Vallorcine – 🐻 la Vallée des Ours (latin name: Vallis Ursina) – located just 16km north of Chamonix – is an authentic mountain village with a unique history; its relative isolation for centuries, its proximity to🇨🇭 Switzerland, and its Walser history distinguish it from the parallel history of the Chamonix Valley.
I love Vallorcine and its stunning location. In fact, as soon as I head up to the ⛰ Col du Montet, I am in one of my happy places. There is something about this corner of the 🏔Réserve Naturelle des Aiguilles Rouges that touches my soul, and especially in 🍁 autumn, with the rich palette of ochre, gold, orange and red contrasting against 🌳 the perennial greens and the greys of the granite boulders . . . and equally close to my heart are the hamlets of Le Buet, La Poya and Barberine, all dotted along the 💦 Eau Noire river valley towards the 🇫🇷🇨🇭 FR-CHF border at Châtelard-Frontière.
A couple of autumns ago – the first 🍂 autumn weekend of the new season – MBFF was kindly invited to spend a weekend at the 🏨 Résidence & Spa de Vallorcine. This was a bit of a staycation for the tribe, as MBFF lives but an hour’s drive away! An avid overseas traveller in my youth, I now find that I don’t have the same desire to travel so far, when on one’s doorstep you can find so much to discover (and, of course, we also leave a smaller 👣 carbon footprint!).
Résidence & Spa de Vallorcine
The 🏨 Résidence & Spa de Vallorcine is a 5* apart-hotel accommdation, which has families in mind in all aspects of its design: it is spacious (and therefore easy to navigate with buggies!), the apartments are well-equipped with kitchens, and there are numerous activities for youngsters indoors and outdoors: 💦 a swimming pool and spa, 🧸a games room indoors, ⛳️ a mini golf . . . and it is located directly opposite the 🚡 Télécabine de Vallorcine, for easy access to 🏔 higher altitude hikes or the ⛷ ski pistes (depending on the season!), and also there is Vallorcine’s playground and 🏀 City-Stade (ball game zone) right next door. It also offers guests an 🅿️ indoor car park, which is great for those snowy winter visits!
Here are some of the features of the hotel that MBFF particularly enjoyed:
- 🏨 spacious apartments with kitchens – the apartments all have 2 to 4 rooms and have an open plan kitchen and living area . . . There are 🎥 FREE films on offer (which I found out when my boys decided to watch (a little prematurely!) The Grinch who Stole Christmas one morning (allowing me to 💤 sleep in – thank you!). The boys also found, upon immediate exploration of our apartment, some 🎨 colouring cards and pencils on their beds – a lovely touch!
- 🗺 reception area with maps – one of the features of the hotel that I personally really appreciated (being the map-fiend that I am), was the corner of the reception area dedicated to MAPS: there I found a 3D map of the Mont-Blanc area and fiches randonnées . . .
- 💦 indoor swimming pool – this part of our weekend away our boys LOVED! The pool is lovely, with lots of natural light. I personally was unable to indulge on this visit, due to a bandaged foot, but next time . . . (NB – children must be accompanied by an adult!);
- 💦 spa & soins Cinq Mondes – we sadly didn’t have time to book a spa treatment, but I wish we had – the Cinq Mondes, Rituels de Beauté du Monde® products smell divine, and there are even some treatments for children! You’ll also find a sauna and hammam here / more information about the soins and spa here;
- 🧗♂️ fitness room & bouldering wall – our boys LOVED this room too! (NB – children must be accompanied by an adult!);
- ♟spacious outdoor terrace with: mini-golf, table tennis & giant chess – this area turns into ⛸ an ice-rink come winter! Here, we played ⛳️ mini golf en famille and I found my mojo for this sporting discipline 😉 ! There is also a small playground for little ones on-site;
- 📚 games room & reading area – as well as 🧸 toys and games, there is ⚽️ babyfoot and 🎱 snooker available in this area . . . and a chilled out 📚 reading area – there my big boy read his bande dessinée, while his little brother enjoyed the 🚙 toy garage! (good to know: the 🏨 Résidence & Spa Vallorcine can organise babysitting services for you!);
- 🚡 location next to Télécabine de Vallorcine – the bubble lift is located a mere 100m away, across the 💦 Eau Noire river. At the hotel, there are some individual 🎿 ski lockers and a dry room, and on-site for the ski season is Sanglard Sports;
Eating Options in Vallorcine & environs
The apartments at the 🏨 Résidence & Spa de Vallorcine are equipped with kitchens, so families do have the flexibility to have meals in-situ . . . this is particularly useful if travelling with babies and toddlers, who often demand meals outside of restaurant opening hours!
