is the Grande Randonnée Cinq?
The GR5, which mainly corresponds with the Europe 2 (E2) route, is perhaps the premier
long distance hiking trail of Western Europe. GR stands for "Grande
Randonnée", which in French means a long distance
hike, or hiking trail.
The GR5 begins at Hoek van Holland on the North Sea, and ends in
Southern France at the Mediterranean. It joins together many previously existing
hiking trails, and a few new sections. It is laid out to traverse
along, or to cross as many mountain ridges and highlands as possiblein
Belgium, the Ardennes mountains; in Luxembourg, the hills by the
rivers; in France, the Lorraine plateau, the Vosges Mountains of
Alsace, the hills and gorges of the Jura, and, as the icing on the
cake, the central spine of the Alps along the border between France
and Switzerland, and further south , France and Italy. The Europe 2 (E2) hiking route extends the GR5 northward by, at present, beginning in Scotland, crossing England,and picking up on the European mainland. The eastern route in England picks up at the beginning of the GR5. The western English route picks up at Ostend, Belgium, and soon joins the GR5.
GR5 is about 1,500 miles long (2,500 kilometers). Three and one-half
months of walking time are required for an average walker to "do"
the GR5. But if you walk this far, you should really take the variant
of the GR5 called the GR52, which leads to Menton on the Mediterranean
in a couple of extra days, rather than the GR5 itself to Nice. The
GR52 provides a much more spectacular finish.
One cannot really compare the GR5 to the Appalachian trail or the
Pacific Crest Trail. The GR5 passes through several countries. It
visits many more villages and towns, and lies on the doorstep of
some others with great tourist interest. GR5 hikers normally stay
in huts, lodges or hotels rather than in tents. The experience is
more social and civilized; the cost is somewhat higher.
Everybody (almost) walks the GR5 from the north to the south. Probably,
this is because they want to be walking from the the cold, rainy,
grayer weather of Holland to the warm, dry, sunny Mediterranean;
and also, to finish up their trip with the excitement of the Alps
and a Mediterranean arrival.
Site: The Alpine GR5, from Lake Geneva (Lac Léman) to the
This Internet Site primarily covers the Alpine GR5 - 52, from north
to south, as it crosses through the highest part of the French Alps,
along the borders of Switzerland and Italy.
Rivers draining the Alps along the French border flow to the west,
that is, across the grain of the north and south running GR5. What
does this mean for you? It means that you will experience long ascents
as you climb from the river valleys up to the high passes, and long
descents as you hike down to the next big river. Passes traversed
along the GR5 - GR52 are at 6,000 to 10,000 feet (1,800 - 3,000
meters), but the river valleys crossed can be as low as 1,500 to
3,000 feet (400 - 900 meters).
These vast ups and downs mean not only that you, the hiker, will
have a difficult walk, but also that you will traverse and see a great variety
of beautiful scenery and different ecosystems—from pastures to woods to sub-alpine meadows,
to glaciers. In the lower lands you will visit areas full of villages
and life, while in the heights you can be completely remote from
Red arabic numbers below indicate
The roman numerals refer to my first trips in the area, and should be disregarded
through hiker of the GR5 Alpine Traverse also will experience an additional
variety of scenery due to decreasing rainfall as one walks from
north to south.. The hillsides of Chablais, rising above Lake Geneva,
are a lush green; and dairy cows graze by the trail as it passes
through Switzerland. On the other hand, in the south, on the GR52
variant of the GR5, you pass through the Vallée des
Merveilles (Valley of Marvels), of strikingly sculpted bare rock, without vegetation.
In between these extremes, near Briançon, you l traverse beautiful semi-dry
woods of larch trees, and alpine meadows of tiny rhododendrons.
On the doorstep of the Mediterranean, you visit still another zone,
where rain falls in a temperate climate, protected from northerly
winds by the high Alps that you have crossed. The sparse Mediterranean
maquis shrubs, and the lush hillsides of semi-tropical plants dropping
down to Menton, are a delight to the eye after the arid country
Solitude and Wilderness
On a sunny day in the northern Alps, solitude on the trail is rare.
People live in the northern Alps, or visit, much more often than in the mountains further
south. The northern Alps are more easily accessible to the population
centers of Europe, and are much more fertile. In the northern Alps
there is no wilderness. Villages, chalets and
pastures lie close by one-another. The Vanoise National Park is
natural and wild, but still close-at-hand to civilization, and certainly
full of hikers. None-the-less, except in the tourist towns, you can feel
on your own. It is rare to see hikers in front of you or behind
you on the trail, but you probably will pass day hikers traveling in the opposite direction several times an hour, or several times a day.
In contrast, in the southern Alps hikers are few and
far between. Parts of the high and arid Mercantour Park are
as wild and isolated as you can get in France, and might even be called a small "wilderness". Through these wilder areas in the southern Alps, particularly off the main GR5-52 route or
well before or after the main hiking season, you could go all day without meeting another person.
I must add to the two paragraphs above, written almost ten years ago, that in early July, 2012 the northern Alps were more full than ever. The region around Mount Blanc is the most famous internationally, and surely the most crowded. In Chamonix hundreds and hundreds of hikers, many from the far east, were starting the Tour of Mount Blanc (TMB), which overlaps for two days the GR5. Moreover, on my weekend hike to the Col de Tricot, there was a "race"in which many hundreds of hikers were crossing the col, running past us. I was told these "races" were frequent on weekends. As before, in 2012 the Southern Alps trails were almost empty.
It is quite possible to see several types of wild animals
at least I have on my trips: Chamois, Bouquetins ( Ibexes)
, several types of deer, many kinds of birds, and the ubiquitous
When to Go
July, August, and September! See the page that discusses this in detail.
