Wide overview of Chatel village and valley with mountains

Summer in Châtel

Summer activities in the Portes du Soleil

Châtel lies in a group of valleys in the vast Franco-Swiss Portes du Soleil ski & mountain-biking area.

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Proximity to Geneva international airport plus TGV rail stations at Thonon or Aigle (Switzerland) with high-speed services from Paris, London and Switzerland, has transformed this once-remote border village into a desirable destination for anyone looking for challenging downhill mountain-biking coupled with an authentic Alpine experience.

Low view of Chatel village street in summer with mountains in background

The village

Châtel has expanded its visitor accommodation significantly in recent years, yet has resisted the temptation to authorise high-rise development. Instead you’ll find traditional Alpine style, in both individual chalets and larger ‘résidence de tourisme’ apartments.

Unless you’re coming from the Swiss border, the first accommodation you’ll encounter is beside the road from Abondance and La Chapelle d’Abondance. Turn off to Villapeyron to reach accommodation in the Dranse river valley, en-route to the chair lifts at the Linga area; continue towards Châtel, however, and you’ll reach the main village. It’s an attractive, cheerful place, with discrete multi-level car parking. Less immediately obvious are the Super-Châtel high-speed gondola lift and its companion, the Petit-Châtel chairlift. They’re some distance apart, but both are well signed.

The main village has a good selection of boutiques and services, with a couple of mini-markets, plus a larger Intermarché supermarket tucked away down in the Dranse valley. The village continues towards the nearby Swiss border, petering out at the Lac de Vonnes, beyond which is the Portes du Soleil high-speed chairlift.

Getting between the accommodation centres and lifts is straightforward using the shuttle bus services.

Staying There

Value for Money Accommodation Dining Out Nightlife Village Charm

See Practical Information below for accommodation suggestions.

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Mountain bikers on chairlift, with trail and footpath signage

Summer Activities

The Portes du Soleil are rapidly becoming as well known to walkers and mountainbikers as they are to skiers. Some 23 lifts operate in summer, 4 of them in Châtel, so you can get to explore a surprising amount of this vast area. In addition, the area attracts large numbers of road bikers, the Tour de France having passed through the village several times over the years.

The Châtel Bike Park offers 20 downhill tracks for most abilities, with 8 patrols plus bike shops and hire points. Electrically-assisted fatbikes are also well catered for, with 3 dedicated routes and 4 on-mountain charging points.

Walkers and trail runners with a Portes du Soleil Multi Pass also get full use of the lifts, and have 48 circuits and 400km of paths to explore. Runners can use a Trail Running Portes du Soleil app to follow routes via GPS, access live webcam and weather updates and transmit their location to rescue services if they need assistance.

As for non-biking activities, options include Fantasticable zipwires, parapente (paragliding) flights, rock climbing, via ferrata, white-water rafting, canyoning and kayaking, not to mention swimming, paddleboarding, fishing and much more.

Activities There

Attractions Walking Cycling Activities

Activities Information

Things to do

Multi-Pass

The Multi Pass Portes du Soleil gives unlimited access to a massive choice of activities and facilities in all 12 resort villages for just 2€ per day. Prices are per person, with 2 days’ minimum stay in participating accommodation (see Châtel website for details). Single day and season MultiPass deals are also available.

We found the Multi Pass was invaluable. Access to the chairlifts alone gave us the opportunity to enjoy mountain walks and to visit other villages by bike, with a free bus journey taking us and the bikes back to Châtel. But that’s just the start – the Multi Pass gives access to the swimming pool at the Espace Aquatic Forme d’O in Châtel, the ice-skating rink, tennis, the tourist train and mini-golf. You also get reductions on entry to the Old Custom House, the Fantasticable, stand-up paddle boarding and more. The MultiPass is also valid in the other Portes du Soleil villages – pick up a full list of Multi Pass activities at the Tourist Office and take full advantage of what it offers.

Mountain Biking

Mountain biker in Châtel, Portes du Soleil

There’s a special area dedicated to mountain biking fanatics at Pré-la-Joux accessible via the Pierre Longue and/or Rochassons chairlifts.

