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Samoëns is a pretty “ville fleurie” in the Haute-Savoie region in south-eastern France. It sits in the Vallée du Giffre, in the French Alps, and is only an hour by car from Geneva. Long a winter skiing destination, it’s also great in the summer and I’m here to try out some of its many activities. On offer is everything from river rafting to paragliding and I’ve got 24 hours in this lovely part of France to get a taste. It’s a glorious sunny day and we start off early with a mountain bike tour along the Giffre River. This is where we’ll be rafting later and I can’t help but notice that it’s doing a very good impression of a raging torrent, the result of the previous day’s rain. We follow the river until it enters a narrow steep-sided gorge, and then climb above it. After another hour of easy climbing we turn round and make our way back down to lunch by the Lac aux Dames. There’s easy kayaking here but I’m still worrying about the white water. After ploughing through a huge foie-gras salad, probably not the wisest choice for bouncing on the water, I get equipped. Wetsuit, life jacket and helmet are all essential and we are soon on our way to the launch site with our inflatable dinghy. We each get a paddle and our guide shows us how to use them – there are four commands – Paddle Forward, Paddle Back, Stop and Get Down! The first three are obvious but the last is an order to sink to our knees and prepare for an imminent collision. This is too much for one of us who suddenly loses it: “I don’t want to be responsible for killing you all” she screams. We talk her round and soon we’re floating down the river at great speed.
The trick is to wedge your feet in the gap between the floor and sides of the boat so you don’t get thrown out, but one guy is soon in the water. Fortunately he doesn’t lose his paddle and we manage to pull him back in. As we approach the narrow gorge, the guide pulls us into the shallows and goes off to inspect. He declares it safe but only if we work as team, not something we’ve managed so far. It’s very narrow, the water is flowing fast and we’re constantly crashing into the rocks and spinning round. We lose someone else in the water but he’s quickly hauled back to safety and we make it to the end of the ride without further mishap. As I climb onto the bank, every bone in my body is aching. There’s more fun to come, however, as we’re told that conditions are perfect for para-gliding, but we must go now. The women opt out, so it’s left to the three men, all pretending to each other that they’re not frightened. In fact, we’re not going to be flying solo, the plan is for each of to hang on to an experienced pilot in what’s known as tandem flight. We’re driven up the mountain to 1600m with our flying companions and disguise our fear by exchanging pleasantries. Conditions are perfect, no wind, 100% visibility and good thermals. They tell me it can be cold in the air and ask if I need a jacket, but I’m sweating in anticipation. I ask my pilot Adrian how long he’s been doing this and he says 15 years, although he looks young to me. There’s no briefing, no forms to sign, and we’re just told to keep running until we lift off. We’re harnessed together and I put on my helmet, then told “go”.
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