Attractions on the GR5 and GR52
Most of your walk along the GR5 will be in lovely, even stunning,
terrain. You will pass charming villages and pastures at lower altitudes,
forests, wild flowers, and meadows at mid-altitudes, and jagged
peaks and glaciers at high altitudes. So what is the significance
of the special attractions listed here? They are unique experiences
along the way that should not be missed, even if it involves a detour,
or special towns where you should definitely try to spend the night,
rather than just passing through.
I have given one star to towns where you should spend the evening,
or to attractions which you should consider even if it costs a bit
of money and time. Two stars are for experiences worth a large detour
or an extra day. Three stars mean the area is worth several days,
even a whole vacation.
Lake Geneva Steamer*
and afternoon ships from Geneva call at Thonon-les-Bains and at
Evian-les-Bains. Is there a better wayin good weatherto
get to your trailhead? In second class, the voyage costs about 20
Euros to Thonon-les-Bains, 23 Euros to Evian-les-Bain, and 30 Euros
to St.-Gingolph. (See the Lac Leman steamship company
http://www.cgn.ch/_library/pdf/hor_ete04.pdf. Change the last
two digits of the URL to reflect the year you need.)
You could make the trip by train from Geneva in one-third the
time and and at one-third the cost. From Paris you can bypass Geneva
entirely and connect directly to Thonon or Evian. So the boat is
a luxury , but a pleasant one!
(For St. Gingolph, your best bet, whether by boat or train, is
to take a taxi or bus there from Evian-les-Bains.)
Forget about the Dent d'Oche if the weather is misty or foggy.
Otherwise this spire and its refuge is surely worth the extra climb
and the detour of a few kilometers. But to get there you have to
scramble up one very short, steep portion of rock with the aid of a chain,
and perhaps a boost from below. Don't worry too much: children and
the elderly do it.
Sunset over Lake Geneva, from the Dent d'Oche.
Click to enlarge any photo.
at the refuge you have an unforgettable view over lake Geneva, from
end to end (although Geneva probably will be lost in the haze).You'll
want to spend hours watching the sun set. The view to the south
is not bad either: ranges of mountains, with Mont Blanc on the distant
horizon, a week's walk away.
If you have the energy and the heart, climb up the ridge trail
to the top of the spire.
The refuge is classified as high altitude: the lodgings and the
food are basic and the pricing is a bit higher than most. It opens
in June only on the weekends, and closes in late September. Telephone
(in France) for reservations 04 50 73 62 45 or 04 50 73 16 14.
A charming town with good hotels and restaurants at moderate prices,
Samoëns in well worth spending the evening in, rather than
Sixt-Fer-à-Cheval, even if it means a longer walk the next
Chamonix area*** (a slight detour; consider
allowing three or more sunny days)
The Chamonix area is the only tourist destination on this list
to which I give three stars.. I have been in Chamonix at least ten
times, and I never tire of it. It is not directly on the GR5, but
it you can walk (steeply down) there just as quickly as you can
to the town on the official route, Les Houches, and get there much
quicker than Les Houches if you are a non-purist and take the télépherique (mountain lift).
town of Chamonix has charm, and contains hotels, gîtes d'étape,
rentals and restaurants of all types and within many price ranges.
In the nearby valley villages, accommodations are less expensive.
The main reason to visit Chamonix, however, is not the town, but
the natural wonders in the area. The view from the valley of Mount
Blanc, Europe's highest peak, is more than beautiful.
Sixty Euros costly (2009) for each adult person and worth every penny
is the télépherique (enclosed cabin lift) trip to
the 12,000 foot high Aiguille du Midi**, followed by the
télécabine (cabin dangling from a cable) crossing
over the glaciers of the Valée Blanche to Point Helbronner,
and return. Marvel at the immensity and beauty of the glacier. Watch
Alpinists wend across the glacier on the way back from Mount Blanc's summit, and others climb various nearby needles and the Aiguille du Midi
itself. At Point Helbronner, walk down and put your feet on the
snow while taking in the vast white expanse before you. Usually parapente-gliders are circling around before you. Allow a
the excursion, make sure good weather is forecast. Also be sure
to get your tickets the day before (if possible) or as early in
the morning as you can. You'll probably have to wait several hours
before you can actually board the télépherique. (If
you wait until the afternoon to buy tickets, you probably won't
be able to depart that day at all.)
