There’s a double rainbow in the sky as we walk into Morzine on our first morning and it feels like a good omen. It’s only 8.30am but already there’s a queue of mountain bikers waiting at the Super Morzine gondola for the first lift of the day. On the Route de la Plagne, the bustling main street lined with handsome wooden Savoyard buildings, the cafés and boulangeries are doing a brisk trade, serving coffee and croissants to hikers and bikers fuelling up for their mountain adventures. Families pass us on their way to the open-air swimming pool with towels tucked under their arms, and in the village square a carousel cranks into life, adding to the jaunty atmosphere. I feel a pang of guilt. It’s the first day of our summer holidays and the sun is shining, but we’re not heading to the mountains or going swimming. We’re going to school.

Like many kids her age, my 14-year-old daughter missed out on some important school trips owing to the pandemic. A Year 6 activity trip and Year 8 French exchange had both been cancelled. I felt bad for her, so I started to look into alternatives. There’s no shortage of places in France offering language-immersion holidays, combining home stays with cultural programmes, but I knew that a week of conjugations and cathedrals wouldn’t cut it. Then I came across the Alpine French School.

The school has been offering language tuition and holidays in the French Alps for more than 20 years. In July and August they run a series of summer camps for school-age children, combining a morning of French tuition with an afternoon of mountain activities such as white-water rafting, canyoning, abseiling and paddleboarding. It seemed like the perfect mix of education and fun. To my surprise, my daughter was up for it, so I booked our flights to Geneva before she could change her mind and in the first week of August we headed for the Alps.

Footbridge Francois Baud

Footbridge Francois Baud


Junior summer camp lessons take place at a local primary school in Morzine’s Vieux Bourg, the old part of town where you’ll find the church, town hall, a supermarket and a thriving weekly farmers’ market. Students are divided into small classes according to age and ability. As I leave Nora at the gates, I feel a flicker of doubt. What if she hates it? But there’s no time to dwell on this thought as I have a class of my own that I need to get to. Alongside its summer camps, the school offers French courses for adults — three hours of lessons each morning. Classes take place in the Alpine French School HQ, a chalet-style building on a hillside overlooking Morzine. To reach it I cross the vertiginous François Baud footbridge that connects the two sides of the valley. Suspended 35m above the River Dranse, which cuts through the centre of Morzine, and with an alarming tendency to sway in the wind, it makes for a memorable school run.

Before arriving in Morzine, adult students complete a short online test to ensure they’re placed in a suitable class. There are six in my group — from Britain, America, Australia and Germany — all of similar ability (let’s call it rusty but enthusiastic). Our teacher, Madame Mylan, keeps the lessons fluid and entertaining but with plenty of opportunities to iron out any grammatical glitches as they arise. For the first hour I feel a bit overwhelmed and tongue-tied, but by the end of the morning I can sense long-disused synapses sparking back into life.

During the coffee break, I get talking to Helen Watts, who founded the school in 2003. She tells me that since she launched the summer camps, demand has grown year on year, prompting her to open a second Alpine French language school in Chamonix last autumn.

Lac de Montriond

Lac de Montriond


School cultural-exchange programmes are in decline, with a recent survey finding a 30 per centfall in the number of overseas educational visits in the past four years — a situation accelerated by Brexit and the pandemic. Perhaps connected to this, the number of pupils choosing to study a foreign language at GCSE or A level has also fallen sharply. Parents are increasingly turning to this type of holiday to plug the gaps.

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After class I’ve arranged to meet my partner at Morzine’s impressive Espace Aquatique, where you can swim laps in the Olympic-sized outdoor pool while soaking up views of the steep, densely forested slopes of the Vallée d’Aulps that cradles the town. Entry to the pool is included in the Morzine Multi-Pass, as is unlimited access to chairlifts and cable cars in the Portes du Soleil area (from £2.50; After our swim we hop on the Super Morzine gondola for a thrilling aerial ride up the mountain.

Morzine is a large village by Alpine standards, with a sprawl of wooden chalets creeping up both sides of the valley, but as the cable car climbs higher and higher it quickly shrinks to Legoland proportions. In winter this lift is the gateway to one of the largest ski areas in Europe. The views from the top are exhilarating, with the hazy peaks of the Chablais massif stretching into the distance as far as the eye can see.

Helen Watts teaching at the Alpine French School

Helen Watts teaching at the Alpine French School


At L’Passage, a charming Savoyard restaurant with a sun-trap terrace, we order croque-monsieurs and watch the mountain bikers hurtling down the pistes (mains from £16; 6531 Route d’Avoriaz).

At 4.30pm we’re back at the school gates. We both know that the success of this holiday will largely hinge on the expression on our daughter’s face as she walks out of the classroom door. To our relief she’s smiling. School was great. She likes her teacher. She’s made three friends. She’s looking forward to going back the next day. That’s about as much information as we’re able to prise out of her, but it’s all I need to hear.

And so the rhythm of the week is set. Morning classes, swim, a short walk and a long lunch at a mountain restaurant, before collecting Nora to hear all about the day’s adventures. I’d been worried that some of the activities might push her too far out of her comfort zone, but it turns out she’s far braver when her parents aren’t around. Over the course of the week she tries her hand at white-water rafting, a high ropes course, climbing and canyoning (though she has a bit of a wobble on this one and decides against abseiling off a bridge into a waterfall).

Paddleboarding in Morzine

Paddleboarding in Morzine

After school we try out our newly acquired language skills in one of the town’s ice-cream parlours and by the end of the week we’re fluent in at least a dozen flavours. Then it’s back to our apartment for a game of cards, a sunset soak in our balcony hot tub and dinner. Alpine French School can arrange accommodation with a French host family or in a hotel or a shared apartment. It also works closely with accommodation providers such as Elevation Alps, which has more than 20 luxury chalets and apartments in Morzine. With acres of pale wood, twin balconies, a hot tub and views across the valley, our five-bedroom apartment, Nimbus, would be out of our league in the peak winter months, but in summer, prices drop by 40 to 50 per cent, making it more affordable.

On the final afternoon of our holiday, after morning classes, we collect Nora from school and catch one of the free buses that run from Morzine to nearby Lac de Montriond. It’s a perfect Alpine lake, aquamarine water ringed by pebble beaches, pine forests and steep mountain pastures. We order cheese and charcuterie on the waterside terrace of Le Verdoyant, a friendly auberge specialising in Savoyard food (mains from £19; 2900 Route du Lac).

The trip has been more successful than I’d dared hope. It’s hard to gauge how much French Nora did or didn’t learn, but her confidence has grown daily and she’s loved making friends with classmates from all over the world, and trying out activities that we might not have undertaken as a family. As for me, I booked myself on to the adult course out of solidarity but I’m surprised at how much I enjoyed being back in the classroom. It says a lot about a place if you fall for it even when you’re spending precious hours there grappling with grammar and perfecting pronouns. But Morzine has worked its magic on us all.
Joanne O’Connor was a guest of the Alpine French School, which has five-day junior summer camps from £510 and adult French intensive courses from £300 ( She was also a guest of Elevation Alps, which has seven nights’ self-catering for 12 at Nimbus from £2,550 per week in July and August ( Fly to Geneva

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