After the lowest snowfall in 15 years was seen in last year’s New Zealand winter, I like many other Kiwis have been left with itchy feet for more sliding on the white stuff. So yet again I set off on another Northern Winter adventure to try and satisfy my inner adrenalin junky.
When I look at a map of Europe I see a world of opportunities, a melting pot full to the brim with sites to see and places to ski. The hardest part is deciding where to go, and of course where to spend that hard earned cash so tenderly saved in the infamously named ‘Northern Winter Fund’ bank account. But I remember you cannot buy the ecstatic pleasure you get when flying down a mountain, face shots, and goggle tans, only the ticket to help get you to the top. What money can buy however is a flight to Geneva airport and a transfer to Morzine, the easiest way to get to this stunning ski village in the French Alps.
Morzine was already booming as a summer and winter holiday destination post war by 1936, and continues to attract holidaymakers from far and wide. Located in the heart of the Portes du Soleil area between Geneva and the well-known Evian spa town, Morzine can be easily accessed by air, road and rail. Today Morzine has evolved into a charming ski village, a hub catering for every skier and boarder’s need whilst they enjoy the winter holiday of a lifetime. Morzine boasts its true commitment to being the ultimate holiday provider with only 3500 permanent residents, yet an enormous 21,000 tourist beds (15,000 in chalets and furnished accommodation), 41 restaurants, and 50 hotels. With this overload of choice the perfect accommodation can be chosen for your holiday whether you are coming alone, as a couple, family, or a group of friends.
Now that you know how accessible Morzine is and that it has a plethora of places to stay and eat, I hear you saying, “get to the point Briar, the whole reason we want to come on a winter holiday is to ski an board…. What are ski resorts like?” This is the part where I get super excited and an exotic fruit salad mix of ski lingo, jargon, and general elation comes spilling out of my mouth at 100 miles an hour. Morzine is located in the heart of the Portes du Soleil ski area, one of the largest linked ski areas in the world encompassing 12 resorts across France and Switzerland that includes a whopping 650 kilometers of runs. Morzine has made a commitment to the 70% of its visitors that are likeminded skiers and boarders, here to make memories on the slopes by ensuring it has the most up to date facilities. To begin with they have built a state of the art gondola: The Pleney Cablecar. With 54 cabins it is capable of taking 3000 people per hour straight from Morzine village to the top of the Morzine/Les Gets side of the mountain. Unless you have ‘The Flash’ like super powers and can skin up at the speed of light you cannot find a more efficient way to get straight to your first run of the day! Or if you fancy checking out the Avoriaz and Switzerland side of the valley you can catch the Super Morzine cable car from the centre of town or the free bus to the Prodains Cable car which takes you straight to the impressively designed Avoriaz Village. Avoriaz is worth a trip just to see its architectural design making it seemingly fit into the cliffs of the French Alps surrounding it even if you do not plan to ski.
Over the past six days I have been lucky enough to ski the Morzine-Avoriaz ski fields interconnected by ski runs, chairlifts, fun trains, and gondolas on one very reasonably priced local pass that includes 49 lifts and 64 slopes. I soon found out that I had struck Morzine in the busiest week of the winter season due to English schools having mid term break and many regions of France and other European countries also being on holiday. Given the choice I would normally choose to visit a place to ski in its quietest period as there is nothing worse than having to waste your holiday waiting in long queues or never being able to get fresh tracks. However, I think in some ways this was a really good experience to see Morzine at it fullest. The reason for this is that I got to see how much of a thriving metropolis it is during this time with skiing, boarding, the après culture and a load of other activities. But most especially I got to see how well the ski resorts here are set up for coping with the amount of visitors, not once did I have to wait in a lift line for more than ten minutes, and a less crowded ski run could always be found as there is so many to choose from.
I began my Morzine skiing experience on Mont Chery, a hidden treasure that generally is a little less crowded and boasts all the piste, park, and bump runs you need for a great day on the slopes, a great option for busy periods. I then ventured across on one of the complimentary fun trains that take you through Les Gets village from the bubble lift at Mont Chery to the main side of Les Gets ski field. Included amongst the nice mellow slopes of Les Gets at the top of the Chavannes cable car is the Les Mappys area. The Disneyland of all ski slopes for kids or beginner skiers that includes two magic carpets, a snow cable and rope tow giving learners access to four basic slopes, even I was tempted to ride the children’s boarder-cross track next it as it looked so fun! Located right next to Les Mappys is a range of Restaurants where you can relax in the sun and watch your child’s lesson progress whilst enjoying a coffee or meal. There is even on mountain accommodation if you want to skip the buzzing village environment and stay right on the slopes. After exploring many of the high speed 4 and 6 seat lifts and impeccably groomed trails on Les Gets I ventured over to Nyon where you can get an awesome view back down the valley over Morzine village and the other ski areas. Nyon also has a dedicated freeride area perfect for advanced skiers and boarders wanting to ride off piste and take advantage of the awesome big mountain features available but still in an environment close to lift access and resort services such as ski patrol if needed. Another day I decided to skip the Super Morzine queues taking advantage of the free bus services in Morzine traveling to the Prodains Bubble that sped us to the top of the cliffs where Avoriaz village is perched 600m above Morzine. Avoriaz boasts 36 lifts and 49 runs that vary in degree of difficulty so it can cater for a wide range of skier and boarders but mostly appeals to those intermediate and advanced. If you are after challenging terrain your best bet is to head over to runs on the Hauts Forts, and zip down the World Cup downhill course to Les Prodains. However, do not think you cannot go there if you are a beginner as a mellow blue run ‘Procolou’ sits just below the town and is perfect for those wanting to progress their ability and is the main teaching spot for many ski schools. There is also an abundance of brilliant ski touring terrain for you to keep your fitness levels up, earn your turns, and see some of the best views of the French Alps.