We decided on our weekend visit to explore the local options, rather than to cook (it was a holiday, after all!) . . .
☕️ breakfast – is served in the adjoining tea room, the Aiguilletes. You can opt for a continental buffet or simply buy 🥐viennoiseries, bread and drinks – I enjoyed this flexibility, as my boys are not yet big 🍳 breakfast eaters! 🍏 Picnics for days out can also be organised or you can buy provisions at the adjoining shop l’Étable. One morning we had breakfast in the tea room, and the next morning we bought brekkie to go, and ate outdoors by 💦 the river; this was idyllic!
🥗 lunch & dinner options . . .
🍲 Vallorcine restaurants – there are some excellent eating options in Vallorcine (BUT do bear in mind that many of these will be shut interseason, or get very busy in high season, so do check 🗓 opening hours and think to book ahead!):
- 🥗 l’Arrêt Bougnette, right next to the 🚉 Gare SNCF Vallorcine, is known for its superb frites (fries)!
- 🥗 Le Café Comptoir – this superb restaurant is located a short walk away . . . it serves game and fish and has a super children’s dish of the day too / it is cosy in winter and has a lovely terrace too! / over the ski season, the 🚐 Le Savoie Faire food truck is also stationed here!
- 🐻 Restaurant la Ferme des 3 Ours – is a short walk away and has a large outdoor area;
- 🥗 Hôtel du Buet – is located on the main road and has a comfortable outdoor area;
- 🥗 Moon Tines – located in Le Buet, this snack bar/restaurant has a gorgeous little playground;
🍲 Argentière restaurants – out of main season, you’ll have fewer options in Vallorcine, so you might need to head over the Col des Montets to Argentière for a dinner out; there you have several good choices! You have: 🍕 Stone Bar (pizzas), 🍔 Office Bar (burgers and fries), Le Dahu, La Petite Verte, Le Grenier, Yaute Bar (world dishes), Crèmerie du Glacier (a good family hike option), Chalet Restaurant Beurre Noisette and 🍰 the tearoom Tête à Thé . . . and plenty more!
🍲 Châtelard-Frontière – 🇮🇹 Les Touristes is a super Italian restaurant (tried and tested by my husband!) and also there is the Restaurant De L’Hôtel Suisse;
Activities & hikes for families in Vallorcine & Le Buet
🏀 City-Stade & playground – right next to the hotel is a small playground and a ball park; think to bring with you a 🏀 basketball or/and ⚽️ football (we did, and this kept the boys busy for a good few hours!);
🐴 La Diligence Vallorcine pony rides – over the summertime, there are pony rides for children on offer;
🏚 La Maison de Barberine (summer only) – in 1986, one of the oldest houses in the valley, dating from 1705, was up for sale . . . members of a local family decided to buy it, and then to gift it, to an association that would restore it and then open a museum dedicated to telling the story of local life . . . / see website / there are some good hikes around here . . .
⛰ Col des Montets (1461m) & Le Chalet d’Accueil de la Réserve des Aiguilles Rouges – this mountain pass, which shuts at periods over the winter months due to significant ❄️ snowfall, connects the Chamonix Valley to Vallorcine. It is worth a visit, as there is an exhibition about the flora and fauna of the reserve in the chalet (see here), 🌱 a short botanical walk, and some 🧗♂️ bouldering too (see here);
⛰ HIKES – there are several hikes that are perfect for families, and some of these leave directly from the hotel! (good to know: local guide Xavier Dunant offers some guided visits, as does guide du patrimoine Christine):
⛰ Chemin des Diligences – a lovely, fairly flat hike along the valley floor, allowing you to skip from hamlet to hamlet and to visit the ⛪ chapel Notre Dame des Montets and the 🐎 Mayens des Biolles (an old relais-hostel-stable) / you have different length options, as the walk links the 🚉 train stations of Le Buet and Vallorcine . . .
