Still peak sea­son as ski re­sort is fun in summer

PAUL HAR­RI­SON heads to Cha­monix and finds there is an end­less list of things to do...

Macclesfield Express - - TRAVEL -

ALL that sep­a­rates us from a two-mile drop is a few inches of glass – and a pair of slip­pers. Wel­come to ‘The Step into the Void’, a glass box jut­ting out of the rocks high above Cha­monix in the French Alps.

The ‘box’, at a dizzy­ing 3,842m on the Aigu­ille du Midi, is reached by two ca­ble cars that take about 20 min­utes from Cha­monix. They also give great views of the town and val­ley below on the way up and down.

It is the high­est ca­ble car in Europe and the long­est sin­gle span ca­ble car in the world. But it isn’t cheap – a re­turn day ticket is 56 eu­ros.

Those brave enough to edge out into the un­known can be re­as­sured the glass box can with­stand winds of up to 125mph.

Every­one has to wear slip­pers – in large and even larger – so the bot­tom of the box doesn’t mark.

The all-round – and down – view of the icy moun­tain ridges, in­clud­ing Europe’s big­gest, Mont Blanc, is truly stun­ning and in June the moun­tains are still topped with snow.

Staff are happy to take pho­tos of peo­ple with their own cam­eras and phones – some­times one in each hand – to keep the queue mov­ing.

Fur­ther along the range, the Mer de Glace is a spec­tac­u­lar but di­min­ish­ing glacier reached by rack rail­way.

From the top it is a peace­ful 20-minute walk down the side of the moun­tain – or a ca­ble car for the less sprightly – fol­lowed by long flights of stairs onto the floor of the gorge.

But it is worth it as you step back thou­sands of years in­side the glacier. Tun­nels carved into the ice al­low you walk into his­tory.

Af­ter that, even the 400 steps back up are not as daunt­ing.

Cha­monix, less than an hour from Geneva and the fi­nal stop be­fore the Mont Blanc tun­nel to Italy, is bet­ter known as a win­ter re­sort but re-in­vents it­self in the summer – pistes be­come hik­ing trails, cross-coun­try ski ar­eas turn into bike tracks.

Ho­tel rooms are about half the price and some attractions only open in the warmer months.

We meet El­iz­a­beth and Christophe – and seven of their 35 huskies – for one of these summer-only ac­tiv­i­ties.

In the win­ter the dogs pull sleds, in the summer they lead you on for­est walks.

Af­ter a few safety tips – ‘make sure you keep your head above the dog’s or he will poo on your foot’ – we are teth­ered to a dog each and it is off for a gen­tle walk in the woods.

The dogs move at your speed – you run, they run.

It is all tremen­dous fun as we walk through streams and along tracks, and El­iz­a­beth and Christophe make friendly and in­for­ma­tive guides.

In the same for­est is the idyl­lic Le Par­adis des Praz, a clear­ing with a stream, play­ground and charm­ing Alpine cafe.

It is easy to for­get the out­side world and be­fore you know it, five hours of pad­dling and ex­plor­ing have passed.

The Parc de Loisirs, more usu­ally part of a ski run, be­comes a mini­fair­ground in the summer with rides, tram­po­lines and play parks for chil­dren big and small.

The white-knuckle luge is a hair-rais­ing roller­coaster down the side of the moun­tain.

The Richard Bo­zon sports cen­tre is a great place to re­lax if the weather turns bad.

For five eu­ros there is a swim­ming pool, kids’ pool, huge slide and a jacuzzi.

Pay a bit ex­tra and you can use the saunas and steam rooms.

The Hô­tel de l’Arve is on the river that it takes its name from and many of the rooms have river views. A nice touch car­ried over from the ski sea­son is the free tea, cof­fee and bis­cuits at 4pm. The apart­ments, set back from the river, are mod­ern with plenty of room for all your out­door gear.

The re­gion’s food is hearty and wel­come af­ter a day in the moun­tains – ham, pota­toes, cheese.

La Caleche in the pedes­tri­anised town cen­tre serves a mix­ture of both and at 28-32 eu­ros for three cour­ses is far from ex­pen­sive.

If you are af­ter a bit more re­fine­ment, head a few miles to Les Houches.

The Res­tau­rant La Ta­ble des Granges is part of an ex­clu­sive hol­i­day re­sort where chalets – each with its own sauna, four bed­rooms and moun­tain views – can cost up to 3,500 eu­ros a night.

The set menu at 39 eu­ros for four cour­ses is a bar­gain in the French Alps, es­pe­cially in a five-star re­sort.

The res­tau­rant has great moun­tain views which, in the summer, last un­til af­ter 9pm. Cha­monix in the summer has a seem­ingly end­less list of things to do. So, if you think Cha­monix is a win­ter ski re­sort, think again.

●● The pic­turesque vil­lage of Cha­monix, above, and Paul en­joys the view from ‘the glass box’ at 3,842m, below

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