GR5 Starting Points for the alpine crossing on the Lake Geneva (Lac Léman) south
shore, including the author's more enjoyable and easier unofficial route.
Lac Leman (Lake Geneva), the largest natural lake in Western Europe, lies at an elevation of 374 meters (1,227 feet). Mountains and hills surround most of the lake. The surroundings are, in general, beautifully green. Geneva and its airport lie at the southwestern tip of the lake. The language of the region is French.
Those walking the GR5 from the north will come to the lake at Nyon on the north western shore. Cruise boats cross the lake from Nyon, Lausanne and Geneva, and permit access to points on the south shore, including all trailheads for the GR5 southbound. For schedules, contact http://www.cgn.ch/. Frequent Swiss trains connect to Geneva and other north shore points: http://www.sbb.ch/en/. Frequent French trains http://voyages.sncf.com connect Geneva (from the Eaux Vives Railway Station—not the main railway station) to south shore points such as Thonon-Les-Bains and Evian-Les-Bains.
The GR 5 is normally only one trail. When there is more that one
trail connecting two points, normally the extra trails are called
variants and are numbered 5a, 5b etc., or, are given a different
number beginning with 5 such as 52 or 56. This normality is broken
by the start of the Alpine crossing on the south shore of Lake Geneva.
There are two starting points and two trails, both labeled GR5.
I recommend yet another lake-shore starting town not on the GR5. I'll cover these alternatives in turn.
Thonon-les-Bains starting point
One GR5 starts from Thonon-les-Bains, a resort town, easily accessible
by train from Geneva or Paris, and also by lake steamer from Nyon, Lausanne or Geneva. It will take you
approximately 12 1/4 hours (without counting rest and meal stops) to walk
from Thonon to the junction with the other GR5. To find lodging, you will need to detour from the GR5 to one of the refuges or hotels at Les Clouz, Vinzier or Chevenoz
(respectively 5/1/4, 5 1/2 or 7 hours from Thonon). Thus, your total walking
time to the junction of the other GR5 coming from St._Gingolph
will be about 13 hours. Another hour's walk from that junction, 14 hours of walking altogetherl,
takes you to the refuge at Bise.
On this route from Thon-les-Bains, the refuge of the Dent d'Oche, which I highly recommend
in good weather for its unforgetable view, can be also be reached from Thonon-les-Bains, in 13
hours, including the detours for lodging..
The walk from Thonon-les-Bain has some views of the Drance river and
occasionally of Lake Geneva. Mostly, however you are in a depression
with limited views. After an initial slow climb, you descend to
cross the Drance river, then re-climb and stay relatively flat until
Le Crêt. The first day you ascend in total about 600 meters (2,000 feet). The second day you ascend 1,100 meters (3,600 feet)
to the trail's high point at the Col de Bise (or another 300 meters - 1,000 feet to the Dent d'Oche. That second day may be a bit daunting for hikers not fully conditioned..
St.-Gingolph starting point
The second GR5 starts from a tiny commune that straddles the French-Swiss
border, St.-Gingolpha town with only a few
services and without much charm. Lodging is in modest hotels in the French part of the
town, or in a fancier hotels in the Swiss part of town. For hotel contact information
visit: http://www.st-gingolph.ch/. If you are conditioned, this route will save you one day of walking.
Access by public transportation is possible by taking a morning train to Lausanne (which, incidently, is the fastest lake access point from Paris), taking a taxi to the Lausanne-Ouchy dock, and crossing the lake on a cruise boat. It is also possible to take a train or cruise boat to Evian-les-Bains, and then a taxi or a bus for the 17 kilometer (10 mile) trip to St. Gingolph. A few trains arrive in St.-Gingolph from Monthey, which is on the Lausanne-Martigny line, if you are coming from points east.
The GR5 trail from the lake ascends very steeply , without any breaks,
up a viewless ravine in 5 hours (if your physical condition permits!) to the junction point with the other GR5
coming from Thonon-Les-Bains . Another hour will take you to Bise (6 hours total). The elevation gain to the Col de Bise (pass of Bise) is
1,541 meters (5,056) feet.
Because of the tremendous effort that may be required on the first day's climb, many hikers may prefer, on the afternoon of their arrival in St.- Gingolph, to hike up to Novel, 2 hours i.e., some 600 meters (2,000 feet) above the lake. At this writing in 2011 there is no longer a hotel there, but there is a gite d'étape, Le Franco-Suisse, telephone +33 (0)4-50-76-73-74 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. This small gite only takes in hikers for one night stays, and should be reserved well in advance, if possible, to insure a place. If you arrive in St. Gingolf in the early afternoon, staying that evening in Novel would not add an extra night to your trip..
