With its wild flower meadows, wild swimming and wild and wacky activity options including flying yoga, Morzine in the French Alps has as much going for it as a summer destination as it does as a winter ski resort.
This was the first time I’d visited the Alps without a covering of snow and I arrived with a bagful of preconceptions. Wouldn’t the town lack buzz and atmosphere in the summer? Wouldn’t the food all be the standard fare typical of the mountains? And without the skiing, wouldn’t it all be a bit, well, dull?
Far from it. Morzine is unusual in having a resident summer population of over 3,000, making it feel like a place for locals as well as for tourists. It’s a pretty town, with most hotels being chalet-styled and small scale with gardens brimful of summer colour. The stone-built 250 year old Farmhouse where I stayed had roses around the door, oodles of creaky character, spacious en suite rooms (one of which long ago served as the local clink), and charming British owners, Dorrien and Di. Like much of Morzine, the Farmhouse owes its provenance to the wealth created by white gold – dairy produce courtesy of the local cows – and black gold – slate. Slate is still mined in the valley today and tiles most of the roofs. In the Farmhouse, the slate floor and staircase gleam like ebony, polished by feet of bygone ages.
Slate helped Morzine thrive before it arrived on the tourist map but today the focus is much more on things eco and environmental. On the outskirts of town, local chef Thierry Thorens has created a 500 sq m vegetable garden that provides organically-grown goodies for 12 of Morzine’s restaurants, including his own, the excellent La Chamade, where so much is locally sourced, from its fabulous range of cheeses to a regional wine list that has hit the top 100 in France.
But it’s the wild meadows that really make Morzine such a joy to visit in the summer months. Because of its elevation, spring tends to arrive late so even in July, the slopes are a tapestry of wild orchids, wild roses, wild lupins, wild campanula and ox-eye daisies. Foragers can fill their boots here – at the Col de L’Encrenaz we lunched at the delightfully rustic La Tapiaz on wild garlic pesto, wild spinach fritters plus a panful of péla (the original, pre-tourist tartiflette: a calorie-busting melange of potatoes, onions and reblochon cheese). Later in the season, wild raspberries and bilberries would add dessert.
Wild swimming was another treat – nearby Lac de Montriond may have the turquoise glaze typical of glacier-fed waters but it was warm enough to enjoy without a wetsuit and with the lake cupped between fir-clad slopes, it felt like swimming through a fairytale.
I thought a flying yoga class might be just the way to maintain that sense of inner serenity, even though no, I’d never heard of it either. Flying yoga – or aerial yoga – involves getting the hang of ‘tissue’, a big purple loop of fabric that you entwine yourself in and dangle from in ever-more-unlikely poses. The session had us all in stitches as well as stretches, and by the end of the class our sides were aching as much from laughing at ourselves as from the actual exercises. Aerial yoga surely cannot be performed with a straight face – certainly not at your first attempt – but even for a silver traveller like me, it is achievable fun.
If flying yoga doesn’t do it for you, flying through the trees on a zip wire might, especially if you have grandkids travelling with you. Zig-zagging down ziplines gives a wonderful bird’s-eye view of the waterfalls and pools of the lovely Nyon canyon as well as running through the cool of the forest.
For us, though, it was the chance to hike the uncrowded mountain trails that really hit the spot. Handy walking maps are freely available in town or you can easily book a guide to show you the best trails and mountain viewpoints, either online or at the town’s centrally-placed tourist office. Of the region’s 222 ski lifts, 22 are open in the summer to give hikers (and mountain bikers) easy access to higher ground. We headed up to Super-Morzine and the Zore area, which roughly translates as ‘sunny side’ (think Côte d’Azur) along a well-marked track which led through woods and then opened out into flower-filled grassland. It was the perfect spot for a picnic of local sausage and cheeses from the Wednesday artisanal market in town.
A little later, as we walked back down in the golden hour of evening light with the sun slanting over the meadows and distant mountain ranges awash with purple, I felt I now understood what makes summer in the Alps so special. Pretty as the mountains are when blanketed with snow, it’s in the summer that places like Morzine really show their true colours – and they are absolutely beautiful.
The Morzine-Avoriaz website has full information, or to book call our Silver Travel Advisors on 0800 412 5678.
Return flights to Geneva with Easyjet are from £52pp. Return transfers from Geneva airport to Morzine in the summer cost about £60 with Skiidy Gonzales. Stays at the 12 room Farmhouse in Morzine cost from £169 a night for two sharing a room with breakfast. Aerial yoga with MoreZen costs from €15 per person for a group session. Cascade Adventure runs zip-wiring at the Nyon Canyon. Summer lift p[asses are from £5 per person for a return trip. The Morzine-Avoriaz website details of events and activities throughout the year.