Language & Hiking France

Overview Details Itinerary What to Pack FAQs Before You Go

Overview

We’ve always approached learning French in our own, unique way.

We knew we wanted native-speaker instructors. And not just any native speakers. We have always worked with experienced teachers, with a proven curriculum and lots of local knowledge.

And, we wanted a lot of instruction. In class and out, five mornings a week. Location was important, for a lot of reasons. We chose Chamonix because it’s beautiful and exciting and nestled below some of the world’s most spectacular mountains.

Because it’s summer and we’re in the mountains, we also want to be outside, hiking. It’s who we are: adventurous, energetic people who love the idea of learning a gorgeous language and then heading up into the mountains for an afternoon of fresh air and fitness, friendships and fun.

Where do you want to learn French? And once your lessons are done, how do you want to spend your days? If you’re like us, you’ll pack up your hiking boots and your English-French dictionary and head for the Alps. Allons-y!

Questions? Contact us!

My favorite part of the program was French class. By the end of the trip, I felt comfortable conversing with French natives in downtown Chamonix. It was exciting to see my progress in my French studies in just three weeks.


- Brooke Hoffman, Short Hills, New Jersey
Itinerary may vary by group and is subject to change.

Day 1: Trip Start

We’ll meet in Geneva and travel to Chamonix at the base of Mont Blanc, the tallest mountain in Europe. The Mont Blanc Valley, with its jagged mountain peaks, carved glacial streams and quintessential European towns, will be our home for the next three weeks. We will spend these three weeks in a gîte–a typical French inn used by mountaineers and families on holidays.

Days 2-5: Language Class, Hikes & Exploration in Chamonix

On our first full day in the Chamonix Valley, we will walk to school, meet our French teachers, take a placement test and explore the lush valley on a day hike. In the mornings, we will attend French class, seeking to improve our French in a fun, supportive environment. Through short skits, interviewing local residents in Chamonix’s main plaza and other hands-on activities, we will improve our speaking and listening comprehension. In the afternoons, we will explore the many trails in the Mont Blanc Valley. We’ll start with shorter hikes including Le Chapeau, the Mer de Glace overlook or Chalet de La Floria. These hikes are meant to help us acclimate, get to know one another and challenge us physically while providing fantastic viewpoints of the surrounding mountains, glaciers and valley. Through the week, our teachers will accompany us on various cultural excursions including a visit to the St. Bernard Farm and the High Mountain Emergency Rescue Center. At night, we’ll return to our gîte and cook dinners with local ingredients.

Days 6-8: Camp & Hike in Argentiere 

In the nearby Alpine village of Argentiere, we will spend the weekend camping and hiking; surrounded by wildflowers, rolling meadows, jagged peaks and pastures full of grazing cows. Over two days, we will challenge ourselves with demanding hikes to rewarding viewpoints like the Point de Vue next to the Argentiere Glacier–a true highlight.

Days 9-12: Language Class, Hikes & Exploration in Chamonix

In class, we will expand upon lessons learned in the first week, continuing to improve our French through interactive activities both in and out of the classroom. With our teachers, we’ll visit the town of Annecy, dubbed ‘the Venice of the Alps.’ Annecy is larger than Chamonix and sits on the shores of France’s second largest lake. Our teachers will challenge us with a guided scavenger hunt through a local market and teach us about the culture in the Haute-Savoie Region. Afternoon hikes will continue to challenge our group as we trek to different areas in the Mont Blanc Valley like Chalet de Cerro. Our French will improve throughout the week with cultural excursions, like a visit to a local zoo, a bakery or cheese shop.

Days 13-15: Camp & Hike in Vallorcine 

Near the Swiss border, we’ll take a train to Vallorcine at the northern end of the valley to spend our final weekend hiking in the Alps. From our campground, we will hike along trails to waterfalls, lakes and beautiful mountain huts. We will hike high in the mountains for astounding views of the Mont Blanc massif.

