As our travels continued towards the French Alps in Summertime, one wrong turn and things went badly wrong in an instance!
Ok, well that may be a bit dramatic. After mistakingly taking the road after Nantua leading us into Switzerland instead of continuing on French soil, before we knew it we were navigating the busy city streets of Geneva!
Taking what seemed like an eternity criss-crossing tram lines, dodging mopeds and worst of all – hoping we wouldn’t have to quarantine re-entering France!
Finally, emerging unscathed onto the shores of Lac Leman or Lake Geneva to us Brits, the packed shore line gave no signs of any virus woes.
Thankfully, we gracefully crossed the border again into France in the blink of an eye. Phew! No need to panic but we won’t be able to be so careless after Brexit or will we?
Traffic jams followed. All the way along the shoreline route until the evening set in and our hunger pangs soared.
Eventually a large grassy area appeared at Yvoire, an historic village on the shores of Lac Leman. An evening stroll into the ancient village lead us past beautiful stone buildings where window boxes of flowers filled the walls.
Restaurants served customers in an almost non-virus filled appearance. I’m not sure we were ready for dining out just yet, however, many people seemed oblivious to the virus still being with us.
The social distancing of 1m here in France looked lacking. Groups talked loudly across each other, goodness knows what was being spread. Were we just a little paranoid after having emerged from lockdown in Wales?
We really wanted to see the ancient village of Yvoire in daylight. So before setting off along Lac Leman, we strolled in again for some photo’s. Really wanting to make sure it looked just as good in daylight.
This time, we had to wear face masks outside! The narrow streets must be too much of a hazard to risk open air breathing without a covering.
The village was just as beautiful and the sun so hot again. Boat trips leave from here across the lake, but we chose to avoid a confined space!
Our next stop a little further along the lake came at Thonon-Les-Bains. Luckily finding a free parking place along a road next to the lake itself.
A walk along the waterfront brought us to a funicular railway. It took those who wanted to save their legs up the hill into the centre of town.
We took the steps instead, leading up to a view point, giving a panoramic outlook over the water. A market had been on and was by now busy packing up. Here, face masks once again had to be worn outside. Anything to keep those germs away when people may get too close.
Cycle paths lead off in various directions from the waterfront. So back down on the prom we took to the bikes for a bit of exploring.
It wasn’t long before we came across a swish marina complex of houses and waterways. All a little worse for wear now but still oozing the sophistication of how they were in their hey day.
One thing noticeable now was the increase in British number plates. As our drive left the lake behind and headed into the Alps towards Morzine, it became obvious that it was full to bursting with tourists.
We’d planned to stay on the Aire at Morzine, however, when we arrived it looked more like a traveller camp! Full with day-type vans, awnings out into the neighbouring space and enough luggage scattered around to fill a salvage yard.
Oh heck…we really hope this isn’t the future! Not only was the appeal at zero but to add insult to injury many vans had GB number plates!
All was not lost at the Font Bleu though – that’s a French filling and dumping unit for motorhomes. It gave us a chance to empty and replenish the tanks before hot-footing it out of there. Leaving behind the busy resort for a quieter Alpine location.
Sure enough, we soon found that perfect place to park up for the night. There on the mountain pass to Samoens from Morzine was a beautiful spot beside a small lake.
Of course, this isn’t instagram, so we weren’t alone! Oh no – we were amongst several other motorhomes but that was just fine by us. Settling in under cooler skies from the mountain air with quacks of the ducks for company.
In the distance came the sound of cattle bells, drawing closer under the sunset sky. Then, all of a sudden they appeared! A heard of Alpine cattle complete with their shepherd.
Don’t forget, this is the Alps, where centuries old traditions still lie and no more so than the young girl who only looked about 7 years of age, commanding the cattle. These huge brown cows under her wing as if she’d been on the mountains for years.
Following behind, her family including a sheepdog came, to muster up any lingering cows from the back. They placed tape around the mountain road to avoid any cattle colliding with traffic. Then as if by magic, the cows glided elegantly down the pastures and out of sight.
Only their bells ringing in a fine chorus across the dimly lit night. It’s moments like this that you remember it’s the small things in life that bring the most pleasure.
Well this place is so good, we stayed another night. Waking up to crystal clear skies and the most incredible views to what had previously been a storm filled sky.
From our parking spot at the Lac du Plan Joux came the most mesmerising view of Mont Blanc. Glimmering in the distance, snow capped and opulent under the strong sun.
