Samoëns is a picturesque “ville fleurie” in the Haute-Savoie region in south-eastern France. It sits in the Vallée du Giffre, in the French Alps, and is only an hour by car from Geneva. Long a winter skiing destination, it’s also great in the summer – on offer is everything from river rafting to paragliding…
Mountain biking in Samoens
On a glorious sunny day, we start off early with a mountain bike tour along the Giffre River. This is where we’ll be rafting later and I can’t help but notice that it’s doing a very good impression of a raging torrent, the result of the previous day’s rain. We follow the river until it enters a narrow steep-sided gorge, and then climb above it. After another hour of easy climbing we turn round and make our way back down to lunch by the Lac aux Dames. There’s easy kayaking here but I’m still worrying about the white water.
White water rafting in Samoens
After ploughing through a huge foie-gras salad, probably not the wisest choice for bouncing on the water, I get equipped. Wetsuit, life jacket and helmet are all essential and the four of us are soon on our way to the launch site with our inflatable dinghy. We each get a paddle and our guide shows us how to use them – there are four commands – Paddle Forward, Paddle Back, Stop and Get Down! The first three are obvious but the last is an order to sink to our knees and prepare for an imminent collision. This is too much for one of us who suddenly loses it: “I don’t want to be responsible for killing you all” she screams. We talk her round and soon we’re floating down the river at great speed.
The trick is to wedge your feet in the gap between the floor and sides of the boat so you don’t get thrown out, but one guy is soon in the water. Fortunately he doesn’t lose his paddle and we manage to pull him back in. As we approach the narrow gorge, the guide pulls us into the shallows and goes off to inspect. He declares it safe but only if we work as team, not something we’ve managed so far. It’s very narrow, the water is flowing fast and we’re constantly crashing into the rocks and spinning round. We lose someone else in the water but he’s quickly hauled back to safety and we make it to the end of the ride without further mishap.
Paragliding in Samoens
As I climb onto the bank, every bone in my body is aching. There’s more fun to come, however, as we’re told that conditions are perfect for para-gliding, but we must go now. The women opt out, so it’s left to the three men, all pretending to each other that they’re not frightened. In fact, we’re not going to be flying solo, the plan is for each of to hang on to an experienced pilot in what’s known as tandem flight.
We’re driven up the mountain to 1600m with our flying companions and disguise our fear by exchanging pleasantries. Conditions are perfect, no wind, 100% visibility and good thermals. They tell me it can be cold in the air and ask if I need a jacket, but I’m sweating in anticipation. I ask my pilot Adrian how long he’s been doing this and he says 15 years. With helmets wedged on, harnessed together, we’re ready to go and I’m told to keep running until we lift off. Suddenly the land falls away before me and I’m airborne. We’re soon above the trees and, even though I’m not good at heights, I realise there’s nothing I can do, as the pilot is in complete charge. We’re circling, trying to find thermals, and climb higher, experiencing some turbulence but nothing to worry about.
We keep spiralling upwards and I see one of my friends way above me. The views are tremendous down the valley and I begin to feel I could stay up for ever. Indeed, in conditions like this it’s normal to travel for miles, harnessing the thermals to soar over the mountains. After about 45 minutes we start our descent. As the valley floor comes nearer, I know that my pilot can land on a dime, and he instructs me to stand up immediately he gives me the order. I see the freshly mown grass rushing towards me, and when we land, I’m thrilled to have done something I’ve always dreamed of.
Samoens Tourist office has information about the summer activities. www.samoens.com/en/summer
Where to stay: The Lodges, Samoens is the perfect place for adventurers who love a bit of luxury, stunning views and the perfect home from home in a fabulous Alpine location.