Days 16-20: Language Class, Chamonix & the Aiguille du Midi

During our final days in Chamonix, we’ll celebrate our French language skills on the Aiguille du Midi, the world’s highest cable car. We’ll watch mountaineers summit Mont Blanc and catch a view of the entire valley. We’ll descend halfway on the cable car and then hike the Grand Balcon Sud to Montenvers. We’ll explore an ice cave and hike down to the Chamonix Valley. At trip end, we’ll enjoy a final dinner in Chamonix to celebrate three weeks of fun, accomplishment and friendship.

 

ACCOMMODATIONS

15 nights in a private section of a gîte, a typical French inn used by vacationing European families. We will have regular access to showers and bathrooms.

4 nights of frontcountry camping with access to showers and bathrooms.

 

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Things to know

  • We travel light on Overland trips; please only bring items on your packing list.
  • Your group will have access to laundry periodically.
  • Please do not bring any electronics (including your cell phone). See FAQs for more information on our cell phone and electronics policy.
  • Do not bring any type of knife or multi-tool (such as a Swiss Army knife or Leatherman tool).
  • Pack everything in your backpack or day pack. Do not bring additional luggage.
  • Linens and pillows are provided at most group accommodations. Students may choose to use their sleeping bag for additional warmth if necessary.
  • There are no reimbursements for lost, damaged or stolen items.
  • Please wear the navy Overland shirt that you will receive from the Overland office to your trip start location.

Clothing

  • Navy Overland Shirt (1)
    We will send students an Overland shirt prior to their trip, and we encourage students to wear their Overland shirt to trip start. We highly recommend this for students flying to their trip start location.
  • Pants (1)
    Suitable for day hikes, travel or walks through towns and cities.
  • Synthetic Long Underwear Top & Bottom (1)
  • Synthetic Shorts (3)
  • Synthetic T-Shirt (3)
    Short-sleeve T-shirt or tank top.
  • T-Shirt (2)
    Short-sleeve T-shirt or tank top.
  • Underwear (5)
  • Wool and/or Synthetic Socks (4)
  • Athletic Socks (pair) (3)
  • Casual Dress Outfit (1)
    Appropriate for dining out with your group. For boys, khaki pants or shorts and a casual, nice shirt. For girls, a skirt or dress. Do not bring an extra pair of shoes for this outfit.
  • Winter Hat (1)
  • Gloves or Mittens (pair)
    To stay warm in camp on cool nights.
  • Pajamas (optional)
    Students sometimes prefer to sleep in shorts and a T-shirt instead of bringing pajamas.
  • Swimsuit (optional)
    If we swim, many students will wear shorts (and a sports bra for girls).
  • Hat with Visor (optional)
    For protection from the sun. Baseball hats are acceptable.

Outer Layers

  • Fleece Jacket or Pullover (1)
    Medium to heavyweight and reasonably compact.
  • Insulated Vest (1)
    Insulated fleece, Thinsulate or down vest to wear on cold days and evenings.
  • Waterproof Raincoat (1)
    Waterproof material required (not just water resistant). Rain coats provide protection from wind and rain and serve as an extra warm layer. Your jacket should be large enough to allow layers underneath. We recommend hoods and breathable materials. Gore-Tex is a well-known waterproof and breathable fabric but there are many other quality fabrics. Ponchos are not acceptable.
  • Waterproof Rain Pants (1)
    Waterproof material required (not just water resistant). Rain pants provide protection from wind and rain and serve as an extra warm layer.

