One of the great things about Annecy is its outdoors lifestyle – you’ve got cycling, hiking, sailing and swimming right on your doorstep. But you’re not just limited to the summer months either, the town is also surrounded by mountains so during the winter you can ski, snowboard and snowshoe your way around the slopes. The Aravis mountain range is within easy reach of Annecy and is home to four ski resorts – La Clusaz, Le Grand Bornand, Manigod and Saint Jean de Sixt. After spending a couple of days exploring the town we decided to head up into the mountains for a day in the snow. Though it was hard to imagine that there could be much left as Annecy had been basking in March sunshine and 18 degree temperatures.
There are buses that connect Annecy to the ski resorts, but to properly get out and explore we decided to hire a car for the day. We headed south out of the town where the road wound through outlying towns before beginning to slowly climb upwards. Eventually we started to spot piles of snow in between the trees, where they’d escaped the sun. Definitely not enough to ski on yet though, but by the time we reached the edge of La Clusaz things were starting to look a lot whiter. La Clusaz is one of the area’s best ski resorts, with a good mix of pistes set around a pretty Savoyard village full of traditional wooden chalets. It’s not that well-known a resort internationally, but has a lot of French and Swiss visitors.
Normally La Clusaz gets about six metres of snow a year, but with the hillsides around the village looking more green than white, it’d obviously been a while since the last snowfall. The shady slopes still had a good covering though and snow machines on the pistes meant they were still busy with skiers and snowboarders. But it wasn’t quite the snowy winter wonderland experience we’d been imagining – and was definitely too warm for a vin chaud – so we headed onwards. Following the road up through the town we had no idea where we were going, but it was uphill so that was a good start. The road zig-zagged up the mountainside past abandoned farmhouses and growing drifts of snow until we reached the top.
It turned out this was the Col des Aravis – a mountain pass which connects La Clusaz with La Giettaz in the neighbouring Savoie region. With views across to Mont Blanc, the road through the pass has been on the route of the Tour de France several times. We spotted a few amateur cyclists who’d been attempting their own version and had stopped to catch their breath at the top. The Col des Aravis is the lowest of the passes through the Aravis mountains but at almost 1500 metres it was still snowier and noticeably colder than down in La Clusaz. Snowshoe routes led up into the mountains and there was even a husky sled group about to head off. Things were definitely starting to feel a bit more wintery.
But by this time we were more interested in lunch. There are a couple of restaurants on the Col so we picked one with a terrace packed full of walkers and cyclists soaking up the sun. This area is where the reblochon cheese comes from that’s used in lots of classic mountain dishes, so we couldn’t resist a tartiflette – sliced potatoes layered with bacon, cream and cheese. To burn off a few of those dairy-related calories we took a quick walk along to the only other building on the slopes, a tiny chapel dedicated to St Anne. There’s a gold inscription on the front that reads “Sainte Anne protégez les voyageurs” (St Anne protect the travellers). A good omen for our journey back down the mountain, out of the snow to Annecy.