Family Adventures in the Alps – Fun in Flaine in Summer
A guaranteed snow bowl and ski paradise in winter, Flaine, high in the French Alps, also provides an accessible and affordable adrenalin shot in the summer months. The abundance of budget accommodation means a holiday in Flaine needn’t break the bank and there are lots of activities you can do for free. And if you’ve a little cash left to flash then there are some great activities and mountain adventure sports on offer. We spent a week exploring the area to bring you a selection of our recommendations for fun things to do in Flaine in summer…
An active adventure in the French Alps
It’s unwise to keep still in Flaine in the summer as you may get hit by a ping pong ball. Or somebody rolling around inside a giant beach ball. Within the pedestrianised hub of Flaine Forum, there’s always someone doing something active. Families compete at mini-golf while a dance class is followed by basketball. There’s a queue for badminton and table tennis and children squeal as their weight shifts on the high ropes course. All of this is free with the Flaine Summer Pass given out to the majority of holidaymakers in the resort by their accommodation providers, so people make the most of it. But it’s not just soft adventure and family fun on offer here. If you want something more adrenaline fuelled, this resort, located in the Haute-Savoie region of the French Alps, is a natural outdoor playground. Here are four high thrill adventures we had a go at up down, above and around the mountain…
Above the mountain: Parapenting
After my jump into the void with a Tirol canyon swing last year, I expect parapenting to be similarly stomach dropping. Guaranteed, it’s something of a shock to be in the air – we are tightening harnesses and heading for the edge pretty much straight off the bus – but aside from the initial run off the cliff where the wind and the chute push us back, it’s a gentle glide into the current rather than a free-fall. And then we are sailing, round and round with a prime view of Mont Blanc.
Parapenting (or paragliding) is an adrenalin sport for those not totally sold on either sport or adrenalin. On my tandem flight at Parapente Planete paragliding school in Les Carroz d’Arâches my pilot is doing all the work. He shows me how he steers the parachute to catch the air that is coming up, and follow it down, with a slight movement of the handles.
Spinning in the sky
“Here the thermals are nervous,” he says, turning slightly to show me.
I ask him how long he has been jumping for.
“Two weeks,” he grins. “I’m a plumber.”
He’s joking about his experience; he’s been jumping since he was a teenager, but he’s not joking about his occupation. For ten months of the year he fixes household plumbing and for the remaining two months he jumps. Up to seven times a day. With people like me strapped to his front. It’s peaceful up here with my parapenting plumber. We sail on the wind over pine forest, and round and round picnicking families. We dip towards a vibrant blue lake and swing over power lines. We drift high above a swimming pool. “Want to jump in?” he smiles. I politely decline. There’s no way I’m being ejected from my place on his front.
“Would you like to do a hard turn?”
Children as young as six can do a tandem dive and you can pay for short or long experiences. Romane, who manages bookings, tells me it is possible to fly on the currents as far as the ski towns of Chamonix and Samoëns. But that’s nothing, she says, compared to solo paragliders who sometimes fly in from the South of France.
Down the mountain: mountain biking
Our mountain biking skills session, organised by Grand Massif Adventure, begins gently, with a blast around the Picasso and the Debuffet. There aren’t many places in the world you can bike around world class art so it feels pretty cool. We then head up the hill (sadly no ski lift here) and breeze back down on gentle blue and green slopes. Check out our video of biking around Flaine.
From forest trail to single track
Our second session takes the boys in the family back over to Les Carroz d’Arâches. (My skills and Hannah’s aren’t up to the more advanced biking.) During our brief introduction in Flaine our guide Manue assessed their skills for tackling the single track downhills and now they are off on a two hour guided ride through open pasture and forest tracks, weaving around ski lifts and the winter infrastructure through the long grass and meadows and back to the sunny village where we are waiting for them with a pizza.
On the mountain: hiking on Grandes Platieres
Mont Blanc is first thing I notice when I disembark from the cable car and step out onto the moon. From here there are stunning views of Mont Blanc Massive to the south east and the Aravis mountains to the west. But at 2,500 metres, the Grandes Platieres itself is an eye catching geological wonder. We are standing in the Plate Desert, a listed site and the largest Lapiaz formation in Europe. Over 15 square kilometres of limestone plateaus stretches before us; like a giant granite maze or a silver version of Grand Canyon gold.
