Mini guide to the French Alps
3/29/2012 2:31:22 PM -
The French Alps have exquisite landscapes: mountains intersperse with hulking glaciers, glittering lakes and glam ski resorts. Once the winter sports season's over and the snow has melted, stay to go hiking, sample the cuisine or explore the picturesque town of Annecy.
The Aiguille de Midi is one of Chamonix's most distinctive landmarks - a soaring tower of rock commanding majestic views of the Alps. The Aiguille de Midi cable car runs to the summit from Chamonix (returns £40).
A tangle of medieval streets set on the shores of a pristine lake, Annecy is one of the loveliest towns in the French Alps. Explore the Palais de l'Isle, a turreted 12th century building on an islet in the city's canal (10am-12pm and 2-5pm, closed Tue; admission £3).
France's first national park is spectacular. The 200 square miles of the Park National de la Vanoise take in vast glaciers and snowy peaks, and are home to marmots and ibex. The information centre in Bonneval-sur-Arc has details of trails around the park.
Les Trois Vallées is the largest ski area in the world, with over 350 miles of piste and 180 ski lifts. Skiers divide between three main resorts - Méribel, celeb hangout Courchevel, and Europe's highest resort, Val Thorens (ski pass £40 per day).
Grenoble might not be the most prettiest of French cities but it can claim a fine crop of museums and galleries. Visit the Musée de Grenoble, renowned for its collection of modern art with pieces by Matisse, Monet and Picasso (£4).
Eat and drink
Chez Mémé Paulette in Grenoble is an old curiosity shop of a café, crammed with antique books, cuckoo clocks and other knick-knacks. It dishes up wallet-friendly soul food, such as homemade tarts (00 33 476 513 885; 2 rue St-Hugues; closed Sun-Mon; plat du jour £8).
Set at the foot of the Bossons Glacier in Chamonix, La Cremerie du Glacier is renowned for its croûtes au fromage - Alpine cheese on toast with an extensive choice of toppings (766 Chemin de la Glacier; open 7.30pm every evening; mains from £9).
Les Vieilles Luges in Chamonix can only be reached on skis, or by taking a scenic 20 minute hike from the Maison Neuve chairlift. Feast on delicious home cooking such as beef bourguignon, washed down with mulled wine (Les Houches; mains from £15).
Perched above Lake Annecy, Chalet la Pricaz specialises in organic produce. Try tartiflettes - cheese with potatoes, crème fraîche, onions and bacon. The wine list is exemplary (00 33 450 607 261; Col de la Forclaz; mains from £16).
Flocons de Sel is a two-Michelin starred restaurant in Megève. Typical fare is freshly caught fish or pigeon, followed by the signature desert, flocons de sucre - or sugar snowflakes (1775 Route de Leutaz; set lunch from £33).
La Ferme du Petit Bonheur is a vine-clad farmhouse in Chambéry. In summer guests enjoy the gardens with views out to the Bauges massif, while in winter the wood-burning stove in the salon provides welcome respite from the cold (538 chemin de Jean-Jacques; from £80).
The Farmhouse in Morzine is an evocative stone building dating back to 1771. Rooms are split between the house and a trio of cottages spread over the attractive grounds - including a mazot (a miniature mountain chalet). Evening dining is a lavish affair (429 Chemin de la Coutettaz; from £80).
Hotel du Palais de l'Isle in Annecy brings contemporary décor to this 18th-century building on the canal. Rooms sport views of the castle and across the rooftops of the old town (00 33 450 458 687; 13 Rue Perrière; from £90).
With window boxes ablaze with geraniums, Auberge du Manoir ticks all of the requisite alpine chalet boxes - pine-panelled rooms, pristine mountain views and roaring fires in the communal area. A fine breakfast includes homemade tarts and DIY boiled eggs (8 Route du Bouchet; from £100).
The Château des Allues is a restored 19th century house where stately rooms come furnished with copper fireplaces, oil paintings and four-poster beds. Meals see the owner making good use of the herbs and vegetables grown in the garden (Saint Pierre d'Albigny; from £105).
When to go
Winter snows attract skiers, while summer sees hikers strolling through the region's epic landscapes. Annecy celebrates its Fête du Lac festival in August, while Grenoble hosts its Detours de Babel music festival in March.
How to go
Fly to Lyon, Geneva or Grenoble airports - easyJet flies to Grenoble from Birmingham, Bristol and Stansted (from £80). During the ski season, Eurostar runs from St Pancras to stations in the French Alps, including Moûtiers (from £115).
The area is best explored by car - vehicle hire is available at Grenoble airport (from £75 per day). The Mont Blanc Express runs to Chamonix from St Gervais-Le Fayet station, connecting with the rest of the French rail network (returns £20).