Le Grand Bornand, in the Aravis, part of the Annecy Mountains region is a skier’s delight, but it’s also an absolutely fabulous summer destination. You’ll discover a vibrant little town, with plenty of shops, bars and restaurants plus a plethora of activities including fantastic hiking and biking routes, as well as culture and heritage, set against a backdrop of mountains covered in greenery and wildflowers. It really is a little hidden gem…
What to see and do in Le Grand Bornand
Le Grand Bornand is small enough to get to know it well in a day, big enough to keep you happy for a week or more, and surrounded by glorious countryside.
This is a town that loves cows and there’s a year-round Cow Art Trail, an open-air tour featuring artworks paying homage to the humble cow!
You’ll also find here the shop of Didier Perrillat, one of the last artisans making leather goods in Haute-Savoie, including necklaces for cows! Did you know every cow has a unique bell? And a good farmer can recognise an individual cow by its ring? Cows here wear daytime bells but they may have a special “dress” bell which is much bigger and heavier and worn for shows and special occasions. Didier makes beautiful leather straps for the bells to hang on for those special occasions! You can watch him creating all sorts of leather goods from purses to bags in his cosy shop Chez Le Bourrelier.
Nature lovers and families will love La Source, an authentic farm with exhibition rooms, workshops, play areas, a quirky cow sculpture (of course), plus a bar and café set in stunning surroundings.
The town makes for a great base for touring the area by car, bike, on foot or even on roller skis, great practice for the winter season and a terrific way to get fit. It’s the outstanding natural beauty of the area that is the real star though with a photo opp at every step.
Around and about
A short drive from Le Grand Bornand you’ll find the Col des Aravis. At 1498m it has magnificent views that take your breath away. Those ski lifts that make skiers life easy, also work in the summer and make for a fun ride.
Mountain bikers will love the 178km of cycle paths weaving their way through the Massif des Aravis mountain range – there are 16 trails, a bike park and even a bike school offering guided night-time e-bike rides including dinner in a high-altitude restaurant and a starlit descent to the village. Don’t fancy breaking into a sweat? Hop on an e-bike and take an 18km route that offers spectacular views over the Aravis Mountains, great for the whole family with a farmhouse auberge stop en route.
Hikers are spoiled for choice with a huge variety of signposted walks for those who like a challenge, or those who like to wander in peace and not run out of puff.
You’ll pass herds of cows wearing bells creating an orchestra of tinkling chimes. There are meadows of wildflowers, cascades of fauna and flora and waterfalls which look like a curtain of diamonds including one which is known to the locals as the “Mysterious Waterfall” at Chinaillon village, a small resort above le Grand Bornand. Traditional style chalets dot the slopes and paragliders float overhead. The summer sun is warm but high up in the mountains, it’s still cool. There are lakes you can take a dip in, secret chapels, plus cheese farms and potteries where you can watch the artisans work and buy a beautiful souvenir.
For a contrast, head to Annecy, just an hour away by bus which takes you through spectacular countryside. The city on the edge of a crystal-clear water lake, perfect for boating and swimming in summer months, is fringed by castles and alpine villages, has a mountain of charms. Crisscrossed by canals which has earned it the nickname of the “Venice of the Alps”, and cobbled streets that are peppered with medieval buildings, clock towers and ancient churches, and everywhere flowers – blooming baskets hang from posts, blossoms drip from troughs and giant pots, windowsills and stone urns festooned with colour. Climb a hill to visit the castle turned museum for fabulous views and afterwards treat yourself with a fabulous choice of cafés, restaurants and bars, before taking a boat ride around the lake.
Skiing in le Grand Bornand
Le Grand Bornand is separated in to two villages at different altitudes. At 1000 metres, Le Grand-Bornand is at 1000m and Le Grand-Bornand Chinaillon which you reach via the Col de la Colombiere (top photo) is at 1300m and is the main departure for the ski slopes. There are 90km of ski slopes including piste is great for families, beginners and intermediary level skiers but there is some terrain suitable for experienced skiers looking to be challenged. The area connects to 220km of ski slopes, linking with other resorts including Manigod and La Clusaz. There’s also 150km of cross country trails.
Pop to the tourist office in the centre of Le Grand Bornand for details on a raft of events held throughout the year in the town and around and find out about sports and activities on offer plus the local art and heritage trails.
The high street of Le Grand Bornand is lined with delicious gourmet food shops including cheese, chocolate and charcuterie shops. There’s an award winning boulangerie at Le Petit Marquis with speciality breads of Savoie, and if you’ve got a sweet tooth, head to Gourmandises d’Antan and try the “alpine snowflakes”, “Aravis crystals” and more delicious little treats. Or stop by the Shed Cafe, the newest cafe in the old village for home-made cakes and a pick me up coffee.
There are plenty of restaurants and bars in the town, from gastronomic to traditional. Head up into the mountains for glorious views and more fabulous restaurants. For spectacular vistas, ambiance and scrumptious dishes, Restaurant les Rhodos ticks all the boxes.
Don’t miss a cheese tasting – this is Reblochon cheese country. First produced in the 13th century, it’s a traditional taste of the Mountains. Find out more about the history of the area, life in the past and Reblochon cheese at the Le Hameau des Alpes museum at nearby La Clusaz. And don’t miss out on tartiflette, a melted cheese melange of lardons, cream, onion and potato topped with Reblochon – perfect after a bike ride or ramble on a summer’s day.
By Janine Marsh, Editor of The Good Life France, and author of several books about France.
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