Summer in the Alps is big business, but it hasn’t always been like that. It wasn’t that long ago that ski resorts shut-up shop as soon as the season finished for a well-earned rest. Not anymore! In fact, it was Les Gets, Morzine and Avoriaz who were the early pioneers of the summer resorts, becoming the Mecca for mountain biking.
I am a snowboarder and usually prefer the mountains to have a thick blanket of snow and had snowboarded at Les Gets last season. But when I got the opportunity to experience summer in Les Gets for a few action packed days, I couldn’t refuse.
Les Gets Town
Only an hour’s drive from Geneva airport, Les Gets is part of the extensive Portes du Soleil area. This quaint and pretty village is nestled next to Morzine at an altitude of 1,200 metres. Les Gets is more tranquil than its bigger and more brash brother, Morzine. The village is also more compact and makes for an ideal base to explore the many different adventure sports and summer activities on offer.
For a few cold beers in the late afternoon sun there is no better place than the Irish Bar. I know it is a bit cliché and there seems to be more Irish Bars than places of worship in the world (maybe some would call an Irish bar a place of worship!), but the one in Les Gets is worth a visit as it has a wonderful micro-brewery.
I was lucky enough to be invited by the owner into the back to see the impressive setup. Using only the finest ingredients they produce everything from a chocolate based porter, a refreshing Pilsner, and my favourite; a delicately hopped IPA.
We were staying at the newly built Annapurna apartment complex and dined in their restaurant a couple of times. The cuisine was a wonderful fusion between French and British styles. For example, for lunch we had a lightly curried chicken dish. It was not overly spiced and was packed with flavour. It was like a superb re-invention of the old classic coronation chicken.
Les Chevrelles is another delightful restaurant, high in the mountains above Les Gets with a magnificent view of Mont Blanc. Ideal for lunch after a trek, Les Chevrelles is a family run restaurant with quality French cuisine with a friendly service.
Downhill Mountain Biking in Les Gets
We had arrived at Les Gets during the aftermath of an international mountain biking competition called Crank Worx. The trophies were being handed out, the parties starting to simmer down, and, quite literally, the dust was starting to settle. As I looked past the beer tents at the insanely big kickers, I began to feel a little nervous about the following day.
I have been mountain biking in the Alps before, but mainly uphill and a few gentle dirt roads downhill. I had never been downhill mountain biking. Luckily, I was in a group that were all newbies as well, so it was a shared experience of dread and apprehension as we headed to the bike hire shop!
After getting kitted out as if we were riot police at an anti-Brexit march, we headed to the Les Chavannes Express. The bikes get carried up the mountain by using a simple, but ingenious method of hooking the bikes onto the back of the chair in front of us. Then we had to sit on the chair behind.
Once at the top we met up with our instructor. We started off by learning a few basic techniques and had a few gentle practice runs before hitting the trails.
We were soon hitting the green runs. Although these were the easiest that were on offer, they are narrow, with a few steep sections and high banked hair-pin turns: Nothing that our group could not handle! I soon gained confidence, and with that a bit more pace. The trails weave like snakes through the heavily treed forests of the mountains. It was hot, and the dirt was dry and hard packed, making it fast to ride on.
At the bottom there is a wonderful bike park with runs for all abilities. On the beginner section there were six small jumps in a row to hit. They were great fun although you could probably measure how much air I got in millimetres!
After reaching the bottom of the Les Chavannes Express, the group was exhausted, but I wanted one more run, so I went up with Rob Stewart, an experienced mountain biker.
This time I decided to level up and go for the blue runs – after all, how hard could they be? I soon found out as the blue run was a lot more challenging. The gradient was steeper, the banks were tighter and higher, and the track was narrower.
After a couple of close shaves scraping along steep banked turns, I homed in my technique, concentrated, and handled the rest of the way down without a problem. It was a massive adrenalin rush and so exhausting. Rob actually told me afterwards that the grading of the trails were not quite the same as what you would expect in the UK. The blue run we did would probably be classed as a hard red. It certainly seemed very technical.