From here you can access 21 mountain biking trails (20 of which are downhill runs) for every level and there are some fun areas for new school riding disciplines. You’ll also find 6 North-Shore-style zones, a Mountain Style Face (freeride/freestyle area), a kid’s shore, a drop zone with a big air bag, and pump tracks. All the details are given on the Trails page of the Châtel website along with lift opening times. Prices start at 27.50 euros for an adult 1 day pass for a Portes du Soleil MTB, the Châtel MTB pass is slightly cheaper. See Summer Bike Pass prices on the Châtel website.


Fantasticable

Fantasticable, Châtel, Portes du Soleil, French Alps

The Fantasticable operates every day throughout the summer and offers a thrilling opportunity to fly high over the Plaine Dranse valley at speeds of up to 100km/hr (60mph). You can fly solo or duet (weight restrictions apply), either way you'll experience an unbelievable sensation of speed and height - like flying!

Prices are 36 euros for a single flight, 72 euros for a duet (reductions with Multi Pass). For more details see the Fantasticable page on the Châtel summer website.


Places to visit

Old Custom House Heritage Centre

Châtel
Tel: +33 (0)4 50 73 22 44

Recently installed interpretation of richly documented tales of smuggling goods across the border between France and Switzerland. Legend, reality or fiction? The Centre recounts stories about the daring lives of the smugglers who played games of cat and mouse with the authorities.


Belle Dimanche, la fête des alpages

Alpine horns, festival, Châtel, Portes du Soleil, French Alps

This festival takes place every August at Plaine Dranse, when the cattle are brought down from the high pastures and gathered for competitions. The day is a celebration of local traditions and begins with an informal religious ceremony and the judging of the cattle. Afterwards there are craft displays by artisan producers, musical entertainment and plenty to eat and drink. It’s quite a spectacle and a great insight into mountain life. Free access by chairlift, shuttle bus or on foot from Pré la Joux.

The 42nd Belle Dimanche takes place on Sunday 19th August 2018.


Walks, rides etc.

Sentier des bords de Dranse

Wide view of cycle and footpath with mountains and village of La Chapelle d'Abondance in distance

An easy family-friendly cycle ride or walk along the banks of the River Dranse from Châtel to Abondance with its medieval Abbey, floral displays and market hall. Stop off in La Chapelle d'Abondance around midway for refreshments in the centre of the village. There's a choice of restaurants in all three villages and a shuttle bus service to take you and your bikes back to your start point. Read more...

Châtel – Chalet de Barbossine circuit

Barbossine valley above Chatel, Abondance cows

An exhilarating walk taking in the views from Morclan and the Col de Folière with lunch at the Chalet de Barbossine, a summer dairy farm producing AOC Abondance cheese. Starting from the Super Châtel gondola lift, take the Morclan chairlift and follow the pedestrian signs for Chalets de Barbossine. After a steep zig-zag descent through mountain pastures, the gradient eases as you approach the dairy. After a splendid lunch on a panoramic terrace, continue your descent back to Châtel through meadows and a shady forest trail. Read more...


Tourist Office

Châtel Tourist Office

14 Route de Thonon
74390 Châtel
Tel:+33(0) 450 73 22 44
https://en.chatel.com/ete


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icon-smileyYes please...

  • The Portes du Soleil Multi Pass, giving access to lifts and activites, is one of the best-value passes in the Alps.
  • There are unrivalled opportunities for mountain bikers in the Portes du Soleil. Châtel is one of 12 villages which form the biggest mountain bike park in Europe, with 600km of trails and 23 lifts, including those in Switzerland.
  • Take advantage of the free shuttle buses including ones which carry bikes - great at the end of a long day.
  • Walkers will find the lifts very convenient to get into the heart of the mountains and enjoy the incredible views. Enjoy free and unlimited use with a MultiPass.
  • The Lac de Vonnes is great for paddle boarding and lakeside activities for children and teenagers. There’s an easy stroll around the lake with seats to appreciate the views, and a café.
  • The Forme d’O aquatic centre is set in the heart of the village and has pools, fitness facilities and a wellbeing area with therapeutic pool, Jacuzzis, hammam and treatments.
  • Fantasticable
  • Regular free concerts and festivities.

icon-frowneyYes but...

