Unlike the shiny ski resorts that started springing up in the 20th century, the mountain village of Morzine offers a truly authentic experience based on centuries of traditions. Morzine (Morzena in Franco-Provençal), found at an altitude of around 1,000 metres, is brimming with Alpine charm.
This small town is home to just under 3,000 inhabitants, with wooden chalets as far as the eye can see, old farms scattered over the slopes, and traditional houses with slate roofs and intricately carved balconies.
And I haven't even mentioned the charming churches!
Morzine is surrounded by untouched picture-postcard landscapes, from green mountain pastures to steep cliffs. Between lakes, streams and forests of firs and conifers, with a view of Mont Blanc, it truly is the perfect Alpine destination. From Nyon, one of the highest parts of the ski area, you can see the sparkling waters of Lake Geneva in the north, the Mont Blanc massif in the south, and the nearby Swiss border.
The resort is very popular with English and Irish visitors, who really appreciate the breathtaking beauty of the area.
Since the 1920s, when the Grand Hotel was built, Morzine has embraced its role as a tourist destination, while also staying true to its authentic roots. According to local legend, the town actually took shape thanks to some senior officials from Geneva who fell in love with the beauty of the valley. And who could blame them?
Pléney, the first historic cableway, opened back in 1934. Over the course of the next few years, Morzine equipped the mountainous areas of Pléney, Nyon and Chamossière with facilities for downhill skiing.
Enter Jean Vuarnet, a native of Morzine and an Olympic gold medallist
in downhill skiing. In 1960, fresh from the Squaw Valley Olympics, he
was dreaming of building a futuristic ski resort for the magnificent
slopes of Avoréaz.
At the time, it seemed impossible: a ski area on a plateau surrounded by cliffs!
Vuarnet had only experienced the spring snow in Avoréaz, but he wanted to access the winter snow on the plateau. The team of young architects, led Gérard Brémond, laid out the project guidelines: “When you go on holiday in the mountains, you want to get away from your life in the city. Avoriaz will therefore not have any cars, use only electric heating (with zero impact compared to oil), and feature simple, linear and innovative architecture integrated into the ecosystem of the plateau".
The result was elaborate, mimetic, sensitive, eco-friendly, avant-garde, provocative and bold; to this day, Vuarnet's wishes provoke impassioned debates between residents and mountain enthusiasts. The buildings are made entirely from wood and stone, integrated into the sheer cliffs of Morzine and the surrounding forests.
The architects abandoned tradition, with linear roofs tilted towards the ground, to help snow fall off during winter, and square right-angled facades covered with wooden slats to capture the warmth of the sun.
The resorts began working closely with their neighbours in Switzerland (Champéry and Les Crosets), and the Portes du Soleil ski area was born. As a result of this collaboration, Avoréaz teamed up with Morzine to form Morzine-Avoriaz: where modernity meets tradition.
The plateau where the resort stands was once owned by the noble Rovorée family from Chablais. When the pastures were acquired by Morzine, they become known as Rovorée, then dropped the first syllable to become Avorée, then Avoréaz, and finally Avoriaz.
Take note: the "z" is silent!
With the Avoriaz ski resort 800 metres above the town, Morzine's reputation as a destination for winter sports enthusiasts continued to grow. Today, Morzine and Avoriaz are often seen as a single unit. They even teamed up to build a large sports centre for ice hockey (www.parc-dereches.com)!
Morzine and Avoriaz are connected by a comfortable trackless train that goes through the village, taking skiers from the Pléney cable car to the Super-Morzine cable car, which passes right over the sports hall.
Morzine-Avoriaz boasts 650 km of slopes in the Portes du Soleil ski area. The immense resort has something for everyone: complete beginners, experienced skiers, learners, freeriding fans, relaxed holidaymakers and sporty tourists.
Offering panoramic views of the Dents du Midi, Dents Blanches and Mont Blanc ranges, the unique landscapes of the Portes du Soleil resort landscapes are scattered with fir trees and ancient larches.
From Morzine, you can use a single ski pass to access a total of 197 ski lifts for 286 slopes (33 green, 119 blue, 110 red and 27 black) and 30 terrain parks across 12 resorts: Avoriaz, Abondance, La Chapelle-d'Abondance, Châtel, Les Gets, Montriond and Saint-Jean-d'Aulps in France, and Champéry, Morgins, Torgon, Val d'Illiez, Les Crosets and Champouissin in Switzerland.
Snow provides a great backdrop for other games and entertainment. There are many activities on offer in Morzine, including mountain bike trails, hiking trails, a dedicated sledging area, and an ice rink in the main square. You can also try Alpine skiing, cross-country skiing, ski touring, off-piste skiing and snowshoeing in the woods, as well as paragliding, speed riding, skijoring and heliskiing in the nearby Italian resort of Courmayeur (www.heliski-courmayeur.com).
Dating back more than 4,000 years, this ancient skiing technique involves skiers being pulled along by race horses.
You can even go on nighttime Yooner trips, lit only by your head torch, and dive in the frozen waters of the Lac de Montriond.
(Morzine)-Avoriaz was named the best ski resort for families in 2012. It includes many spaces dedicated to children, such as the Village des Enfants, an educational village in the heart of the resort equipped with huge play areas, and Riglet Park, a terrain park built specifically for young riders. In addition to the numerous events for parents and children held throughout the season, kids can also enjoy the Aquariaz water park (www.avoriaz.com/en/things-to-do/activities-wellness/aquariaz-winter).
The same goes for Morzine-(Avoriaz), which features snow gardens, private clubs and dedicated ski centres for little ones. Not to mention the famous Penguin Park!
After their first few tries at the snowplough, your kids will be desperate to try out the Penguin run, taking them through slaloms, under tunnels, over jumps and bumps and onto plastic boxes. The run starts at the end of the Nabor chairlift: an easy four-seater ski lift for beginners, with friendly staff at your disposal.
When you reach the top of the chairlift, turn right, follow the run for twenty metres, and you will be greeted by a flat road and the silhouette of a penguin. The run continues to the bottom of the structure.
A few hundred metres downhill, in the area of Pléney, you can find the Chemin des Zouzous, a 2-kilometre long educational ski run through the woods.
The run is decorated with life-size reproduction of wild animals, offering kids a fun way to learn about the fauna of Morzine: deer, wolves, foxes and many others.
I often recommend this run because it is removed from the chaotic flow of skiers on the main slopes. It is also open to everyone, from novices to experts.
Finally, Morzine-Avoriaz has earned the Famille Plus label in recognition of its high standards in catering to families and children (www.familleplus.fr/fr/morzine).
11, avenue de l’Hermitage
MC 98000 Monaco
+33 (0) 6 07 93 35 50
+377 92 167 197