Gérardmer is an unexpected treat when it comes to nature escapades in France. The town might not immediately spring to mind as a summer or winter break destination in the country, because it’s generally eclipsed by grander options like the Alps or the Jura mountains. However, the forests that encircle Gérardmer sprawl with the endless grandeur of Siberia or Canada and their moss-dappled features look like something from a Black Forest fairytale.
Lake Gérardmer is the largest natural lake in the Vosges. The glacial lake is located 660 m above sea level and spills out across an impressive 1.16 km².
In wintertime, the lake is frozen solid, but during summer, it’s bustling with boats and lots of water-based activities. You can rent a kayak, canoe, pedalo or paddle board to explore this gorgeous lake at your own pace.
However, if that sounds like hard work, then don’t worry. There are regular touristic boat excursions that run with guided commentary so you can sit back and simply soak in the views.
Renting your own boat on Lake Gérardmer allows you to paddle to places that you can’t reach by swimming.
There’s a number of small, sandy beaches dotted around the lake where you can relax in peace. They offer secluded spots to sunbathe, play ball sports or read a book. Bring a snorkel and plunge in search of fish, just be mindful of the cool temperatures.
Since it’s a glacial lake, the water can feel a little chilly, even in summer, so it’s best to bring a wetsuit. These are included with boat rentals at no extra charge.
The town of Gérardmer offers numerous walking trails through beautiful thick forest and rushing streams. They are too treacherous to explore in winter, but in the summertime, these forests are bursting with life. The routes are signposted as walking trails, perfect for a gentle hike.
La Tour de Mérelle (the Tower of Mérelle) is a wooden observation tower that offers incredible panoramic views of the mountains. The tower is perched on la Tête de Mérelle (the Mérelle Hill) at an altitude of 897 metres – it’s the high point of hiking in this region, quite literally.
When visiting la Tour de Mérelle, it’s best to get there in the morning when no one has arrived yet. If you leave it until late afternoon, it’s likely there will be queues with a waiting time of 20 minutes or more, as the tower is limited to four people at a time. Rest assured that the views are stunning, though. Alternatively, the tower is a great nighttime stargazing spot.
If that wasn’t enough to tempt you to dig out your walking boots, there are also waterfalls to explore, such as la Cascade de Mérelle. The waterfalls are most impressive in spring when the rivers are more swollen. In summer, it’s drier, so the waterfalls are less forceful, but still pretty to see.
In wintertime, the most exciting activities in the area are skiing and snowboarding. Gérardmer boasts the longest piste in the Vosges region, with the four-kilometre-long piste of Chevreuils. There are 40 kilometres of slopes in total winding through gorgeous pine forest, so you won’t get bored.
Although it’s tucked away in the French mountains, Gérardmer is an impressively vibrant hub of activity, offering plenty of entertainment and evening options. There’s a bowling alley, a cinema, a huge casino and an ice skating rink around the lakeside, which are all handy if you need to pass the time on a rainy day.
If the chance of rain doesn’t put you off, and if you’re interested in camping in Gérardmer, then make sure to reserve in advance – the campsites quickly fill up in summer, especially around the French August bank holiday.