French Alps Mountain Splendours
Part 4 of our Summer trip through the glorious mountain splendours of the French Alps.
Leaving the meadows of the Cormet de Roseland mountain pass behind, soon our overnight stop was upon us. This time at the tiny hamlet of Les Chapieux.
Les Chapieux – French Alps Mountain Splendours
Approaching from the high mountain roads, gives the first glimpse of this glacial valley.
An empty river bed glides alongside the flat, grassy swathes of openness. In the distance motorhomes and tents are scattered along the fields in an orderly fashion.
We decide to join them. Incredibly, parking here is free and a sign indicates a 48-hour limit for those that choose to stay.
Les Chapieux is a beautiful location, surrounded by high mountains and dramatic scenery. Most importantly, it’s a hub for those serious hikers undertaking the long-distance Mont Blanc Tour.
We first came here about 15 years ago. Then, the sight of so many motorhomes in the middle of the mountains was something new to us.
Now of course, we know this is France! A country that thrives on the motorhome community.
So much so, that since our last visit in 2019, a brand new motorhome service point has been installed.
La Ville des Glaciers walk – French Alps Mountain Splendours
A storm was brewing and soon put paid to any outdoor dining. So we settled in at the busy field for the night, just in time for a thunder and lightening show. People quickly retreated to whatever shelter they could find, dripping wet from the rains.
The arrival of a new day didn’t stop the continuing storm. Finally though the sky cleared so the hikers were off on their way. Fully laden with huge backpacks for their continued long hike across the mountains.
For us, a shorter route would suffice. Swiftly choosing a 4-hour return option from one of the clearly marked walking maps displayed on information boards.
Today, we would walk the La Ville des Glaciers route. Starting from the parking area, leading us through the dramatic valley to the wonderful refuge at Les Mottets.
Shuttle bus – French Alps mountain splendour
In Summertime, there’s an information office open, along with a couple of restaurants and hostel-type accommodation.
The road leading towards the end of the valley is closed to general traffic during daytime hours. Instead, a shuttle bus takes hikers for a small fee, allowing them to be dropped off at locations along the way.
Of course, there’s also the option of a bus back if needed!
The whole route from our starting point at Les Chapieux is just beautiful. A gradual uphill path leads out between the mountains, rising above the stony scree of a river bed. It’s not long before the full glory of the glacier comes into view.
Shared with mountain bikes and several other hikers, this outdoor paradise doesn’t disappoint.
Even better, a refuge awaits at Les Mottets. Here, we are greeted by the smartest looking donkey we’ve ever seen.
Used as carry packs for those on the long treks across the mountains, like us humans, this donkey is here for food and rest.
French Alps refuge treats
We are sat outside, surrounded by mountains, the glacier towering behind us at the end of the valley. Idyllic is a good description.
Lemon cake and yoghurt with berries is our reward from the walk, providing a well earned energy boost. After our hunger pangs are fulfilled, we continue towards a bridge behind the refuge. Greedy, but cute pigs happily devour a bucket load of leftovers, too busy eating to notice us.
Cattle bells and Marmots
All the joys of the farm mingle around us as we continue on our way. From herds of mountain goats being rounded up by their mountain shepherd to curious cattle. Those bells ringing across the vastness of the valley.
The full circle of nature is before us, beginning with wildflowers in bloom which the mountain cattle graze on. Chickens roam freely, pecking on these raw meadows of the finest, greenest lands.
On these wild mountain slopes farmers produce cheese, direct from their mountain herds, for sale in rustic sheds, we can smell the goats and the cheese before we see them.
In the distance, Marmots call to one another, we glance across the rocky slopes, looking in earnest for any sign of the furry mammals.
Such screeching sounds of play direct us to a family busy teasing each other. Running swiftly between the huge boulders that time has left in place from long ago.
The mountains are alive
There’s no better example of fresh produce than here, using all that’s good from nature and the land, centuries old traditions work in such harsh environments.
Vegetable plots filled with seasonal produce is all part and parcel of mountain life. This time of year, those pristine crops are ripening in time for Autumn harvest. What a feast of vitamins they must reveal.
We can feel the true wealth of nutrients off these mountain slopes. Bursting out of every slice of Beaufort cheese, diced up over our spinach for lunch.
The mountains are alive and they make us feel alive. Seeing the way the shepherds scramble the mountain slopes, calling their herds of cattle and goats, just makes us appreciate the rawness of basic living.