  • If driving from Geneva direction, access to Châtel takes a while. If you’ll be arriving quite late there’s an easily accessible hypermarket and 24hr fuel station beside the main road through Annemasse.

icon-winkingOur Tips

  • Get the essential Portes du Soleil Multi Pass (free if you’re staying with a participating accommodation provider for two nights or more) for pedestrian access to all the lifts and unlimited access to a range of activities including the Forme Ô aquatic centre (1 entry per day).
  • It’s an easy drive from Châtel into Switzerland, where you can visit the lovely town of Champéry with its picturesque main street, restaurants and boutiques. Your Multi Pass is valid for the cable car, and it’s well worth riding up just to admire the views. Remember to take your passport - there’s a patrolled border crossing at Morgins.
Jump to Insight

Jump to Insight


Practical Information

Getting there

By Car
For Dover-Calais ferry travel, other cross-channel routes, offers and bookings visit P&O Ferries

By Road
Take the A40 autoroute direction Geneva and exit at Annemasse. Follow signs for Thonon-les-Bains then Vallée d’Abondance/Châtel.

By air
Geneva airport is just 1hr15min from Châtel. Hire a car when booking your flight or book a bus or transfer in advance.

By train
Travel by Eurostar from London to Paris then take the high-speed TGV train to Thonon-les-Bains (change at Bellegard or Annemasse).


Where to stay

Tried and testedLes Chalets d’Angèle

1003 Route de la Bechigne, 74390 Châtel

Les Chalets d'Angele in Châtel overlook fields and mountains in it's quiet location a short walk from the village.

These 4* self-catered apartments are located a short walk from the village centre and offer a superb level of comfort and style in spacious accommodation. We stayed in a two-bedroom apartment with a wrap-around balcony offering magnificent mountain views. There's a bathroom with bath and overhead shower, separate WC, a well-equipped fitted kitchen/dining area and comfortable sofa which can convert into extra sleeping accommodation. With luxurious soft-furnishings, neutral and brown tiling twinned with natural wood, and as we have come to expect, super quality bed linen and pillows, the interiors are cosy and welcoming.

CGH Residencs Les Chalets d'Angele, Châtel, typical apartment double bedroom.

Free WiFi is available in apartments, there’s underground parking (payable), and a comfortable lounge in the reception area. The large indoor heated swimming pool has Jacuzzi etc. and an adjacent sunny terrace.
You can also experience a full range of spa and beauty treatments in the Ô des Cimes – Spas d’Altitude.

If you bring bikes with you, there’s a secure cycle storage area next to Reception.

More information and booking:
Peak Retreats
023 9283 9310(UK)
reservations@peakretreats.co.uk


Food and Drink

Tried and testedChalet d’Alpage de Barbossine

Barbossine Valley, Châtel
Tel: +33(0)6 24 49 44 23 (mobile)

Chalet d'Alpage de Barbossine, Châtel, French Alps

High pasture dairy farm serving its own Abondance cheese in traditional dishes and cold platters with charcuterie and salad. In fine weather there’s outside seating, plus a cosy dining room indoors. Open daily 1 July to 31 August. Cash only.

We walked down the Barbossine valley from Morclan after taking the Super Châtel and Morclan chairlifts. To get back to Châtel, continue downwards through pasture and forest to Petit Châtel and the main village. If you don’t like steep descents or would rather not walk through herds of cattle, you can start at Super Châtel and walk up. It’s a gentle climb on forest and mountain tracks.


Tried and testedLe Fiacre

32 Route du Centre
74390 Châtel
Tel : +33 (0)4 50 73 30 46

Much loved for its super cosy chalet style ambience, warm welcome and varied menus, whose highlights include the local Berthoud, using tasty Abondance cheese, plus fillets of Féra, freshly landed from Lac Léman. Alternatively, choose a pizza or the popular Burger à Lolo. Either way, there’s also an excellent wine selection.


Tried and testedWeekly Market

Every Wednesday morning (8am-1pm though this may vary in bad weather) the market takes place on the square in front of the church in Châtel. You’ll find it packed with colourful stalls selling local produce and there are plenty of opportunities to taste before you buy. Don’t miss it.



