Meandering Through The French Alps
After meandering through the French Alps, our journey arrived in the Chamonix valley.
The sun is so strong and the heat intense. After taking an easy stroll around the small lake at Les Houches, we walked into the town itself to see what it had to offer.
It’s a strange kind of place, probably a bit of a poor relation to neighboring Chamonix at one stage. Now though, it seemed to be quite an exclusive kind of town.
It’s also the start of the multi-day hiking route of The Tour de Mont Blanc, attracting plenty of weary hikers in the process.
Chamonix calls – Meandering through the French Alps
Leaving a full parking area behind at Les Houches, Chamonix now called out.
We decided to bite the bullet and just pay for parking at the large mixed parking of Le Grépon, located just behind the famous Aigulle du Midi cable car or rather directly below it!
Walking into the centre brought a pleasant surprise. Chamonix has really come up in the world since we were here last, about 12 years ago.
Not only has it grown, but it’s also been developed into quite an appealing, tidy and even upmarket kind of resort. At least that’s the impression we got in the height of Summer.
At one time, it had a bit of a reputation as being nothing more than a type of 18-30 club paradise. Now it was more pavement cafe’s and coffee culture than cheap beer and hangovers.
New shopping areas and a wealth of outdoor shops, as well as traditional buildings actually come together to combine a rather luxury feel.
Aigulle du Midi – Meandering through the French Alps
Even the incredible cable car of the Aigulle du Midi terminal had received a major facelift. This is one of the huge tourist pulls of Chamonix. It’s concourse is now fully modernised, to compete with the title it holds as one of the highest cable car rides in the world.
If you’re wanting to venture up into the snowy peaks of the Aigulle du Midi, the cable car ride is absolutely incredible. We did it all those years ago, when the ticket booth was just a wooden chalet.
However, the ride was still the same – breathtaking in height, the sheer scale of the mountains around you and best of all – the summit views across the snowy plains and the magnificent Mont Blanc. I remember it cost a lot to do but we wouldn’t have missed it for the world.
This time, the cable car was booked up for the day. Computerized signs notified the public of the availability, whilst booking stalls took reservations for available time slots on other days.
Mont Blanc views – Meandering through the French Alps
On this crystal clear day, there’s nothing between the ridges of the mountain peaks and the sky. Towering high above Chamonix at 4810m, Mont Blanc is a giant in this valley, yet seems so gentle in the Summer heat.
Of course these mountains look serene from below but their icy, glacial crevices are for the more expert mountaineers. For us, we just marvel at their endeavours and enjoy the glory of these high ranges from the safety of the valley floor.
In the shimmering sunlight, the glacier was breathtaking. A tram ride from Chamonix takes you up towards another glacier. Because we’d done this on that visit all those years ago, we didn’t want to do a repeat on this trip, but again for those that haven’t been, it’s well worth the effort.
On returning to the campervan and paying the 3.90 Euro parking fee, we took the decision to move on along the valley. Argentière called, slightly further on from Chamonix where it’s own glacier clings to the mountains.
Argentière – Meandering through the French Alps
A free aire at the Les Grandes Montets cable car in Argentière is our base for the night. Here the sunsets on another day and darkness falls in the shadow of Mont Blanc before us. An almighty sight.
With so many walking routes direct form the Aire at Argentière, we couldn’t help but go off on foot again.
Following a path marked Balcon du Nord, located behind the ski Télécabine. Soon, we started an uphill route through the trees. Nothing in this part of the world is easy when it comes to walking!
It wasn’t long before we’d steadily hiked up another hillside where the town of Argentière below now looked tiny.
A walking detour
We were supposed to be walking a one-way, hour long route to Le Tour. However, when we reached the gorgeous hamlet of Le Planet, a detour sign warned of floods on our chosen path.
Not wanting to take a chance, despite the week-long scorching weather, instead we ventured into the picturesque meadows of Le Planet itself.
Here, the incredible Mont Blanc shone brightly in the strong sunlight. Casting the most breathtaking views ahead of us as we walked downhill at last, towards the rustic farm buildings.
Another downhill sign for Argentière brought us out in the old village, which was just beautiful and full of charm, before arriving safely back at the campervan.
Above us in the distance, the Argentière glacier, now a shadow of its former self has gradually retreated up the valley.
Off Road Adventure
Nigel had found a 4×4 track above the mountains from Les Contamines Montjoie. By early evening, we’d arrived back in the gorgeous valley to find the start of the off road route up the mountain.
After a few attempts at finding the right road, we finally got there. Lodged on a narrow lane behind a ski station, the gentle hill of tarmac soon brought us to the gravel track.
