Sunday , November 29 2020
Travel France - Tignes 1

Travel France – Tignes

Travel France - Tignes 2It was late July when I found myself in the mountains of the Rhone-Alpes region of south-eastern France.

Golfers were enjoying a round on Europe’s highest 18-hole course or practising on the driving range above Tignes Le Lac, while below a whole host of waterborne activities were under way on the lake.

The backdrop was the icy aura of Le Grande Motte glacier, covered in snow at almost 3500m above sea level and still open for summer skiing, weather/conditions permitting.

But at this time of year, it is on two wheels where Tignes offers the biggest thrill.

And it doesn’t come any more exhilarating than downhill mountain biking where a steady nerve, good control of the brakes and a sense of balance come into their own.

Kitted out in armoured back padding, knee and elbow guards, gloves and a full-face helmet, we were ready to go.

While not invincible, we were shielded against most mishaps.

After a low-level practice, we headed up the mountain with bikes hanging from the chairlift. Above Tignes Le Lac, the highest of the Tignes resorts at 2100m, bike trails fanned out across the mountainside, graded in the way ski runs are in terms of difficulty with green, blue, red and black.

At the top, the view toward Tignes and the lake was spectacular: the golf course wrapped itself around the resort; the lake was alive with paddle boarders and people trying out the Acroland 35-metre water slide; hikers strode eagerly along trails; and Le Grand Motte glacier (reached by funicular and an open-top cable car) loomed in the distance.

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We soon found there is a defined technique to downhill mountain biking in terms of balance and using the suspension to create power and absorb bumps along the way. But the key lies in subtle use of the brakes.

Led by our guide Fred Ribaud, we set off along tracks named Smoothie (rarely smooth) and Easy Rider (not that easy).

“These routes are not footpaths,” he emphasised. “They are designed and built specially for downhill mountain biking, but the differing levels of difficulty mean the mountain is accessible for everyone.”

With runs snaking across the mountain, banked turns, through tunnels and along ridges, the fat tyres of the mountain bikes ate up the ground as we descended several hundred feet in bright sunshine for another run.

Downhill mountain biking, without doubt, is thrilling and exhilarating, and tremendous fun…and a little nerve-wracking too!

With golf, the activities on the lake, hiking and road-biking, you soon realise there’s something for everyone in the French Alps during the warmer months, though as always in the mountains the alpine weather can be changeable, so be prepared for everything from sunshine to squalls and even snow.

An hour or so from Tignes, and a winding drive through the mountains, is Courchevel in Les 3 Vallées, where we experienced another cycling format that is growing in popularity.

A squally morning offered great conditions for e-biking through the forest, past cascading waterfalls and undulating tree-lined trails to Lac de la Rosière. Turquoise blue in the sunlight, the rocks above the lake are also the setting for a via ferrata course where clamped to an iron ropeway you can traverse sheer rock walls and plot your way up the mountain.

From the lakeside, we rode e-bikes along trails through villages and above the valley.

While e-biking sees an electric motor offer a power assist for the ascents, it is still no easy ride with plenty of pedalling to drive the bike along, though a little less demanding than for those climbing the hills on road bikes. To put it to the test, we followed the new 22.6km La Loze cycle time trial route through Courchevel, climbing from 845m to the finish at 2305m at Col de la Loze.

With tired legs, Courchevel’s Aquamotion centre, with its range of pools and spas, proved a refreshing retreat. It also offers the opportunity to experience cryotherapy – three minutes in a confined chamber where the temperature falls to minus 145c – to rejuvenate those aching muscles.

Did it work? Well, my legs didn’t ache as much as I feared they would the next morning!

Food is always a wonderful part of the French mountain experience and whether in Tignes Le Lac or Courchevel, the choice is wide, from traditional and rustic to Michelin-starred.

At Tignes first Michelin-starred restaurant, Ursus – named after the last breed of bear seen in the Savoie region – the theme of the forest flows with slender trees bordering the dining area and moss-covered branches decorating expansive wooden tables.

Chef Clement Bouvier, a young man of 28 with the stature of a rugby player but the finesse of an artisan in the kitchen, is passionate about his food. Attention to detail sees the flavours permeating every mouthful.

Five courses – plus the occasional amuse bouche (excellent value for 88 euro) – brought us chilled tomatoes, potato soup with a hint of mushroom, the ever-present green beans and soft cheese, all sympathetically matched with wines of the region. The in-house bread and rich butter to accompany was irresistible, the succulent main course of beef was delicious and the desserts were amazing.

The cheese truckle was massive – 30 different cheese to choose from and all linked to the Savoie region, underlining Bouvier’s passion for local produce and seasonal flavours.

“Every afternoon I go to the forest to pick fresh herbs for the restaurant,” he tells me before explaining the forest theme to his restaurant.

“It is very beautiful there,” he adds. “One day my friend said to me, ‘why don’t you do a meal in the forest.’ I told him that is maybe too much, but then I thought, ‘let’s bring the forest to the restaurant.’”

Elsewhere, we tried raclette, pork ribs, tartiflette, and snails as we savoured the flavours of the region and also enjoyed an evening at Courchevel’s Le Farçon restaurant, which also has a Michelin star.

Whether it’s mountain or e-biking, road cycling, hiking, golf, glacier skiing, or simply having fun on the lake, there’s a whole gambit of outdoor activities on offer in Tignes and Courchevel for a spectacular sporty summer.

Travel France - Tignes 4

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