This year again, Rafael and I decided to go to the Alps and spend a week in the amazing and snowy Aravis massif. We must admit that it has become kind of a family tradition, in fact, we have been going there for three years in a row now! On the agenda: plenty of cheese, some charcuterie, a little bit of wine and local beer, some hikes, skiing, snowshoeing and a few more hikes to eliminate all that excess fat!
The Aravis massif in Haute-Savoie is a place well-known by the French, a little less by the international tourists which prefer the more chic ski areas such as Chamonix, Megève or Courchevel. However, this place has nothing to envy to its rivals: the nature of the Aravis is incredible, its landscapes are breathtaking, its mountains are majestic and its villages are typical of the Alps! This travel guide is designed to give you an overview of what to see in the Aravis massif in one week. Whether you want to discover charming alpine villages, are looking for a memorable winter experience or want to witness some breathtaking scenery, we got you covered!
INTRODUCTION TO THE ARAVIS
The Aravis massif is a well-known destination amongst ski lovers, hikers and more generally mountain and snow lovers. It is home among others to the Aravis combes, the Confins valley and the famous ski resorts of La Clusaz and Grand-Bornand, two villages with a typical Haute Savoie atmosphere. The Aravis mountain range is a rocky barrier facing the Mont Blanc massif located between Lake Annecy and the Arve valley which culminates at the Pointe Percée, at an altitude of 2.750 meters.
Since the growth of tourism in the 20th century, the Aravis massif received more and more tourists every year. Today, the Alpine Ski Resort of the Aravis comprises four distinct ski resorts with a total of 230 km of slopes. The largest ski resort is located in La Clusaz, which currently extends over four massifs spread around the village. It is linked by cable-car to the ski resort of Manigod, which makes it the second ski resort of the area. Le Grand-Bornand and Saint-Jean de Sixt are the other two ski resorts in the region, the former is the one we always go to when feeling like hitting the slopes!
We've put together our top 10 favorite places to visit in the Aravis mountains, all of which are located within a 45-minute drive from Annecy, making them ideal for day trips, especially if you've picked Annecy as your base for your holidays!
1. LA CLUSAZ
La Clusaz is one of our favorite places in the Aravis massif! Every year, it is a real pleasure to rediscover this village, whether it is covered with blanket of snow or not! La Clusaz is an internationally renowned alpine resort, the largest in the Aravis Massif, located only half an hour from Annecy and situated at an altitude of 1.040 meters, which allows it to boast stunning views! The geographical position of La Clusaz gave its name to the village; "Clusaz" comes from the French word "cluse" which means "passage between two mountains". The modern history of La Clusaz started in 1955, when the first cable car was built, allowing the resort to begin to prosper. Whatever time of year you choose to visit La Clusaz, there are plenty of activities available! Whether you're a skier, mountain biker or a hiker, you are sure to find something that suits you! In addition to downhill skiing, the ski resort offers many other possibilities for winter enthusiasts, from cross-country skiing to skijoring, swimming and ice skating, etc.
2. LES CONFINS
Les Confins is part of the town of La Clusaz, a unique place located at an altitude of 1.450 meters. This is one of our favourite places to feel in perfect harmony with nature! Tucked away at the foot of the spectacular Aravis combes, above the Confins Lake, the site is indeed renowned for its incredible setting! The Confins plateau is a hiking site appreciated by all in summer as well as in winter. Snowshoe enthusiasts will be delighted to walk around the lake or to take one of the many groomed paths. Les Confins is also a renowned area for Nordic skiing enthusiasts, offering 63 km of slopes accessible to all levels in a breathtaking setting, including a 7 km link with the Grand-Bornand resort. And after all this effort, why not enjoy a good Haute-Savoie beer or a mulled wine on one of the terraces in the sun?! And don't forget to make a detour to the Chévrerie des Confins to purchase some good chevrotin, a farmhouse goat cheese with a protected designation of origin made from raw goat's milk from the mountains in the region. You can even access the barn where the goats are kept in winter, but beware of the smell!
The Beauregard is another mountainous plateau in the region culminating at 1.741 meters in the town of La Clusaz. We have only been there once but we have to say that we fell in love with the place! We took the Beauregard cable car from the town of La Clusaz to access the plateau but the more adventurous can get there from Manigod on snowshoes (by parking at the Col de la Croix-Fry). The place is a must for all those who want to discover snowshoeing, beginners included as the difference in altitude is relatively small! The setting is absolutely stunning, you can discover beautiful mountain chalets, viewpoints on the Aravis and even even catch a glimpse of Mont Blanc!
