Travel: Summer in Les Deux Alpes, France

Kaye mountain biking in Les Deux Alpes. Picture: James Cove/Planet Ski

Kaye mountain biking in Les Deux Alpes. Picture: James Cove/Planet Ski

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THE Deux Alpes experience is just as spectacular when you swap your ski boots for summer flip-flops, writes Kaye Nicolson

Hurtling down the mountain at a rate of knots, it was difficult to keep an eye on the path ahead when the views were so beautiful. This was a precarious position to be in during my first mountain biking experience, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a more thrilling way to see Les Deux Alpes in all its summer glory.

Imposing peaks surrounded us and the sun beat down as we sped down the hillside in a whirlwind of dust. Covered in sand and sweat under our body armour and helmets, a beer back at the hotel bar had never tasted so well-deserved.

Just a few hours earlier, I had been skiing on Europe’s largest glacier, which spans 120 hectares. The views on the half-hour cable car journey had also been a feast for the eyes, and at the top, the outline of Mont Blanc 60 miles away was just visible through the haze.

It was a glorious day and was even warm enough to take off our jackets – quite a contrast to skiing in Scotland. Our instructor, Cedric, explained that it had been such a warm summer that the glacier was losing ten centimetres of snow a day. Summer skiing is only possible in the morning before the sun gets too strong, but that doesn’t stop 1,500 people a day flocking to the slopes, where the lifts run to 3,600 metres.

Cedric put us beginners at ease as we gingerly put on our skis and tried to cast our minds back to skiing on school trips. After a few hours I was hooked, and it was with a sense of satisfaction that I managed to ski to the glacier restaurant without falling over.

All the activities had worked up quite an appetite, but with so many delicious French restaurants in the village, we were never hungry for long.

Lunch that day had been at Les Sagnes, which served delicious fresh galettes and crêpes. The “café gourmand” – a small coffee served with a selection of bite-sized sweet treats – went down a storm with our group, and left us hoping that restaurants in Scotland would take to serving them.

We were staying in Hotel Côte Brune, a cute, traditional hotel just minutes from the cable car, with hearts and trees carved into its balconies and an après ski terrace which was a perfect sun trap. It was just around the corner from the beautiful Gastro Le Raison d’Ours, where we enjoyed a beautiful elderflower syrup sparkling wine while we mulled over the menu. As with the other evenings during our stay, it was warm enough to sit outside and we shared some plates of foie gras, truffled ham and a seafood platter for our starters, which set the tone for an indulgent evening of French cuisine. The steak tartare, blended with tomato and basil, was a delicious but rich main course, and while I was in no need of a dessert, I caved in when my companions suggested sharing an incredible trio of chocolate puddings.

The combination of fresh mountain air, energetic activities and fine food and wine was enough to make me sleep like a baby back in my comfortable room, ready for another busy morning.

There’s something slightly surreal about walking through a ski village in the height of summer, where ski boots and waterproofs are replaced with flip-flops and shorts. Even at 9am, the heat was intense as we ambled down the steep hillside to the picturesque village of Vénosc.

It goes without saying that we had to stop several times on our descent to take photographs of glorious views of the valley. By the time we reached Vénosc, a quaint village with narrow winding streets lined with a riot of colourful flowers, the thought of a dip in the River Vénéon was very appealing.

Our white water rafting trip down the river was hilarious and exhilarating, and the turquoise water was much colder than it looked. Halfway down the route we stopped off at a vast waterfall and waded in towards it. Its force took my breath away. The swift journey down the river was over all too quickly and it wasn’t long before we had to dry off and head back up the mountain.

I opted for the easier route back up – via the gondola – just in time for a satisfying lunch on the pool-side terrace of the resort’s only four star hotel, the Chalet Mounier.

I had struggled to know what to pack for the summer trip to the Alps, but I was relieved that I’d brought a little of everything, including a swimsuit, as we spent a relaxing afternoon sunbathing by the pool. Despite the heat it was easy to imagine relaxing in the hotel bar in the middle of winter, with its cowhide furnishings, log fires and a whisky collection that would rival the best.

Sadly the winds picked up that afternoon, putting a stop to our plans to go paragliding. Instead, I found myself tumbling in free fall off an extendable crane on to a giant inflatable cushion – the appropriately-named “drop bag”. The bizarre activity was only set up at the resort this year but is already proving a hit with thrill-seekers of all ages. It felt unnatural to launch myself off the 10 metre platform and there were a few false starts – when I hesitated before jumping, much to the amusement of onlookers – but it was great fun.

A relaxed set menu dinner at the Côte Brune was the perfect antidote to another action-packed day. The impeccable hospitality we had enjoyed all weekend continued at the restaurant, where we tucked into an onion tart, tenderly-cooked beef and a vast helping of profiteroles. You might have gathered by now that I’d happily return to the resort for the food alone, and another highlight was Le Paellou, a meat-eater’s heaven which specialises in mini-barbecues, raclette and steak.

It was refreshing to see a ski resort in the height of summer where there are ample activities for everyone from families to dare-devils and even those who want to take it easy.

Now I’m desperate to return during the winter months to see the contrast – and I have a feeling the warm welcome will be the same.

FACT FILE

• Easyjet offers frequent direct flights to Geneva, which is two and a half hours from the resort (www.easyjet.com)

• Accommodation at Hotel Côte Brune, Les Deux Alpes, ranges from €108 to €118 per night for a double room with breakfast. (www.hotel-cotebrune.fr)

• Summer skiing for adults is €38.50 per day/€192.50 for six days, and passes for children are €31 per day/€155 for six days. Lessons are available from www.esf-uk.co.uk;

• Les Deux Alpes is open for the winter season from October 24 to November 1 and from December 5 to April 30, 2016. A new blue run return piste will open in December this year, comprising a 2,000 metre descent to the village. Visit www.les2alpes.com for more information;

• Mountain biking costs from €35 for the instructor and bike hire;

• White water rafting is €25 per person; visit www.rafting-veneon.com;

• To find out more about the drop bag, visit www.event2fly.com

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