Summer holidays in the Alps

Even for those of us who really enjoy our jobs, we wish that we weren’t limited to just 4 weeks of holidays a year. So it is no wonder that we want to make the most of our time off and why more and more of us are looking for an active holiday versus a week of sunbathing on the beach.

Holidaying in the Alps is a no brainer in the winter, with skiing and snowboarding among the many activities to choose from, but the Alps also make a surprisingly great destination in the summer.

Here is a list of some of our favourite destinations and a few ideas on what you can do while on holiday in the Alps in the summer.

Zermatt

Zermatt is the dream destination for anyone who enjoys beautiful scenery, great food and fantastic hospitality. The town lies at the foot of the famous Matterhorn and offers plenty of different activities in the summer. If you are after a relaxing holiday, there are some amazing hotels and pleasant walks around town. It is also possible to go up the famous Gornergrat railway or any of the numerous cablecars to experience the views from higher up. If you like hiking, then you can do as much as you want around Zermatt, and the views are incredible in every direction.

For those of you that can’t wait until the winter, you can actually have a pretty good ski in Zermatt during the summer months up on the glacier.

To get to Zermatt you can either take the train, or be driven as far as Tasch from where you can get picked up in an electric taxi or jump on the train.

Click here for more information on transfers to Zermatt.

Chamonix

Chamonix is a mecca for fans of all mountain sports in Europe. Tourists have been visiting this charming French town at the foot of Mt Blanc for centuries. It used to take 2 weeks to reach Chamonix from London. Now it’s a short flight to Geneva airport followed by a quick transfer, so it’s a great destination for a weekend break in the summer. The views are second to none and there is a whole range of activities to keep you busy while you are holidaying in Chamonix in the summer. Why not try white water rafting or a round of golf on a spectacular course? Chamonix is also a great destination if you are planning a summer holiday for the whole family holiday. Kids will enjoy riding the Montenvers train and visiting the ice cave or they can try a bit of mountain climbing on a climbing wall. There is also a swimming pool in Chamonix or they can go horse riding or try one of the adventure parks.

Chamonix is also really well setup for both hikers and mountain bikers with a great network of well signed trails.

Chamonix even has a Casino to keep the grown ups entertained if the thrills offered by nature aren’t quite enough for you.

Get prices on transfers to Chamonix here.

Kitzbühel

The hills are alive with the sound of music… Sorry, couldn’t stop myself… Whether you love or hate (impossible) the Sound of Music you will have to agree that the Austrian Alps make a stunning destination in the summer.

There are literally hundreds of places where you can have a fantastic summer holiday in the Austrian alps, but we had to choose one and so we have gone with Kitzbühel. For lovers of walking in the mountains, the region around Kitzbühel has over 2500km of well marked walking trails. Mountain bikers are also at home in the region with lots of trails that will suit all abilities. If you like the idea of traversing the alps on two wheels but not the idea of pedalling, then the good news is that the Kitzbüheler Alpen area is pioneering the use of electric bikes with 1,000km of dedicated trails.

Another bonus about visiting this region in the summer is the Kitzbüheler Alpen Summer Card. With this card you can access 29 cable cars and it also entitles you to discounts at lots of attractions.

To get to Kitzbühel you can fly to Munich or Innsbruck and then get private or shared transfers to Kitzbühel.

Morzine and Les Gets

The neighbouring villages of Morzine and Les Gets are getting more and more popular for people looking to spend active holidays in the alps during the summer months. They are probably best known for their epic mountain bike trails, but there is so much more going on than that. There is golf, white water rafting, tennis, swimming, summer luge, spas, paragliding, paint balling, horse riding and hiking to name but a few…

One of the best reasons to visit Morzine or Les Gets in the summer is the Portes du Soleil Multipass, which for just 2€ per day allows you to use many of the lifts, cablecars and leisure facilities during your holiday.

Transfers to Morzine

Transfers to Les Gets

Where to start skiing

I’m sure there are quite a few people out there who love the idea of a ski holiday but think that they are too old to start, not sporty enough, prone to breaking bones etc…

Well, enough of the excuses! It’s time to go for it and get hooked on skiing. I didn’t start skiing until my mid 20s but I have not looked back since. Yes, the first few days were not easy and I thought I would never ‘get it’. People kept telling me that it will just suddenly click, which seemed very unlikely as I sat frustrated on the edge of a green run, unable to master the art of turning. However, after a few deep breaths, I dusted myself off, got the snow out of some hard to reach places, and tried again. I was surrounded by the most spectacular views of mountains and trees laden heavy with snow. Not a bad place for humiliating myself with a group of French girls who ‘got it’ after half an hour.

