Samoens is a little known but exciting medieval village within the French Alps, with activities to satisfy any mountain junkie. This pretty French village has a unique setting near Sixt Fer à Cheval, a natural horseshoe formation in front of the toothy Dents Blanches mountain range. Perfect for active family holidays, it’s worth spending several weeks here to fully appreciate the range of mountain activities even outside the skiing season.
These include the classics, with a variety of mountain bike routes for those who love cycling holidays, as well as a huge range of hiking trails. However, once you’ve had time to enjoy these accessible activities, you might want to look to the quirky range of other attractions on offer here, such as hydrospeed and mushrooming.
World class caving is available here thanks to the limestone geology of Samoens which has enabled the creation of one of the most interesting cave systems in the world. It also hosts one of the deepest caves: the Gouffre Jean Bernard. Discovered in 1959, three young speleologists found a hole so deep “you couldn’t hear the stones fall.” The Gouffre will already be known to comic book fans as it was featured in X-Men Origins: Gambit Vol 1 1 in which Gambit meets the aptly named Mister Sinister who lobotomises part of Gambit’s brain in exchange for dubious services. You’ve been warned.
You can also learn the basics of mycology, the study of mushrooms. Foraging for these delicate fungi is a national pastime for the French, and mushrooming is particularly exciting in Samoens as so many of the world’s delicacies grow in the shroom-friendly soil. Ceps, morels and chanterelles all thrive in the cool mountain air, but you’ll need a guide to show you the secret picking spots as such places are jealously guarded by the locals. Who would blame them?
You’ll also need to plan the time of your visit according to which type of mushroom your heart lusts after: morels muliply in the spring, chanterelles and ceps are more likely to be found in the autumn. After collecting your stash, you can go back your chalet and fry them up with some butter and garlic and serve them on the excellent local bread.
If water sports are your thing, you can try hydrospeeding here on the Giffre river which is an ideal place to try out the sport thanks to its decent water levels. Involving just an intrepid adventurer, a wetsuit, flippers and a foam board, hydrospeed was originally developed to aid mountain rescue. Much quicker than using a clunky rescue raft, the small flotation devices are also a lot easier to manoeuver.
The technique has since become very popular as an extreme sport because it’s much more immediate than rafting: you have to engage your mind and body in order to navigate yourself along the river to the safest (or most exciting) spots. The Giffre is nonetheless a pretty safe river to test your skills on.
Once you’ve exhausted ground-level activities, there are plenty of climbing opportunities in the surrounding area. Novices will enjoy the light thrills of the Via Ferrata, the route of steel, which requires very little equipment, and even less climbing experience.
The first of the Via Ferrate were built during the First World War to help the Italian infantry navigate the Dolomite region of Italy. In order to get around a route that would otherwise be inaccessible, a number of cables, bridges and ladders have been fixed to the mountain side. All you need is some rope, a few belays and a guide to help you with the basic rope tying and climbing techniques.
Go to Samoens and you will surely fall in love with the place. Beyond the activities themselves, the village has some beautiful alpine scenery to offer, and you will probably find yourself coming back again and again. Winter season anyone?