Category: Summer

Summer in Châtel

Châtel lies in the vast Franco-Swiss Portes du Soleil ski & mountain-biking area. Proximity to Geneva international airport plus TGV rail stations, has transformed this once-remote border village. One of the best ski resorts near Geneva, summer in Châtel is a must-do destination for challenging downhill mountain-biking coupled with an authentic Alpine experience.

Take a summer holiday in Châtel, Portes du Soleil

We’re no strangers to the Portes du Soleil, having skied from Châtel, Les Gets, Morzine and Avoriaz, but we’re intrigued to see how everything looks and feels in summer. We get a foretaste when we pass through Abondance and La Chapelle d’Abondance, both of which look relaxed without the disturbance of ski season traffic.

It’s a similar story in Châtel, although all three villages are year-round working communities. This time rather than skis we’ve brought bikes, so after checking into our apartment accommodation at Les Chalets d’Angèle, a few minutes from the village centre, we check over our bikes before stowing them in the secure bike room.

Châtel village in summer

The full Châtel summer resort review offers lots more insight and inspiration. Find ideas for things to do, places to visit, plus our tips to make the most of your summer holiday in Châtel.

La Belle Dimanche Alpine Festival

Alpine cattle line up for judging at the belle Dimanche festival, Châtel
Alpine cattle lined up for judging at la Belle Dimanche festival held in September.

The next morning we head out early and drive over to the car parking area serving the Pré la Joux and Pierre Longue chair-lifts. Spaces are already fast being taken by those planning to head up the mountain for the ‘Belle Dimanche’. Celebrated for over 40 years, this is a colourful celebration of traditional mountain life held in August.

Alpine horns
Crowds gather to hear the Alpine horn players.

Originally centred on the judging of the livestock breeds which play a key role in the economy of mountain communities, the event now encompasses a food and craft producers’ market, music and folklore plus demonstrations of traditional crafts, including cheesemaking, wood turning and artisan iron working.

Local traditions and livestock

Abondance cow with bell
Abondance cattle
Shepherd with sheep
Sheep mingling with the crowds

At the sheltered plateau of Plaine Dranse we join the crowds moving among the stallholders’ displays and sampling an assortment of local produce. After a brief pause to hear some authentic Alpine horns we continue our tour, swerving momentarily around some slightly confused-looking sheep being herded through the crowds by a shepherd and his dogs.


We check out the Fantasticable zip-wire

After a quick look at the nearby Bike Park trail map showing green-, blue- and red-graded routes (along with some gnarly-looking black detours) down to Pré la Joux, we flee the crowds by riding the chairlift up to the Crête des Rochassons (1930m), the transition from Châtel’s terrain to that of Avoriaz. The onward views are dazzling.

The prominent ridge is also the launch-point for the Fantasticable, which fires zip-wire fans on two-stage flights of over 2.5km at heights of up to 240m while reaching speeds of around 80-100km/h. With lots of weekend riders it’s impressive, so we watch them for a while before heading off with the intention of walking back down to Plaine Dranse.

Cyclist looks at Trail Map, Châtel
Checking out the Trail Map at Plaine Dranse
Launching off on the Fantasticable, Châtel
Released and off on a high-speed flight on the Fantasticable

Downhill mountain biking: a steep learning curve

As it turns out, the most obvious route, a wide path shared by walkers and mountain-bikers, is steeper than it had looked, and strewn here and there with unstable scree. We’re about to get some timely insight. After a few minutes of being passed by experienced riders blasting their way down fearlessly it dawns on us that if we’d imagined tackling even tamer downhill trails here on our hybrid bikes then we were badly mistaken. That particular thought is reinforced during the chairlift ride back to the car when we glimpse groups of bikers tackling forest trails far below. We’ll put that one down to experience.

Mountain biker, Chatel, French Alps
Mountain biker descends from Plaine Dranse in Châtel, Portes du Soleil
Mountain bikers on forest trail, Châtel
Riding on the forest trails near Pré la Joux, Châtel

Skier on tree-lined piste, Châtel

Love to ski?

Read our Châtel ski resort review. Part of the fabulous Portes du Soleil ski area, we give you our unique insight on what it’s like to stay and ski in Châtel.

