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Travel: Peaks and picnics in a Joly adventure through the French Alps

© ShutterstockMont Blanc tour hikers enjoy a break in beautiful surroundings
Mont Blanc tour hikers enjoy a break in beautiful surroundings

Moving to the French Alps is a dream for many: sparkling winters spent skiing with friends; scorching summers in gorgeous mountain scenery, dotted with lakes you can dip in to cool down.

Not for the faint-hearted though: dealing with the French legal system, should you buy a property; driving on the right-hand side of winding mountain roads in snow and ice; not to mention leaving behind friends and family to live in another country.

Maybe the solution, in reality, is to simply visit this amazing part of the world, a short flight away, and be met at the airport by a welcoming host and be taken safely and comfortably to a home from home.

This is exactly the ethos and spirit of Les Joly Dames, a bespoke alpine travel company set up by British friends who have found themselves living there permanently.


Mairi Watson and June Keen met only three years ago, as new arrivals to small villages near the elegant spa town of Saint Gervais-les-Bains, overlooked by the magnificent Mont Blanc. Their speciality is walking and yoga weekend retreats for women.

Both military wives, with long experience of moving homes and families with children to unexpected corners of the world, neither of them was fazed by the trials of setting up home in a remote alpine village.

On a Les Joly Dames weekend, you are treated to a chalet-style experience whether on a summer or a winter break: a delicious breakfast, lunch out and afternoon tea. Later, aperitifs are served with canapés, followed by a three-course evening meal with wine.

Journalist Mairi and tennis coach June playfully christened their venture after a nearby peak, Mont Joly, and attract like-minded women who want to enjoy each other’s company in glorious surroundings while improving their health and fitness. Of course, you might wish to visit as a family or a ready-made group and you would be most welcome.

I returned from a walking and yoga weekend feeling incredibly refreshed and nourished.

We walked from 9am to 3pm enjoying a picnic en route. Our qualified, experienced guide, Marit, was charming and friendly, trained to handle all sorts of terrain and to support walkers of any ability. Her input was a godsend.

I am not wildly fit so walking round Mont Blanc is not a hop, skip and a jump for me, but I achieved everything I was asked to do.

To my surprise I was slower coming downhill than going up, but my companions were kind and patient.

To be honest, when I slowed things down a bit, I think my fellow walkers were probably quite grateful for the break. We were there to enjoy the scenery, the peace and the fresh air as much as for the exercise.

Marit taught us so much about the local flora and wild life and to me this was just wonderful.

We arrived back every day to a soothing yoga session in June’s garden.

Les Joly Dames retreat

What a wonderful setting: one day it was underneath a hazelnut tree, another on the main lawn in view of Mont Blanc and, for one session, in front of the fire in June’s living room.

The yoga sessions allowed everyone to stretch out our walking-induced aches and pains ready for the following day. It turns out it’s really more a necessity than a luxury!

After a well-earned rest, we then enjoyed an aperitif on the lawn before an excellent three-course, home-cooked, meal accompanied by local wines and intense chat.

I was part of a group that included old friends and new. It was a wonderful excuse to catch up with folk I had not seen for a while in a stunning location, and it was great to meet new people who quickly became close pals.

My next Les Joly Dames break is going to be a tennis holiday – same deal, but I will be taken out of my comfort zone on a court rather than up a hill. I cannot wait.