Yoga With a View of Mont Blanc
On our second day we got up nice and early and headed up Mont Chery for a hike with a difference. We were joined by a yoga instructor and every so often we stopped for yoga sessions. I have actually been practicing yoga back in the UK for over a year, finding it to be very beneficial for balance, flexibility and state of mind.
However, there is such a huge difference to practicing yoga on a mountain compared to a sweaty gym room.
Our yoga instructor was excellent, and the views were awe-inspiring. We practiced the classics such as the warrior and downward dog, and even the mountain pose while concentrating on the looming white peaks of Mont Blanc in the distance. I really felt energised and at peace by the scenery – that is what yoga is all about!
I have a confession; I am not good with heights! I know that must sound weird as I am a snowboarder who spends a lot of time off-piste on steep mountains, but I am fine when I have my plank strapped to my feet. So, the thought of climbing filled me with dread.
This dread only increased when we arrived at Saint-Jean-d’Aulps (aka Elephants Head) and I stared in disbelief at the vertical mountain face.
Nicholas, our guide, who had to be in his 70’s, free-climbed the rock face like a mountain goat on Red Bull, threading the rope through the top anchor and back down again. This guy was either rightly very confident of his ability, insane, or probably a mixture of both!
My first job was being a belayer for my friend Rob. This meant that I was in control of how slack or tight the rope was, as Rob climbed. This is quite a responsibility and I felt sorry for Rob as he had his life in my hands!
The tricky part in being a belayer is when the climber has to abseil down. I really had to concentrate on giving Rob enough slack so he didn’t go face first into the rock, and not slacking too fast so he would plummet to the ground. We had a few heart-stopping moments, but Rob survived!
Next, it was my turn to hook up to the harness and climb. I found this difficult at first as it is hard to see any footings to use, but, as by magic, I started to see my path up. Surprisingly, my fear of vertigo didn’t kick in and I was reasonably comfortable with the climb.
Each climb we did was a little more technical than the one before. At one point, quite high up, my rope got snagged on a rock above and I couldn’t move in any direction. Nicholas came to my rescue by scampering up the cliff face without a harness as if he were auditioning for the role of Spiderman’s grandad, and got the rope free. As I said, insane!
It is such a feeling of achievement reaching the top of the rope. I felt that in some ways I overcame my fear of heights and really pushed myself.
Of course, once at the top of the rope there is only one way to go from there – down! Abseiling is the fun part but can be a bit tricky. At one stage I had to jump across from one rock face to another in order to carry on with my descent. All in all, a very enjoyable afternoon.
Where to Stay
My ‘humble’ abode for my short time in Les Gets was an incredible 4-bedroom apartment in the Annapurna complex. Situated in the centre of Les Gets, near both the Mont Chery gondola and Chavannes ski lift, our apartment was magnificently modern, super luxurious, and totally huge. When I first walked in I kept opening doors to discover more bathrooms, bedrooms or corridors. I just loved the décor and was amazed at how much attention had been made to every little detail.
All the apartments in the Annapurna are sold on a classic freehold basis to clients, who can then rent the property out. What I liked about the apartments is that they are sold off-plan, so the owner has a huge input on room layout and décor. This ensures that all the apartments have a unique personality and not just a magnolia box.
All guests also have access to the exclusive swimming pool and spa. Just what is needed after a hard day mountain biking or rock climbing!
So in Summary…
Morzine may be the bigger and louder brother, but Les Gets is a wonderful base to explore all the summer activities and adventure sports. The village is quiet in the evening, but the Irish Bar has a lot of atmosphere and, of course, their own brewery. There are also some lovely family run restaurants that are typically French, and not so English dominated as Morzine is.
And as for accommodation for summer in Les Gets, I could easily have lived in my apartment at Annapurna. Alpine Lodges have ensured that the word ‘luxury’ needs to be re-defined. Incredible apartments that must be seen to be believed.
For More Information:
Les Gets – https://en.lesgets.com/
Alpine Lodges – https://alpine-lodges.co.uk/
Virtual tour of the apartment in Annapurna – https://my.matterport.com/show/?m=Xm9yziQfsqQ&utm%20source=4
All Images © Rob Stewart