A side trip from the GR5 to the Dent d'Oche, which I highly recommend
in good weather for its stupendous, unforgetable view of Lac Léman,
will require a 6 1/2 hours climb from Lac Léman, and add another
300 meters (1,000 feet) of elevation gain. The times given above are the
book times that assume that you are already in good shape. On my first trip on the
GR5 from Lac Léman, (without full understanding) I undertook this 6,059 foot ascent from the lake shore to the Dent d'Oche,
and it took me 8 exhausting hiking hours.
Evian-les-Bains, my unofficial, prefered starting point
Lying midway between the two official GR5s, Evian is the starting
point I prefer. It is obviously unsuitable for those who wish to
say that they have walked "The GR5", but just fine for those like me who wish to say that they "walked on or nearby the GR5 from Lake Geneva to the Mediterranean". I prefer this route for three reasons: because Evian is charming, because one has wonderful views of Lake Geneva or of charming countryside most of the way , and because one can stay in a hotel the first night rather than a gite or refuge. This route takes about 4 hours less than the Thonon-les-Bains GR5, and 4 hours more than the Saint-Gingolph GR5.
Access to Evian -- a town with considerable charm -- is by train from Geneva or Paris, or by lake cruisship from Geneva, Nyon, or Lausanne.
To begin your alpine traverse, you
climb for an hour on a waymarked route from the railway station, leading above the town, partly by a track, and then walk
briefly east, parallel to the lake, with excellent views. You cut inland,
not on trails but on countryside lanes, to a hotel of your choice
in St-Paul-en-Chablais - Bernex area at about 1,000 meters (3,300
feet) elevation (2,000 feet above the lake) in about 3 and one-half
hours of walking. (My research has not turned up any hotel situated higher than 1,000 meters.)
The second day you gain the Dent d'Oche (at 2,221 meters or 7,300 feet of altitue) in five or six view-filled
hiking hours, dependinging upon where you have stayed and your route choice, or the refuge
at Bise in about seven or eight hours via the 1915 meter (6,300 ft) Col de Bise.
The maps in the Topo Guides are sufficient. You will note the trail
in red rising above Evian, and then branching to the left. You will
probably choose the white colored road leading from Milly to Poese,
and then head towards Bernex, following a route that depends upon
the hotel you have chosen. I
amd my friends enjoyed very much our stay at the Hotel Bois Joli**
in Beunaz (St- Paul-en-Chablais), but you might want to stay further along, in Langin for example.
The second day of this itinerary there is a choice of routes to reach the Dent d'Oche or the the GR5.. My group followed a
trail and lanes leading over Mont Bénard and around the south
of Mont César to the GR Balcon de Léman variant shown
on the map in red, and then followed this south to the Dent d'Oche,
about a six hours' walk.. Alternatively, and shorter, one can follow
the road through Bernex to La Fétiuère, and then climb
the trail steeply up to the Château d'Oche. Or you could walk the road to Pré Richard, and pick up the GR5 above there.
View over Evian-les-Bains and Lake Geneva froma hill
near the Dent D'Oche. Click to enlarge.
can take a taxi to the parking lot at La Fétiuère
if they wish. Day and weekend hikers visiting the Dent d'Oche typically
use the trail from La Fétiuère.
Continuing on to La-Chapelle-d'Abondance
It is unlikely that you will be able to reach La-Chapelle-d'Abondance
in one day from St.-Gingolph, or in two days from either Thonon-les-Bains
or Evian-les-Bains. From St.-Gingolph the book calls for 9 hours
25 minutes. Very few hikers will be sufficiently conditioned to
attain these times, which exclude all stops, given the steepness
of the climb. Even St._Gingolph hikers overnighting at Novel will
be hard-pressed to reach La-Chapelle-d'Abondance the next day, though
it is possible in a book hiking time of 7 hours 25 minutes. Furthermore,
you would have to bypass the Dent d'Oche.
So you probably need to choose a spot for your first or second or third night out from Lake Geneva, either he refuge at Bise (high grassy valley) or the
Dent d'Oche. I would choose the first in bad weather, and the second in fair
weather, because its view is so sensational..
Looking south to Mt. Blanc from the Dent d'Oche.
subsequent day, your relatively easy hike to La-Chapelle-d'Abondance
will take about 5 hours from the Dent d'Oche, or about 3 hours 10
minutes from the refuge of Bise.