There are so many walking routes from here, we couldn’t decide which one to take. So we chose one up the mountain towards a viewing platform that we could see through the binoculars.
The day couldn’t have been better, despite the heat, the clarity in the sky was just superb. The viewing platform at the top of a ski run on the Les Gets pistes turned out to be a spot that we’d driven off-road to from Morzine the previous day.
The views were as good as to be expected. The high snowy mountains peaks of the Mont Blanc ranges behind us in all their glory.
The return walk to the lake took us down the blue run and back along a moutain pass. A couple of hours spent amongst the finest mountain views in the Alps.
After an afternoon under the shade of the awning, by evening we were ready for another walk. Is it just us or do you get itchy feet this often too?
This time, an hour long return along an easy path took us to a different viewing area overlooking the snow capped Mont Blanc. Surrounded by grassy meadows, filled with wild flowers, goats, sheep and a few lingering hikers was just beautiful to be a part of.
By the time we reached the end of the path, the most fabulous outlook opened out in front of us. Feeling as though we were on top of the world, high above the valley where Samoens town looked tiny below us. Across the Grand Massif ski area, over towards Six Fer A Cheval and finally the awesome peak of Mont Blanc.
Snow capped and standing in all its glory at 4810m high, Mont Blanc looked magical. Some young paragliders joined us, ready to lift themselves off the edge of the mountain and into the freshest air on Earth.
From these dizzy heights we watched as they floated off into the mountain air, without a care in the world they flew like an eagle before us.
The heat was more intense than ever as we approached the town of Samoens from the Col du Plan Joux mountain pass. We’d last been here on a family ski trip in our previous motorhome, probably 10 years ago.
It’s a pretty town, located in a valley where riverside walks and a small lake bring Summer activities to the valley floor. There’s motorhome parking at the ski lift, so we parked up to explore a bit on foot.
It was so hot, but we managed to re-discover a route passing the campsite where we’d stayed in the snow. Bringing back memories of the good old days and happy family motorhome trips.
Eventually, we chose to move on to the far end of the valley. Renowned for its walking and protected status at Sixt Fer du Cheval.
There’s an entry fee for parking which is 10 Euro per motorhome, but it’s only payable between certain hours. By the time we arrived, the kiosk was closed, so we could just park up for free. Just as we turned off the engine, a thunder storm set in for the night, bringing torrential rain our way.
Thankfully we woke to clearing skies and cooler temperatures. After packing our rucksacks with a waterproof and picnic we set off on one of the 5 walking trails on offer.
We decided on The Edge of The World trail, signposted with orange markers and starting just beyond the restaurant. Our walk took us along a flat, well marked path before crossing streams and taking us through forests.
Soon, a large mound of closely packed ice caught our eye. After taking a diversion to the icy mass, the height eclipsed us both but the chill was refreshing on our hot skin.
Further along the valley floor after crossing a small swing bridge, the dramatic peaks became closer. As they grew taller, the cul-de-sac setting felt nearer.
The Cirque du Fer A Cheval is one of the most famous Grand Sites of France. Protected since 1930, it’s no wonder why the landscapes resemble something from a Jurassic era.
Towards the half way mark of this 8km route, the path started to climb, giving fabulous views back down the valley. Overlooking the whole landscape, the views of the dramatic peaks, winding rivers and several waterfalls was spectacular.
For our return from the end of the valley, we followed a marker on a path on the opposite side of the river, still orange but merging towards a purple trail called the Giffrenant Loop. This followed a shady forest path back towards the parking area.
All in all we’d been out around 4 hours and returned to the van just in time before another storm brought torrential rain and lightening flashes.
Today was one of those days where rain dictated the events. We really wanted to see the Gorges de Tines, located between Sixt Fer A Cheval and Samoens, however, the rain just wouldn’t stop, so all we could do was wait it out.
By early afternoon there came a break in the wet stuff, so we took our chance.
Taking a walking route over a bridge to the Gorges but turning left instead for the longer route, rather than the short loop in the opposite direction.
The sight of a wire handrail initially filled me with dread, although the wet path winding up through the forest was a bit slippy with the mud, my nerves soon settled.
As the rain once again began to fall, we were at the point of no return, so upwards and onwards we went further into the forest. Then a metal staircase came to our aid, lowering us into a chasm of the gorge itself. This tall, narrow channeled out rock was quite amazing, even as the rain got heavier, it still looked amazing.
