THE view was stunning – with some of the highest peaks in the Alps spreading out in all directions, mist rising beneath them from ridges of thick forest.

Sightseeing, however, was the last thing on my mind.

I was perched on a small platform overlooking a sheer drop at a height of 6,000ft, being manhandled into a harness, trussed up horizontally, and clipped on to a thin wire down which I was expected to slide to an equally narrow platform on the other side of the valley.

It was a crazy idea, but by this stage there was no backing out.

The wire flexed disconcertingly as I swung forward, face forward, arms by my sides, and was flung from the mountaintop into nothing.

Terror turned to exhilaration and a Zen-like calm, as I surrendered my fate to the equipment and started to enjoy the view beneath me – tiny mountain bikers leaping off microscopic jumps; toy cars negotiating the mountain pass 800ft below.

I’m riding the Fantasticable, one of Europe’s longest zip wires, which takes the fearless and/or foolhardy across the Plaine Dranse at Châtel, a gem of an Alpine town in the heart of the Portes du Soleil – where France tumbles into Switzerland.

All too soon I am brought to a springy halt at a half-way station, am re-clipped to another wire, and sent sliding off again, like an ungainly Superman.

Oxford Mail:

Ready for take off: Tim Hughes rides the Fantasticable

I enjoy this one more. The sensation of gliding at 75mph is as close to flying as anything I can reasonably imagine. I take in the 360 degree views and the sensation of silently gliding across this beautiful, rugged landscape and feel myself grinning. Then it’s over. I look around at my fellow zipliners. They are also grinning. We can’t stop.

A ‘flight’ on the Fantasticable is an essential part of any trip to this most beautiful corner of France.

Oxford Mail:

Daredevil: Thrill seeker Matt Carr in flight

One of Europe’s best-loved ski areas, due to its great facilities and proximity to Geneva Airport, the Portes du Soleil is rapidly becoming the thrillseeker’s top spring and summer destination too.

Where skiers hurtled just a couple of months earlier, mountain bikers now fly, testing their abilities on some of the world’s best runs. So synonymous has the area become with cycling, that the mountain town of Morzine is almost as busy in the summer as at the height of the ski season – the bars buzzing with riders enjoying a bit of ápres-velo.

They come for the hundreds of miles of trails, many following those same pistes which attracted snow lovers in the winter, and similarly graded from green to black in order of difficulty. And, should you wish, you need never touch anything as boring as a road.

From Châtel we followed a precipitous trail up to the rim of the valley which hangs above the village. They call this lush, vividly-green valley Abondance – sharing its name with the eponymous cheese, produced in small mountaintop farms with milk from the contentedlooking cows whose clanking bells are a constant, pleasing, background noise.

We pedal up rocky paths, some muddy after early morning rain – the moisture now rising in plumes from the valley; the clouds parting to reveal tantalising glimpses of the huge snowcapped summits looming beyond.

In no time at all we are in Switzerland and the canton of Valai – the border consisting of a small badge of a white cross on red background pinned to a wooden post. The ride down into Switzerland is substantially more fun than the thigh-burning ascent – a succession of mountain ridges, tumbling rivers elaborate chalets and pretty churches flicking past – all to the accompaniment of those clanging cow bells. At the valley floor we ride through a chocolate box village and hit the trail again, finally reaching the Pas de Morgins (1369m) – and back into Haute-Savoie and, indeed, France.

Oxford Mail:

Downhill: Hitting the trail in Morzine (Picture: Jean Baptiste Bieuville) 

Back in Châtel, legs and hearts still throbbing from the exertion and exhilaration, we tuck into that great carb-rich Savoie speciality, tartiflette: rich lava-hot molten reblochon cheese smothering potato and bacon lardons. To burn it off, we set out again, this time on foot, to learn more about Abondance, following a steep, single track to a farm perched at the very head of the valley beneath precipitous slopes, along which well-fed cattle meander, bells a-swinging.

The cheeses are treated with reverence by the farmer’s wife who allows us a peak into an outhouse in which great stacked wheels of Abondance sit and mature – their rich heady aroma filling the sweet mountain air.

The cheese is best enjoyed, we are told, with a glass of intensely red local Mondeuse wine – and who am I to argue. I slept well that night.

If you like the thought of going downhill more than the climb up, then Morzine is the place to go for gravity-assisted thrills. Here the chair lifts run throughout the summer – though adapted to accommodate mountain bikes. The best known is the majestic Pleney World Cup downhill course, which takes white-knuckle riders down a vertical drop of 1,800ft in just over two miles. It’s a breakneck ride only for the experienced.

But you don’t need to be a daredevil– or even a particularly strong rider – to enjoy Morzine’s network of trails. For a less lung-busting, but equally scenic ride, embrace technology and join the latest craze to sweep the area: E-bikes.

These neat battery-powered mountain bikes are equipped with small electric-assist motors, giving riders a mighty helping hand on the uphills – the rider selecting the amount of help required – from turbo to, well, nothing. These are not motorbikes, though; you still need to pedal, but it makes it a lot easier. Serious riders may baulk, but the bikes are increasingly popular with families who want to ride together but where not everyone has the leg muscles of a Tour de France King of the Mountains.

But then there’s no need to hurry in the Portes du Soleil. After all, why come to the most beautiful corner of Europe, just to rush through? And that cheese won’t eat itself.

Oxford Mail:

Pastoral charm: The lush Abondance Valley above Châtel





  • The Multi-Pass gives unlimited free access to more than 50 activities across the Portes du Soleil area, reductions on many more and is included in many accommodation packages. Otherwise it’s 2€/day.

Go to /summer-mountainholidays.