The latest from Atlas

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Amy Abroad: Dans les Alpes!

Head six hours north from the French Riviera and you find yourself driving dizzily through the bendy roads of the French Alps. As the passenger in a right-hand drive vehicle, on the right-hand side of very narrow roads it feels strange to be so close to the centre line and yet not in control of the car. Traffic whizzes by so close it makes you reach for the safety handle but the mesmerising mountain scenery is a welcome distraction from the white knuckle ride!

Approximately 1,200 kilometres in length, the Alps stretch through eight European countries and are the most visited mountains in the world with 120 million visitors annually. With so much to explore we have narrowed down our adventures to one area and have rented a cosy apartment on the French-Swiss border in the alpine village of Châtel. Positioned at 1,200 meters above sea-level with a surrounding population of 1,500 this traditional French village is a bit quieter than the neighbouring town of Morzine and is the perfect base for mountain biking in the Portes du Soleil area.

Portes du Soleil is dubbed ‘The Gates of the Sun’ and is the largest sking and
mountain biking area in the world. It consists of twelve villages, fourteen valleys and 1036 square kilometres of terrain. The entire area is connected with 201 lift systems including cable cars, gondolas, chair lifts, and T-bars. In the Summer months this extensive lift system scales down to 20 bike
equipped lifts but still provides access to 800kms of MTB trails. Within these 14 valleys there are 5 bike park specific areas similar to the Skyline gondola. The largest of the bike parks is Pre La Joux in Châtel, with 21 DH trails, 8 north shore zones, 2 pump tracks and 1 massive freeride slopestyle area with jumps sizing up to big dream at Wynyard bike park!

During the 8 weeks we will spend in Châtel a few Atlas regulars will be sharing our small flat so we can get our bike on together! These include Dave Zee for the entire 8 weeks; Queenstown Bike Taxi owner Jono Head for 3 weeks; former Pinewood Lodge handy man Mikael Alftbergl for 23 days and Shotover Jet driver Andy Patchett for 8 days. Last week, we headed out for a day trip to Peisey-Nancroix for some mountain biking and a few beers with the staff of Trail Addiction. Dave Stamper; previous Vertigo bike mechanic; Chris Lebiecki, Around The Mountains tour guide, and Tim Ceci, owner of Vertigo, all spend their Queenstown winters overseas here in the Rhône-Alpes region working as mountain bike guides for this rapidly fast growing company. It was very kind of them to spend their day off showing us around some of the awesome local trails.

At the end of a MTB day a beer is always in order to celebrate the fun we've been having on our bikes. We finished off with a few rounds of Kronenbourg 1664 which is a 5.5% pale lager that’s smooth, light and refreshing after a busy day biking. I must also note that Kronenbourg 1664 is most widely promoted French beer. My next mission is to find, sample and blog about some smaller French craft beers that are kept under the radar by the locals.