4. LE GRAND-BORNAND
Le Grand-Bornand is another of our favourite places in the region! It is a singular kind of place encircled with mountain tops which gives it a magical and enchanted atmosphere, how not to fall in love with such a scenery?! Located on the western slopes of the Aravis massif, Le Grand-Bornand is both a summer and winter tourist resort that has developed around an old village. The main village of Grand-Bornand is a typical Savoyard village with its covered market, its square, its church and the shops that surround it! This is without a doubt the kind of atmosphere and setting that one appreciates when going on holidays in the mountains!
| For more information about Le Grand-Bornand, check our post here |
Chinaillon is home to the old village of Grand-Bornand (dating from the 17th century) and to its main ski resort. This old village is the soul of Grand-Bornand and is enlisted among the most beautiful resorts in the French Alps; it cultivates the charm of its four-century-old chalets combined with the modernity of a dynamic destination that has retained its authenticity. One of the most important building and most representative of the old village is the Chinaillon Chapel. The main ski resort of Grand-Bornand is located in the village of Chinaillon and includes about 84 km of ski slopes. Every year, we love to go there to hit the slopes as the resort has many green slopes (we are not ski experts!). Note that it is not necessary to go to Chinaillon to access the slopes as it is possible to reach the top of the mountain from the main village of Grand-Bornand.
| For more information about Chinaillon, check our post here |
Thônes has been our favourite place to stay for many years and makes an ideal base for visiting the beautiful Aravis region! It is a charming mountain village situated at an altitude of about 650 meters, only 20 km from Annecy, and at the gates of the winter sports resorts of La Clusaz and Le Grand-Bornand. Although the town does not have a ski resort, Thônes does have an incredible heritage, in fact, as you stroll around the city center, you will be able to discover its colourful arcaded houses as well as its 17th century Church of Saint-Maurice on the main square of the village, namely the Place Avet. Let's not forget to mention that Thônes is also the world capital of Reblochon, the emblematic cheese of the Haute-Savoie! Don't forget to check out the weekly farmers' market held every Saturday morning all year round, which offers local products such as Reblochon cheese and the Aravis liqueur made from genepi!
Manigod is located in the heart of the Aravis massif, 35 minutes by car from Annecy. The village is made up of several hamlets and has a family ski resort located between 1.460 meters and 1.780 meters in altitude. In winter, Manigod is ideal for discovering skiing as its 25 km of slopes are relatively easy, it also has a direct link to the ski resort of La Clusaz. The village is also very popular amongst snowshoe enthusiasts as it has many groomed paths. Indeed, from the Col de Merdassier, it's possible to go on snowshoeing hikes of different levels; there's something for everyone! From the Col de La Croix Fry, you can also reach the Plateau du Beauregard as mentioned above.
8. COL DES ARAVIS
The Col des Aravis is located in the town of La Clusaz and is the pass that separates the department of Haute-Savoie from that of Savoie. It is the lowest point crossing the Aravis mountain range, at an altitude of 1.486 meters. Every year we love to go there to see the thick snow cover! This place is well known amongst the cycling community as it is sometimes one of the stages of the Tour de France, the famous French bicycle race. Many drivers stop at Col des Aravis to take pictures as the site offers great views on the Aravis combes. You can even get a glimpse of the Mont Blanc! It is also possible to visit the tiny chapel of Aravis, a Catholic place of worship dedicated to Saint Anne, and even to eat or have a drink in one of the restaurants before going back on the road!
Ah Annecy! What can we say about this city other than wow! Its maze of canals and charming alleys have earned Annecy the sweet nickname of "Venice of the Alps". The city enjoys an exceptional setting thanks to the mountains that surround it and its iconic lake, one of the purest in Europe. We love to lose ourselves in the many charming century-old street lined by the Thiou and the Vassé rivers. Throughout your walk in the old town, you'll be able to stumble upon the numerous fortified gates and arcades which are all testimonies of the medieval period. Don't forget to pass by the Palais de l'Île, one of the city's most emblematic buildings, which served as a prison in the 12th century before becoming a court house in the 16th century. Then, climb to the heights of the city to discover the 12th-century castle, once the residence of the Counts of Geneva. If you choose Annecy as your base and stay for several days in the warmer months, you can cycle around the lake on the 38 km cycle path which offers stunning views of the lake!
10. COL DE LA FORCLAZ
The last point we want to mention in this post is the Col de la Forclaz, located at 1.150 meters, and offering a breathtaking view of Lake Annecy and the surrounding mountains.
To sum it up, this beautiful Aravis massif has plenty to offer! Whether you're a skier, mountain biker or simply a hiker, you are sure to find something to suit you in this incredible region! We hope that with all the information we provided above, you'll consider visiting one or more of these places when visiting the French Alps.
And now it's your turn to let us know what your favorite place of the Aravis massif is. Have you already visited this area of the French Alps? We look forward to reading your comments in the section below.
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