Haute Savoie / France
This once remote village on the border between France and Switzerland has been transformed by its proximity to Geneva airport, and great high-speed train links to Thonon-les-Bains and Aigle (Switzerland). But despite its popularity, it has resisted the high-rise hotels of larger resorts, favouring chalets and apartments, and has managed to retain its traditional charm.
In the heart of the Portes du Soleil area, it has links to great skiing in the winter, and walkers and bikers in the summer.
There’s a good selection of shops in the village, as well as a couple of small grocery shops. A larger Intermarche is available at La Chapelle d’Abondance. You’ll be spoiled for choice if you’re eating out, with most restaurants focusing on local specialities.
The unspoilt village of Châtel is in the heart of the Portes du Soleil ski area, which covers 12 linked resorts - eight of them French and four Swiss. You’ll have the choice of 300 ski slopes and 197 lifts, and they’re all covered by the Portes du Soleil ski pass. Those with limited mobility are covered too, with Handiski, Tandem-ski and Taxiski offered by various ski schools.
There’s night skiing at the Linga stadium, which is floodlit from 7.30-9.30pm.
There’s a Nordic and cross-country ski area at La Chapelle d’Abondance, which extends into Châtel, with trails that are also suitable for hiking and snow-shoeing.
When you stay at an OVO Network property in Châtel in the summer, there’s no end of activities to keep you busy. The mountains are a magnet for walkers, runners and bikers, but there’s so much more to discover.
Fly through the valley on a zipwire, take to the lake on a stand-up paddleboard, climb up in to the tree-tops on a rope trail or hurtle down the mountain on a summer sledge, the choice is yours.
Skiing and boarding are the main activities that bring guests to Châtel in the winter, and in the summer, hiking, biking and climbing are the most popular. But when you stay at an OVO Network property, there is so much more to see and do.
Here are some of our favourite things to do in Châtel - you’ll find the details below.
Soar through the valley above Châtel on the Fantasticable - two zipwires which travel a total of 2.5km over the hamlet of Plaine-Dranse, at a height of 240m. It’s open to anyone between the weights of 35-120kg, and is open summer or winter - if you’re flying in the winter, your skis and equipment will follow you down in a transport bag so that you can carry on skiing. You’ll be strapped in a lying position, and if you don’t fancy doing it alone, a friend can join you!
The Lac de Vonnes, just a short walk from the centre of Châtel, is a lovely place for a relaxing walk and a picnic. There’s a playground for children, and fishing is permitted.
Swim for pleasure or exercise at the beautiful Forme d’O aquatic centre, when you stay at your Châtel chalet. There are indoor and outdoor pools, as well as an ocean area with waterfalls and bubble seats, three saunas, two steam rooms, a gym and a relaxation area, Facials and body treatments can be booked at the Spa Océane.
La Vieille Douane, or the old customs house in Châtel is now a fascinating museum where you learn all about the smuggling that went on in this cross-border area through eye-witness accounts, pictures and documents.
Discover the Abondance Valley from above when you try paragliding with qualified instructors. The Discovery Flight, designed for beginners, is a tandem flight with an instructor, and lasts about 10-12 minutes. The Great Flight starts higher and lasts about 20-40 minutes, during which you’ll see the Cornettes de Bise, Mont de Grange, Mont Blanc and the Swiss Alps. The Thermal flight uses warm air currents to keep you flying that bit longer- you’ll need some experience for this one.
Châtel’s Bike Park at Pré-la-Joux/ Plaine Dranse has about 20 downhill trails of varying difficulty, as well as several fun zones, including a kids’ zone, a slopestyle zone and a live zone, where you can video yourself, to share the fun with your friends! A map of bike trails in the Châtel area is available from the tourist office, and bikes, including electric ones, can be rented locally.
Have a break from skiing and take the kids to the ice rink in the Place d’Eglise. Sessions last an hour - you’ll be given a coloured armband and when it’s time to come off, your colour will be announced over the loudspeaker. Single and double-blade skates are available to hire, as are helmets for children, walkers and sled chairs, so children of all ages can get on to the rink. Remember to take gloves!
