If I had to choose one dream winter vacation, my eyes would undoubtedly turn to the French Alps. The memories and emotions of the last time I experienced this region are still etched in my mind. Quite simply, I loved it! Of course, skiing the French Alps is considered one of the most iconic winter experiences, especially in THE ultimate destination. But if the thrill of skiing isn’t your thing, don’t worry, because this destination has a wide variety of experiences to offer. For those of you wondering where to go in the French Alps for non-skiers, here are a few ideas on how to make the most of the Alpine winter, even if you’re more of an “après-ski by the open fire” type.
Where can I go in the Alps without skiing: Saint-Gervais-Mont-Blanc
Have you ever heard of Saint-Gervais-Mont-Blanc? It’s obviously the gateway to the legendary eponymous ski resort. But it’s also a charming village nestled at the foot of Mont Blanc, surrounded by snow-capped peaks and adorned with the typical architecture of the Alps. And it’s just breathtaking! It’s the perfect place to soak up the great outdoors, explore some of the most beautiful Alpine villages, learn about the history of the region, and savor the traditional cuisine of Haute-Savoie.
My friends and I stayed at the Saint-Gervais Hôtel & Spa, and there’s no doubt I’d choose it again. It’s often named as one of the best French Alps ski resorts! I may have let out a little scream when I saw the view from my room, which had a balcony that opened up to the mountains. The modern and perfectly located hotel provided us with exceptional service, not to mention the must-visit Italian restaurant, Avanti, which is open to the public.
Speaking of dining in Saint-Gervais-Mont-Blanc, here are two suggestions that were absolutely my favorites:
- Rond de Carotte: Charming local wine bar and restaurant with a fine selection of wines and delicious food. The atmosphere is perfect and I had the opportunity to taste several dishes, including the best risotto and, of course, the homemade kir. I had such a great time there!
- Le Galeta: I was under the impression that I had had a “real” cheese fondue before this one. I was wrong! This is what they specialize in, and it’s not to be missed. The restaurant has the atmosphere of a chalet or even a sugar shack. You can see the wood-fired grills in action.
We were also located at the base of the Mont Blanc tram. This is a must in the French Alps for non-skiers! The electric train goes to stations at an altitude of 1,800 meters in the winter and travels at 20 kilometers per hour. In the summer it goes up to 2,400 meters. In fact, it’s the highest cogwheel train in France!
This experience allows you to slow down and take in the beautiful landscapes and magical winter wonderland all around you. Western Europe’s highest peak and its Aiguille du Midi will appear more majestic than ever. You can even stop and explore the trails by hiking, snowshoeing or gently cross-country skiing.
There truly is not better way to enjoy the scenery in the French Alps for non-skiers than the Mont-Blanc tramway!
Saint-Gervais-Mont-Blanc thermal baths
If relaxation is what you’re after, the Saint-Gervais-Mont-Blanc hot springs are just minutes from the resort. The wellness centre is the ideal place for a bit of rest and relaxation (with spa treatments, perhaps?) while your friends or family are getting their adrenaline rush skiing down the slopes.
The spa has made Saint-Gervais famous and popular. It offers a unique experience with facilities that I have never seen before, such as a rain forest shower and an underwater bike ride. It’s a wellness journey in thousand-year-old thermal water, naturally warm and soothing, known for its healing properties. Some of the hot tubs are even located in the open air (yes, in winter) at the foot of the breathtaking Bonnant Gorges. But don’t worry, there are indoor heated pools as well.
Annecy, beautiful Annecy. It’s a stunning city with a population of 140,000, located close to the Swiss border and only 1.5 hours away from Saint-Gervais. This gives it a geographical advantage in this French Alps itinerary for non-skiers, as it’s on the way back to Lyon airport.
Known for its canals and bridges (it is often compared to Venice!), the city exudes a warm and romantic atmosphere. Surrounded by mountains and waterways, the city is a magnet for outdoor enthusiasts who take full advantage of the many facilities available, such as the many bike paths.
For a touch of history, take a walking tour through the Old Town, home to buildings dating back to the 12th century. Don’t forget to visit the Palais de l’Île and the Musée-Château d’Annecy for a deeper dive into the city’s past.
Here are a few of my recommendations in Annecy:
- Brumes: The best café in Annecy to warm up during a walk.
- Caves du Château: The place to taste wine and cheese in a beautiful old cobblestone building.
- Chez Gaston: If you have a sweet tooth, Gaston’s waffles will delight you!
- Boutique Murmur: This colorful shop offers a selection of fresh and dried flowers, home decor, jewelry, tableware and plants.
Cover photo credit: saintgervais.com