The largest glacier in France snakes for over 11km beneath an imposing range of sawtooth peaks, a frozen tongue in a maw of rocky fangs. If you asked a young child to draw some mountains this is what they would look like: all pointy and improbable.
Inevitably, though, it was not the scenery or hiking potential of La Mer de Glace that captivated our five-year-old twins so much as the little red mountain train we had taken to reach it. At Montenvers station, a cable car whisked us down to the glacier itself to walk inside a surreal ice grotto. Again, if your kids are anything like ours, they will be more interested in trying to lick the dripping walls.
That’s the beauty of a summer activity holiday in the Alps – you’re bound to find something to please all ages. The chic resort of Chamonix, where we based ourselves for a week, alternates between winter ski Mecca and action-packed summer destination. Three of the most popular family-friendly activities are climbing (minimum age six for rock climbing, 12 for ice climbing), whitewater rafting on the River Arve (minimum age ten) and tobogganing on the summer luge.
Family holiday specialist Esprit offers a fully supervised children’s programme. On the first morning of Alpies Club (three days of non-stop activities for 3-11-year-olds) the children were taken donkey-riding. There were the inevitable stress points when the hills seemed to be alive with the sound of whingeing children (how come the Von Trapp family never seemed to get mauled by horseflies or brush against stinging nettles?), but, overall, it was a successful outing. The children revelled in their newly found independence; holiday friendships were forged and Alpies Club staff elevated to hero status.
Interspersing kid’s club days with family days we managed, between us, to sample many of the vast range of activities available at Chamonix, including a ride on the Mount Blanc Tramway and hiking the valley’s 330km of paths. These range from gentle ambles to high-altitude treks from the Aiguille du Midi cablecar station at 3,842m.
For pure exhilaration, however, nothing beats getting airborne over Chamonix’s meringue-whip muddle of mountains. Leaping off a cliff attached to a parapenting pilot called Patrice, I spent a happy 40 minutes riding thermals and a surge of adrenalin a kilometre above the valley. We spiralled with buzzards and swooped across forested mountain slopes. Somewhere down there, I remember thinking, Joe and Ellie are enjoying their teddy bears’ picnic.
William Gray and family travelled with Esprit (www.esprit-holidays.co.uk)
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