And since the lockdown, the appeal of pursuits such as hiking, climbing and cycling and simply recharging in nature are even stronger.
In France, there are plenty of easy access destinations that you can drive to from the airport in less than two hours to spend some quality time in the mountains.
My first port of call is Morzine.
“We can just run in dunk ourselves for two minutes then get out,” I say as a summer rain storm begins to splash down. Then at least we can say we’ve been in…”
I’m at lake Montriond in Morzine, optimistic that I can brace the cold for an open water swimming session with triathlon coach Amelia Pearson from Buzz performance. Her husband, Jo, warns us that the temperature of the lake can drop by several degrees after rainfall.
I tussle with my wetsuit and feel the blood drain from my hands as I squeeze my arms in, it's so tight, that they suspend themselves out in front of me like the walking dead. I’m assured that this is good position for open water swimming.
Morzine, the capital of the cross-border Portes du Soleil ski area is just a 75-minute drive from Geneva airport. With its small town charm, and low-rise wooden chalets, the commune was made rich through its slate mine and rather than being just another purpose built ski town filled with chains, many of the hotels in the alpine ‘resort village’ are family run. The Hotel Equipe, where I am staying, started out as a small wooden garage in the 1930s, built just before the Pléney cable car — the third cable car to be built in France — was installed. After a fire in 1956 it was rebuilt into a hotel which is still run by the Béard family.
Normally Morzine is buzzing with visitors year round, for skiing in winter and road and mountain biking the rest of the year.
But this summer it’s comparatively quiet. Mountain bikers still gather at the bottom of the Pléney cable car for apres biking, and the bars in the town centre still have life, but normally the town's 40 odd restaurants are full to the brim. Now, I’m assured, it’s possible to just turn up last minute and find accommodation.
With its mid-mountain altitude and diverse terrain of mountain roads, rolling hills and lakes, as well as its sport infrastructure: olympic size pool, gym, and accommodation, Morzine was one of the first places to be awarded the Terre de Jeux 2024 status, meaning it has all the facilities for, in this case, triathletes or road bikers, to train for the Paris 2024 Olympics. Hence its the ideal place for me to spend some time running, swimming and cycling.
As I dip my toes into Lake Montriond, the water wasn’t as cold as I expected, so I jump in.
Amelia says her task is to make swimming simple. She instructs us to swim with thumbs leading, moving our arms as if we are bowling a cricket ball, and then paddling out a surf board, undoing years of primary school technique, such as an S-shaped underwater sculling motion with your arms…
Maybe its the altitude or the cold, or just not being used to swimming, but I’m out of breath after half a lap.
Amelia and Joe set up the triathlon coaching company, Buzz Performance, and they organise training clubs for all ages, and classes like HITT, TRX and Turbo, as well as cycling holidays, and the Morzine-Montriond Triathlon. During the lockdown classes went online, and now, due to social distancing rules, they will run their chalet based holidays from local hotels instead.
But how — and why — did two people from people from Tasmania end up in Morzine? Joe explains that Amelia was a professional triathlete and competed for a French Gran Prix Triathlon team. They had a race in Morzine and when she retired they thought about the best place they visited and decided on Morzine to settle. After managing chalets, they set up Buzz Performance and are now building a gym and fitness studio to hold classes.
My legs spring back to life after the swim session. Yesterday we had cycled a steep climb from Morzine to Lac des Mines d’Or and they had been feeling heavy.
As I curled up the hill at snails pace I remembered Jo’s advice.
“Ride like you’re here all day not like you’re trying to get to top” …“ If it was easy everyone would be doing it.”
Amelia also advises me to always keep it in one gear harder than feels good, despite my legs begging to ease the resistance. The biggest burn was my forearms however, gripping the brakes on the long sweeping downhills, unable to quite trust myself to pump them, as she’d suggested.
Morzine is famous for its 23km Tour de France stage, from Samoens at 704 metres up 12km to the Col de la Joux Plane at 1691 meters, before an exhilarating descent to Morzine.
It’s also known for the 80 km mountain-bike circuit, the Pass'Portes du Soleil, which has unfortunately been cancelled this year due to Covid-19 restrictions, and the Spartan race, a mountain twist on classic tough mudder obstacle courses.
And of course for runners there’s the Ultra Trail des Hauts Forts and a new vertical kilometre up Pointe de Nantaux.
So I’m in good hands with local trail runner, coach and running guide, Edwina Sutton, who’s previously come solo 4th and relay 3rd in the Hauts Fort race.
As we set off from the base of the Pléney cable car and wind our way up to La Mouille at 1290m past wild looking canyoning drops and a high ropes course, Edwina points out Avoriaz in the distance. She tells us how her husband did the translation for a book on its history, and discovered a little known story about how the French got the Swiss drunk to help persuade them to shift the border so they could build a ski lift in the 1960’s purpose-build resort, that was just in the French side. Or something like that. I was a little out of breath!
But it’s not all about high energy activities, as well as a yoga session with Strength and Serenity yoga we hike up for a mountain BBQ. Our guide, Herve leads the way pointing out plants we can eat, like crocus seeds, which are used normally by hunters to attract wild boar.
Herve was worried when the coronavirus hit as 70 percent of his work in winter is snowshoeing. Losing the last month of the season had a huge impact and he still doesn’t know if people can afford to come back, even if they are allowed to.
From his backpack, Herve pulls out a foldable BBQ and sets up camp for the night, stringing hammocks up between the trees. We test them out, trying not to get ejected out the other side and down the slope into the BBQ . We search around for dry acorns to fuel the fire, eventually enjoying hot dogs made from local sausages as the sun set behind the mountains.
Morzine Fact Box 2020
For more information about Morzine call +33 4 50 74 72 72 or visit www.morzine-avoriaz.com Accommodation: One nights’ accommodation staying at Hotel L'Equipe bed and breakfast only is priced from 93€ per room based on two people sharing a double room. www.hotelequipe.fr Breakfast 12€ pp. +33 4 50 79 11 43
Flights: Return flights to Geneva are available from London Gatwick with EasyJet, priced from £59 pp. www.easyjet.com
Activities: www.edwinasutton.com – Trail Running 25€/hour for a private session of an hour.
www.buzzperformance.com – Buzz Triathlon, cycling, swimming, performance www.alpirandovtt.com Bivouac Experience 50€ hike + bivouac pp. Contact: Hervé Le Sobre – +33 6 19 42 95 57
Strength and Serenity Yoga +33 6 04 49 42 32
Multi Pass (for access to lifts, pool, tennis etc) 2€ per day of your holiday. http://en.portesdusoleil.com/activites/multi-pass/