Walking & Cycling in the Alps
If your family likes the great outdoors then you are assured a fantastic holiday in the Alps. And if you like walking then even better! It’s difficult to pick out the best walks, there really are too many possibilities to mention. Suffice it to say that wherever you are staying in the Alps, chances are you will find some beautiful walking country very close by.
Consequently we focus here less on individual walks (although we do mention a few “specials”!) and more on providing advice on walking and sources of information where you can get further ideas on walking itineraries.
If the family loves cycling you will also find a huge range of entertainment – not every route requires the ascent of a 1-in-3! Hire shops abound and there are plenty of relatively flat mountain bike routes as well as really challenging ones.
Walking the Tour du Mont Blanc
Not suitable for young families, but a fantastic experience for suitably equipped, experienced walkers with teenagers – this is a 200 km walking trail around the Mont Blanc massif which crosses several high passes, the route passing through parts of the French, Italian and Swiss Alps.
The walk can be done in 10 days if you’re fit, but we’d recommend to make it a fortnight’s holiday to be comfortable, with several rest days.
Website with further info: www.pardoes.com/climbing/tmb99.htm.
A walker’s paradise with hundreds of different routes for different abilities. There are waterfalls, lakes, glaciers and rivers in abundance – beautiful scenery everywhere. For gentle walks, try the paths that run along the canals that run around the mountains to catch the melting snow and to irrigate the land. These paths are covered in the needles that drop from the larch that cover most of the mountainside, creating a lovely golden red carpet.
During the summer months, take the télephérique to the Serre Che and walk down from the top. Alternatively, dismount at the half way point for a drink or snack and descend from there.
Mountain Biking in the Alps
Les Gets is a world renowned mountain biking centre: in September 2004 the World Mountainbiking Championships were held there. There are two permanent downhill courses, a mountainbike cross course and miles and miles of marked cross country routes.
There are some riverside routes in Serre Chevalier that are suitable for families. Monetier-les-Bains to Le Casset and Le Lauzet.
If you know of other mountain biking routes that are suitable for families we would love to have your feedback.
If you are looking for a company that will organise your biking trip in the Alps then you could try this company: www.bike-alp.com (based in Samoens), or Simply Morzine (www.simply-morzine.co.uk) – renowned family activity & guided mountain bike holidays.
Walking and mountain biking etiquette:
- Stay on recognized paths (if available)
- Leave no litter
- Protect wildlife, plants and trees
- Close all gates behind you (even if someone else has left them open)
- Avoid damaging fences, hedges, walls
- Guard against fire
- Take notes of the rules of individual parks and nature reserves
- Do not frighten the wild animals
- Do not pollute streams
- Be courteous to other walkers, mountain bikers and horse riders.
Useful walking websites:
- www.walkingthetmb.com – for walkers intending to walk the Tour du Mont Blanc.
- www.walkingontheweb.co.uk/ – excellent site on walking in France and elsewhere.
- www.franceonfoot.com/ – excellent website with information on walking in France and a number of features on the Alps, including personal recommendations.
- www.summitpost.org – built by its members, info on all sort of walking excursions.
- www.alpineexploratory.com – specialist operator of self-guided walking holidays.
- www.simply-morzine.co.uk – family walking & activity holidays in the northern Alps.
Walking holiday companies:
We’ve not used these companies – we’d be grateful for any feedback.
Safety in the Mountains:
Whatever the weather conditions or wherever you are, here is some sound advice for enjoyable walking:
- Check the weather forecast before you leave and be aware that weather conditions can change very fast in the mountains.
- Tell someone where you are going and roughly when you’ll be back, or at the very least leave a note on the windscreen of your car (not always a good idea if you’re away for a few days as it could invite crime – better to make sure someone you know has your itinerary).
- Never go alone. Four people are the minimum safe number. In the unlikely event of an accident, 2 can go for help whilst one can stay with the injured person.
- Plan your route before setting out – for good maps we recommend Stanfords’ Online Bookstore.
- Choose a route that is within everyone’s capabilities. As a rule of thumb allow an extra hour for every 500m to be climbed.
- Wear a watch and know what time sunset will be at.
- Wear clothing and footwear suitable for walking at high altitudes. Take spare clothes. Wear layers, avoiding cotton (as this is not warm when wet) and jeans. Boots should have good ankle support and decent tread on the soles. Hooded waterproof jackets and trousers are essential.
- Be well equipped with plenty of food and drink (water /flask of something hot) as well as emergency rations (carbohydrate and energy rich food like chocolate, dried fruit and energy bars)
- Take a first aid kit and learn basic first aid. Also ensure you have anti-UV sunglasses, a hat and sun screen.
- Carry everything in a rucksack, preferably with a waist belt and padded shoulder straps so as to evenly distribute the weight.
- Carry a torch (with spare bulbs and batteries), a survival bag and a whistle. The distress signal is 6 rapid blasts of the whistle (or shouts) repeated at 1 minute intervals. The standard reply is 3 rapid blasts, again at 1 minute intervals.
- Walk at the slowest persons pace. Do not straggle or split up (unless in an emergency)
- Know how to use a map and compass.
- If visibility becomes poor, walk in single file with a 15m gap between you. The person at the back uses the compass.
- Don’t wave or attract the attention of other walkers/helicopters/chair lifts etc….. except in an emergency.
Here’s more information to make the most of your visit to the Alps: