If you don’t ski, why go to a ski resort, right? Sadly, this is the notion some non-skiers have. Sabi Phagura wanted to see if this preconception held any water and headed to Samoëns in France to engross herself in nature and some non-ski activities.
“Breath in for two, and out for three, making sure you time it with your steps as we ascend the mountain,” our guide Claire Pilipzyk instructed us. We were several hundred feet high above sea level in Verchaix and Joux Plane just a short drive from Samoëns on an Afghan Walk. I have to admit, in spite of being a fitness instructor, I had never heard of this activity. But I was all ears as our guide Claire explained more.
Afghan Walking is centuries old, but it has only been brought to the attention of the west less than 40 years ago by Edward Stiegler who studied the behaviour of the Maldars in the 80s. These nomads travelled 700km in one go (including nocturnal bivouacs) at very high altitudes in less than 12 days. Thus, by adopting the practice of Afghan Walking which is like a ‘natural suroxygenation’, they were able to travel distances with their energy still intact.
As a natural hiker, I enjoyed this thoroughly, not least because my body was being treated to a workout, but also my mind. Depending on the training, Claire instructed us to alter our breathing pattern accordingly. It was different for ascending, descending and walking flat. With all that concentration, it was pretty hard to think of anything else. I had completely switched off. It was akin to doing yoga in a studio but far more natural.
The first thing that struck me about Samoëns is its tranquillity and charm. The semi-pedestrianised village resort has the idyllic setting of the Alps which you often see on postcards. And there is a lot of history within the streets and walls of this place. It was once a popular home to stone cutters of yesteryear. To this day, Samoëns has preserved its heritage and there are stories a plenty when walking through its picturesque streets.
Samoëns Church is perhaps the symbol of the village and is a testament to the work of the stone-cutters. The current church was built on top of the ruins of the old church which was destroyed in 1476 during the invasion from Bern. The church and decorative features were the work of the Masons of Samoëns.
Other notable historic accounts of the area include the Alpine Botanical Garden. Created in 1906 by Marie-Louise Cognac-Jay, Founder of the Alpine Botanical Garden, it’s classified as a remarkable garden of France. With walks stretching three kilometres, you can discover some 2,700 mountain plants representing 2,500 species.
I love nature so was immediately drawn to the Big Linden Tree. It was planted in 1438 to celebrate a ruling passed by Amadeus VIII, Duke of Savoy. It confirmed to the inhabitants of the village that they owned the high mountain pastures of Freterolle, Chardonniere, Vigny and Cuidox which are located in the neighbouring Manche Valley.
I’m not surprised this mystical landmark is not just celebrated by many local writers, poets and musicians, but to this date, is a popular gathering place for modern-day local life.
Skiing is great to sample a ski resort, but if you don’t ski, it can be daunting as to why you would want to go to one in the first place. But delve a little closer and there is plenty to do aside from strapping on your skis. And it was at Samoëns I discovered yet another activity.
Introducing Fat biking. As a lover of bikes, I just had to hop on and explore the area on this electric machine. Hiring our bikes from Mountain Spirit in the village, we headed out towards Morillon stopping to admire beauty spots along the way including a few lakes such as the spectacular le Lac Bleu.
Navigating the bike on the thick snow was challenging to begin with, but felt like second nature after a few minutes. It was a blast in the snow and a hoot to ride on all terrains. Best of all, it made me feel like I was eight again! To be honest, I had expected to fall off the bike, but I’m pleased to say I managed to avoid any soft landing.
All that activity in the Alps certainly helps work up an appetite and there were plenty of food stops sampled over the course of the trip. Each was different and wonderful in their own right, but if I were to pick a few, then I would highly recommend stopping for lunch on the slopes at Restaurant Lou Caboëns. This abode was buzzing with skiers and non-skiers alike and served up typical French cuisine with speed yet precision. There were many diners who had stopped there to relax for the rest of the afternoon, but if you are wanting just a quick break to make the most of your time in the area, then the ‘Le Monde a l’Envers’ in the village is a good place to head to. It serves your starter, main and dessert on a single tray so there is less time waiting around for course.
The showstopper dinner meal for me was the L’Estanco in the heart of the village. With varied taste buds amidst the group, this place catered for all us with their array of modern homemade dishes using the freshest products. The cheese and wine sufficed to say hit the spot.
Staying at the newly-opened MGM Hotel Alexane, we had plenty of luxury after a dedicated day of exploring. The mountain chalet feel of this building boasts 32 spacious apartments split between three chalets with the communal areas that give off that cosy feel of being at home. The hotel has a ‘Mountain of the World’ spa where you can really let go and enjoy total relaxation. I did just that. After all, I did earn it with all the activity.
Samoëns – Where and How?
We stayed at the MGM Hotel Alexane, where a double room starts off at €150 per night in low season / €370 in high season. For more information, visit www.mgm-hotels-residences.com.
The Afghan Walk costs €24 per person for the half/day (excluding snowshoes hire – approx. €5). For more information, click here.
Fatbike costs €38 per person for two hours (fat bike included). For more information, click here.
If you would like to learn more about Samoëns, please visit the official tourism site here.