More metal railings and another set of steps helped us from clambering in the mud and rocks. By the time we arrived back at the campervan our bottom halves were soaked though and stretched down our bodies as if wound through a mangle.
All worth the effort though, before driving on through Cluses and to the resort of Saint Gervais.
From the Aire behind the ice rink at Saint Gervais, the blue skies of the following morning brought a welcome sight.
We thought we’d have a wonder around the town itself which proved so much nicer than we remembered from our last visit in the motorhome almost 12 years ago.
Surrounded by mountains the town itself was bustling with Alpine goodness. Plenty of local produce and outdoor gear shops seemed to be attracting lots of people in the process.
Deciding to venture away from the shopping streets, we found a route above the cable car station to take us up the mountain. Reaching higher and higher above the town, an ancient village soon crossed our paths.
Here tiny lanes mingled between rustic barns and traditional chalets, complete with free-range chickens, scraggy looking felines and plenty of old machinery stacked up under sagging roofs.
After a couple of hours, another path beckoned back down the mountain, this time following a shared mountain bike trail back to the campervan. What a lovely location and how much the area has grown since our last visit.
Instead of driving straight on to Chamonix, our curiosity sent us towards Les Contamines-Montjoie, a cul-de-sac location at the end of the valley from Saint Gervais.
This mountain resort was packed on our arrival. At the Parc de Loisirs there was ample parking for the van, where overnight parking wasn’t an issue and views brought an added appeal.
What a place this is! At the end of the town beyond our parking spot next to the Telecabine is the gorgeous nature reserve of Notre Dame de La Gorge. Not only does the Parc de Loisirs have every type of activity imaginable, from tree swings to a lake, incredible rock climbing and a beach, but it’s also home to a wealth of walking and mountain bike trails.
A river winds through the middle and beyond the park into the Notre Dame de La Gorge. Picnic areas and chapels lie side by side on this important hiking route, part of the Tour du Mont Blanc circuit.
When walking country is this good, we just had to set off and explore some trails.
Setting out from the Notre Dame de la Gorge, we chose the Tré La Tete route, marked 2 hours 30 minutes one way and leading us uphill along an old Roman road.
A gradual incline lead us steadily up the well formed paths. After about an hour we reached a natural stone bridge, a well as an old Roman bridge spanning the narrow waters of the Cascades de Combe Noire.
From here we soon emerged into picturesque Alpine meadows, filled with natural surroundings of wild flowers and stunning mountain scenery.
Now it was time to climb the mountain path, winding up to the refuge Tré a Tete along a steep but well marked path mostly through forest.
Stopping for a rest for some energy boosting nuts and a sip of water helped us on our way, eventually emerging from the trees into a clearing. Thank goodness! There ahead of us was the roof of the refuge, what a welcome sight that was.
Thankfully the airy panoramic mountain vista was well laid out with wooden tables and parasols to keep off the strong sun, even at this height the heat is on!
We’d never been more grateful for a place to rest. Not only that but with the most incredible views into the valley below and mountains surrounding us it was worth every ounce of effort.
After a couple of cafe au lait, a bowl of soup and a sandwich, we were re-vamped and ready to take an extra walk up to the Glacier de Tré de la Tete. Taking us about 20 minutes higher up the mountain, brought more brilliant views, this time towards the glacier itself.
Although the route was marked difficult with ice picks required, our detour in Summer was easy enough. Others were venturing higher and further beyond our own point of return, looking like ants crawling up the mountain side in the distance.
At 1970m high, a route from the refuge showed an alternative path back down to our start point. Gradually the winding route took us back down the relatively easy path, passing through forest and over streams until we eventually came out at the climb area in the Parc de Loisirs.
What a day, what a route, what a view! The legs had made it and heck it was worth it!
Leaving the Gorge behind we drove on back to Saint Gervais and over towards Chamonix, finding a mixed car park beside a small leisure lake in Les Houches to spend the night.
Watching the sun go down, glistening on Europes highest peaks, what a glorious end to the day it was. Overlooking the needle point peak of the Aigulle du Midi and Mont Blanc was spectacular.
Now all that was left was to wait for the dawn of a new day before heading into the eye of Mont Blanc – Chamonix. For now though, that would have to wait until tomorrow, time to say goodbye to another day amongst the snow top mountains of the French Alps in Summertime.