High up in the Alps, towering above the glittering lakes bordering Switzerland and a little way away from the charm of fairytale-esque Evian-Les-Bains, Châtel is the ski village of the Haute-Savoie Region. Close to the French-Swiss border, here’s a guide to the best things to do in Châtel, a traditional French mountain town!
Introducing Châtel, the ski village of the Alps, France
There’s been a settlement at Châtel for centuries, with the church dating back to the 17th-century and the local Abondance Cheese produced in the area finding roots in the 13th-century. For much of its existence, Châtel has been a farming community, with few things to do and even less to see (other than the charm of the alpine and wooded hills surrounding the town, of course).
All that changed during the 20th-century when mass skiing arrived in the Thonon-Les-Bains arrondissement. While skiers had obviously visited prior to the 1940s, Châtel truly rose to prominence when the Vonnes drag lift was installed in 1947. Around this time, former Olympic ski champion, Roland Macchi, chose the then-unknown town of Châtel as the place to base a ski school.
Nearby, a little way up the mountain, the village of Super Châtel was constructed with the sole purpose as serving as a ski resort. And by 1953, the Super Châtel chair lift had been installed, the first of many ski lifts in the area. From that point forward, tourists began to arrive in Châtel in their droves, and still continue to do so to this day.
Explore the village of Châtel
Charming and untouched by the mass-commercialisation of other ski resort towns, the rural settlement of Châtel is still home to a few dozen farms and just a few hotels. Here, you’ll find traditional wooden chalets and a truly Alpine vibe.
On a Wednesday, there’s a traditional food market while much of village life in Châtel is centred around two main streets. The rest of the town sprawls out down the hill leading towards Evian-Les-Bains. During the summer, Châtel is popular among mountain bikers and keen hikers. Nearby, the village of La Chapelle-d’Abondance is noted for its sheer beauty!
St Laurent Church, Châtel
In the heart of the village, a church is dedicated to St Laurent (Saint Lawrence in English), who is also the patron saint of Châtel. Now listed as a historic French monument, the church is built in the Gothic style. The first church on site was constructed in the 15th-century, though it belonged to the nearby village of La Chapelle.
In the 17th-century, Châtel was created as a parish of its own and a new ecclesiastical building was erected, before being extended in 1848. A series of factors, including unstable ground, led to the eventual demolition of the church, with a brand new church (the one you now see) constructed in 1908. Nearby, there’s a chapel of Our Lady of Plaine-Dranse of Châtel, which was built in the 1980s.
If you’re a fan of fromage, then there’s one local speciality you should sample when in Haute-Savoie. Abondance cheese dates all the way back to the 13th or 14th century when monks from the Monastery of Sainte Marie d’Abondance would supply fresh cheese to a Papal branch in Avignon.
Today, this semi-hard dairy cheese is unpasteurised and continues to be produced in the village of Abondance, and in the wider region of the Valley of Abondance. Aside from Abondance village, Châtel and La Chapelle D’Abondance are the two other producers of this cheese.
Ski in Châtel & Portes du Soleil
Truth be told, many tourists miss out on Châtel in favour of more famous and popular ski resorts. After all, the town’s position lower in the Alps means that weather is often worse than higher up, the snow is of worse quality than elsewhere and even rain is not unheard of.
On the plus side, the town has retained a truly French feel and this is where the locals come to ski, and partake in other snow-related activities like snowshoeing if you so prefer! Flipping this again, this can mean fewer package holidays (and holidays full-stop) from the UK, Germany, and the rest of Europe to Châtel.
In the 1970s, Châtel was incorporated into the Portes du Soleil complex. Literally translated as the ‘doors of the sun’, this super complex comprises of 650 kilometres of ski trail and encompasses no less than thirteen resorts between Mont Blanc in France and Lake Geneva in Switzerland.
Tips for visiting Châtel and the best time to go
Thanks to its offbeat location and fewer international tourists, head to Châtel and you’ll soon discover that there are by far fewer English speakers than at other ski towns in France. As such, I highly recommend bringing along a French phrasebook like this one to help you with basic words and phrases!
The best time to visit Châtel depends entirely on what you want to do. If you’re looking for summer activities like hiking, mountain biking, and paragliding, the best time to visit is in the hottest months of the year. Alternatively, skiing is dependent entirely on the snow season, though the ski season is typically from December through to March (and occasionally April).
Where to stay & best hotels in Châtel
Macchi: Well-reviewed and close to the centre of town, Macchi boasts pine-panelled walls and Wi-Fi in a four-star rated accommodation. Check prices and availability here.
Hotel – Restaurant Fleur de Neige: Located in the very heart of the Châtel resort town, this hotel also has a feature serving traditionally French hearty fare. Other amenities of the rooms include Wi-Fi and TVs. Check prices and availability here.
Logis Hôtel le Tremplin: This popular seasonal hotel offers amenities like wood-panelled rooms, free Wi-Fi, and mountain views. For an extra fee, you can have breakfast. There’s even a sauna and hot tub. Check prices and availability here.