Did you hear about that time I went paragliding. With Inghams. Yes, the same Inghams known for operating mountain holidays that usually attract the over 50s. With Inghams’ 85 year anniversary next year, having it catch up in age with some of its summer guests. The kind of clientele that (if you were stereotyping) you’d imagine would be more interested in the gentle hikes and afternoon teas, than white knuckle adventure sports. This said, the brand have noticed that their Chamonix holidays were attracting younger, thrill seekers. And so here I am – strapped into a harness, up a mountain, trying to breathe my way through the sheer terror coursing through my body at the prospect of flying with nothing but a glorified sheet keeping me in the sky.
Chamonix is amongst the most famous mountain towns in France, and is one of the only ones that is equally popular in the summer as winter. Framed by the densely pine banked jagged Western Alps, historic shuttered buildings from the late 1800s, next to deco architecture from early 1900s, make this valley resort picture postcard pretty. With exclusive boutique shopping for those (like me) who feel reassured to see a little luxury while en vacance.
As Inghams offer affordable package holidays, and I’ve been spoilt rotten by mostly reviewing boutique/luxury, my expectations were not high for the hotel. Yet I was pleasantly surprised with Hotel La Sapinière. No frills, yet clean and comfortable, with ridiculously friendly staff and decent enough food. And although I spent little time at the hotel, I still appreciated the magnificent vista of the snow capped mountains from my room. With the Bossons Glacier glowing like molten lava as it is caught by the sunset. Sigh.
Dinner at this hotel, is home cooked in style, and basic, with aspirations. You can not go wrong with the salad bar starter, and while the main courses – including sweet potato curry and mushroom bourguignon – were a little bland, the homemade truffles served with post dinner teas and coffees are worth sticking around for. The restaurant, and hotel itself is a little dated looking and not what I would call a premium experience. But I am not here to critique a three star hotel catering to the mass market. Especially not one that’s less than £500 pp full board for a week, including flights! Being right in the centre of Chamonix there are plenty of chic eateries to discover near Hotel La Sapinière. And anyway, it’s the bucket list activities on offer that caught my attention, with Inghams having won ‘Best Activities Operator’ at the Globe Travel Awards three times running. So let’s get back to that mountain…
After waiting for the right conditions for a few minutes, the instructor suddenly shouts “Go, go…run…faster, long strides! ” until I am hoiked up, screaming, as the land rapidly falls away and we ascend as high as the peaks, gliding like an eagle. I’m not going to lie, I found the experience terrifying. Add to that the motion sickness, and my instructor took pity on me and brought me down a little earlier than planned. To the landing area literally opposite the hotel. Handy as I needed “a bit of a lie down” to regroup. Once I’d recovered though, I was glad I’d taken this once in a lifetime thrill ride. (Read: I’ll never be doing that again). And as my group excitedly swapped stories about their “incredible” experiences, and encouraging their instructor to do tricks in the air, I soon realised I was in the minority being such as wimp about it.
The following day’s activities started more gently, with a trip on the quaint Montenvers Railway, with its stunning valley views, to visit the Refuge du Montenvers. One of the oldest mountain hotel in the world, built in 1880, obviously this property is steeped in rich history, but I was way more excited by the swish refurb that has transformed this former hostel into a luxury hotel. Where Ingham’s guests have the option of staying for a night from only £105 pp per night inc. dinner.
Original wood paneling has been painstakingly restored, and modern fixtures have a vintage mood. Cage lighting hangs on climbing ropes over the staircase, while rooms feature vintage trunks as bedside tables and stylish distressed metal hanging rails. Bathrooms are slate walled with rain head showers and there’s a freestanding bathtub in the suite, named after one of its famous guests – Alexander Dumas, author of The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers.
Refuge du Montenvers is now firmly on my wish-list for my next trip to this part of the world. And I might even be tempted to stay in the, so fresh it still smells of pine, new dormitory. With stylish curtained off double beds creating a cosy pod for weary hikers. One night is usually enough here, as the hotel is so remote – but you should be sure to leave time to take the gondola down to visit the magical Ice Grotto carved into the famous Mer de Glace glacier. But be aware the steep, long and winding staircase down, goes in both directions.
Next on our itinerary was white-water rafting down the River Arve. Made a beautiful shade of chalky eau du nil by the erosion of granite and minerals, this glacier river is just 3 degrees. Making rafting an…ahem…refreshing activity with which to cool down on a hot day. Even when wearing the wetsuits provided. Not for the fainthearted the current on this river is intense, and when our guide shouted out the safe word – we all rode through the waves by diving in the raft, oars upright. Lord knows how we managed to avoid capsizing. I was glad we did though.
Our last day on this Inghams holiday taster and I was thrilled to have been introduced to the delights of Mountain e-Biking. After an initial wobble getting a handle on the electric aspect of the bike, I took to this activity like a duck to water, probably because I cycle so much in London. The extra boost of power enabling us to get up steep mountain tracks, with just a healthy-ish amount of effort. Beefy tyres steaming over gnarly roots and rocks as if a 4×4. Flying over streams on rickety wooden bridges, mentally gripping the mountain edge while on a narrow dirt track with a sheer drop the other side. I loved every second!
So well done Inghams – who knew there was so much to do in Chamonix in summer? And I haven’t even mentioned the glorious walks and cable car excursions you arranged for us. Including my highlight – taking in the achingly awe inspiring snowy mountain scenes, from above the clouds at Plan d’Aiguille. So I return back to London feeling exhausted but refreshed, in that wholesome, outdoorsy, done a load of exercise in the mountain air, kind of way. Boring anyone who will listen about my bucket list trip.
Inghams has launched a new range of excursions in Chamonix this summer, to introduce guests to the resort’s plentiful outdoor activities. These must be pre-booked and include:
Overnight Glacier Experience from £105 per person – spend an unforgettable night in the newly renovated Refuge du Montenvers, with a three-course dinner included.
Mountain Magic from £121 per person – enjoy three half days of adventure including white-water rafting, gentle hiking and guided biking.
Ice, Air & Rapids from £260 per person – experience big thrills with white-water rafting in Italy, tandem paragliding and a Mer de Glace glacier hike (during two and a half days)
Inghams offers a seven-night stay on a catered basis (including buffet breakfasts, packed lunches, afternoon tea and cake and evening meals with complimentary wine for six days) at the three-diamond Hotel La Sapinière in Chamonix, France, from £470 per person in August / September 2018. Price includes return flights and airport transfers. To book, visit www.inghams.co.uk/lakes-mountains-holidays or call 01483 791 116.
For more information on the resort, visit: www.chamonix.com.