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Think of the French Alps and what comes to mind? For us it’s a huge bubbling bowl of gooey fondue just begging you to dive straight in, but even the less cheese-obsessed are bound to find delicious diversions in this land of giant peaks. There is skiing, of course – miles and miles of runs, lifts and cable cars, serving some of the best resorts in the world, with all the après bells and whistles you could wish for. And it’s a place that truly deserves the epithet breathtaking, its towering mountains shot through with magnificent glaciers, tumbling waterfalls and rushing rivers. There are views to drink in, hiking trails to strike out on and biking routes to conquer – plus, of course, all that fabulous French cheese.
Mont Blanc, the ‘White Mountain’, is the highest peak in the Alps, reaching an impressive altitude of 15,771 feet. Covered in snow year-round (with that name, you might have guessed), it towers over the renowned ski resort of Chamonix, which extends for 14 miles along the Vallée de Chamonix. It’s entirely likely that you’ll be in town to strap yourself to a board or some skis and take advantage of all those magnificent runs, but a trip to marvel at the mighty mountain on your doorstep is a day well spent. Unless you plan to pack your crampons and ropes, the best vantage point from which to appreciate Mont Blanc is from the summit of the Aiguille du Midi.
This neighboring peak, the 12605-foot ‘Midday Needle’, is southeast of Chamonix, and if you look up at it from Chamonix church, the sun passes over its summit at noon. Luckily for those of us not of a mountaineering disposition, there’s a cable car that ferries passengers from the center of Chamonix all the way to the top. A journey of stages (with the world record for the highest vertical ascent) takes you to the top station, at 12,395 feet. From there, it’s a slightly heart-in-mouth walk across a footbridge to a central terrace and a final 138 feet in an elevator inside the rock to the summit. The views across the French, Swiss and Italian Alps are as spectacular as you might imagine; in the summer you can dine in one of the highest restaurants in the world; and the mountain has its own postage stamp and a letterbox, so you can buy a postcard from the souvenir shop, sit in front of that awe-inspiring vista and just let the inspiration flow.
Skiing may be king in the winter Alps, but in the summer, particularly for a few weeks in July, another sport takes the crown – or perhaps we should say the yellow jersey. The route of La Grande Boucle, as the Tour de France is known in France, brings the world’s best cyclists to the Alpine slopes, and the Col du Galibier, at 8,386 feet one of the highest mountain passes in France, features regularly in the event. The road is often rendered impassable during winter, but in summer, bike geeks can head up there to pay homage at a monument to Henri Desgranges, the man who initiated the race in 1903. It’s a gruelling ascent, and you need to have serious levels of stamina to attempt it on a regular bike, but there are a number of outfits that will rent you a miraculous invention called an e-bike, with a bit of extra power for that final push, or you can take the sensible option and hop in a car for a gorgeously scenic drive.
If all that slipping, sliding and pedalling has left you in need of some serious R&R, then head to Saint Gervais les Bains, a small town between Chamonix and Megeve. Renowned since the late 19th century as a place to ‘take the waters’, it's where to go for a long, lazy soak. The town’s thermal baths have been welcoming visitors, who come to take advantage of their therapeutic properties, since 1807. The water here is filtered through the Alps is loaded with beneficial minerals and heated deep underground before it rises to the surface and beckons you in for a dip. Afterwards, sit outside on the terrace surrounded by Alpine views in summer, or head inside for a steaming hot chocolate if the mercury’s pushing zero.
Val D’Isere, Chamonix, Courchevel, Meribel and more – the French Alps is blessed with some of the most recognizable ski destinations around, which attract powder hounds all winter and have considerable charm in the summer months too. If you’re looking for a luxury ski chalet in France , then you’ve come to the right place – choose a sleek modern design or a traditional pine-and-stone picture-book number, stoke up the fire, and settle right in.
Want a view of Mont Blanc from your balcony? Then take a look at our Chamonix rentals . How about a property with a sauna or an outdoor hot tub, or perhaps a pool and spa facilities? Head back from the slopes for afternoon tea, or for a four-course meal at the end of the day, before settling in with a good glass of red in front of the wood-burning fireplace.
Ritzy, glitzy Courchevel is one of the three resorts that make up that glamorous triumvirate, Les Trois Vallees. Choose a luxury chalet in Courchevel for a taste of the Alpine high life – with Luxury Retreats properties sleeping anything from 6 to 16 people, you can bring plenty of family and friends along for the ride. Come with the kids to ski and you can head home after a day on the slopes to cozy up in front of your satellite TV with over 2,000 movies.