Morzine // A beginners guide
Morzine is a French alpine commune in the Haute-Savoie department within the Rhône-Alpes region of Eastern France. Seemingly it has become a mecca for British mountain bikers who visit here during the summer months in their thousands. It is part of the Portes Du Soleil area, which comprises of 22 lifts and 7 main riding areas – Morzine, Les Gets, Avoriaz, Châtel, Les Crosets, Morgins and Champéry. Morzine is at the centre of the Portes Du Soleil area and is a great base to stay in.
The draw of lift assisted trails with some of the most spectacular scenery has pulled in myself and my wife along with our friends here for the past few years. The commune itself is a bustling alpine village with some excellent shops, especially the bike shops and some fantastic restaurants/diners. With plenty of full DH runs, XC trails and big day out routes there is something for everyone in the PDS area. Below is hopefully a short guide for those of you visiting Morzine for the first time.
Flying – The nearest airport to Morzine is Geneva, Switzerland with multiple airlines flying there from the UK. Geneva to Morzine is only an hour’s drive away with most accommodation companies offering transfer’s in their package, but if you have to pay for these separately they come in at around £50 each way per person. Remember to factor in extra charges to transport your bike as most airlines will charge you for sports equipment.
As a side note we use the fantastic Evoc bike bags and are seriously impressed but having spoken to very well seasoned travellers the humble cardboard box is actually a great option. The baggage handlers are more aware there is a bike in the box and so handle it slightly more carefully!
Driving - This is our preferred option as it allows much more freedom when you are here and when combined with a few other people is certainly a cheaper way than flying. It is 542 miles from Calais to central Morzine and over 500 of them are on the superb French motorway network. This route is a Toll network with a copious amount of Service areas and lay-by’s that will cost approximately €75 each way. Although you can plan your route avoiding the toll road’s it will almost certainly add an extra five hours each way onto your journey! On our recent trip, in August this year, we hit zero traffic jams and very minimal traffic on the road’s themselves.
To legally drive in France you will need a GB sticker or number plates with the GB logo, headlamp adjuster stickers fitted once you exit the ferry or Eurotunnel, a warning triangle, a high visibility jacket and your registration and insurance documents. European breakdown cover, whilst not a requirement is a seriously good idea as breaking down along with needing a tow is going to cost you your holiday spending money!
Travel Insurance – Your regular travel insurance will most probably not cover mountain biking as it classed as an extreme sport and as such will require an extra policy. For example a 10 day cover policy from DogTag starts from £45 and when the cost of being transported off the hill by a helicopter can be thousands of Euro’s, it is well worth it.
There are a large number of companies offering accommodation from self catered apartments to full catered chalet’s. We have been using Riders Retreat for example for the past three years who offer properties specifically catered for mountain bikers and located close to all the main lifts. A short list below are companies in the area that have had some great feedback.
Camping – There are limited campsites nearby but the based on local feedback the best is a campsite called Les Marmottes. You can also camp up by the Chavannes trail in Les Gets.
There are far too many trails for me to cover in this guide but a very important aspect that I need to make clear is the grading aspect. The trails are graded Green, Blue, Red and Black just like in the UK however don’t let it fool you! A green run suggests it is suitable for all the family, whilst you may not find any sharp drop off’s or big rock garden’s the gradient is just as steep and the switchbacks can be really tight. The very first year we went I rode the green trail on Pleney (Morzine) to see if it was OK for my mother-in-law who was used to English trail centre green trails, suffice to say I kept her well clear of it! The blue route’s are again sometimes labelled as a family route but I would not recommend this route to beginners or young children as there will be some challenging features that are unavoidable. Of course I am generalising this as different area’s have different definitions so I would advise hitting every new trail with caution and be mindful of every ability in your party.
My personal favourite trails are the main black run on the Pleney side of Morzine, this is a proper DH track! Great fun on my Orange Five! The two blue trails on the Super Morzine are awesome, full of fast flowing berms and tabletop jumps, heaven! The red route on Chavennes in Les Gets is also a really great trail, it can however get cut up very quickly and can be full of braking bumps, this year it was difficult to ride, but that was after 6 weeks of constant rain added to the mix. However when its’s fresh, it’s a great run down. Châtel bikepark is simply amazing with trails ranging from pro level black run’s to the fast flowing green run. Two of my personal favourite’s here are the blue trails called People and Blues & Rocks.
Eating and Drinking
Morzine is home to some excellent restaurants from fine dining to take away pizza. It also has a vibrant nightlife with a number of nightclubs and bars. Le Tremplin is a hotel, but offers some great food and drink and is located right next to Le Pleney lift station. It has a large outside seating area incorporating sofa’s and plenty of chairs alongside a grassy area with storage for your bikes and a pop up bar. This is a fantastic place to chill out and grab a drink alongside some food and watch the riders coming in from all of the trails located on Pleney side as they all finish here! On the Super Morzine side there are two great terrace bars located near the Zore lift, both offering great food and drinks and again with a great view of the riders. If you have friends and family with you who don’t ride, they can also come up to these bars via the Super Morzine telecabine.
One of the most popular places amongst the riders to eat in the evening is called Mamma’s offering everything from Pizza to Fish and Chips and Noodles to Pasta. Its is located in central Morzine on the Rue du Bourg. Possibly the most popular bar in Morzine is called Bar Robinson’s and the beer of choice is Mutzig! The beer is legendary here!
A local speciality dish and personal favourite of mine is Tartiflette. A true local French dish, it is made with potatoes, Reblochon cheese, lardons and onions. It is absolutely delicious and well worth a try. Another firm favourite is Raclette, this is both a type of cheese and the name of a Swiss dish based on heating the cheese and scraping off (racler) the melted part. It comes with a range of vegetables, meats and salads and is a legendary last supper before we are always due to return home.
Whilst the DH bike does rule the roost here that’s not to say the modern trail bike will be out of place, I have ridden most tracks here on my 140mm Orange Five with a 160mm Fork. If you like to ride hard the bike will take a beating more than a DH rig will so be mindful of giving your bike a thorough check over each night. Between myself and my friends we have had most things come loose due to extra stress it all has to cope with.
There are a large number of bike shop’s in Morzine and Les Gets offering parts and mechanical servicing and all hire bikes. You can choose from full DH bikes to trail bikes with most shops hiring different brands from each other. A full weeks hire for a DH bike cost’s around €80-90 per day and a trail bike cost’s around €70-80 per day. Also check with your accommodation company as most have deals with certain shops on bike hire. If you are planning on taking your own bike it is worth taking what spares you can, don’t rely on the shops having exactly what you need. As the season is relatively short the shops tend to stock the most popular items such as Shimano components from the Zee and Saint range. SRAM is reasonably well covered but again it is mostly X9 and upwards. Pricing is slightly inflated than normal, which is to be expected, but deals can be struck with the shop owners especially towards the end of the season. My personal favourite is DSV which stocks a great selection from the Troy Lee Designs range along with Fox, Oakley and even Fox Suspension apparel. Alpine Sports is an official Hope Alpine dealer and an excellent shop run by English guys, if you fancy hiring a bike from the GT range these are your guys! Another great shop run by English guys is Torico, they stock a good range of parts and hire bikes from the Nukeproof range. Located right by Pleney lift station possibly the biggest bike shop is Francois Baud which stocks an impressive range of parts and clothing. From here you can hire a range of bikes including a Santa Cruz V10!
So there you have it, a short guide to Morzine from a rider who loves the place so much has decided to move here! I hope this is helped out and encouraged you to pay a visit to this amazing destination, you won’t be disappointed! See you on the trails.