Insight: Châtel

Wide view of parapente flight over Chatel village, French Alps.

Summer in Châtel

We’re no strangers to the Portes du Soleil, having skied from Châtel, Les Gets, Morzine and Avoriaz, but we’re intrigued to see how everything looks and feels in summer. We get a foretaste when we pass through Abondance and La Chapelle d’Abondance, both of which look relaxed without the disturbance of ski season traffic. It’s a similar story in Châtel, although all three villages are year-round working communities. This time rather than skis we’ve brought bikes, so after checking into our apartment accommodation at CGH Les Chalets d’Angèle we spend a few minutes mounting wheels and checking things over before stowing our gear in the secure bike store.

Along the way we pass a few walkers, a lone runner and a couple of other bikers, but mostly it’s just us, the river – more a broad, shallow stream, really – and a perfect summer day…
Alpine cattle lined up for judging at la Belle Dimanche festival, Chatel, French Alps
Alpine horn players with visitors surrounded by mountains at alpine festival above chatel, French alps

La Belle Dimanche Alpine Festival

The next morning we head out early and drive over to the car parking area serving the Pré la Joux and Pierre Longue chair-lifts. Spaces are already fast being taken by those planning to head up the mountain for the ‘Belle Dimanche’. Celebrated for over 40 years, this colourful celebration of traditional mountain life originally centred on the judging of the livestock breeds which play a key role in the economy of mountain communities.

Now the event also encompasses food and craft producers’ market, music and folklore plus demonstrations of traditional crafts, including cheesemaking, wood turning and artisan iron working.

Alpine horns, and not following the herd

At the sheltered plateau of Plaine Dranse we join the crowds moving among the stallholders’ displays and sampling an assortment of local produce. After a brief pause to hear some authentic Alpine horns we continue our tour, swerving momentarily around some slightly confused-looking sheep being herded through the crowds by a shepherd and his dogs.

When we’ve done the full circuit we pause for lunch at the food and drinks hut, noting a surprising lack of vegetarian options for an area renowned for cheese-making. For us it means a lighter lunch than we’d planned.

Fantasticable, Châtel, Portes du Soleil, French Alps
Wide view of cycle and footpath with mountains and village of La Chapelle d'Abondance in distance

We check out the Fantasticable zip-wire

After a quick look at the nearby Bike Park trail map showing green-, blue- and red-graded routes (along with some gnarly-looking black detours) down to Pré la Joux, we flee the crowds by riding the chairlift up to the Crête des Rochassons (1930m), the transition from Châtel’s terrain to that of Avoriaz. The onward views are dazzling, and the prominent ridge is also the launch-point for the Fantasticable, which fires zip-wire fans on two-stage flights of over 2.5km at heights of up to 240m while reaching speeds of around 80-100km/h. With lots of weekend riders it’s impressive, so we watch them for a while before heading off with the intention of walking back down to Plaine Dranse.

Mountain biker looking at map of Chatel bike park, French Alps
Mountain bikers near Pré le Joux, Châtel, Portes du Soleil, French Alps

Downhill mountain biking: a steep learning curve

As it turns out, the most obvious route, a wide path shared by walkers and mountain-bikers, is steeper than it had looked, and strewn here and there with unstable scree. We’re about to get some timely insight.

After a few minutes of being passed by experienced riders blasting their way down fearlessly it dawns on us that if we’d imagined tackling even tamer downhill trails here on our hybrid bikes then we were badly mistaken. That particular thought is reinforced during the chairlift ride back to the car when we glimpse groups of bikers tackling forest trails far below. We’ll put that one down to experience.

Summer view of cyclist and walker on track near Abondance, French Alps
Distant view of the Abbaye d'Abondance and mountainside, French Alps

We ride a riverside trail over to Abondance

Since our road-bikes are back home we look again at the trail map, and spot the Sentier des bords de Dranse, a 20km riverside trail down the valley to Abondance. Equally accessible to walkers, it could be just the kind of terrain our hybrids were built for.