After that low point, I am so happy that I didn’t give up, and around the 3rd day I actually started enjoying it.

In my opinion, it’s a great idea to have a couple of lessons in a ski dome or on a dry slope before you go on your first holiday. Somewhere like the Chill Factor in Manchester is an ideal place to get to know the basics. You’ll be shown how to use a poma lift (a type of drag lift to get you up the slope, also known as a button lift) and learn how to do some of the basic things. This way when you arrive in the mountains you can enjoy the experience from the start, and will not waste precious time being shown how to clip your boots in to your skis. Make sure you book some more lessons in resort as well. I enjoyed doing adult group lessons as there is a certain amount of bonding over falling over and seemingly endless attempts to put your skis back on. However some people develop a lot quicker during one on one private sessions with an instructor. In this case you might benefit more from 2-3 private lessons than you would from a week’s group sessions.

If you are not sure which type of lessons would best suit you, then check with your ski school. They may let you trade some group lessons for a private lesson or vice versa.

Make sure you choose your ski school carefully, and ask around for recommendations. It’s true what they say – “You never forget your first ski instructor”. A positive, cheerful instructor will make the experience a lot more enjoyable! If you feel like your group is holding you back, or that they are a bit too advanced for you, then don’t be scared to join a different level.

No matter where you start your lessons, the key is patience, perseverance and a good attitude. I can guarantee that you will have an amazing time! Yes, it can get frustrating at times but you have to laugh it off and carry on. You don’t have to be sporty or particularly fit to learn to ski, it’s all about confidence! 😉

Another thing to remember when booking your first ski holiday is that some resorts are better suited to beginners than others. Some resorts have special ‘Learn-to-ski’ packages for complete beginners, with lessons and a limited lift pass included. If you have done some lessons before your holiday then you will probably want a local area lift pass for a bit more variety.

Here are some of the best ski resorts for beginners

Bansko, Bulgaria

Bansko is a relatively small resort, but 35% of it is given over to slopes suitable for beginners. In addition to this, Bansko is much cheaper than other European ski resorts so it is a good place to give skiing a go if you are not sure you are going to love it.

The closest airport to Bansko is Sofia – click here to get the best prices on transfers from Sofia Airport to Bansko.

Flaine, France

Flaine is a great resort for beginners for a few reasons. It is easy to get to, being just over an hour from Geneva airport. It is mainly a ski in, ski out resort meaning that you can avoid walking around carrying your ski gear. Finally, it has a great snow record and many of the beginner areas are close to the centre of the resort.

The closest airport to Flaine is Geneva – click here to get the best prices on transfers from Geneva airport to Flaine.

Soldeu, Andorra

Soldeu is a great place to learn to ski. There are a number of English ski schools and the great nursery areas are close to the resort centre.

If you are going to Soldeu, you can fly to Barcelona, Girona, Carcassonne or Toulouse.

Click here to get the best prices on transfers from Barcelona airport to Soldeu.

Click here to get the best prices on transfers from Girona airport to Soldeu.

Click here to get the best prices on transfers from Carcassonne airport to Soldeu.

Click here to get the best prices on transfers from Toulouse airport to Soldeu.

Courchevel, France

Courchevel has a reputation for being one of the most expensive places on earth, but this is down to the highest village of Courchevel 1850. However, Courchevel 1650 (Montriond) is a great option as there is a beginners area near the resort centre, and there are some very long blue runs to progress on to. You can also stay in Courchevel 1550 and take the fast gondola up to Courchevel 1850 where there is one of the best beginners areas in the world.

To get to Courchevel, you can fly to Geneva, Chambery, Grenoble or Lyon.

Click here to get the best prices on transfers from Geneva airport to Courchevel.

Click here to get the best prices on transfers from Chambéry airport to Courchevel.

Click here to get the best prices on transfers from Grenoble airport to Courchevel.

Click here to get the best prices on transfers from Lyon airport to Courchevel.

Obergurgl, Austria

Obergurgl has vast areas for beginners to practice, and also has a good number or wide, long blue runs to progress on to.The ski schools in Obergurgl are also very good.

The best airport to fly to for Obergurgl is Innsbruck.

Click here to get the best prices on transfers from Innsbruck airport to Obergurgl.

