An active summer in Switzerland
Kevin Cook-Fielding enjoys the many activities the Swiss resort of Champéry has to offer.
The Swiss resort of Champry, roughly 1,000 metres up in the Swiss Alps in the French-speaking region of Valais, is best-known for winter skiing. But if you enjoy active holidays, it makes for a great summer destination too. It's just a two-hour train ride from Geneva, and from June through to September the snow-free, upper meadows of the Alps become a walkers' paradise, with miles of clearly marked, well-maintained routes.
The cable car from Champry takes five minutes to ascend to Planachaux. From Planachaux, the walking routes are well signposted, but if it's your first time in the area, it's worth hiring a guide (from CHF50 for two hours) who can teach you about the flora and fauna of the surrounding mountainside and hopefully help you to spot some.
On your journey you can expect to see groundhog-like marmots basking in the sun. And if you come in August, you can sample wild blueberries, washed down with ice cold water from the clear fast-flowing streams.
For lunch, you could bring a picnic, but a stop at Chez Gaby in Champoussin is highly recommended. You can refuel on hearty local dishes such as pork steak with forestiere sauce (made with wild mushrooms), and a dessert of beignets aux pommes la sauce vanille apple fritters with vanilla sauce.
To give you an idea of the prices, a three-course meal will set you back around CHF36.50 (£25), while a decent Swiss wine such as Fendant de Chamoson costs around CHF18.50.
Mountain biking in the Alps
If you feel a little more adventurous, you could try your hand at downhill cross-country cycling. Champry offers seven downhill tracks, one cross-country track and five family trails, with 24 chairlifts to take the very heavy but well-sprung bikes to the top.
You can hire bikes and protective gear near the cable car station for around CHF100. Just remember to check which brake is which before you set off down the mountain the back and front brakes are on opposite handlebars to those on British bikes. Novices should be sure to take a guide we went with Petra Wiltshire, three times Masters Downhill World Champion, who works for the Freeride Company (+41 24 479 1000). Charges are CHF300 per day for up to three people, or CHF350 for up to six.
Taking on the Iron Road
If you're feeling really brave, then try the Via Ferrata (Iron Road). This activity is somewhere between rambling and mountaineering. It consists of rungs fixed to the rock, with a safety belt attached to a cable to catch the climbers if they fall.
The Via Ferrata in Tire is 460 metres long, climbs the rocky wall at a 75-degree angle and straddles the waterfalls of the Tire river three times over its course. The departure point is at the Sous-Scex Bridge, at an altitude of roughly 900 metres. It costs CHF125 per head, with group discounts.
After all that activity, you'll no doubt need to relax, so head off to the Thermes Parc, which has indoor and outdoor pools, plus a sulphur pool which boasts a natural heat of around 30C not to mention saunas and a steam room to soothe your muscles after all that walking, biking and climbing.
As for accommodation Champry contains no five-star hotels, but when you plan to explore the mountains all day, that's not really a problem. The Hotel Suisse(pictured top) offers high-quality, comfortable rooms with mountain or village views, starting from CHF110 a night, including breakfast and afternoon tea.