3 Summer days in the alpine region of Samoëns
“We are the future of tourism in the Alps” proclaims Nicolas, the charismatic Director of Tourism for Samoëns, as we tuck into a slice of the region’s famous Reblochon cheese. He has a glint in his eye and is clearly a natural salesman, but having just experienced the intoxicating charm of this little corner of France over the last few days, I am compelled to believe him.
Samoëns is not your typical Alpine. This was clear from the second I arrived into the quiet chocolate-box town, having already been treated to panoramic views of Mt Blanc on the stunning one-hour drive from Geneva Airport.
I was greeted by a tranquil scene of traditional chalets, pedestrianised streets and just a gentle hum of life, with locals exchanging smiles as they went about their enviably relaxed existence.
Although a quarter of Samoëns’ ever-increasing tourist population visits in summer – a statistic almost unmatched across the Alps – there is an overwhelming village-like feel to the place; a quietness defiantly resisting its growing international attention.
After checking into the homely, family-run Neige et Roc, I reluctantly dragged myself away from my balcony’s spectacular mountain views to meet Paula, who was to be our guide throughout our stay.
Paula gave us a brief insight into the town’s fascinating – as part of the region of Savoy, Samoëns only actually joined France – before dropping us off at our first activity.
Aside from its quaint peaceful culture Samoëns differs from its Alpine rivals in that it is so much more than a ski resort. Summer tourists have over 600 activities to choose from and for us, biking was first up.
I’d seen this on our itinerary when I first arrived, but had absolutely no idea what to expect. bikes, it turned out, are electronic mountain bikes with particularly wide tyres to provide extra stability. This massively increases the sport’s accessibility, allowing people to take on routes typically beyond their ability level.
The bike’s electric turbo was particularly welcome on some of the more challenging climbs, but the majority of the two-hour ride was spent sailing through the relatively flat valley floor.
Flanked by Samoëns’ many surrounding peaks – the town’s name comes from a medieval expression meaning ‘seven mountains’ – we made good time on our way to the neighbouring village of Sixt-Fer-à-Cheval.
Passing dramatic gorges, wild flower meadows and some of Samoëns’ nine miniature chapels, we eventually returned to our start point, all wearing wide grins on our muddied faces.
A mindful hike into the forest
The next morning, after a delightful continental breakfast. I returned to my room to watch the sun creep over the imposing Aouille de Criou, stony peak which dominates Samoëns’ north-eastern skyline. The temperature quickly began to climb and the heatwave that had been sweeping across Europe began to make itself known.
As such the shaded sections of our sensory walk that morning provided welcome relief. Under the guidance of a local yoga instructor, we hiked up the forested side of one of the nearby mountains and through a series of mindfulness exercises, were encouraged to take in our surroundings.