A limestone wonder
Vast crater-like holes drop away beneath our feet. 40 million years ago this was a seabed but now its dry apart from patches of snow. We spend an hour or two fossil hunting in the chilly air. We wander, making our own cairns, exploring the rock, taking pictures of tiny flowers and even throwing a few snowballs. The site is accessible via the GR 96, for those who fancy a long distance walk. But we pick up a copy of the free Sentier Geologique guide from the lift company, also available to download, and are perfectly happy pottering about on the rocks reading up about rock formations and molluscs.
Flaine is on the edge of the Sixt-Fer-à-Cheval and Passy nature reserves. Locally there are 200 km of routes to do on foot. Grand Massif Adventure can set you up with a guided walk or you can pick up a map and routes for all levels from the tourist office. We do the odd short walk when we can prize our kids away from table tennis and mini golf.
Around the mountain: family golf
Did someone say golf? At 1,900 metres, Flaine Golf Course is one of the highest in Europe and pretty much every one of the nine or eighteen holes has a view. Some of them have a void too – a chasm between you and your goal. Some seem impossible at first sight. Like the hole which literally goes up the mountain. You need to bring or buy extra balls because they will get lost and once they leave the green it can be a long way down the mountainside to go searching.
This spectacular course, stretching across 3,693 metres and overlooking the Aravis mountain range, is accessible to all golf licence holders, including children, and no handicap is required. (There are putting greens and practice holes for anyone who doesn’t have a licence.) All five of us have a go at nine holes, to varying success. It takes all afternoon and a dozen golf balls. Eighteen holes are simply not on for us but if you are better golfers allow around five hours.
Where we stayed
Whilst in Flaine we stayed at in a two bedroom plus lounge apartment at Flaine Forêt. The three star complex Les Terrasses De Véret, booked with Summer France, (formerly Madame Vacances) offers good value for a family in summer in the French Alps. Self catering apartments are compact, but fully equipped with TV, and linen provided. The complex is within easy reach of the Flaine Forum, where all the action happens. The apartments have an outdoor and indoor pool as well as outdoor jacuzzi, wifi and secure underground parking. (there’s a small charge for the two latter facilities.) Prices for summer at the time of our visit started at around 400 euros for a family in a two bedroom apartment.
What we did
The Flaine Summer Pass is provided free by many apartments and offers complimentary access to a multitude of a activities including the Forest Adventure Park- (two fun courses in the trees) acro bungee, trampolines, children’s clubs, bouncy castles, big air bag, mini quad biking, tennis and archery. All equipment can be claimed by showing the armband that acts as the pass. For details contact Flaine Tourist office firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also buy the passes for 25 euros pp per week.
Grand Massif Adventure can offer all manner of activities including guided hiking, biking, rafting and canyoning. They’ll even take you up for breakfast on the mountain in a four wheel drive. Prices vary according to activities. Check out the Flaine Adventure website or email Theo at email@example.com for more information.
Flaine Golf Course charges 40 euros for an adult for 18 holes and 28 euros for 9 holes. You can hire a half set of clubs for 20 euros.
Paragliding with Planete Parapente costs 70 Euros for a 15 minute flight. You can have a full hour for 150 Euros.
How we got there
Flaine is situated at the top of a bowl shaped valley in Haute Savoie. See my love letter to the resort for more about its curious history. The closest airport to Flaine is Geneva. It’s about an hours drive to the resort from there. It is also possible to travel by high speed train to Cluses (30km) and Geneva (80km) and arrange a transfer or taxi.
Disclosure note: Summer France provided our accommodation in Flaine and Grand Massif Adventure provided some activities. All the opinion, hiking, biking and fossil hunting was all our own.
Further reading: Family holidays in France come in all shapes and sizes. Check out Helen Wills’ experience of Eurocamp with teens at Soleil Argeles Sur Mer. Meanwhile Helen Neale checks out the Palace of Versailles for kids. And Jen Walshaw provides a checklist for driving holidays in France.