If your idea of the perfect summer holiday is lazing by an infinity pool sipping a glass of chilled rosé and reading the latest Booker prize winner, don’t read any further. But if like me, you relish exercise, new challenges, spectacular scenery and tip-top accommodation, read on. Head for Les Gets a small town in the French Haute-Savoie an hour-and-a-bit from Geneva airport. Renowned for winter skiing, it’s part of the Portes du Soleil circuit, with curvaceous foothills nestling beneath the 1,826m Mont-Chéry. But in summer it’s cycle-central, host to the World Mountain Bike Championships in August. Winter ski jargon flips to the two-wheeled terminology of VTT…Vélo Tout Terrain, i.e., Mountain Bikes. Ski lifts become bike lifts and the town’s retail outlets metamorphose from Goretex to Lycra. This is the place to get for summer bike action.
With easy weekend access for Geneva’s high earners demand for second homes is skyrocketing with prices to match. The mayor demands high standards of traditional construction, shunning the cheap-and-cheerful mass-tourism monstrosities that blight many alpine resorts. Most chalets are privately owned, used by the proprietors for two or three weeks a year. Finished and furnished to high spec, they offer superior rental living.
Enter Mark Nathan, who started here with his first property in 2008. The savvy Mark now has a portfolio of over 40 under the umbrella of Chalets1066. The jewel in his crown is Chalet Louis, a luxury 5-bedroom traditional wooden building set in an exclusive area above town with magnificent views and decorated with taste: sumptuous sofas line three sides of the huge lounge area with a floor to ceiling picture window framing the fabulous panorama down the valley to the village. Bedrooms and bathrooms ooze luxury and style. The obligatory hot-tub has a pulley-operated basket to lower bottles of bubbly from the terrace above. Of course.
Mark’s knowledge of the movers and shakers of Les Gets is invaluable. None of us wanted to cook during our three-night stay, so he recommended Chez-Toi run by the effervescent Jo Watts who provided chef’s services including breakfast and evening meals and managed the needs of our group’s gluten-free and vegetarian members as well as washing up and putting away! After a gourmet brekkie of poached eggs with smashed avocado on sourdough toast we packed into Mark’s Land Rover and set off to hire bikes and kit at “the best bike shop in town”, The Hub”.
Owner Lionel Bergoend fitted me out with a Saracen Myst Pro downhill and enough body armour to grant me instant access to any S&M sex party. He even swapped the brake levers around (GB front right, FR front left) to avoid nasty over-the-handlebars mix ups.
Enter Arthur, possibly the coolest instructor in a town chock-full of world class riders who showed his style when his chain broke before we’d even ascended a lift. He spent the morning chain-less ‘push-alonging’ the uphill sections. Arthur piloted me down runs in the Bike Park that had more twists than Boris’s promises: “Look around the curve, not at your wheel. Slower into the turn, ride the middle banking, then release the brake and faster out. One finger on your levers, then you won’t over-brake.” Gradually I gained confidence and began to enjoy the rhythm, only skidding a back wheel once. “Good, Michael, the bike deserves to have fun too!” he laughed.
After a morning of bruising berms and bumps, beer was necessary. Not far from The Hub was a La Beca, dedicated to, yes, you got it, beer. The daily selection is displayed on a giant TV screen and expert advice dispensed. My advice: do your tasting in Galopins, French 25cl glasses. One beer I didn’t try was the interestingly named Urine IPA.
More cycling the next day, but of a very different sort…sit-up-and-beg electric machines. They are, in the words of the great blues singer Howling Wolf, ‘built for comfort, not for speed’. The handy shopping basket up front gave some clue to the intended purpose of the GetsLib’ hire bikes…pottering around the flat streets of town from boulangerie to boucherie. However, one of our party suggested riding up Mont-Chéry to lunch at Les Chevrelles, some 1,480 odd metres hence.
I ride an e-bike at home on Dartmoor, and regularly ascend similar heights, but mine is a hybrid with a powerful motor and battery. These weighed more than a small family car and were powered by the equivalent of two AA batteries. But my feeble protests (weakened perhaps by one too many Galopins the night before) fell on deaf ears and off we went.
“Let’s pop up to the Golf Club for a coffee before we tackle Mont-Chéry” said the optimist, forgetting to mention that was 1,300m up the opposing side of the valley to our lunch target. A hot climb later, my doubts increased, but “no, we’ll be fine” was repeated. After coffee the whizz down was wonderful then we hit the foothills, the sun beat down, and sweat started pouring off me. Up and up we creaked, hairpin after hairpin like a hairdresser on overtime, then my bike’s battery indicator faltered…and died. Two choices; forget lunch and coast down, or push the hateful lump up the remaining 2 kms and have a nice cool lunch with, perchance, a glass chilled rosé.
You couldn’t have made the next part up. As we stood debating, a van in the distinctive yellow livery of La Poste pulled up delivering to a farm’s roadside mailbox. “Problems?” enquired the young factrice in perfect English. I cannot describe my shock and disbelief which quickly turned to relief when I discovered that Anne-Marie Sainsbury was a fellow Brit, longtime Les Gets resident, currently working for the postal service and now a saint to this stranded British cyclist. “Bung your bike in the back of the van and I’ll drop you at the restaurant” the lovely young rescuer said. Without a second thought for the others off I went and managed to down two deliciously cold drinks before they hove into view, both bikes on their last legs, batteries as flat crêpes.
Our final morning was pure indulgence: an in-chalet yoga session with Marion Allain of MYog’Art who helped us relax our tired but contented bodies against the priceless backdrop from the picture windows of Chalet Louis.
TELL ME MORE ABOUT CYCLING IN LES GETS.
Geneva Airport is about an hour away and serviced by most UK airlines. Skiidy Gonzales Airport Transfers offer shared door-to-door transfers from €33.75 per person (based on 8 passengers).
Les Gets is regarded as one of the top mountain biking destinations in the world, with Europe’s largest bike park that includes over 128 Kms of marked trails for all levels and regularly hosts the downhill and XCO (Cross Country Olympic) editions of the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup. The Mountain Bike World Championships with be held in the resort in August 2022.
Chalets1066 was established in 2008 and has been operating exclusively in Les Gets ever since. The owners and the staff live and work in Les Gets all year round. Their detailed knowledge of the resort is without any doubt, greater than any other chalet operator in Les Gets. There’s over 40 properties with over 300 beds in total. Chalet Louis is an outstanding, modern 5 bedroom luxury chalet with amazing views, set on 4 levels. It has a very large living area, with a contemporary kitchen and an outside hot tub.
The Hub is a mountain bike and ski shop based in the heart of Les Gets offering a high standard of mountain bike rental for all disciplines, with a friendly service and English speaking staff. Instructors and guides are also available. Saracen downhill (Myst Pro) €109 per day (Full face helmet, body armour, knee pads included)
Chez Toi provide chef’s services in Les Gets and can cater for all needs and group sizes. The Traditional package consists of 7 cooked and continental breakfasts (continental only on staff days off), 6 afternoon teas and 5 three course evening meals with wine at €300 per adult.
M Yog’Art with Marion offers private individual or group classes adapted for all levels, all year round.
GetsLib’ e-bike rental self-service Electric Bikes. First half hour free, half hour (up to 4 hours of use) : 1€ every 30 minutes, half hour (from the 5th hour of use) : 2,50€ every 30 minutes. 35 electric bicycles and seven charging points are located in the village centre, in the hamlets and at the leisure centre.