General Gear

  • Internal Frame Backpack
    50-70 liters or 3,000-4,300 cubic inches (if you plan to do longer backpacking trips in the future, consider purchasing a pack that is towards the higher end of this range). Before purchasing a backpack, find your backpack size by measuring your torso length and your hips (instructions are available here). We recommend getting fitted at a store and trying on multiple packs.
  • Waterproof Pack Cover
    If your backpack does not come with a cover, we recommend buying a cover one size larger than your pack.
  • Day Pack
    Basic two-shoulder backpack large enough to hold your lunch, two water bottles, snacks, extra layers and rain jacket. Use your day pack as a carry-on for your flight and for daily activities or hikes. A standard school backpack is usually fine (no satchels or shoulder bags).
  • Sleeping Bag
    A lightweight, compact sleeping bag rated to 40 degrees Fahrenheit or less. We recommend either synthetic or treated down material. Your sleeping bag should compress into a stuff sack no larger than 20" in length.
  • Sleeping Pad
    Full- or ¾-length compact sleeping pad. We recommend closed cell foam that is thin and firm (e.g., RidgeRest) or self-inflating (e.g., Therm-a-Rest).
  • Headlamp & Extra Batteries
  • Sunglasses
    Polarized sunglasses that wrap around to protect from glare are ideal.
  • Bowl, Mug & Utensils
    6" to 8" plastic dish or bowl with top, insulated plastic mug, spoon, fork and knife. These don't need to be special camping utensils (a Tupperware dish and regular utensils are fine).
  • Water Bottle
    One 1-liter bottle. A Camelbak or similar water carrier is acceptable.
  • Adjustable Trekking Poles (optional)
    To add stability, reduce strain on the knees and improve balance while crossing unstable surfaces.

Footwear

  • Waterproof Hiking Boots
    Hiking boots that are low to high cut, depending on your desired ankle support. Choose comfortable boots and make sure to break them in before the start of your trip.
  • Sneakers (pair)
    Comfortable shoes to wear on daily activities. Shoes should be supportive and have a good tread on the bottom for traction.
  • Sandals (pair) (optional)
    Flip flops or Crocs work well

Travel Documents

  • Passport
    A passport that is valid until at least six months after your trip end date
  • Passport Photocopies
    Make at least four photocopies of your passport and visa (if applicable). Leave one copy with your family and put photocopies in both your checked luggage and carry-on luggage for the flight, separate from your original documents.
  • Photo Identification
    A current school or other kind of photo identification (if you have one).
  • Unaccompanied Minor Fee Receipt (if applicable)
    For students travelling as Unaccompanied Minors, please print a copy of the UAM fee receipt for your child's leaders to keep on file.
  • Baggage Fee Receipt (if applicable)
    Some airlines allow passengers to input credit card information to cover checked bag service charges when checking in online prior to the trip. To reduce hassle at the airport, we encourage you to pay for checked baggage beforehand and supply your child with a copy of the receipt for his or her leaders to keep on file.

Miscellaneous

  • Synthetic Camping Towel
    A medium-size synthetic camping towel (synthetic camping towels dry much faster than regular towels).
  • Toiletries
    All items should be travel size (if necessary, you will be able to restock during the trip).
  • Sunscreen (SPF 15+) & Chapstick (with SPF protection)
  • Insect Repellent
  • Package of Moleskin or Molefoam
    To protect your feet from blisters.
  • Gallon Sized Ziploc Bags (5)
    To organize and waterproof your gear and small items.
  • Large Trash Bags (2)
    To waterproof your gear.
  • Spending Money
    $50 per week in local currency or a debit/ATM card (please notify your bank of international travel before trip start).
  • French-English Dictionary
    Travel-sized, to use in class and around town
  • Notebook & Pen
    To use in class.
  • Personal Journal or Book (optional)
  • Camera, Charger & Extra Batteries (optional)
    A digital or disposable camera and, if necessary, a charger and large enough memory card to accommodate your pictures (4 to 8 GB).
  • Health Insurance Card
    Please bring an original or copy of your health insurance card.
  • Is the language level appropriate for my child’s language experience?

    We require that your child arrives with at least one year of classroom instruction in French or equivalent experience (time spent studying abroad). Overland groups are divided into smaller language classes upon arrival. Classes focus on speaking and listening comprehension and accommodate varying levels of language abilities.

  • Is this a language immersion program?

    No. All of Overland's language programs require dedication to learning a language and appreciating a new culture. Although there is not a language pledge, classes are conducted exclusively in French, and your child will speak French outside of class for approximately two hours per day.

  • What are the teachers like?