If you are an Alpinist or budding Alpinist, consider renting boots and crampons
in town, and joining a group led by a Chamonix guide; you'll walk
from the Aiguille du Midi to Pointe Helbronner, learning arrest
and glacier rescue techniques as you go.
might want to save those boots and crampons for the Mer de Glace**.
A cog rail train from Chamonix takes you up to the glacier overlook
restaurant and back for 18 Euros (2009); or you can go one way and
walk back down to Chamonix. From the restaurant, a trail and ladders
lead down onto the glacier. From midsummer on, the glacier is "open",
which means all the crevices are visible. Using the lightest crampons,
you can walk far up the glacier, dodging or jumping over the crevices;
and then, on regular trails, climb steeply up the cliffs above the
glaciers to various refuges that make excellent luncheon or overnight
stopping places. These quite strenuous and exposed hikes should
be done in good weather.
Another great day can be spent by taking a télépherique
up to La Flégère (12.50 Euros in 2009), in the mountain range
on the north side of the valley. Then walk to Lac Blanc**.
After your visit, continue on along the haut balcon trail
in the same northeasterly direction to its end at Col du Montets,
whence you'll find bus service back to Chamonix (get a schedule
from the Chamonix Tourist Office). Your entire walk looks out at
the glaciers of Mount Blanc and its chain on the other side of the
valley. The trail is one of the prettiest parts of the well-known
week long "Tour of Mount Blanc".
Finally, I should mention a more placid destination that is only
a short detour off the GR5 as you leave the Chamonix Valley and Les Houches heading south. After
climbing to the Col de Volza, in good weather turn
right up an easy slope, and in 20 minutes reach the Hotel-Restaurant
Le Prarion*. While you have a drink or a meal or just sit, take
in the fabulous view of Mount Blanc. Squinting and with binoculars,
you will be able to make out Alpinists on the normal climbing route
to the summit. Non-purists can reach either the Col de Volza by telepherique, or the Prarion directly by its own telepherique.
There are many other wonderful walks in the area, if you are staying
for a week, but these you can find out about while you are in Chamonix.
When your Chamonix stay is over, walk 6 kilometers down the valley
to Les Houches (or take the train or bus), officially on the GR5.
The military architecture of the town of Briançonthe
Vauban fortified upper town that isis quite sensational, and
the views from the ramparts are splendid. The main street of the
Vauban city is full of charm.
Descend south from the town to a little bridge and look straight
down into the river gorge: You will begin to appreciate the reasoning
behind the sensational military architecturedesigned in the
seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries to protect the
frontier between "Italy" (not yet a country) and France.
Author's special route out of Briançon.
you have the fortitude and stamina to take my special itinerary
out of Briançon up the fort-covered hillside to the south
rather than the GR5 (discussed in the itineraries part of this Site),
you will marvel at one fort after another, and at a succession of
Sospel* on the GR52, Apremont* on the GR5 before
Both towns, quite different one from the other, have considerable
charm and deserve a night's stay and some exploration
Nice** and Menton**
You have reached the end of the trail. If you started at the North
Sea, you have come a very long way, yes a long way too if you started
from Lake Geneva. The Mediterranean stretches southward out of sight.
Old part of Menton, French Riviera.
would be a shame not to spend at least one extra night on the French
Riviera, the Côte d'Azur. Beaches of large round stones
called galets in Nice, and of sand in Mentonbeckon you to
(relatively) warm waters. Take promenades with striking views of
the sea and of chic apartments and hotels; visit Nice's charming old town,
old Menton, and from the cemetery at old Menton's highest point look up at the mountain you were on.
Famous towns and villages such as Eze Village, and Monte Carlo lie
nearby. Go out for a great banquet, and celebrate your considerable
achievement—in crossing the Alps by footpath.