Family holiday in the Alps: Summer luge, pony treks, and outdoor swimming pools

School's out, you need a family getaway ... why not pick a snowless mountain at a fraction of the winter cost, asks Mark McCrum

Mark McCrum
Thursday 07 July 2016 17:53

The snowy valley I remembered was now gorgeously green. The cafés, where I'd sat in the warm fug drinking hot chocolate, had opened their terraces. The sunny streets were full of climbers, mountain bikers, and white-water rafters. High above, in a clear sky, floated the brightly-coloured curved sails of paragliders, with tiny harnessed figures below.

After several family summer holidays by the seaside, we'd decided to try the Alps, choosing Morzine in the French Haute-Savoie region, where I'd been once before to ski. In winter, luxury chalets such as Twenty26 are well beyond the average budget. But in summer, you can take a room or two for a fraction of the cost and still enjoy breakfast and/or dinner prepared by an in-house chef. If the hot tub seems anomalous in 35C, there's a pool just along the terrace.

Passes to the ski-lifts are cut-price too, so you can whisk from town up to the top of the mountain before strolling back downhill through the pine woods or on the grassy pistes, trying to work out from the gradient which might be green, blue, red or black.

That at least was the idea. But our two girls, Esmé, seven, and Clara, five, were so taken with the ride on the Pleney gondola that they preferred to whoosh straight back down again rather than waste their time walking. It took the promise of a hot chocolate to lure them up the path to the mountain-top Observation Point, with views of strictly grown-up interest to Mont Blanc one way and Switzerland the other. Just beyond, we found the perfect place for their reward, family run Le Vaffieu, where Alpine chalet met Ibizan chill-out zone. Carole and Christian took the orders, which were brought out to the terrace by teenage sons, while white-haired grandma watched beadily from a corner.

Another huge hit was the summer luge, a sledge on wheels that hurtles down the mountain on a swerving plastic track. Thankfully the girls were not quite tall enough to go alone, so we were co-opted. My wife, Jo, never having skied, found taking tiny Clara up in the open chairlift so alarming that they were renamed "scare lifts". But wild shrieks ahead of me indicated that all was well on the way down. "Fun, fun, fun," pronounced Esmé, "please can we do it again." And again.

Jo and Clara on the luge (top) and with ponies (bottom) Mark Mccrum/Chris Hamblin

There was lots more to do down in the centre of town, where the fast-flowing River Dranse runs through a wide gorge. At the far end of the Parc des Dérêches was Le Monde De Deyapa, where the girls were face-painted, then mounted on Western saddles on two ponies, which we were then allowed to lead off along the river into the woods. Esmé's pony seemed keen to have a bit of extra lunch among the grass verges, but hadn't bargained on Jo's firm hand.

The Western theme continued in Indiana Parc, a tree-top adventure area with three levels of difficulty. You would never get me doing even the P'tit Kid course (for two-to-six year olds), but Esmé was up the ladder in a flash, teetering along the three-metre high Kid circuit. It was not compulsory for nervous parents to trot along behind, but I'm glad I did, because when she managed to jam her harness half way along a wire tightrope, I had to run for help from the orange-clad assistants.

Rather more relaxing was the huge, adjacent swimming complex, two outdoor pools, three inside and a water park. Clara was in tears because she wasn't tall enough for the chute, but soon cheered up on the bouncy castle. I, meanwhile, was approached by a lifeguard. My bog-standard Bermuda swim shorts were unacceptable, so I had to leave the water. It's racing briefs only in La Belle France, it seems.

After that little humiliation, I needed a drink. Up in town we stumbled upon Le Bec Jaune, a cool little microbrewery where silver vats line the bar. In my best French I asked the young serveuse whether they did apple juice "pour les enfants".

"Of course. It's actually organic," she answered in a clear Home Counties accent. She wasn't alone. Les Anglais are out in force in Morzine, on both sides of the counter. By the end of the week, I gave up asking strangers for advice in French.

The pretty little town of Samoëns, 25km away in the next valley, was noticeably different. A stroll through the steeply sloping Botanic Gardens, packed with unusual Alpine plants, was undisturbed by familiar accents. Further up the valley, at the nature reserve of Sixt-Fer-à-Cheval, we finally got our Alpine walk, in a natural amphitheatre of mountains scattered with numerous waterfalls, including the magnificent Cascade du Rouget, where I stood in my illegal bathers beneath the tumbling white water, my daughter screaming with excitement beside me.

Described on the signs as a two-hour trek, it took us five, as trainee forager Clara took her time gathering flowers, insects, unusual stones and – the definite favourite – wild raspberries. Jo pointed out astrantia, bellflowers, gentians, birdsfoot trefoil and Wolfsbane, among other unusual blooms, as we went. If she'd told me the little white kuepfers buttercup was edelweiss, I'd have believed her.

After four days of crystal-clear sunshine a storm rolled up the valley, lightning sparking from the tops of the pines as fat raindrops fell and the river below our chalet became a torrent. Thunder crashed outside, and the girls slumped in their pyjamas in the in-house cinema, as chef Nick Lyon Dean treated us to a memorable three courses: a spicy gazpacho with pea sorbet and squid, pan-roasted cod with char-grilled vegetables, and a white chocolate parfait with a lemon posset and raspberries.

A week to be repeated – though next time, I fear, Esmé will be ready to paraglide.

Getting there

The closest airport is Geneva, which is served by Swiss (0345 601 0956;, easyJet (0330 365 5000;, British Airways (0844 493 0787;, Flybe (0371 700 2000; and Jet2 (0800 508 1350; Transfers to Morzine with Skiidy Gonzales ( cost from €39 (£29)pp.

Staying there

Mark McCrum was a guest of the Boutique Chalet Company (020 3588 6001; and stayed at Chalet Twenty26, where rooms are available in the summer season from €129 (£91) per room per night, with breakfast, and €189 (£133) half board. Dinner is also available to non-residents.

Visiting there

Le Bec Jaune (00 33 9 62 09 29 63;

Le Vaffieu (00 33 4 50 79 09 43).

Morzine multipasses – which include unlimited access to most ski lifts, the swimming pools, mini golf, Indiana Parc at selected times, and much more – cost €8 per day, adults only (

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