[ note: diligences were the horse-drawn tourist carriages that came to Vallorcine either from 🇨🇭 Martigny or from 🇫🇷 Chamonix (via the Col des Montets), from 1792! Tourists began to arrive in Chamonix from Geneva in the 18th century, and then with the train arriving at Saint-Gervais, the diligences route was shortened. Once the 🚂 train line arrived in Chamonix in 1901, the diligences along that route stopped, but they carried on transporting tourists to Vallorcine for a few more years, until the railway line reached there! / see here for more information ]
💦 Cascade de Bérard – this short mountain hike will take you up to 1430m and the waterfall from the torrent in the 🏔 Aiguilles Rouges / you start from behind the Hôtel du Buet, and walk up through La Poya, a small hamlet with stone houses that once used to house sheep tenders / ☕️ the buvette is a welcome stop for 🍓 tartes (check opening hours) / for more information about the hike en famille, see MBFF separate article here / good to know: there is a fabulous parcours orientation that combines well with this hike at La Poya;
🦌 Vallon de Bérard & Refuge Pierre à Bérard – this is a 2h uphill hike (and then back!) through the ⛰ Réserve des Aiguilles Rouges, which brings you to the foot of Mont Buet (1924m) / you can often spot some chamois or ibex here and you can also spend the night!
💦 Cascade de Barberine – a short hike to do en famille, or you can head further up to the Emosson dam and across to the Refuge de Loriaz and then back down (full day);
🐮 Alpage & Refuge de Loriaz – various different trails will take you from Vallorcine or Le Buet up to this lovely spot . . . and you can overnight here too!
🚡 Aiguillettes des Posettes and Col de la Balme & Croix de Fer – the Télécabine de Vallorcine will speed you up the mountain and then it is a 1 hour hike to the Aiguillettes des Posettes (note: the bubble lift stops running mid-September, to re-open for the winter ski season);
⛰ Col des Montets in the Réserve des Aiguilles Rouges and botanical trail – this is also the starting point for the chemin des Lacs and the hike to the well-visited and beautiful 💦 Lac Blanc (some chain and ladder sections on this route) / see Chamonix Tourisme website for more details;
💦 Lac Blanc and Lac Cornu . . .
Activities & hikes for families near Vallorcine
Little Vallorcine, nestled between its big brothers 🇫🇷 Chamonix and 🇨🇭 Switzerland, is the perfect location to explore both other alpine terrains: 🚞 a short train ride or drive will bring you to either . . .
Chamonix does have some of the big tourist attraction WOWS: 🚠 the Aiguille du Midi, 🚂 the Montenvers train and ice cave . . .
. . . and, just across the ⛰ Col des Montets, are some super hikes leaving from 🚞 Argentière SNCF or Le Planet-Montroc SNCF train stations:
- the pretty hamlet Tré le Champ (and its wooden totems carved from storm wood by Laurent Reynès and the rustic 🥤 Auberge la Boerne);
- the Albert 1 refuge and glacier . . .
- the family idyll La Mare aux Têtards (a stream and playground located in the forest!) and parcours orientation; see MBFF article here;
🇨🇭 Switzerland 🇨🇭
🦌 Zoo des Marécottes – this animal park, the highest in Europe, is open all year round! / April 2017 saw the birth of 🐻 a baby black bear called Mirus / good to know: known for its summer swimming pool nestled within the rocks, Zoo des Marécottes is also lovely in autumn, winter and springtime! / there is a restaurant, picnic spots, and a playground / 🚞 getting there: see here and you can take the train from Vallorcine! / see Marécottes FB page or website for more details & exact opening hours;
address: Zoo et Piscine des Marécottes, rue des Combasses 3, 1923, Les Marécottes, Switzerland / tel: +41 27 761 15 62;
🚃 VerticAlp Emosson – this vertical rail attraction is a MUST! / open until 25th October 2020! / read about MBFF’s recent family experience here;
🇨🇭 Martigny (Valais, SWITZERLAND) – from 🏔 Vallorcine, it is a short 30 minute drive or 🚞 52 minute train ride to 🇨🇭 Martigny . . . once there, you will have a true feeling of dépaysement, with its:
- lovely town centre;
- 🏰 Château de Batiaz – castle perched on a hill;
- 🏟 Roman ruins (an amphitheatre and more . . .);
- the wonderful 🖼 Fondation Pierre Gianadda for art exhibitions, photos, vintage cars and a sculpture garden with Roman ruins (see MBFF article here or website);
- and the equally lovely 🐶 Barryland – Musée et Chiens du Saint-Bernard (see here for MBFF article or website);
- and the 💎 Musée des Sciences de la Terre – Fondation Tissières . . .
