Meribel and the French Alps are a wonderful place to visit in the summer. There are a host of outdoor activities to enjoy and the scenery is simply stunning. Although mountain weather can be unpredictable, June through to the end of August usually enjoy warm, sunny weather with the occasional dramatic storm.
Most of the shops and restaurants open from mid June and there are a whole series of summer events that take place from magic shows to food festivals, from bike races to kite flying and golf tournaments. And of course it is always fascinating to see where you’d skied in the winter …….
Here are just some of the activities that you can try while you are in Meribel for a summer holiday:
This is a fabulous way to appreciate the stunning mountain scenery. It looks serene, but there are moments of excitement. Once the creaking wicker basket rises off the ground you are uncomfortably reminded that you are suspended hundreds of metres above the ground in a small twig structure! The views are stunning, and as you glide over the forests you may see deer and other animals that are normally hidden from view. The pilot controls the height but the wind determines which direction you take, so the flight can take anything from one to two hours, depending on when a suitable landing site comes into view. You need to wear warm clothing (whatever the temperature is like at ground level!) and don’t forget your binoculars.
Take off from Méribel’s Altiport in a light aircraft. Flights vary from a ten minute flight around the valley to a one hour tour of Mont Blanc. The small plane takes up to three passengers, and for those used to jet planes, it sounds worryingly like a diesel engine Morris Minor. Once airborne you forget the rattling and shaking and enjoy spectacular views. You can also take panoramic helicopter tours of the area.
Practice your Robin Hood skills in a tranquil alpine setting. Catering for everyone from beginner to those with more experience, Méribel has an archery course in La Chaudanne, which is open every day throughout the summer except for Saturdays. Qualified instructors are available to offer expert advice.
The Segway Transporter is an electrically powered stand-on scooter which is equipped with an advanced gyroscope meaning that they don’t fall over! Once standing on the Segway, you steer with the handlebars and regulate your speed with the forward and backward shift of your bodyweight. They are great fun and Meribel was the first ski resort in the Alps to have bought a fleet of them. You can rent them from the Chaudanne.
If you haven’t experienced white water rafting before then this is a definite ‘must try’ on your list of activities to do! There are a number of trained guides in resort who will let you experience some of the best white water rafting available in the Alps. From the middle of May until September, the mountain rivers flow furiously as it is fed from the melt waters running off the glaciers high above the town. There are various options available from a three hour adrenaline rush to a full day excursions.
Canyoning is an exhilarating combination of climbing, jumping and body-surfing – you basically follow the course of a river or stream and take on all obstacles en-route. A not-so-gentle but extremely refreshing summer activity is one way to describe canyoning! Plunge yourself into the mountain streams via a series of abseil descents, jumps and natural water slides – just make sure you choose a warm day!
This is not suitable for young children (under 8) or non-swimmers but with the safety of a guide everyone can abseil down cascades, splash into pools and ride the river rapids. You can choose from short beginners’ routes to longer ones for the more adventurous. Hydrospeed is an alternative to rafting where you shoot down the river on a kind of inflatable body-board. Half-in half-out of the water you are closer to the action and guaranteed a soaking!
For a truly unique experience, clamp on your crampons and go hiking on one of the many glaciers in the Three Valleys area. The breathtaking views and spectacular crevasses make this an incredible adventure. There are a number of glacial hikes, of varying difficulty, in this region of the Alps. Most mountain guiding companies will run organised excursions to the most accessible.
From the heights of the mountain tops one can glide down to the bottom of the valley on a tandem paraglider controlled by the instructor. He manoeuvres the parachute while the passenger enjoys the ride and fantastic views. Taking off is the only scary moment; once you have been equipped with a helmet and strapped to the instructor behind you in a rather intimate way, both of you simply point your skis (or board) downhill, and carry on getting faster and faster until the parachute lifts you into the air.
Terrain that is good for skiing is, in summer, great for mountain biking! Mountain biking is becoming increasingly popular in Alpine resorts; Méribel and the Three Valleys have fitted special bike racks to the gondolas and some chairlifts, so you can be transported to the top of the trails and freewheel down. A trail map covering the Three Valleys is available from the Tourist Office, and group outings are organised during the summer season. Mountain bikes are available to hire from several sports shops in the resort. In French, mountain biking is called VTT – Vélo tout-terrain meaning all surface biking!
In the Bois d’Arbin woods near the Truite piste, which is the green run coming down into the Chaudanne from Mottaret, you will find a woodland adventure park. There are 4 forest circuits of varying difficulty strung high in the trees, with rope bridges, death slides, and other ingenious tests of your balance and nerve. There is even a mini-course for children over 2 years old. This is a great activity option for adults and older children (110cm height minimum & need to be accompanied by an adult).
Méribel has a lovely 18 hole golf course, situated at the Altiport. The Par 71 course stretches from 1,565m up to 1,850m. The course is technically challenging due to its narrow fairways and features water, rolling fairways and some fairly steep walks. The mountain setting means the views are superb, and the ball obligingly flies further because of the altitude. Private lessons and week-long courses in English are available for all levels of player. We would advise taking a buggy if you plan to play 18 holes!
