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Sixt-Fer-a-Cheval, Haute Savoie, France | A hidden gem

In spring and summer in Samoens in the French Alps, the snow melts, the whole valley turns green and the meadows come to life.  Although, we all love the winter season, the spring and summer months mean it’s time to get out the walking boots, bikes, climbing gear, rafts and relish the warm weather.

Sixt-Fer-a-Cheval officially one of the most beautiful villages in France

At the head of the valley, 6km from Samoens lies a true hidden gem, Sixt-Fer-a-Cheval, one of the most beautiful villages in France (of which there are only five in the French Alps). It is an area of outstanding natural beauty. The village is built on the banks of the River Giffre, centred around a small abbey dating from the 13th century. Buildings in Sixt tend to be of traditional design, a mix of wooden and stone chalets, old farmhouses and ancient buildings. The regional history is apparent, with 9 chapels, oratories, crosses, fountains and carved doors, evidence of the skills of the local stone cutters who were world famous for their exquisite masonry.

Sixt National Park

The Sixt national park is a year-round haven for mountain lovers, adventurers, walkers and mountain bikers. Lovers of all forms of alpine activities including paragliding, via ferrata, mountaineering and rafting will be in their element here.

There are lots of trails and paths winding their way through glorious alpine meadows, forests and abundant waterfalls. Keen hikers can walk the trails that lead to some of the higher more challenging peaks in the area. The highest peak is Mont Buet which reaches 3,099 metres. Always ask advice from the Tourist information office and ensure that you are well prepared as the weather can be very changeable.

Cirque Du Fer a Cheval

There’s nowhere quite like the fantastic Cirque Du Fer à Cheval. The name Sixt-Fer-à-Cheval comes from the shape of this natural amphitheatre which, from above, looks like a horseshoe. It reaches almost 5 km across and is surrounded by extremely high limestone cliffs. The scenery is truly stunning with 360 views of around 30 waterfalls cascading in every direction. When the snow starts to melt the avalanches start exploding and the “boom” echoes all around the valley. There are many walks of different lengths, terrain and difficulty, all very well sign posted. A good walk for most abilities is the trail to Le Bout de Monde (the end of the world). You will find yourself following a route through a dramatic valley over a swing bridge then up river. There’s no need to worry about refreshments as there’s an excellent restaurant at the start and a small refuge mid-way, which provides snacks and drinks.

Sometimes when its quiet, you might be lucky enough to see all kinds of wildlife, including chamois, marmottes, bouquetin (ibex), and bearded vultures.

Walk the walk

Keen and well-prepared hikers can access trails that lead to some of the higher peaks in the area Some can be pretty challenging so ask for advice at the Park Information centre before setting off.

The highest mountain in the valley is the Mont Buet which reaches 3,099 metres. Sixt shares important borders with Switzerland, on the northeast and Chamonix-Mont-Blanc to the south.

Another favourite is the magnificent Cascade du Rouget, the largest and best known of the waterfalls in the locality. The torrent surges dramatically in two huge steps, falling for over 80 metres. It is easily accessible by car, bike or on foot, approx. 40 min walk from the village.

Even more beautiful walks and scenery can be accessed by continue past the Cascade until you reach the end of the road at Lignon. The Lac d’Anterne is an enjoyable hike but is rated difficult due to the length (18km) and elevation (1,180 m). It has a relatively steep pathway that leads to two waterfalls, one of which is from an unknown source. Shortly after, the path separates in two, turn left and follow the sign post towards the Lac d’Anterne. The trail starts to narrow, and wind and you begin to get a glimpse of the beauty that lies ahead. A short descent leads to the river and after a few switchbacks you will arrive at the Refuge Alfred Wills. After a steep ascent then a small plateau, in the valley you find the sumptuous green-turquoise pearl that is Lac d’Anterne.

Activities galore at Sixt

Sixt sits on the bank of the River Giffre and is the starting point for white-water rafting. It really is a fun day out for all the family and one of the most exciting points of the river is the entry to the Gorge de Tines where the raft heads down a small waterfall. Once down the rapids enjoy the short trip through the narrow gorge taking in the peace and quiet and the full height of the cliffs on either side of the narrow channel. Once you reach the end of the gorge its possible to access the top of the cliff and jump into a deep pool but only if you’re brave!

The car park at Gorges de Tines provides the access  for a magnificent Via Ferrata course. Via ferrata is a protected climbing route where a steel cable is periodically fixed to the rock and using clips and harnesses climbers can secure themselves to the cable, limiting any falls. There are some amazing views and some challenging overhangs and quite a bit of climbing.

The whole of the valley offers some great mountain biking, cross country and down hill and there is no shortage of great spots in and around the Sixt Village.

Useful websites: www.sixtferacheval.com; summer.samoens.com

Summer fun in Samoens – famous for its fabulous skiing, this part of the French Alps becomes an outdoor playground in the summer
5 great spring time activities in Samoens
Samoens, the ideal town for adventurers
The perfect year round holiday home in Samoens

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