That lifts our spirits, so the very next day we ride down to join it and find out. Once on the trail we pass a few walkers, a lone runner and a couple of other bikers, but mostly it’s just us and the broad, shallow river. When we’re level with La Chapelle d’Abondance we turn off for coffee and croissants at Le Fournil, whose range of fresh-baked breads and pâtisserie is mind-blowing. Below the village the broad valley narrows noticeably, with vibrant green pastures bounded by larch and pine forest. The track, though, remains relatively flat, until up ahead we glimpse the familiar Savoyard ‘onion’ spire of the historic Abbaye d’Abondance.

The bike-carrying shuttle bus

Minutes later we emerge in the heart of the village, looking picture-perfect with the extravagant summer floral displays that skiers never get the chance to see. It’s clear, though, that things are winding down for midday closing, so we pick up some cold drinks, a fresh baguette and a wedge of tasty local AOC Abondance cheese.

After an unhurried picnic lunch on a lone bench we’d spotted beside the trail (a bit of shade being just too much to hope for) we return to the village and await the first of the afternoon’s shuttle buses. When it arrives we hang the bikes on purpose-built racks and enjoy an effortless ride back up the valley to the market place in Châtel. From there it’s just a few minutes’ downhill run back to the résidence, where we store the bikes, head up to our apartment and enjoy a cool beer on the balcony.

Alpine pastures and forest looking towards Lac Léman above Châtel, Swiss border.
Wide view of walker descending mountain footpath near Avoriaz, French Alps

Walking the cross-border trails above Châtel

Next morning the bikes remain in their store, the idea being to find out how summer walkers benefit from the lifts which remain open. The Portes du Soleil are huge, and we know from experience that getting around takes time, even for winter skiers, so we’re surprised by just how much distance we manage to cover on foot. Unlike mountain-bikers, we can begin in the heart of Châtel by riding the gondola lift up to the Franco-Swiss border at Super-Châtel.

At the top we follow a trail signed to the peaceful Lac de Conche, beyond which the trail winds its way through silent forestry plantations, with occasional glimpses of surrounding peaks.

Heading even higher

The sense of remoteness from everything except nature intensifies when we make out the town of Montreux on the shores of Lac Léman through the heat-haze. Finding the Chalet Neuf mountain restaurant mysteriously closed, we make the final climb to the Portes de Culet.The views from the 1788m pass are truly magnificent but we look in vain for a potential picnic spot offering shade from the heat of the midday sun, so end up retracing our steps back to the cool of the forest. Fortunately, most of the return walk to Super-Châtel amounts to little more than a gentle downhill stroll, but the blissful near-silence remains with us almost until we reach the gondola lift.

Walkers beside rockface among trees with waterfall
View from Pointe de Moisettes, Swiss border at Châtel, French Alps

Cascade des Brochaux

The next day we go considerably further, following a well-conceived succession of chair-lifts, starting from Pré la Joux. At Plaine Dranse we take the Rochassons six-seater up to the Crête des Rochassons (1923m), for a ride down to Les Lindarets on the bi-directional Chaux Fleurie, another six-seater. Finally, after riding the Linderets four-seater up to the Crête d’Avoriaz (1874m), where the village looms a short distance ahead of us. We turn left, though, to follow a footpath which takes on a winding route in perfect peace down to the Cascade des Brochaux, a truly spectacular reward for almost an hour’s downhill ramble.

Beyond the falls we follow another wayward path, this time following the stream from the falls through some woodland and down the valley to Les Brochaux, where we break for lunch beneath a parasol on the terrace of l’Abricotine mountain restaurant.

Pointe des Moissettes

Having come this far, we can’t resist taking one of our favourite chairlifts all the way to the Pointe des Moissettes (2277m). Summer or winter, it’s an epic haul and the panoramic views from the Pointe des Moissettes are pretty spectacular.

How do you follow that? The following day we find out, by driving across the Swiss border above Châtel, heading round to Champéry, taking the vertiginous cable-car up to the 1936m Croix-de-Culet and looking back across the valley towards the Pointe des Moissettes. A fast-approaching thunderstorm threatens to add even more drama to the visit, but we make it down again safely and head back to Châtel, still dry and with a satisfied glow of achievement in the face of unsettled weather.MountainPassions heart icon

Wide view of walkers beside mountain stream in summer

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