How long does the Alpine Crossing take?
You can walk comfortably from Lake Geneva
(Lac Léman) to Nice on the GR5, with a few rest days and
a few extra days in Chamonix, in about five weeks; many hikers who walk longer days and who don't stop for recreation have done it in four weeks or less. Add a two or three extra days for the more spectacular finish at Menton.
Depending upon your routing, you will cover
about 700 - 850 kilometers (420 - 510 miles).
You can easily divide your trip over several
years. This site gives information on the most common break points,
and how to reach them (see
of Trekkers - Purists and Easygoers
The "Purists" are people like myself, who want to feel
proud that they walked "every inch of the way" from Lake
Geneva to the Mediterranean. Some purists may feel they have to
do this only upon the trails officially designated as the GR5, or
the GR52 (or GR 56 in the Vanoise Park). Other "purists", like myself, take pride in deviating from the official trail, but still walking "every inch of the way".
"Easygoers" (like a number of friends who came along
with me on some parts of the GR5) feel they don't have to walk every
bit of the trail. If the day is too long, if the trail is less interesting,
or if the climb or descent is too arduous, they turn to motorized
transport: possibly they hitch a ride, take a bus or taxi, or use
a télépherique (i.e., a mountain lift).This site is written from the point of view of a purist—but not a purist who sticks only to the GR5,GR52 and GR56— and I include
some suggestions for easygoers.
Costs and Budget (2009)
For a resident of the United States, walking the GR 5- GR 52 undoubtedly needs a bigger budget than
does the Appalachian Trail or Pacific Crest Trail, first to get
to Europe, and then to pay for the costs of lodging. Nonetheless,
a GR5 hiking trip certainly costs much less than a European city
vacation or a commercially-guided biking or walking trek.
Northern European and British readers of this site will find the costs of a GR5 - GR52 trip quite reasonable. The following
numbers will help you estimate the cost of your trip:
Costs Train transportation from (say) Paris to and from your trailheads should
cost a total of less than 200€ (2009) per person, even if you purchase your tickets in Britain or the Untied States. Train tickets will be much less expensive if
your French is good enough to buy your train tickets from the French Railroad French
Internet Site well in advance and pick up your ticket at a railway station in France; and they will be somewhat less expensive if you buy the tickets at the last minute. in France.) For groups, it
may prove cheaper to rent a car each way. Avis, Hertz, and Europcar
may allow one-way rentals at no extra cost. Gas (petrol) costs around $7 or $8 a gallon (€ $1.25 -€1.50 per liter - 2012), but manual shift cars get typically about twice the gas mileage as in the United States. Remember that tolls can run 50 Euros from Paris to Switzerland or 100 Euros from Paris to French
Riviera. I personally enjoy taking the French high-speed trains, and would choose train over car for most trips. Another air gateway to the GR5 Alpine Traverse could be Geneva, Switzerland.
From Geneva, it is not difficult or costly to reach the beginning
of the GR5 Alpine Traverse, but it is more difficult and costly
to get to midpoints and the endpoints on the Mediterranean.
You can walk the GR5-GR52 in an "accommodation-only style",
or in a "full service style", or (or in a mixture of the
two). Most refuges and gites provide a room for doing your own cooking.
Most also provide full service family meals or menus. Hotels provide
plans with only room, and often also a plan for half-pension (dinner
and breakfast), which costs about twice as much. In 2004, a night's lodging, per person, in a French Club Alpin (CAF) refuge
(hut) , not including food, at medium altitude, cost €19 or €16, depending upon comfort and €26 or €22 in a high altitude refuge. The lodging cost, but not the
food cost, of a Club Alpin Refuges is cut in half if you are a member
of the French Club Alpin or a true mountaineering club in your home country
(but not, for example, in the USA the Appalachian Mountain Club or Sierra Club). Joining
the Club Alpin Français (you must choose a local club) costs about 70 €, so it would
take 4 or 5 nights in CAF refuges to pay the cost of membership. (To join the CAF, follow the link on this iInternet page: http://www.ffcam.fr/adherer.html.) Private refuges and gîtes may cost a bit more. One or two star hotels cost about 30 to 40 Euros per person in a
double room, or somewhat less in the Southern Alps. If you take dinner and breakfast as well as lodging, gîtes
and refuges cost per person about 40 to 50 Euros per night,
while half-pension in hotels cost 55 to 65 Euros per person in the
northern Alps and about 45 to 55 Euros in the southern Alps.
Bivouacking: I have met on the GR5 ultralight bivouackers carrying probably ten pounds of gear and exchanged emails with others carrying more gear. It is not possible to bivouac everywhere along the GR5 and its variants, but it is usually possible. The advantages of bivouacking, to my mind, are lowered costs, less noise at night in the gites and refuges, and ability to break up those few days that require excessive hiking hours to reach a refuge. The disadvantages are: the extra weight that must be carried, the lack of comfort, the greatly reduced opportunity to meet with others in gites and refuges, and the missed opportunity to experience French cooking.
Budget (2009) : A budget for the GR5 could be less than 40 Euros a day per person if
you are going to stay entirely at refuges and gîtes d'étap,
and do your own cooking or eat out inexpensively (at pizzeria's, etc.)If you are going the full service route with a mixture of
refuges, gîtes, and hotels (double occupancy in a room), and if you spend, say, 10 € each day on lunch and 5 Euros on incidentals, a budget of 75
Euros per person per day should be attainable. Bivouackers might get by on a budget of less than 20 Euros per person per day. Thus, a two week trip along the GR5, per person, including train transportation
but excluding transport to France, might range from less than 400
Euros to 1,100 Euros, or more.