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Summer fun in the French mountains

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France’s magnificent mountain peaks offer as much adventure in the summer as they do in the winter – the one constant is the spectacular scenery

Summer in the French mountains is about pure, clean air, sweeping scenery and a host of outdoor activities. Isère is France’s third-largest mountain destination with 23 resorts spanning four massifs. At the heart of the Three Valleys, the resort of Méribel is as vibrant in the warmer months as it is in the ski season, while the sunny Hautes-Alpes, stretching as far as Provence’s lavender-laden Lubéron, are bursting with national parks and nature reserves.

So, jump in the saddle, lace up your boots and take the plunge. We’ve rounded up our top three summer activities in Isère, Méribel and Hautes-Alpes.

Cycling

The cycling scene in Méribel is going from strength to strength. You can now climb to 2,304 metres along the spectacular Col de la Loze to Courchevel, passing through forests, Alpine pastures and villages. The mountain passes provide panoramic views of the Alps and Vanoise peaks, including Mont Blanc. Tour de France champion Thomas Voeckler is also promoting Méribel as a cycling destination with his eponymous boucles: circular cycling routes for all abilities, using the resort’s existing roads and tracks.

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Over in Isère, the 76-mile Isère Valley V63 Véloroute connects the Chartreuse, Belledonne and Vercors massifs via the Pays de la Noix (walnut country) and some impressive gorges. To take the strain out of strength-sapping climbs, e-bikes are key. And thanks to the region of Oisans’ investment in them, there’s no need to be a Tour champion to enjoy the 21-hairpin-bend ascent to Alpe d’Huez. By contrast, the gentle ViaRhôna (56 miles within Isère) follows the River Rhône between Lake Geneva and the Mediterranean, suitable for families and long-distance cyclists.

To take the strain out of strength-sapping climbs, e-bikes are key

The Hautes-Alpes are equally proud of their legendary mountain passes with 25 in total, including Galibier, Izoard and others along the famous Route des Grandes Alpes (Great Alpine Road). Mountain bike enthusiasts are spoilt for choice here, with classified French Cycling Federation routes, 217 miles within the Grande Traversée des Hautes-Alpes, numerous bike parks accessible via the ski lifts and many major events.

Hiking

With 5,600 miles of trails combining peaks and glaciers with dizzying footbridges and viewing platforms, Isère’s mountain landscape is a big draw for hikers of all abilities. It isn’t hard to feel the raw magic of the great outdoors here, along five long-distance trails with eight staffed mountain refuge huts, plus the option to bivouac (camp) beneath the stars. The Great Crossings are multi-day hiking trails traversing Isère’s major mountain ranges. Most of France’s mountain hikes cross nature reserves or incorporate local cuisine.

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In Méribel’s Tuéda reserve between the Tuéda lake and Gébroulaz glacier, you can stop off at Robert Perret’s dairy for a cheese-tasting session – make sure you try his Beaufort des Alpages! Local guides also organise half-day hikes to find edible and medicinal plants, to learn about their properties and how to use them in cooking.

Local guides also organise half-day hikes to find edible and medicinal plants

The Hautes-Alpes boast 1,118 miles of Grandes Randonnées. Footpaths are varied and champion biodiversity as they cross the Queyras and Baronnies Provençales Regional Parks and Écrins National Park, as well as fields of lavender, orchards and glaciers. A guide can help you spot fauna such as marmots and chamois. Don’t miss the via ferrata, a rock-climbing route with steps, ladders and ziplines that’s popular with adrenaline hunters.

Watersports

You can’t have the mountains without water. Rivers abound in the Hautes-Alpes: Durance, Guil, Guisane and Drac make up almost 1,242 miles of rivers crossing the area. The white-water facility on the Durance in L’Argentière-la-Bessée sets the standard in Europe, with rafting, kayaking, hot-dog canoeing and even swimming. The Serre-Ponçon Lake is an excellent spot for kitesurfing and windsailing, not forgetting traditional boating, kayaking and paddleboarding.

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Isère’s best-known lakes are Laffrey and Paladru, which offer swimming, sailing and fishing. Paladru boasts a 25C water temperature in the summer months, and beaches and campsites give it a real holiday atmosphere. Monteynard Lake attracts kitesurfers, who skim beneath two dizzying Himalayan bridges. What’s more, the great lakes of Isère are all less than an hour’s drive from the major towns.

The first dip comes after just 10 minutes’ walk

Canyoning is one of the most popular activities in Méribel. Participants love the combination of jumps, abseiling down waterfalls and gliding into the water on natural slides. Two local sites offer half and full-day sessions, and the first dip comes after just 10 minutes’ walk – so there’s no need to wait long for adventure!

PICTURES: Hautes-Alpes; Jan Novak Photography; Richard Bord; Jean-Luc Armand

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