In actual fact, it was a combined ski slope, hiking, biking and 4×4 track. Leading high up over the mountains to the Col du Joly.
Feeling a little apprehensive as our tyres met the stone, yet excited for some opportunities to venture off road and away from the crowds below.
Reaching new heights
Up we went, winding, bending, grinding up the mountain. At this time of day, there were only a few stragglers still out walking, meaning we had the track virtually to ourselves.
Thankfully, we only came across a couple of other off-road pick-ups along the way, before taking a break on top of the first télécabine at La Gorge at 1480m.
What a lovely spot this is, a hive of activity based around a small lake used for bathing in Summer months.
Our ski trail continued up, up and again to the next télécabine at La Signal. By now we could see our destination above us. All thanks to the sparkling reflection of cars in the parking area at the top of the Col du Joly.
Almost at the top
This final leg was the simplest. Relatively straight, no steep sections, just a gradual incline to the top. Finally, passing lush alpine meadows either side of us where the familiar sound of cattle bells echoed around the slopes.
Mobile milking stations parked up in preparation for the farmer. Who would round up the cows before guiding them back to their alpine pastures.
As we reached the top, the views surrounding us became the main affair. Wow! What a place, what a view, what a relief to have got up here!
The Col du Joly
We weren’t the only ones to be spending the night in front of the mighty Mont Blanc. Several other small campervans had made the journey up on the tarmac pass from the Beaufort side. From our grassy patch overlooking Europe’s finest mountains we felt we could reach out and touch them.
Without a cloud in the sky, as our neighbours huddled around a campfire, Nigel and I watched the sun go down over a glass of Rosé. Some days are just perfect and this was one of them.
Up for sunrise
Last night we had the brilliant idea of setting the alarm clock to see the sunrise. After all, where better than an early morning wake up call to witness the dawn of a new day.
At 6am off went the beeps. Out of bed we jumped and we waited and waited and yes, you’ve guessed it…we waited!
I’m not quite sure what had gone wrong but by the time the sun appeared above Mont Blanc, we’d had two cups of tea! We’d also caught up on all the news back home and were ready for another walk.
However, all was not lost. As the sun was worth the wait, beaming up over Mont Blanc like the star of Bethlehem.
Walking to Mont Joly
As soon as it made an appearance, the heat was on, by now it was like an oven. By 9 o’clock we were following a walking trail up yet more ski slopes towards Mont Joly.
Everything here in the Alps looks deceptively close. It’s almost like a stone’s throw away, yet don’t be fooled because it’s actually quite the opposite. As we were about to be reminded!
We followed the ski slopes, meandering up the gravel roads and through Alpine paths towards a ridge. The only thing was, we hadn’t quite realised that it was going to be so narrow along the tiny tops of this very high mountain.
Not to be deterred after reaching the dizzy heights, we weren’t going to turn back now. So on we went. With the most incredible views in every direction. From the Mont Blanc range to tiny villages, towns, reservoirs and miles of ski slopes below us and yes, we trundled on.
Stopping for a few pictures along the ridge, without looking down too often. We managed to safely cross without too much trouble. The only problem being was that we emerged on top of the Tete du Veteray and not Mont Joly!
With the peak of Mont Joly still some way off along yet more narrow ridges, we called it a day.
Taking an alternative path down
Not fancying more head for heights stuff and ever mindful that we’d already been gone a couple of hours, we chose another marked route off the Tete du Veteray.
Back to the Col du Joly we trekked, on a ski slope track down the mountain side. This time the fairly steep downhill track took us passed grazing cattle and back to the Campervan with relative ease.
We’d been gone 4 hours, our feet were ready for rest and our mouths in need of a coffee.
Once we’d recovered, eaten and enjoyed the views we set off in the van. Down the tarmac mountain pass on the opposite side to where we’d come up from, this scenic narrow road took us back down the mountain.
Passing traditional hamlets of rustic wooden chalets and farms, we eventually arrived at the cheese making town of Beaufort.
Beaufort and the handy Aire
Thankfully the large Aire at Beaufort provided our resting place for the night. At 34C, the temperatures were high and the stormy forecast on the horizon meant a quick stroll into town before any wet stuff arrived.
The following morning was chores day. Who’s idea was it to go to the supermarket on a Monday? Well goodness me, finding both an outdoor laundry and a supermarket just outside Beaufort was easy enough, but it was jam packed in a chaotic sort of way.
Nonetheless, after a morning dodging people, navigating the perils of an over subscribed car park and managing to get all the laundry done, by lunchtime we were done ourselves!
Next, a visit to the dump followed by a rather surprise special little find. All to be revealed in my next blog piece!