Customs and Exercise: Exploring La Plagne by rock, water, earth and air

What do you get when summer melts the world’s most visited ski resort? A peaceful playground in summer colours, views of Mont Blanc, and heady adrenalin cocktails from mixing up rock, water and air adventures

There’s nothing quite like waking up to Mont Blanc staring you in the face. Ok, it’s two valleys away, but it still makes its presence felt, drawing the eye like a magnet. A behemoth on the horizon, it stands head and shoulders above its peers, so much taller that it alone is crowned in cloud. It makes its own micro-climate, you see, disrupting the high-altitude winds.

As the sun steals around its heavy shoulders and the smell of fresh croissants and coffee percolates through the cosy wood-clad hotel, it’s the sight of Mont Blanc’s distant heights that sets the tone for the day to come.

Mont Blanc dominates the horizon

Stepping outside into the fresh alpine air we’re greeted by an agricultural diesel chuckle as an ancient Pinzgauer truck pulls up, discharging an amiable Frenchman as weather-beaten as its own scarred flanks. He introduces himself as Francois, our guide for the morning. Ushering us into the back of the truck, with a sly smile he assures us it’s going to be a great day up in the mountains –  it has to be, it’s his birthday!

La Plagne in the French Tarentaise is better known in its winter guise than its current summer colours. Famed for being the most visited ski resort in the world, it’s a different kettle of fish during the warmer months. Gone are the crowds of tourists and clanking ski boots, replaced instead by the gentle clang of cow bells echoing among strikingly green meadows. Hulking peaks dominate the skyline in all directions, matched for drama only by the tumult of glacial rivers cutting ever deeper into the valleys below.

Wind whipping our hair in the open bed of the Pinzgauer, we rattle our way up over loose rocky paths and improbable gradients towards the first adventure of the day, Francois pointing out the sights from the cab up front as we go.

The mighty Pinzgauer – an unstoppable machine!

Reaching the end of the track we continue on foot towards a particularly intimidating crag, with iron rungs and cables snaking up it… It’s time to earn the oozing tartiflette I spotted on tonight’s menu. Luckily there’s more than enough adventure to go around in La Plagne, just pick your flavour – rock, water or air.

On the rock: Via Ferrata

Somewhere in between hiking and climbing, Via Ferrata opens up vertiginous mountain faces to anyone brave enough to try. There’s no need for technical skills or complicated equipment to navigate these aerial obstacle courses: just a simple Via Ferrata kit of harness, two elasticated slings, and carabiners will suffice. With at least one carabiner attached to the cables at all times even the newest would-be alpinists can safely and securely wend their way up and along breath-taking routes through the high peaks.

Christina and Francois on the first stage of the Les Bourtes Via Ferrata

Thrill seekers will want to check out the new heart-rate-raising Les Bourtes Via Ferrata route. Starting at an altitude of 2350m it’s not for the faint hearted, featuring exposed ladders, a swaying cable bridge and two chasm-spanning zipwires over the 600m course. If that sounds like more than your nerves can take, the four hour long Roc du Vent route offers a more gentle experience above the beautiful Roseland Lake.

On the ground: E-biking

Like their myriad network of ski pistes, La Plagne has no shortage of bike trails to keep enthusiasts of all levels entertained. Many of the chairlifts remain open in the summer, and along with the odd pedal here and there (or more if you prefer going uphill!) they access over 300km of trails of varying difficulty, swooping through meadows and down through secluded woods.

Cruising La Plagne’s extensive bike trails | Photo: Pierre Augier

Over the last couple of years the resort has been actively trying to open up their mountains to more and more people, including adding 150km of dedicated e-bike trails and a large hire fleet of the battery-powered steeds. No matter your level of physical fitness or appetite for sweat the electric assistance allows anyone to get out and enjoy the fresh alpine air, and you can adjust the level of power up or down if you want more or less of a challenge.

There are a number of charging points dotted around the network too, often adjacent to charming alpine huts serving all your favourite mountain treats (melted cheese and ham, anyone?).

On the water: Hydrospeeding

If the summer heat starts to take its toll, the cool waters of the Isère river are never far away! The area is a kayak slalom and whitewater breeding ground, producing several world class athletes in recent years and acting as a training base for many more.

Launching into the refreshingly cool water | Photo: P. Royer

Whitewater rafting is the traditional choice for non-professionals, but adrenaline junkies should try their hand at hydrospeeding instead. Lying half in and half on a foam float – like the spaceship of the bodyboard world – you’ll take to the fierce currents and thumping waves of the Aime rapids, with a cliff jump or two form the high gorge walls along the way for good measure.

Unlike rafting, you get the chance to pilot your own individual craft, with an expert guide to show you the ropes and point out the lines. Navigating the torrent of whitewater will be all down to you though – you can skirt along the edges, or take the plunge right down the guts if you dare!

In the air: Super Tyro

If you still have energy and adrenaline left over after a day at play in the mountains, give La Plagne’s new super tyro a whirl. The 600m long zip wire launches out from Aime 2000, soaring 140 metres above the valley down to Plagne Centre below at speeds of up to 90km/h. Jumping off the edge at the top is a definite leap of faith, but the feeling of flight whizzing along the cable will leave even the biggest daredevils buzzing.

Getting and staying there

Lyon is the closest airport at just over two hours drive from La Plagne, but Geneva (just under three hours) has more regular flights from a number of UK airports. Both Lyon and Geneva are well served by several different transfer operators, from public buses to coaches or private taxis.

The recently renovated 4* Hotel Cocoon has a cosy, wood-cladded atmosphere. As you’d expect in France the food is divine as standard. Groups have the option of booking a special Scandinavian style grill night, too. To top it off, the outdoor hot tub affords stunning views of the sun setting behind Mont Blanc.

Hotel restaurant le Cocoon – La Plagne – Savoie – France

Useful links