Exciting summer life in Samoëns – Meanderings through France n° 148
By Annick Dournes & Frederic de Poligny
Although Samoëns is mostly known by ski enthusiasts for its wide range of snow activities on the fourth largest ski area in the French Alps, this lovely authentic mountain village doesn’t fall asleep in summertime. Up and down its seven mountains, on its water trails or in the air, you will have plenty to experience all summer long. Whether with your kids for leisure or active family holidays, or looking for intense feelings, Samoëns can fulfil everybody’s expectations.
Samoëns is only a one-hour drive from Geneva Airport and an early morning flight from UK plus a connecting private transfer to Samoëns will allow you to start enjoying your vacations in the afternoon of the same day. Samoëns’ people have chosen not to turn their ancient mountain village into a spiritless ski resort and even if it welcomes thousands of tourists year round, it still develops its traditions and art de vivre.
The village centre overlooked by the iconic Mount Criou, still looks the way it did decades ago with its huge hundred-year-old lime tree, the 16th century church and the old market place where you will meet local producers every Wednesday morning. Of course with its success as a ski resort the village has had to expand, but it has been able to keep all its charm and only wooden chalets have been built. Even larger buildings such as hotels and apartment houses blend into the landscape.
There is even enough room right in the middle of the village for a vast botanical garden created in 1906, the ” Jaÿsinia Garden”. It’s one of the most beautiful alpine gardens in France, where over 2,500 mountain plant species from the whole world have been carefully acclimatized. It has been awarded “Remarkable Garden”. Free entrance every day during summer time.
At the “Bureau des Guides de la Vallée du Giffre”, (the Mountain Guides Office), you can book many different mountain activities at all levels and ages. Whether for ice and alpine climbing, hiking, canyoning, Via Ferrata, potholing or mountain bike, you will find there trained guides who know the seven mountains surrounding Samoëns like the back of their hands. Hiring a guide means safety, security and reliability and will dramatically increase the appeal of your hike.
I had the opportunity to challenge myself for the very first time on the Samoëns’ Via Ferrata called “Via Ferrata du Mont”, with the invaluable assistance of François who has accompanied beginners as well as avid sportsmen for years. Halfway in between climbing and hiking, a Via Ferrata is a route on a rock wall equipped with wire cables and rungs that ease the way. Fully equipped with a helmet, a sit harness, auto-lock karabiners and rope sections with shock absorber, I was ready to face my fear of heights and defy the mountain along a 800 metres long route including a dizzying “monkey bridge”! It took me 3 hours to complete the Via Ferrata du Mont, but I made it and felt pretty proud about it and ready to try again. The Mountain Guides Office can also organize 3 to 8 days mountain hikes for experienced hikers during which you can have an insider’s discovery of the Alps and share friendly moments in the high mountain refuges. www.guidesmontagnes.com
You can also enjoy quieter and sometimes unusual mountain activities in Samoëns. There are Afghan hikes mixing mountain walks and breathing techniques, a kind of walking meditation, Nordic walking, sensorial walks, outdoor hatha yoga as well as easy hikes in enchanting landscapes. Frederic and I did a 3-hour walk in the “Cirque du Fer à Cheval” (the Horseshoe Cirque), where we marvelled in front of the many waterfalls and lush vegetation. Our guide, Marcelle, helped us identify many mountain plants and show us wild ibex, a species that has been reintroduced in the French Alps at the end of the 20th century after having been completely hunted to extinction during the 19th century. www.sixtferacheval.com/fr/nature-d-exception/le-cirque-du-fer-a-cheval
The “Giffre” is a mountain river that goes through Samoëns and offers many water activities. Its turbulent waters are perfect for high sensations sports such as rafting, hydrospeed, canoraft, airboat, canyoning or even stand up paddle. Frederic and I had fun doing whitewater rafting on the Giffre River 7-km long itinerary. While bouncing up and down the rapids and trying hard to paddle to keep our balance and remain seated, we nevertheless took time to admire the beautiful landscapes surrounding us, especially the deep gorges of the river. A great experience for the whole family! More at www.ecoloradorafting.com/?lang=en
After all that effort comes a time for comfort! There are many delicious ways to get it in Samoëns. The “Jaÿsinia” tearoom located in the heart of the resort has made hungry and gourmet tourists happy for decades. Thierry Froissard who won a “Patisseries World Cup” in 1989 and a French Craftsmanship award (Meilleur Ouvrier de France) in 1994, now rules this tempting place for 20 years. 99% of the cakes, ice creams, chocolates, jams and other mouth-watering delights are homemade with super quality products. This sorbet-making expert never stops creating new recipes both beautiful and tasty and he proposes no less than 40 different ice-cream flavours waiting for you to make your choice.
Karine and Philippe welcome you at “La table de Fifine”, one of the very best restaurants in Samoëns. Set in a beautiful chalet with a typical alpine decoration this restaurant is at walking distance from the village centre. The menu changes according to seasonal products. Here are a few of their “best sellers” or should I say “best loved” dishes: rosemary foie gras, three cheeses fondue with Champagne and morels, meat cooked on hot stones, thin apple tart with soft salted butter caramel and vanilla ice cream, roasted peach with honey syrup…
Philippe is the wine expert of the house and will be happy to help you make your choice through the extensive wine menu. In summer time dinner is served on the outside terrace and you will have a great evening. “La Table de Fifine” also proposes apartments for rent for tourists willing to spend one or several days in Samoëns. Nicely decorated in a typical and warm Savoyard style, with panelling and exposed beams they can house two to four people. http://www.table-fifine.com/
If you prefer staying in a hotel you can go to the “Neige et Roc Hotel” where you will enjoy an outdoor and an indoor swimming pool with a spectacular view over the Alps. The whole hotel has a mountain style decoration and although the rooms are not so big they are comfortable and have recently been refurbished. http://www.neigeetroc.com/fr/
More information at: https://summer.samoens.com
Text ©Annick Dournes
Photos ©Frederic de Poligny & Annick Dournes