Le Grand Bornand: Lake Annecy ski resorts become summer hideaways

PUBLISHED: 11:45 27 March 2016 | UPDATED: 11:45 27 March 2016

The view from the chalet in Le Grand Bornand, photo Emma Bartholomew

The view from the chalet in Le Grand Bornand, photo Emma Bartholomew


The Lake Annecy ski resorts become peaceful mountain idylls in the summer months, where you can relax in the pure alpine air or splash around in the river against a background symphony of cowbells and sweet bird song.

The prize beasts at the country fair in Le Chinaillon, photo Emma BartholomewThe prize beasts at the country fair in Le Chinaillon, photo Emma Bartholomew

As the local brass band launched into their rendition of The Final Countdown, I sipped coffee that had just been finely ground down by the “grand-meres” in an old-fashioned china cup and saucer, as the sun beat down on the traditional country fair in the mountains, and relished this surreal moment in time.

As we had arrived at the Fete de l’Alpage, we had been treated to the spectacle of men dressed as clowns and knights, slaloming down the grassy slopes of the French Alps in Le Chinaillon on skis with wheels.

The fair celebrating mountain traditions has been going strong for 50 years, but remains a local and intimate affair – a far cry from many country fairs nowadays in England.

Here there is an ox-drawn wagon parade, herding dogs, a milking competition, along with traditional crafts.

Demonstration on buildling a house at the Fete de l'Alpage in Le Chinaillon, photo Emma BartholomewDemonstration on buildling a house at the Fete de l'Alpage in Le Chinaillon, photo Emma Bartholomew

A sheep is the prize in the competition to guess how much she weighs, and a contest for the ‘queen’ of the show is of course, one for the best beast.

The beautiful cows each boast a decorated leather harness holding an impressive bronze bell.

These “cloches de vaches” are taken very seriously in these parts, with each adornment costing at least £500.

Further down the valley in Le Grand Bornand where we were staying, Didier Perrillat, one of the last remaining master craftsmen to make them by hand, explained their significance the following day.

The band plays The Final Countdown at the Fete de l'Alpage in Le Chinaillon, photo Emma BartholomewThe band plays The Final Countdown at the Fete de l'Alpage in Le Chinaillon, photo Emma Bartholomew

He told us how they can be heirlooms, given as a prestigious prize in a competition or offered as a present if a farmer gets married.

They are only put on the cows on special occasions, or sometimes they hang outside people’s homes as decoration.

His workshop is just a 15-minute down the main road from our residence Le Grand Bornand, Chalet Jade.

It’s a comfortable and spacious apartment, kitted out with absolutely everything you need in the kitchen to turn the wonderful food you can buy in the village into a meal to devour on its terrace.

Bathing in the river in Le Grand Bornand, photo Emma BartholomewBathing in the river in Le Grand Bornand, photo Emma Bartholomew

Here you can marvel at the lush wood-strewn mountain opposite and listen to the birds and tinkling cow bells by day, and at night the cicadas as you gaze at the twinkling stars in the sky.

Using Reblochon cheese we picked up from the fair, we layered it in a gratin with potatoes, bacon and fried onions to make tartiflette.

This is on the menu in every single restaurant in the Haute Savoie, and it’s surprising that far from being the traditional peasant fare I imagined, the recipe was dreamed up as a glorious marketing ploy by cheese producers in the 80s to shift more of their produce.

Of course it’s on sale at Le Grand Bornand’s market every Wednesday, which runs from right outside the chalet, blocking off the road into town, selling the most delicious fruit and veg.

From Chalet Jade it’s a 10-minute stroll to the perfect spot to paddle in the river, underneath the church, where my children – twin boys aged 13 and a seven-year old daughter – loved to while away the hours.

If you’re feeling energetic, if you pass the zip wire course behind the river, you can zig zag your way up through the shade of the pines, feeling triumphant when you reach the top of the mountain which dominates the view from the chalet.

If you have a car, it’s well worth making the 15-minute trip to La Clusaz, another one of the Lake Annecy Ski Resorts.

The open-air swimming pool here boasts a stunning panoramic view of the lush green tree-lined valley, and the slides were a hit with the kids and well worth the entrance fee of about five euros each.

The luge, photo Emma BartholomewThe luge, photo Emma Bartholomew

The Lac des Confins, offeres another magnificent view, and a walk around the lake makes for an easy hike with youngsters.

For an adrenaline rush, the summer sledging in the centre of La Clusaz is not to be missed, where for around four euros you can take one of the heavy “luges” up in the cable car before coming zooming down on it along the 800m metal track.

Young children can go on the back of a double sledge, and you can go as fast as you dare without pulling on the brakes.

Setting off in the other direction down the only main road in Le Grand Bornand, it feels as though you have reached the end of the world at the Col des Annes, where after an hour’s hike you can garner a spectacular view of the whole chain of the Aravis.

Just an hour away from Geneva airport, the Lake Annecy ski resorts are choc-a-block with so many wonderful experiences to share with your family in the summer months, that you’ll unwind to a slower pace enriched with fun, delicious food and the “good life”.

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