Châtel resort - Portes du Soleil ski area
Châtel in Val d’Abondance
Châtel is an alpine village nestled at 1200m altitude in the deep of the Val d'Abondance, in Chablais.
This French region shares a border with the Swiss Canton of Valais.
This remarkable situation led Châtel to become one of the 12 ski resorts of the Portes du Soleil.
Considered a mid-mountain resort, Châtel also attracts hiking enthusiasts during the summer.
It indeed offers an impressive number of hiking trails, many of which are straddling France and Switzerland.
The river Dranse d'Abondance carved the 25km long valley that links Chevenoz to Châtel.
This valley is the former Canton d’Abondance, which once was part of the historic Savoy.
Many think that the valley was named abundance for its lush meadows, an ideal environment for the breeding of dairy cows.
The rich milk they produce indeed serves for the production of Fourme d’Abondance, a delicious cheese that was granted an AOC in 1990.
Others think that this word is of Burgundian origin.
Indeed, the first traces of recorded occupation date back to the 5th century, when a tribe driven out of Burgundy by the Huns, came to take refuge in the valley.
The undeniable Burgundian origin of many local names seems to corroborate this version.
The name Châtel, on the other hand, is Old French for castle and would suggest that the village was once fortified.
However, no physical trace nor recorded text - known to date – corroborates this.
Abbaye d’ Abondance
The Val d'Abondance is centered around the Abbaye d’Abondance.
The monks of the abbey of Saint Maurice d'Agaune founded a priory in La Chapelle d'Abondance in 1108.
The priory was granted the status of abbey shortly after and was transferred to Abondance.
Spared from destruction, it still has its original church, cloister and convent buildings.
It was also the first abbey of Savoy to be classified historic monument in 1875.
Finally, the Ministry of Culture and Communication awarded it also the Pays d'Art et d'Histoire de la Vallée d'Abondance label in 2003.
A spa town
Châtel was part of the Duchy of Savoy until 1860, when the latter was annexed to France.
The exploitation of wood and agriculture were the traditional activities.
However, this changed in the years that followed, when the discovery of a spring with sulfurous water triggered the development of hydrotherapy.
The first hotel therefore opened in the 1880s, initiating the development of summer tourism.
The smugglers of Châtel
Châtel’s common border with Switzerland triggered a parallel 'activity’ - smuggling!
The villagers were indeed poor and struggled to make ends meet.
They found it very difficult to find work in a small village nestled in the deep end of the valley and entirely cut off the plain during the long winter months.
They survived on odd jobs; times were tough, so they became smugglers!
Tobacco contraband indeed allowed them to find the resources they needed to feed their families.
They would set off in the pitch of dark and silently sneak on the steep mountain paths, carrying their 30 kilos loads on the back.
Their destination was Switzerland, where they exchanged their tobacco for ham, bacon and honey.
However, smuggling was a real game of cat and mouse!
Customs officers were indeed also local mountaineers and therefore knew the passes as well as the smugglers.
They would take cover in the thick forest of spruces, sometimes waiting for endless hours in total darkness and cold in order to catch the smugglers.
Most of the time those were smarter and could get through without been caught.
However, the ‘smuggling era’ lasted about 30 years, from 1920 to 1950.
The advent of winter sports
In 1946, Châtel indeed took advantage of the advent of winter sports and invested in the teleski of Vonnes!
Since then, Châtel has been steadily modernizing and developing its skiing infrastructure.
Indeed, the following 20 years saw the construction of Super-Châtel chairlift, Morclan chairlift, Le Coq and Le Corbeau ski lifts, Super-Châtel first gondola, and Chalet-Neuf ski lift, the first connection between France and Switzerland.
Châtel, one of 12 resorts in Portes du Soleil
1975 was a major year.
The ski resort indeed adhered to the status of Portes du Soleil ski area, establishing its presence in the Massif du Linga and Morclan area.
The Linga ski area was indeed developed with its first gondola lift, and with Combes, Pré-la-Joux and Rochassons chairlifts - the latter directly links Châtel to Avoriaz.
Came La Chaux des Rosées ski lift, then the Linga’s second section, Aity ski lift and the slalom stadium, as well as Cornebois chairlift and Pied and Clos ski lifts.
Super-Châtel ski area was enlarged at the same time with Crêt and Conches chairlifts, and Morclan chairlift, which provides a high-speed link to Switzerland and Torgon.
However, that didn't stop there!
Super-Châtel and Linga 10-seater telecabines were put in service, along with Plaine-Dranse, Barbossines and Pierre Longue chairlifts.
La Chaux des Rosées chairlift (6 places) is currently underway.
Finally, 2015 was another important year for the resort.
Indeed, Gabelou and Portes du Soleil ski lifts established the connection between Linga and Super Chatel ski areas.
Many of these ski pistes become hiking and mountain bikes trails during the summer.
Châtel Ski area in figures
Portes du Soleil includes 12 stations.
Châtel is one of the 8 French resorts along Avoriaz, Morzine, Montriond, Gets, St Jean d'Aulps, Abondance and La Chapelle.
The 4 Swiss resorts are Champéry, Torgon, Morgins and Crosets-Val d'Illiez-Champoussin.
Châtel ski area’s altitude ranges from 1100m to 2200m and is served by 61 lifts.
If you travel to Châtel by train, you'll arrive via Thonon-Les-Bains (France) or Aigle (Switzerland) TGV stations; the latter links to Geneva Cointrin international airport.
Finally, Châtel is a family-friendly village resort that has protected its traditional habitat.
Don't expect any concrete high-rises, it's all wooden chalets!
Department of Haute-Savoie
Coordinates: Lat 46.267395 - Long 6.841152