Fine yet simple produce
The skills of those who work the land here and the wealth of natural produce they offer, is such a stark contrast to the land of commercialised shopping.
If we never saw another supermarket again, I think we could quite happily live off the fine, yet simple produce here in the mountains.
Before the afternoon turned into evening, we left the wild mountain life behind.
Next we drive down from the dizzy heights of Les Chapieux, back into the modern world and the busy, large town of Bourg St. Maurice.
A quick chores stop and “vannie” brigade
Our parking place for the night beside the monorail in Bourg St Maurice is somewhere we’d stayed before. It’s basically a large mixed parking area where motorhomes are allowed to park for free in Summer.
Chores beckoned though, meaning time to do the laundry at the excellent Laverie next to the Super U, as well as a shop at Lidl.
There’s nothing much to report other than it’s a handy place to park. Although a wealth of cycle routes and every other kind of activity are right on the doorstep.
Low and behold, we hadn’t long put on the handbrake though, when a group of six British vans pulled up opposite.
No sooner had they turned the engines off, after parking in a square like formation, than out came the awnings, tables, chairs, bikes and just about everything else that isn’t supposed to be out on display in a car park!
As the group disappeared off into town, leaving the “van camp” in situe, we hibernated over a glass of vin blanc.
Mountain villages call
We hadn’t quite known where we wanted to go from here. So in true unplanned style, a sign for a scenic village in the direction of Montchavin appeared just at the right time.
This attractive mountain village with a tourist office which had no queue – a rare sight – made way for a stop! After grabbing some well-written maps on the area, we had a stroll through the ancient centre.
Eventually, we came to a really pretty little church, historic in nature and one of those that seemed so welcoming and homely.
By the time we’d got back to the camper, it was really that part of the day when we needed a place to park up for the night.
Luckily, at the end of the road from Montchavin lies the glorious and restful village of Rosuel.
Not only is there a large parking area here, but also every outdoor activity imaginable. All under the gaze of high mountain peaks, a glacier and to top it all, a tall waterfall cascading down the rock face.
The flat plateau provides a playground in the open air. Our entertainment came from watching the adventure seekers cling to the high cliff faces of the via ferrata.
In the meantime, football pitches, BBQ areas, poney rides and of course walking routes galore were a few of the pastimes available.
After a run through the valley to check out the scenery, the cool air soon came in, bringing an end to our first evening in restful Rosuel.
An English conversation
Unusually, our neighbours at Rosuel parking area were John and Ingrid, who just happened to be British! Not only that but they were also Carthago owners, having an almost identical motorhome to our last van.
So, with that, we struck up a conversation over our outdoor cornflakes, before we knew it the morning had turned to lunch!
How nice it is though to speak in our native tongue for a change. After all, British are still a fairly rare breed on our travels, so sometimes it’s really good to speak to some like-minded travellers originating from the same shores.
Lac La Plagne walk
Quickly packing up our rucksack with a few supplies, our walking shoes were laced up and water supplies at the ready. Now time for an afternoon in the mountains.
We we’re heading on the 5-hour return hike up to Lac la Plagne. What a beautiful valley this is, starting at the refuge just beyond our parking space, the path soon took us up a steep section for the first half of the walk up.
Pausing on a wooden platform for views of the waterfall gave a rest from the upward path.
Further on, a stream of clear mountain water provided fishing opportunities for those fit enough to carry up their gear.
Wild flowers and the cries of playful Marmots brought the rocky valley alive. In the far distance, we could see the end of the valley, joining high mountain slopes, yet disguising the actual lake in its belly through mounds of craggy rock.
The lake appears
After a further gradual uphill walk our feet took us over the last hump of the undulating landscapes. Then the lake appeared, the blue glacier lake of Lac La Plagne in perfect formation, where paths meandered around it’s perimeter.
A perfect picnic spot beside the water provided us with food and rest whilst enjoying our spectacular surroundings. Just beyond was a refuge providing warming food, drink and a bed for the night. Today, walkers were enjoying the sunshine, relaxing outdoors with a glass of something cold.
Our return path, all down hill, took us via the same sections of path, giving a chance to enjoy the scenery in the opposite direction.
Back at the van, once again the cool air of the mountains set in, time to retreat for a restful night in this peaceful setting.
Our search for a motorhome service area leads us to the classy resort of Courcheval, where we end up spotting a rather exciting new launch vehicle – right next to our parking spot!