Top tips for driving in snow

Following the chaotic scenes in the French Alps on 27 Dec 2014, we thought we would offer a few tips just in case you ever found yourself facing similar conditions.

Make sure your vehicle is fitted with winter tyres

We wrote an article about winter tyres last year. When I was a transfer driver in the Alps, I got the feeling that many of my customers thought that winter tyres were just a marketing ploy and would not make much difference. This is not the case. Good winter tyres are amazing and they are essential if you want to have any hope of driving on a snow covered road. Not only that, but they are hugely beneficial even when the road is simply very cold or a little bit icy. If you are thinking of renting a car, then make sure it is fitted with snow tyres (many are not). If you are driving to the Alps from somewhere warmer, then this may not be a feasible option for you but read on for some more tips.

If you are already worried about not having winter tyres, then book a transfer as all of the vehicles operated by companies operating in the mountains will be fitted with snow tyres.

Carry snow chains – and use them if needed

You absolutely must have snow chains in your vehicle when driving in the Alps. Again, if you are hiring a car look in to this as they will not come as standard.

Make sure that the first time you attempt to put snow chains on is NOT the first time you need them. I have seen a thousand people standing at the side of the road looking at snow chains like you would look at a 10,000 piece jigsaw. Practice putting them on somewhere nice and dry and bright.

If it starts snowing heavily and the road is becoming covered in snow, then look for a place where you can pull over and put your chains on. Do not keep going until you can’t go any further because your wheels are spinning, because then you will get in everyone’s way and cause chaos. This was the main cause of the issues in France that made headlines – cars got themselves stuck in the snow and prevented the snowploughs from clearing the roads.

Conversely, don’t put your chains on if there is no snow on the road – this will really damage the road surface.

Do you know who is guaranteed to be carrying chains and able to fit them in just a few minutes? Professional transfer drivers.

Use a low gear when driving downhill, high gear when driving uphill

If you are driving downhill in snow, the aim of the game is to use your breaks as little as possible. By putting your vehicle in a low gear, the engine will control the speed which reduces the risk of you locking the wheels up when breaking.

If you are driving uphill in snow, then get up the gears as soon as possible. This will reduce the torque and will mean there is less chance of you spinning your wheels. Also when driving uphill in snow, try to maintain momentum. This does not mean “drive fast”, it just means try to avoid coming to a complete stop, as it is really difficult to get a vehicle moving again on an uphill slope covered in snow (unless the vehicle is really well equipped).

Check the weather forecast

It really helps if you know what to expect. If you have got to be somewhere at a certain time, such as a ferry terminal or airport, and the forecast is for heavy snow, then leave yourself plenty of time. By this, I don’t mean an extra half-hour – you should be leaving hours ahead of schedule.

Clear snow off your vehicle before setting off

I have seen a few people who think it is a novelty to drive off with half a metre of snow on the roof of their car after it was parked outside all week in a ski resort. However, this can be really dangerous as if you have to break, this snow could cascade all over your windscreen – and driving in the mountains is hard enough when you can see where you’re going. If the snow doesn’t fall on your windscreen, then it will probably come off sideways when you are going round a corner and could hit another vehicle. Just take a few minutes and get it off your roof and bonnet one way or another. You should also make sure that all of the windows are clear of snow and ice, and also clean snow and ice off your lights.

Put anti-freeze / de-icer in your windscreen wash or use a special formula

There are lots of things involved in maintaining a vehicle in the Alps, but this is perhaps one of the most important things to remember.

The roads are heavily gritted, which is great for preventing ice and stopping light snow from settling. The downside to all this grit is that your windscreen becomes caked in it if you drive behind any vehicle for any amount of time. So, you instinctively pull the stick / press the button to wash the windscreen and it is an absolute disaster if the windscreen wash liquid is frozen because your windscreen wipers simply smear the dirt all over your windscreen making it 10 times more difficult to see. When you put the anti-freeze – de-icer in with the fluid, give it a good spray so that you get all of the non-treated liquid out of the system.

Drive slowly and steadily and keep your distance

I was going to try to avoid stating the obvious but it needs to be said. The last thing you want to do on snow or ice is to stop in a hurry, so make sure you don’t have to. Accelerate and decelerate slowly and maintain a safe distance from anyone in front of you.

 

It is not easy to drive in snow or ice, and it is always a possibility no matter what time of the season you arrive or depart. If you are debating between driving yourself or booking a transfer with a local, experienced, professional company, I know what I would do 😉