unique Le Corbusier-inspired architectural subfusc that makes it practically invisible from below, Avoriaz is a bustling, car-free resort. It acts as a hub for a huge network of lifts and pistes stretching across to the Swiss border at Chatel and beyond. Our guide from the local ski school, Thierry, took us to an impressively large area of interlinked blue pistes where Isaac and I could work on our parallel turns.

By lunchtime we'd worked up quite an appetite, which was just as well, since the food in these parts is on the hearty side. Stopping at Les Cretes, a ridge-top restaurant with an awesome view down the valley, Kate and I enjoyed platters of local charcuterie, served with crispy potato beignets, and washed down with mugs of beer, while the boys tucked in to crispy crêpes.

A couple of hours later, we were back in the centre of Avoriaz. Kate, Isaac and Thierry had the bit between their teeth and elected to ski a steep and rather challenging red piste down to the chalet. Noah and I, shattered after our first day on skis for nearly a year, took the cable car.

At Au Coin du Feu, the fire was lit and it was time for a reviving cocktail while dinner was prepared. Later, as the wine flowed, the debate around the table was of spectacular routes discovered – and where the best views could be found. Seasoned skiers Bill and Anita described a magical place called Les Lindarets, and it was clear that this was the spot to head for. One or two other guests even had glamorous injuries to boast about.

We awoke to find the mountains all around us hidden by mist. But at Francesca's suggestion the previous evening, I'd downloaded a nifty Portes du Soleil smartphone app, which has real-time webcam links to the area's main resorts, so I could see that the sun was shining in Avoriaz. Up we went through the cloud, and emerged to meet our instructor for the next two days, the dashing Frédéric.

Under Fred's no-nonsense tutelage, I sensed myself progressing from hapless rookie to something approaching an intermediate-grade skier. He drilled me endlessly. Posture, stance, weight distribution, use of poles, positioning of woolly hat and goggles – all these and more were scrutinised and assessed. "So, Fred, am I basically the most useless pupil you've ever had?" I asked, after he had deconstructed my technique for about the 50th time. "Yes," he replied, without even the merest soupçon of irony. Yet there was no doubt that my confidence was growing, and as we cruised down the home stretch of Combe à Florets, a steep descent through a stunning section of forest to Les Lindarets – just as beautiful as I'd been led to expect – I almost wept with pride and fatigue.

Before supper, we piled into the back of Francesca's car and headed up to Super-Morzine for our final action adventure: a night-time snowmobile safari. As Isaac gripped on to me tightly, I opened up the throttle and we took off, bouncing across the mountain trails. It was by turns magical and terrifying.

Up early next morning, nervous but excited, I caught the cable car on my own, determined to squeeze in a couple of hours of mountain-time before the dash to the airport. It was crystal clear but properly cold as I headed for Le Proclou, a gentle 2km run with a couple of steepish bits at the top and bottom. Just two days earlier, I had struggled to ski it without falling over. Now, as the wind picked up and flurries of snow whipped round my head, I found myself seeking out the fastest lines, making the sharpest turns I could.

Flying down the final section towards the chairlift, I stretched out my arms and turned my face toward the sun. For a few seconds at least, I was king of the hill.

Travel essentials: Morzine

Getting there

* The writer travelled with British Airways (0844 493 0787; ba.com), which flies to Geneva from Heathrow, Gatwick and London City. Seven-day fly-drive packages start at £249 per person. Geneva is also served by easyJet (0905 821 0905; easyJet.com), Bmibaby (0871 224 0224; bmibaby.com), FlyBe (0871 700 2000; flybe.com) and Jet2 (0871 226 1737; jet2.com).

Staying there

* Chalet Hotel Au Coin du Feu (020-7289 6958; chillypowder.com). A week's fully catered stay costs from £580 per person.

Activities

* Doorstep Skis (00 33 6 74 93 78 96; doorstepskis.com) delivers equipment to Morzine. Prices from €20 for helmets and €82 per week for skis and boots.

* Portes du Soleil Parapente School (00 33 4 50 75 76 39; morzineparapente.com) offers tandem flights from €120.

* Avoscoot (00 33 6 08 22 18 15; avoscoot.com) offers snowmobiling from €80.

More information

* Morzine Tourism: 00 33 4 50 74 72 72; morzine-avoriaz.com

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

Suggested Topics
News
Alan Bennett criticised the lack of fairness in British society encapsulated by the private school system
peopleBut he does like Stewart Lee
Sport
David Moyes and Louis van Gaal
football
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Ed Stoppard as her manager Brian Epstein
tvCilla Episode 2 review: Grit under the glamour in part two of biopic series starring Sheridan Smith
News
i100
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
Vote with your wallet: the app can help shoppers feel more informed about items on sale
lifeNew app reveals political leanings of food companies
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of Dark Side of the Moon
musicCan 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition? See for yourself
Sport
New Zealand fly-half Aaron Cruden pictured in The Zookeeper's Son on a late-night drinking session
rugby
Arts and Entertainment
Worldwide ticket sales for The Lion King musical surpassed $6.2bn ($3.8bn) this summer
tvMusical is biggest grossing show or film in history
Voices
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
voicesMaybe the new app will make it more normal to reach out to strangers
Arts and Entertainment
Salmond told a Scottish television chat show in 2001that he would also sit in front of a mirror and say things like,
tvCelebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Life and Style
food + drink
News
Rob Merrick's Lobby Journalists were playing Ed Balls' Labour Party MPs. The match is an annual event which takes place ahead of the opening of the party conference
newsRob Merrick insistes 'Ed will be hurting much more than me'
News
A cabin crew member photographed the devastation after one flight
news
Life and Style
Carol O'Brien, whose son Rob suffered many years of depression
healthOne mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
Life and Style
The Google Doodle celebrating the start of the first day of autumn, 2014.
tech
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Affiliate Marketing Manager / Affiliate Manager

    £50 - 60k (DOE): Guru Careers: An Affiliate Marketing Manager / Affiliate Mana...

    IT Administrator - Graduate

    £18000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: ***EXCELLENT OPPORTUNITY FO...

    USA/Florida Travel Consultants £30-50k OTE Essex

    Basic of £18,000 + commission, realistic OTE of £30-£50k : Ocean Holidays: Le...

    Marketing Executive / Member Services Exec

    £20 - 26k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Marketing Executive / Member Services Ex...

    Day In a Page

    Secret politics of the weekly shop

    The politics of the weekly shop

    New app reveals political leanings of food companies
    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
    Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

    Beware Wet Paint

    The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
    Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

    Apple still the coolest brand

    Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits