The Alps is the perfect European destination for a lakes and mountain family holiday, with majestic mountains, beautiful vineyard-laden valleys, green pastures and glacier-fed lakes, both big and small to explore. Verbier, a sunny mountain town in a south-facing bowl soaks up much of the summer sun, and faces the Grand Combin Massif, meaning you get to soak up beautiful views and mountain air each day, with fantastic hiking opportunities on your doorstep.

The perfect escape

Switzerland is renowned for its beautiful, crystal clear mountain lakes, some of which are located at high altitude and can be accessed only by hiking or biking, others are accessible by car or located in towns and villages, and replace beaches for the Swiss and tourists alike. Many of the high altitude lakes are fed by glacial or mountain meltwater meaning they can stay very cold even into the summer months, which makes for a refreshing stop on a hike for a dip! There are many lakes designated for swimming and other water activities, especially the vast shores of Lake Geneva or Lac Leman as it is known in French.

Lake activities

A relaxing day at the lake can be a highlight of the holiday, and best of all there’s no sand, saltwater or tides to worry about! Swimming, stand-up paddle boarding, pedalos or kayaking are just some of the popular activities on the shores of Lake Geneva. Our favourite areas to hang out closest to Verbier are in the town of Villeneuve; the outdoor pool here has an entrance fee which keeps crowd numbers lower, and there are diving boards to use, a snack bar, a pool for the younger ones and paddleboards to rent by the hour. Champex Lac is also a short and very scenic 45 minute drive away, a family-friendly lake in a small mountain resort, offering pedalos, rowing boats, and paddleboards, wonderful for cooling off on a hot day with some great restaurants for lunch.

Wakeboarding and surfing

For those looking for something a bit more special, watersports on the lake on offer include wakeboarding, wake surfing or water skiing. With a group or your family, you head out on the boat for a great experience, whether you’re an expert or it’s something you’ve never tried before! The companies have everything you need, just bring your camera and swimmers! The water is warm enough to not need wetsuits in the summer, but early or late in the season you can borrow these too.

Lake and Dam hikes

We don’t know about you, but there’s nothing better than a hike to a beautiful glacial lake, rewarded at the top by a dip to cool off and a couple of hours of swimming and picnicking before beginning your descent. It’s always best to check if swimming is possible at your destination lake, as some are in protected areas and others are dams with hydroelectric systems where it isn’t possible to swim, but the views are still well worth the trip. In Verbier, our most accessible mountain lake is Lac de Vaux, an uphill hike and relatively steep descent in part, it is best to allow for a 4 hour round trip including a stop off for photos, a picnic and a dip. Some of our other favourites include Mauvoisin Dam, Emosson Dam and Lac Taney (the hike up is pretty steep though a taxi service also runs up the road). The Swiss Alps in the summertime is a dream destination for a family friendly biking holiday, no matter what your level of experience. For those looking for the perfect base for a family bike holiday, whether you’re interested in road biking, e-biking or mountain biking, Verbier is a great option for the whole family.

Travelling with your bike

Many people choosing to visit Switzerland for a biking holiday may wish to bring their own bikes with them and choose to self-drive, which can be a good option when it comes to the extra luggage travelling with children. Switzerland is very accessible by road from most parts of mainland Europe including France, Northern Italy, Germany, Austria or the UK. If you prefer to fly, there are lots of bike rental services in town where you can hire road, mountain or e-bikes on arrival, and lighten the luggage load a little! Trains in Switzerland are very bike-friendly too, with areas to put your bike throughout the train, whether you’re arriving or jumping on a train during a biking trip. If you need a hand planning your train journey, www.SBB.ch is the Swiss train website with an excellent route planner, or just give us a shout and we’d be happy to help.

Try out eBiking

A new sport that is just finding its feet as technology in e-bikes has really jumped ahead in recent years, the Alps is a terrific place to e-bike. Making the tough ascents much easier, e-bikes are available to hire during the summer in Verbier and a network of trails is ready to explore, from family friendly to day-long e-biking adventures. The ‘Tour du Mont Fort’ route is a fantastic one to try which begins and ends in Verbier and travels through La Tzmouas, Nendaz and Siviez before descending from the Gentianes areas of Verbier, one for the adults to try while the younger kids are in camp for the day! The e-biking festival is also hosted in Verbier every year, giving people the chance to test out different models for a set fee, and explore the nearby trails, or to see which ones suits your needs if you’re thinking of investing in your own model.

Mountain biking

One of Verbier’s biggest summer draws is its mountain bike park, open from the spring through until Autumn every year. Bikers come from near and far to explore the trails, ranging from blue tracks (easy/moderate) for beginners to red (advanced) and black (difficult/very difficult). The expanse of mountain roads and some pedestrian paths are also shared with bikers for those looking for endurance biking, or simply to explore the area on two wheels under your own steam. Bikes can be rented in Verbier, or you can bring your own and simply buy a lift pass for access. For those who are just starting out, are unfamiliar with the area or want to work on their skills, there are some brilliant mountain bike guides and coaches in town too for kids and adults.

Road biking

A very popular sport in Switzerland and Europe-wide, the Alps is perfect for long days in the saddle of a road bike. The surrounding mountain passes and well-kept roads make for a huge draw for road bikers. No need to be an expert though, as long as you can ride a bike there are some dedicated bike paths and flat stretches too for those simply wanting to get out and explore Switzerland’s beautiful landscape. Again, guides are available for those of all abilities. Some fantastic destinations can be reached by road bike from Verbier, even into nearby Italy and France, and you can soak up the incredible views and explore the vineyards, mountains, towns and villages in the process. Some of the most treasured moments of camp can be sitting round the campfire you have just made with your friends, toasting the perfect marshmallow, or sat at an evening campfire with the whole camp telling stories and celebrating achievements from the week before. Building campfires is one of our campers favourite activities, not only is it a great outdoor skill to learn but it also comes with a whole host of other learning outcomes; as well as a sense of achievement and accomplishment. A safe place for building your fire The first step is ensuring your build your fire in a safe place, as well as a place that will aid you in lighting the fire as much as possible. The risk of wildfires in the summer in many forested or grassy areas is high. Make sure you clear an area; ideally there will be bare soil in the area, and you can create a safe boundary for your fire with small rocks to keep it contained, as well as being sheltered from the wind. Make sure there is nowhere the fire can spread to once lit, for example dry grass can easily catch fire. Also ensure there is no fire ban in your area before you decide to light a fire. Selecting the right fuel for your fire First select tinder; the smallest and most flammable fuel to get your fire started, followed by kindling and then larger pieces of wood for fuel. Tinder needs to be very thin shredded material, such as dry ‘old mans beard’, dry pine needles, dried grass, or some types of dried bark. It is hardest to find when the forest floor is damp but this is also when it is most important. Alternatively a supply of matches can act as tinder, or take some with you on damp days. You can create your own by shaving the inside of a log if you are struggling to find dry tinder. Kindling is the next step up from tinder, and the heat from the tinder will get the kindling burning. This is  splinters of wood, small sticks. Remember only use fallen wood from the forest floor rather than breaking from living shrubs or trees; the dry dead wood will burn more easily, as well as protecting the environment. All wood should ‘snap’; if it bends it is too moist to burn. Fuelwood for a campfire is the final step up; start with smaller pieces of wood, twigs and once your fire is going with a  bit more heat you’ll be able to use larger pieces of wood. You’re not looking to burn anything thicker than the width of your wrist, as a rule. Altitude Camps - staff toasting marshmallows on a fire Techniques for building your fire The two most common types of fire are the ‘tipi’ and ‘log cabin’; both built to allow air to circulate and for the tinder to allow the kindling to catch light. For the tipi: start by laying your tinder in a small bundle on the ground. Around this use 3 or 4 larger kindling sticks to form the structure and lean smaller kindling around this, leaving an opening for you to access the tinder. You can then lean some smaller fuelwood against this structure. For a log cabin: start in the same way as a tipi with the tinder and a small tipi around this with kindling. Then lay two pieces of fuel wood on either side, and then another two pieces in the opposite direction to form the 4 walls of your ‘cabin’ Continue to lay slightly smaller pieces to build your cabin taller, and then lay some pieces of kindling over the top. Lighting your fire Position yourself between the wind and the fire to act as a wind break. Light underneath the tinder using your match; this can be easier with the tipi than the log cabin as access, so make sure you are able to get to your tinder easily when building.  Hold onto your match while you are lighting rather than letting it go. Extinguishing your fire Ideally, and depending on how large your fire is, extinguish your fire about 30 minutes before you leave. If you are putting out a burning fire then spread the fire with a stick to put out the flames. After this, pour water on the coals and stir the together when you have wet the entire area. Use your hand above the coals to make sure there are no hot spots; if there are wet with more water. Take the coals/ash and spread in the woods away from the trail, especially for larger fires. Any unused wood can be scattered back in the woods, or left if this is a regular fire spot.   Building a fire is a popular activity on our mountain adventure camps which are available as day camps and residential camps.                
An Introduction to Climbing The Swiss Alps can be a bit of an adventure playground for those looking for a more adventurous holiday, for both adults and children alike. Among the many different activities the Alps are famous for, climbing is one of the most infamous ones in the area. Unlike ‘trad’ climbing in the UK, the alpine area has outdoor bolted routes for everyone from beginners to experts, so with your own equipment or rented equipment, you can climb from dawn ‘til dusk. There are also mountain guides in the area happy to give lessons to beginners or help more advanced climbers find the best spots in the area, as well as indoor walls where you can have lessons or practice your bouldering and sport climbing skills in a controlled environment. Facilities and climbing spots in and around Verbier If you’re based in Verbier for your holiday, there are some great climbing facilities available right on your doorstep for all abilities and ages: Medran Indoor Climbing wall The main gondola station in Verbier, also open in the peak summer months usually between 9am – 4pm, features a climbing wall targeted at budding young climbers. It is possible to rent harnesses and the walls are equipped with ‘auto’ belays – so your children can clip on and climb to their heart’s content! The wall isn’t too high and children can wear trainers and just give it a try.

Verbier Outdoor Artificial Climbing Wall

An outdoor artificial climbing wall is located also in central Verbier, just by the Library on Rue de Verbier Station, after the Chez Martin restaurant. The area also boasts tennis courts and mini-golf, so it’s a great afternoon stop for the whole family. The wall has routes ranging from 4 through to 8 (on the French climbing grade scheme) and although it is only about 7m high it’s a great one for practicing, and also has two auto-belays installed for those without their own rope. Not to mention the view is stunning.
Altitude Camps - kids climbing in the outdoor park
Centre du Sportif Verbier is due to open a new 400m2 indoor climbing wall as part of its sports centre renovation in July 2017, so that should be up and running and a great place in Verbier to hone your climbing skills or to still get some climbing in on a rainy day – so watch this space! La Barme Le Barme is an outcrop of rock above the Patier area of Verbier that can be seen from many view points in town but can be surprisingly hard to find! Its possible to walk or drive to it if you keep heading up from the Patier area, and the rock itself is approximately a 10 minute walk along a path from the road. Routes here are mostly in the 5s, 6s and 7s, so not much for those looking for super easy climbs but a great place to progress when you’re ready for outdoor climbing and are fully stocked with all your own equipment. Altitude Camps Blog - two kids climbing with the assistance of an instructor
Climbing locations further afield Saxon Vertic-Halle Located about a 45 minute drive from Verbier, this indoor climbing centre is open from 9am each day and offers over a 120 routes ranging from beginner to expert level with a surface of 1500m2, including both big wall climbing and bouldering. There is a climbing shop, equipment rental and a café. One of the best places around to get climbing instruction or go to practice, it costs about CHF 24 for adults and between CHF 8 – 13 for children under 16 as of 2017. Champex Lac A hidden gem which has seemingly only been around a couple of year, there is a great little climbing spot just below champex lac with some great routes for climbers. About a 40 minute drive from Verbier again, park just below where the outdoor swimming pool is below town, and follow the footpath for about 10 minutes. The haute route hike between Chamonix and Zermatt actually passes by this rock, so you might also have an audience! Routes are marked and graded here, and it’s a great place for advanced beginner – intermediate climbers. Chamoex lac town is nearby for lunch or to hire a pedelo on the lake. Again, routes are bolted but you will need experience and all your own equipment here. Chamonix Chamonix, just over an hours drive from Verbier, is a mecca for mountaineering in Europe. St Triphon An old quarry site, this has a wide range of outdoor bolted routes of varying heights. There is a small village nearby but no other facilities, so best to stock up with everything you will need with regard to food and drinks. Some routes are very long so may only be accessible with an 80m rope.
A few tips for climbers just starting out:
  • Make sure you hire an instructor or guide if you have never climbed before, climbing can be a dangerous sport due to the height involved and it is important to know how to use your equipment correctly and safely. Instruction can also make it much more fun!
  • Always check the grade of the route you are about the climb and ensure you and your belayer feel comfortable with this.
  • If climbing outdoors, be fully prepared with letting someone know where you are heading and be aware of emergency numbers – call 112 for emergency services or 144 for ambulance within Switzerland.
  • If you’re in the area and planning to do lots of outdoor climbing, there are books available for each area detailing the locations, routes and grades, which we recommend investing in before venturing out on your own.
  • If you’re looking to buy or rent climbing gear while in Verbier, both Mountain Air and Xtreme Sports in Verbier have climbing gear for sale and for rent. If you’re looking to buy lots of equipment, Chamonix is probably the best place to head, with a great range of shops for all types of climbing and mountaineering equipment, or there are larger shops nearby based in Martigny.
  • For those starting out and wanting to invest in equipment, having good-fitting beginner climbing shoes is the most important. Having your own harness is very useful too and is usually more comfortable than a rented one.
  • Always ensure your equipment is rented from a reputable outlet, or if using your own ensure you are confident it is safe to use, and retire and replace it when necessary.
Some of our recommended hiking routes in Verbier The surroundings of Verbier are truly breath-taking no matter what time of year you visit, but personally, the summer season is our favourite. From the fresh air to the colourful flowers and of course, the still snow-capped mountains, the views are beautiful and provide the ultimate location for a day out walking with friends or family. With over 400km of hikes in Verbier, taking one of our hiking guides allows you to explore the area and all that it has to offer whilst knowing you are safe, won’t take a wrong turn and of course have a helping hand to keep you going when you reach the steeper parts! There are many different hiking routes in and around Verbier but here are a few of our favourites, all of which can be booked during the day whilst the kids are at camp. Altitude Blog - adults hiking in the mountains Beginner:  Ruinettes – La Chaux – 2 hours This trail is the perfect introduction to walking in Verbier, giving you a chance to get used to walking at altitude whilst also enjoying the magnificent views of the valley below. This route starts with a gondola ride up to Ruinettes which takes about 5 minutes. From here, we walk along a flattish track called the bisse, (a man-made river which goes for miles!) around the mountain towards a bowl known as La Chaux. From La Chaux you can view the famous Grand and Petit Combin Mountains which are still covered in snow even in the heat of July and August. Enjoy the tranquillity of the mountains as well as taking advantage of this great lunch spot by stopping at Le Dahu for a bite to eat before heading back. This short route is ideal for those with kids on the day camp as you can head off after drop off time, enjoy a relaxed lunch in the sun and still be back in time for pick up. It’s also a great one for those with dogs as they love the water to splash in and the walk is great for them! Intermediate :  La Chaux – Lac des Vaux – Col de Mines – Ruinettes – 3 hours Fancy a bit more of a challenge? This route starts from La Chaux and heads nicely uphill towards Lac des Vaux, a popular spot for skiing in the winter time. The uphill hike is a challenge but definitely worth it for the views once you reach the lake, especially if it’s just you and the mountains with not another soul in sight. On a really warm day, you can brave a dip in the lake to cool off or just stay on the edge and have a quick paddle to cool off your feet. This hike continues with a walk downhill towards Col de Mines where you can see all the way across to La Tzoumaz and the other side of the valley. From here head back round towards Ruinettes where you can enjoy views of the Verbier village from up high, you can even try to spot a few of the landmarks whilst up there! Altitude Blog - group of friends hiking at Pierre Avoi Advanced : Croix de Coeur – Pierre Avoir – Croix de Coeur – 5 hours Not for the faint-hearted, this is a tough hike, particularly for those who perhaps don’t like heights or narrow trails. However it is a great challenge and a fantastic reward when you reach the top. 360 degree views make this small peak a wonderful place for a picnic and offers views of the village of Verbier, Savoleyres and even across towards Sion. This hike includes some tough steep sections, a ladder to climb and some scrambling parts (chains are also there to help in some places) so be prepared! If you are up to the challenge, it is by far our favourite hike of the area!