    Overland partners with a language school in Chamonix with professional French teachers who create lesson plans to engage our groups. The teachers speak French as their primary language. Overland leaders will sit in on some classes, but the professional teachers are responsible for classroom language instruction. Teachers will typically join the group for activities outside the classroom several times throughout the program.

  • Does my child need to have previous international or group travel experience?

    While no previous experience is required, we have high expectations of our students. We expect your child—with your help—to select a trip that is appropriate for his or her interests and abilities. You should spend some time familiarizing yourself with the details of the specific program and help your child understand what to expect. We also expect our students to prepare ahead of time: to review the packing list, gather clothing and gear and complete whatever training the trip requires (for recommended training please see the Before You Go tab). Once the trip begins, your child should be ready—and excited—to contribute to a wholesome and enthusiastic group where each group member feels welcomed and valued.

  • What is the weather like on Language & Hiking France?

    The weather on Language & Hiking France varies. Sometimes it is sunny and warm, other times it is rainy and cold; typical summer temperatures in the Chamonix Valley range from the 60s to 80s during the day and cooler temperatures at night. Our packing list takes these variable factors into consideration. Layering is the best strategy. Please follow the packing list, paying close attention to rain gear specifications.

  • What are the arrival and departure airports for my child's trip?

    You will need to arrange transportation for your child to and from Geneva International Airport (GVA). We will provide more specific travel information once we have placed your child on a program.

  • Please tell me about the currency on this trip.

    France uses the Euro (€). Some US banks may be able to order Euros. Students can also exchange money in airports throughout the US, or leaders can help students withdraw Euros using a debit card or exchange US dollars upon arrival in France.

  • Please tell me about safety at Overland.

    Safety and risk management are at the forefront of our decision-making–from trip planning to leader training to supporting our groups in the field. We cannot guarantee absolute safety–no program can. All recreational activities include inherent and other risks. Therefore, we strive to manage the risks that we can, knowing we cannot eliminate them. We work hard to recruit, train and support our trip leaders so they can create the kind of trips that have made us successful for over 30 years. Please click here to read more about our approach to risk management and our accreditation by the American Camp Association.

  • Please tell me about Overland’s admissions process.

    For more information, and to access our application, please visit our Apply page.
    When we receive child’s application, if the first choice is available, you will receive a phone call and an email containing a link to our Overland Portal where you will find our Admissions Review Forms. We will accept your deposit to hold your child’s place in the program pending a favorable Admissions Review. If the first choice is not available, we will call you to confirm that the second choice is acceptable. If neither the first choice nor second choice are available, we will call you to discuss options. For those students placed on our waitlist, we will notify you as soon as a spot becomes available.


    We seek to admit students who have demonstrated that they possess the personal qualities and experience necessary to succeed on an Overland trip. While Overland is always supportive and nurturing, an Overland program is unlike a traditional camp in that our small groups–12 students and 2 leaders–travel, live and work as a group, making all of their own meals, helping each other and cooperating in ways big and small, and they do all of this far from home. As a result, every student must be able to thrive in an environment that places equal emphasis on:


    1. 1. Teamwork and Shared Responsibilities.

    2. 2. Independence and Self-Reliance.

    3. 3. Support of Others and Consideration for Others.

  • What are Overland’s policies on phones, electronics and communication?

    PHONES:
    To maximize independence and self-reliance, we do not permit phone calls, emails or text messages to or from our campers (the exceptions to this are: your child will call home on arrival and departure with our phones and assistance, and in the case of an emergency). If your child brings a phone for use while en route to Overland, please do not send him or her with an expensive smartphone; instead bring an inexpensive prepaid cell phone. All phones will be collected on arrival and returned at departure. While we will take reasonable steps to prevent damage, theft or loss to phones, we take no responsibility for phones and we will not make any reimbursements for lost, damaged or stolen phones.


    ELECTRONICS:
    Cameras are welcome but please do not bring any other electronics (e.g., iPods, iPads, Kindles or other readers, GPS or similar devices). All electronics (except cameras) will be mailed home on arrival (at your risk and expense).