A French ski destination would not be complete without the amazing phenomenon that is après ski. The beer and wine drinking, dance floor boogying, tapas, crepe, and fondue eating good time with friends and family that happens from around 3pm onwards throughout the ski resorts and village. Depending on where you are in the area there is bound to be an array of fantastic bars and restaurants to choose from, some of my favorites that I would recommend are: The Tremplin, located at the bottom of the Pleney home run it is literally almost on-piste so access is impeccable even if you fell down the steep run you are still sure to end up at Tremplin for their fantastic mulled wine and DJ’s and can sometimes watch slalom races above it. The Happy Hour Bar, located at the base of the Ardent’s gondola just below Lindarets creates some of the best hot dogs I have ever seen for example and entire nacho’s meal on top of a hot dog. They also do some wicked 15% cocktails for a cheeky 5 euros to be sure you are having a good time in no time. Inferno, located at the top of the Nyon cable car has a mountain meal party every Wednesday night with DJ’s or live music, a hot tub, and wait for it… all you can eat and drink for just 25 Euros! To top it off if your brave enough and still capable after the party you can ski back down to the base in the dark or pay a small fee to get a ride down on a skidoo.
Once après ski time has passed and you have successfully made it to your welcoming wooden chalet with a freshly baked cake waiting for you lovingly made by your chalet hosts, it is time to rid the ski gear and sharpen up for some of the best French cuisine you have ever tasted. With the large number of eating-places in Morzine it is hard to choose where to go, however so far on my stay two eateries in particular have impressed me so much they deserve special recommendation. Because the French really know how to do cheese I think it is important that every visitor try a heavenly fondue. Located next to the base of the Super Morzine lift is La Flamme restaurant, my favourite place to dine for anything that involves cheese at a wallet-favoring price. Another must do on my France bucket list is French fine dining, for this I recommend none other than Restaurant L’Altelier, located in the Hotel Le Samoyed right in the middle of town opposite the Morzine Tourist Office. It was an absolute pleasure to experience L’Altelier Restaurant and eat what is quite possibly some of the best food I have ever tasted. This Restaurant prides itself on its fresh produce and a new menu is created every week by the talented chefs to suit the food of the season. The staff are also impeccably well trained, can speak English, and are very polite making the whole dining experience one to remember. Stand out courses were the roasted pigeon breast fillet from “Racan” and crusty legs with yellow turnip in jelly and cabbage with red wine, cooked to perfection the tender meat absolutely melted in your mouth. Rich and creamy deserts to die for and an assortment of hand made sweets with coffee topped off the meal perfectly. Once wined and dined you may want to head to Haka bar, the best place to watch a spot of rugby as many Kiwis or Aussies love to do. And as I have discovered since being here over the period of the 6 Nations series most of the UK visitors are also very big rugby fans so Haka Bar’s many screens is perfect to get a good view with all the atmosphere included. Fancy a spot of pool? Your best destination to head to next is Coyotes Bar also located in the centre of town it has a number of pool tables and air hockey as well as some heavenly tasting cocktails. Conveniently it is also right next to both Cavern and Opera the two most popular nightclub venues to dance the night away into the wee hours.
Of course Morzine is not just all eating, drinking, sleeping, skiing, the village also boasts all sorts of down day activities such as an indoor ice skating rink, free outdoor children’s ice skating rink, aquatic centre, day spas, shopping, cafes, a cinema showing both French and English movies, walking and mountain biking tracks, cross country skiing, and a whole lot more. Morzine is also host to a number of large events such as a Morzine loves Women week, and the Rock the Pistes Festival; a week long event featuring the best of French and International rock and pop music. All you need to do to take part in Rock the Pistes and enjoy the entertainment is simply buy a lift pass and go riding to the slopes where temporary stages are set up each day to see the free live music.
Now that I have given away some of the best snippets of info about this gem of a ski village in the heart of the Portes du Soleil, it is time for you to make the commitment and plan what could be the best Northern Winter ski holiday of your life. There are so many more exciting features and activities in Morzine I have not had time to mention, so I will leave those up to you to discover on your exciting snow adventure to the French Alps.
Morzine Tourism Office