🇨🇭 Further afield Switzerland – and a bit further afield (but still not too far!), you’ll come to the 💦 family-friendly thermal baths of: Bains de Saillons (babies welcome!) or Lavey les Bains (4+ years) and Leukerbad – see here for more information. You’ll also find some 🌈 amusement parks – Western City & Labyrinthe Aventure – and also of interest, the 💦 underground Lac Souterain de Saint Léonard (the largest underground lake in Europe!) and the 🧂 Bex Salt Mines;
⛰ HIKES – a short drive from Vallorcine will bring you to two fabulous hikes, both suitable for families:
- 💦 the Bisse du Trient (following the route of the old irrigation channel to a glacier, quite flat and easy; see MBFF article here;
- and the 💦 Les Gorges Mystérieuses de la Tête Noire (a steep downhill and uphill return, but oh so worth it! / see MBFF article here;
Transport to and from Vallorcine
One of the most alluring factors about staying at the 🏨 Résidence & Spa Vallorcine is that you can park your car, and then take the 🚞 train or hike or bike EVERYWHERE (or nearly everywhere!). Or, you can leave the car at home and get to the hotel 🚉 by train from either 🇫🇷 Le Fayet or the Chamonix Valley (SNCF network) or from 🇨🇭 Switzerland (SBB network) / see the 🚞 Mont Blanc Express train website here).
With a carte d’hôte, available from the hotel, you can travel for FREE between Vallorcine and Servoz SNCF!
A little Vallorcine history and literature . . .
🇩🇪 Walser history – Teutons from 🇨🇭 Haute-Valais settled in Vallorcine in the XIIth century, and as Vallorcine was so isolated, for many centuries its main link to the outside world was by the mule path that came from Martigny and headed up the gorges de Trient, and then up to the Col de la Forclaz. With the scientific interest in 🏔 Mont-Blanc of the late 18th century, geologists were also attracted to Mont Buet, which was a more accessible climb . . . this interest led to better roads to Vallorcine;
🇫🇷 annexation to France – in 1860, the Duché de Savoie rejoined France, though there was a question that part of it might join Switzerland instead!
🚂 railway – a train line reached Vallorcine in 1908, seven years after it had reached Chamonix! Though the first hotel in 🏔 Vallorcine had opened in Barberine in 1852, the train line facilitated an influx of summer tourists (the train line was only open May to November in the early days!);
🎬 video – here is a video about Vallorcine and its hamlets, which can be found on the website of Christine (guide du patrimoine), who gives local guided tours . . .
🐻📚 book BD: Vallorcine, la Vallée des Ours by Elisa Giacomotti (Editions Elisa, 2018)– this book, based on a true story, tells the story of the last bear in the Massif du Mont-Blanc! An orphaned bear cub is spotted by the young Joseph in Vallorcine in 1885, and he adopts him and vows to protect him!
Vallorcine winter season
For more information about ❄️ WINTER SEASON and ⛷ skiing and 🛷 sledging in Vallorcine, see separate MBFF articles:
address: Résidence & Spa Vallorcine, Chef Lieu , 74660 , Vallorcine / tel: +33 (0)4 50 54 75 20 ; website / FB page / email: firstname.lastname@example.org ;
[ DISCLOSURE : our family visit was kindly offered by Résidence & Spa Vallorcine – MERCI! All of the opinions in the article, however, remain my own and those of the MBFF family. ]