The beautiful village and ski resort of Châtel is known for its skiing and access to the Portes du Soleil but what if the day calls for a different sort of winter activity? Maybe the children need some extra variety away from their ski lessons? Perhaps the weather is not as sunny as you had hoped the night before? Or possibly your legs are just crying out for a day off from the ski boots… Here are our top ten ideas for things to do when not skiing!
The cheese of the Abondance valley (Fromage d’Abondance) is internationally famous and is even specially designated by French and European law. There are many farms that let you experience the process and taste the product – which can come in rounds of up to 12kg! To visit Annick and Philippe’s farm, with tours every Thursday morning, contact the Tourist office for bookings (tel. +33 4 50 73 22 44). There is also Fruitiers des Neiges in La Chapelle d’Abondance, a short bus ride from Châtel with a bus stop outside the Fruitier des Neiges store. Visits to their workshop are also possible on Tuesdays and Thursdays – best to contact them in advance to check availability (+33 4 50 73 14 15). There are several farm buildings advertising their produce around Châtel and all will welcome you inside.
From ‘chocolat chaud hopping’ between mountain chalets to a long lunch over a bottle of Mondeuse there are so many lovely opportunities to enjoy the savoie culinary delights. See how many mountainside chalets you can fit into one day, or settle for one long break in a cosy chalet! For a lovely setting and a great view try the terrace at L’Escale (tel. +33 4 50 73 64 38). Take the Super-Chatel gondola up and the hotel is immediately on your left – no skis required!
With or without a little skiing involved there are many great restaurants at Plaine Dranse, situated at the top of the Pierre Long lift at Pré-la-Joux. A special place to stop is the Goat Village (Village des Chèvres) at Linderets with many restaurants to choose from. Take the Pierre Long and then Rochessons lifts, skiing down into the Linderets bowl. Bear right near the bottom, heading part way down the Ardent bubble. A fabulous place for a long lunch.
There are numerous lovely chalets on the mountainside but for one with a view I would recommend Les Combes, half way down the piste of the same name in Pré-la-Joux. They also happen to do amazing hot chocolate! Read our Fabulous Mountain Restaurants blog to discover more.
Give this a try if you have never been before; if you have you will surely enjoy another trek away from the slopes; instead through quiet forests with only the sounds of nature around you. Equipment hire is straightforward in the many rental shops in the village and guides can plan routes according to your energy levels and accompany you along the way. We can recommend contacting Tanya Perret for a guided trek (she will also provide the snow shoes). Tanya took our family – Mum, Dad and our three young girls – on a great morning trek through the snow and kept our children excited and active all the way. No mean feat (or feet)!
Ski de fond / Nordic skiing
Although clearly still on skis this is a very different activity to traditional downhill alpine skiing. The ESF and other instructors are available if you need coaching as it is a little bit different to having fixed bindings on your skis. Otherwise the 40km plus of trails of eight marked routes link together across the Abondance valley with La Chapelle hosting the main biathlon site. The biathlon combines Nordic skiing with target shooting, the former working your heart rate up and the latter requiring just the reverse. Tricky! There are marked hiking trails which are also suitable for cross county skiing. Further details can be found at La Chapelle d’Abondance.
One for the children… and the adults! If you want a completely different winter activity without any fiddling with a piste map or charging down the next red run this is it. And your children will love you for it! The huskies run at La Chapelle d’Abondance and the tourist office there will be happy to arrange bookings. You can telephone them on +33 4 50 73 51 41.
Village shops, ice skating and a coffee?
Why not take a stroll through the village and walk up to the ice rink at Lac Vonnes? It’s a lovely thing to do if you need to slow down the pace a little. If you have had enough exercise already the free bus will whisk you there from the church in minutes. Have fun whizzing about on the ice but make it a morning visit as the lake comes into shade quite early in the afternoon in the winter, making the lakeside remarkably chilly. Take your time wandering back down the hill and stop off at any of the local craft shops on the way. Pottery, wooden carved toys, cheeses, charcuterie, local spirits (including the génépy which you must try!) and gifts are all there. Not to mention several lovely places to sip a coffee, hot chocolate or anything stronger and watch the world go by.
Snake-Gliss – Air board – Yooner
If you thought that you knew all the ways to slide or hurl yourself down a mountain think again! Châtel seems to have developed a taste for these slightly oddball but hugely fun forms of descent. The Snake-Gliss sits many people on a twisty ‘snake’ of sleds that rockets down from Plaine Dranse after the piste has officially closed. The Airboard is somewhat like an inflatable bodyboard. Lying down, you career down the slopes at top speed (a helmet is provided and required!). The Yooner is reminiscent of a seated, sliding scooter. Hilarious fun as you try to carve turns down the piste. Ecole Ski Academy (tel. +33 6 81 66 52 80) can arrange all of these with their instuctors. ESF (tel. +33 4 50 73 22 64) also run the Snake-Gliss.
Form D’O – Aquatic Activities and Spa
The recently constructed leisure centre and spa, Forme d’O, in the centre of Châtel is a marvellous place to unwind if the snow is becoming too much for you. A swimming pool, connected outdoor pool, room-long ‘jaccuzi’, sauna and spa facilities await. There are plenty of daily aquatic activities as well. In particular children love diving under the dividing barrier with the outdoors and then playing in the various water jets, bodies warm and head cold in the outdoor air. If you are brave enough you can even jump in the snow! For the adults, you can always just take a book and relax on a lounger…
Everyone loves sledging and with that in mind there are four dedicated sledging runs in Châtel: two at Pré-la-Joux (one opposite the Pré-la-Joux lift, also beside a themed woodland trail), at Sous-Vonnes by the Nordic area (below Fleur de Neige, towards Vonnes), and at Super-Chatel, a 15 minute walk from the top of the gondola. While you are there why not build a snowman?! Each area is also close enough to a café to allow for a swift reviving nibble or drink should all that rolling around in the snow suddenly make fingers and toes too cold to carry on.
What could be more fantastic than the Fantasticable? Fly over the valley at high speed, suspended from a cable stretching between the mountain tops. See the tiny skiers and boarders below as you zoom over the pistes and trees around Plaine Dranse and watch them stare back in awe. At 1200m in length and with speeds of up to 100km/h this is one of the most exhilarating zip wires ever!