Whether you’re an experienced walker or are just looking for a gentle ramble, Méribel has something for you. The valley has hundreds of kilometres of beautiful, marked walking trails, some of which link up with the lifts, and a booklet of recommended circuits is available from the Tourist Office. For the more adventurous, try longer hikes into the Vanoise National Park, perhaps taking the option of an overnight stay in one of the mountain refuges. The local Mountain Guides Office offer guided group walks, walks on a glacier, and private, longer trips.
There is a riding school offering both lessons and guided hacks into the mountain at the Club Hippique du Bois d’Arbin. Not suitable for children under 5 years
Meribel has a fantastic 25m indoor pool featuring a flume and children’s paddling pool in the Olympic Centre in La Chaudanne. In summer it opens from 11am to 7.15pm and gives access to an outdoor sunbathing area. You can pay per visit, buy a weekly pass or pay for 10 entrances up-front (which works out slightly cheaper). Entrance is free for children under five. Remember to take a 1€ coin for the locker
Méribel offers ten courts (plus four children’s courts) at Le Bois d’Arbin, on the Truite piste just above the resort. You can take private coaching, join in a group lesson, or simply hire a court and some rackets for an hour. There are also 2 mini-tennis courts for children and 2 badminton courts. They hold a weekly tournament every Saturday throughout the summer.
This adapted form of climbing was developed in the Italian Dolomites during the First World War to allow troops to scale vertiginous faces easily and quickly. It literally translates as ‘iron road’ and is a mountain route equipped with fixed cables, ladders, and bridges. These days it is a popular sport that makes the thrill of mountain climbing more accessible to children, beginners and those who want a bit more security when they climb. Following marked routes through the mountains you are helped along by steps, bridges and ladders (as well as being roped up for extra safety). Suitable for adults and children over the age of 8; guides can be arranged on request. Méribel offers one relatively advanced circuit at the summit of the Dent de Burgin, and an easier circuit suitable for children and beginners at nearby Lac Rosière.
While Méribel and the valley are beautiful, there are a number of places within easy reach that make venturing a little further afield worthwhile. All the places below are great for a day trip and all are an easy drive from the resort.
This beautiful town on the lake is known as the ‘Venice of the Alps’ due to its picturesque canals and maze of cobbled streets in the Old Town. The lake is the second largest in France and is said to be the cleanest in Europe making it perfect for a swim on a warm summer’s day. The lake has a number of pretty villages along its bank and in particular Talloires which is well worth a stop for coffee or a drink. Park in the main Hotel de Ville car park and then you are close to the Old Town where you’ll find a host of bars, restaurants and shops. Wander to your heart’s content, browsing along the cobbled streets and alleyways – Tuesdays and Fridays are market days in the Old Town.
Sights in Annecy include:
The mountain town of Chamonix, home to Mont Blanc is not to be missed. Take the driving route via Flumet and Megève, which is far more scenic than the motorway route.
In the summer months Chamonix is a mecca for adventure sports – climbers, hikers and mountain bikers flock to experience the challenges of the mountains. Chamonix is also famous for its spectacular cable car up to the Aiguille du Midi (3,842 m), built in 1955, it was then the highest cable car in the world. Together with a cable car system going up to the Pointe Helbronner (3,462 m) from Entréves in the Aosta Valley (Italy) it is possible to cross the entire Mont Blanc massif by cable car (the latter is only open during the summer). Also go for a trip on the cog Montenvers Railway which goes from the centre of town to Montenvers, above the Mer de Glace.
The town centre has a number of bars, shops and restaurants and parking is well signed and central allowing you easy access to the pedestrian streets. Also don’t miss the Musee Alpin which charts the history of the town from the arrival of the first climbing tourists in the 18th century.
Lake Geneva or Lac Léman is one of the largest lakes in Europe, half Swiss and half French, it is an easy day trip from Meribel taking you through the beautiful countryside of the Haute Savoie.
Head for the village of Yvoire, said to be one of the most beautiful in France. It is well known for its medieval buildings and beautiful flower decoration during the summer months and is the perfect place to stop for a coffee and a leg stretch.
Then drive along the lake to the spa town of Evian where you can take the waters – for free! This pretty town which has hosted royalty and celebrities for over 100 years is home to the famous Evian water. Set on the banks of the lake, this the perfect place for a lunch stop.
The city of Chambery was founded at the crossroad of the ancient routes between Italy, Switzerland and Burgundy. It was until 1563 the capital of the old kingdom of Savoy, which at that time ran from Nice in the south to Turin in the east and Bourg-en-Bresse to the west. Today it is a thriving university town and the administrative centre for the Savoie. The castle which dates back to the 14th century and Fontaine des Éléphants are just two of the sites of this elegant town.
The town of Albertville is perhaps best known as being the centre for the 1992 Winter Olympics. There is a small pedestrian shopping area and this is the best place to come for a choice of larger supermarkets. However although the main town dates back only to the mid 19th century, just above it on the hill is the medieval village of Conflans. Dating back to 14th century with it maze of narrow streets, flowered terraces and interesting craft shops and boutiques, it is the perfect place to spend a lazy afternoon.