    COMMUNICATION:
    We are committed to providing extraordinary support to you and your child; to that end, the Overland office is staffed from 8:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. seven days a week during the summer (outside of office hours our answering service provides emergency coverage). Our leaders in the field are in touch with our office regularly; they carry cell phones (and in some cases satellite phones). Anytime a camper is treated for an injury or illness by a doctor or medical personnel, parents are notified by our office. A director will call the parents to explain the nature of the injury or illness, the sequence of events leading up to the injury and/or the steps leading to the treatment. Parents are typically able to speak with the medical personnel, with the leaders and with their child.


  • Can my child get school credit for the language program?

    You should check with your child’s school about whether or not Overland’s language programs fulfill their requirements. The approximate number of hours of language instruction are listed in the sidebar.

Improve your French, hike in the Chamonix Valley and experience French culture.

Students going on Language & Hiking France should prepare for:

  • 15 days of hiking with an average of 4 miles per day
  • 12 days of French class for 4 hours each day
  • Traveling internationally
  • Travel to and from the trip
  • An Overland experience

We expect you to arrive to your trip fully prepared for all activities.

Preparing for Hiking

On Language & Hiking France, you should be prepared for day hikes in the Alps on well-established trails through a variety of landscapes including forests and alpine environments. The terrain in the Alps can be challenging at times—there are some long, steep, rocky sections and occasionally some hiking on snow. A few days of hiking may be at elevations higher than 8,000 feet.

Before your trip, we strongly advise you spend time breaking-in and adjusting to your hiking boots. We expect you to prepare adequately so you can keep up physically and participate in all of your group's activities. Please follow our guidelines as you prepare for your program.

Pre-trip training:

  • 5 weeks before your trip: wear your boots for 15-30 minutes a day. Walk around your house or neighborhood so your boots begin to conform to your feet.
  • 4 weeks before your trip: take three 30-minute hikes or walks in your boots.
  • 3 weeks before your trip: take three 1-hour hikes or walks in your boots.
  • 2 weeks before your trip: take three 1-hour hikes or walks in your boots with a backpack loaded with 10% of your body weight.
  • 1 week before your trip: take two 2-hour hikes or walks in your boots with a backpack loaded with 10% of your body weight.

Groups typically take multiple breaks throughout the day while hiking—for water, snacks, lunch, to adjust packs, etc.

Preparing for Class

Overland's language programs require dedication to learning a language and enthusiasm about experiencing a new culture. Your classes will be conducted exclusively in French and you will speak French outside of class for approximately two hours per day. Your group will be divided into smaller language classes upon arrival; the classes will focus on speaking and listening comprehension in order to accommodate a range of skill levels. We recommend you arrive with at least one year of classroom instruction, or the equivalent experience (time spent studying abroad, for example), in French.

Preparing for International Travel

International travel requires planning and preparation. You must have a valid passport and the necessary visas, travel vaccinations and travel medications. We will provide additional instructions regarding international travel preparation once we have placed you on a program. More information is also available in the FAQs.

Preparing for Travel to and from the Trip

Families are responsible for arranging flights to and from the designated airport during a specified window (please do not purchase flights until you have received an email confirming our review of your health forms and school reference). Overland staff will be at the airport to welcome you at the start of your trip and to assist with your departure. We will have you call home upon arrival and before departure. We will provide more specific travel information once we have placed you on a program.

Preparing for an Overland Experience

Overland programs are wholesome, structured experiences with high expectations of each student’s behavior. You are expected to be supportive of your trip mates and your leaders, enthusiastic, positive and helpful. We ask that you leave your cell phone and electronics at home (cameras are always welcome), so you can fully engage with your group and your trip. You will have the opportunity to send letters and receive mail at designated mail stops, which are shared in the spring.

Arriving ready for a challenge—and prepared to contribute to an enthusiastic group—will go a long way toward creating a successful trip. Please contact us if you’d like to discuss preparing for your Overland program.