In summer, the sightseeing train is a great way to explore the village and its surroundings when you first arrive in Châtel. Enjoy a trip around the village and past some wonderful farms, architecture and countryside. Prices range from €1 for children to €3 for adults, and group rates are available and trips run on Tuesdays and Thursdays - book at the tourist office.
See how the wonderful local Abondance cheese is made when you visit La Ferme de la Barbossine, just above Châtel. You can also taste it, and buy some to take back for lunch at your self-catered ski chalet. In summer, the farm also provides snacks and dinners, using local produce.
It’s not always easy to keep the kids interested on a walk, but these themed trails will give them something extra to get involved in. These include a water trail from Lac de Vonnes, the Rivari fun trail which has several puzzles for younger children along the way and a trail where you can learn about mountain birds.
La Table Savoyarde (211 route du Linga, 74390 Châtel, tel +33 4 50 81 37 50) A popular family-run restaurant with a reputation for a friendly welcome, good food and reasonable prices. It’s not big, so not suitable for large groups, and it’s a good idea to book in advance. The accent is on French mountain food - try the tartiflette, it comes highly recommended.
Fleur de Neige (564 Route de Vonnes, 74390 Châtel, tel: +33 4 50 73 20 10)
This highly-rated restaurant is described in the Michelin Guide as offering “hearty traditional cuisine in a family atmosphere”. The setting is more formal, but the service is warm and friendly. The menu offers French and Alpine classics, as well as several special menus, ranging from the Discovery menu at €33 to the six-course Gourmet menu at €50. Younger guests have plenty of choice on the children’s menu, at €15.
Le Hors Piste (5 route de Vonnes, 74390 Chatel, tee: +33 4 50 76 11 54) Home-made burgers and pizzas are popular at this family restaurant but there is plenty of choice for those wanting something a little different. The bar, which does great cocktails, is a popular apres-ski choice. It’s very popular, so book in advance to be sure of a table.
Le Monchu (1261 route de Vonnes, 74390 Chatel, tel: +33 4 50 73 28 51) Sit on the terrace at this delightful restaurant to make the most of its lakeside location. The brasserie-style food is well-cooked and of good quality. Its location, being slightly out of the centre of the village, means its a good choice if you are looking for somewhere a little quieter.
La Cheminee (Chalet les Lutins 19 Chemin de sous le Cret, tel: +33 4 50 73 28 51) Great steaks, salads, lasagne and local specialties are on offer at this restaurant, run by British expats. Situated at the foot of the Super-Châtel lift, it’s a convenient stop for lunch, or for dinner when you come off the pistes - the roaring log fire is very welcome.
You'll have everything you need for your holiday at the shops in Châtel - there are two mini-markets in the centre of the village as well as shops selling wonderful locally-produced meats and cheeses. There’s also an Intermarche supermarket on the road to La Chapelle d’Abondance.
Fresh bread, croissants and pastries are available from wonderful bakeries such as Le Grenier a Pain on the Route de Vonnes and the Boulangerie Grillet.
Les Delices de Châtel is a great choice for delicious chocolates, regional sweets, jams and honey as well as mountain spirits such as genepi.
If you’re looking for gifts to take home, there’s plenty of choice - Les Poteries de l’Ermitage offers handmade dishes designed for local dishes such as Berthoud and tartiflette, and La Boite à Cadeaux has games, toys and souvenirs.
As you’d expect from a mountain resort, there are plenty of shops selling and renting ski equipment and outdoor clothing, so you’ll look great on the slopes.
By air - Châtel is 1hr 15 minutes from Geneva airport. Buses run from the airport to Châtel, with direct connections on Saturdays - booking is essential. Trains run every 30 minutes from the airport to nearby Aigle, and taxis to your Châtel chalet are available from there.
By train - the nearest railway station to Châtel is at Thonon, from where buses run to the resort.
Buses - Châtel has an efficient free bus service between the village and the slopes during the winter, starting at 8.30am. Services are less regular in the evenings.
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