Walks and rides from Châtel

We ride a riverside trail over to Abondance

The Sentier des bords de Dranse is a 20km riverside trail down the valley from Châtel to Abondance. Equally accessible to walkers, it could be just the kind of terrain our hybrid bikes were built for. That lifts our spirits, so the very next day we ride down to join it and find out. Once on the trail we pass a few walkers, a lone runner and a couple of other bikers, but mostly it’s just us and the broad, shallow river.

When we’re level with La Chapelle d’Abondance we turn off for coffee and croissants at Le Fournil, whose range of fresh-baked breads and pâtisserie is mind-blowing. Below the village the broad valley narrows noticeably, with vibrant green pastures bounded by larch and pine forest. The track, though, remains relatively flat, until up ahead we glimpse the familiar Savoyard ‘onion’ spire of the historic Abbaye d’Abondance.

Cycle route along the banks of the Dranse river, Châtel
This cycle route from Châtel to Abondance is perfect for families.
Abbaye d'Abondance
The ‘onion’ spire of the Abbaye d’Abondance.

Along the way we pass a few walkers, a lone runner and a couple of other bikers, but mostly it’s just us, the river – more a broad, shallow stream, really – and a perfect summer day.

The bike-carrying shuttle bus

We emerge in the heart of the village of Abondance, looking picture-perfect with the extravagant summer floral displays that skiers never get the chance to see. It’s clear, though, that things are winding down for lunch and restaurant terraces are filling up. We’d planned a picnic so we pick up some cold drinks, a fresh baguette and a wedge of tasty local AOC Abondance cheese.

After an unhurried lunch with a view, we await the first of the afternoon’s shuttle buses. The driver hangs our bikes on purpose-built racks and we enjoy an effortless ride back up the valley to the market place in Châtel. It’s just a few minutes’ down to the Chalets d’Angèle, where we store the bikes, head up to our luxury apartment and enjoy a cool beer on the balcony.

Mountain pastures and trees, Collombey, Valais
Mountain pastures at Collombey, Valais.


Walking the cross-border trails above Châtel

Next morning the bikes remain in their store, the idea being to find out how summer walkers benefit from the lifts which remain open. The Portes du Soleil are huge, and we know from experience that getting around takes time, even for winter skiers, so we’re surprised by just how much distance we manage to cover on foot. Unlike mountain-bikers, we can begin in the heart of village by riding the Super-Châtel gondola up to the Franco-Swiss border. At the top we follow a trail signed to the peaceful Lac de Conche, beyond which the trail winds its way through silent forestry plantations, with occasional glimpses of surrounding peaks.

The sense of remoteness from everything except nature intensifies when we make out the town of Montreux on the shores of Lac Léman through the heat-haze. Finding the Chalet Neuf mountain restaurant mysteriously closed, we make the final climb to the Portes de Culet. The views from the 1788m pass are truly magnificent but we look in vain for a potential picnic spot offering shade from the heat of the midday sun, so end up retracing our steps back to the cool of the forest. Most of the return walk to Super-Châtel amounts to little more than a gentle downhill stroll, and the blissful near-silence remains with us almost until we reach the gondola lift.

Abondance cattle graze the Barbossine Valley, Châtel
Abondance cattle graze in the Barbossine Valley

The Barbossine Valley

Chalet d'Alpage Barbossine mountain dairy and restaurant.
Lunch at the Chalet d’Alapge Barbossine

If you fancy tackling something on foot with an interesting lunch stop, head for the Barbossine Valley. Taking the cable car then chairlift to Morclan, follow the signposted footpath that will lead you to a descent through Alpine pastures with fabulous views. There’s a great lunch stop at a traditional dairy farm, after which, there’s an easy walk back to Châtel through the forest.

People at the foot of the Cascade des Brochaux
The cooling torrents of the Cascade des Brochaux.

Cascade des Brochaux

The next day we go considerably further, following a well-conceived succession of chair-lifts, starting from Pré la Joux. At Plaine Dranse we take the Rochassons six-seater up to the Crête des Rochassons (1923m), for a ride down to Les Lindarets on the bi-directional Chaux Fleurie, another six-seater. Finally, after riding the Linderets four-seater up to the Crête d’Avoriaz (1874m), where the ski village looms a short distance ahead of us.

From Avoriaz, we turn left to follow a footpath which takes us on a winding route down to the Cascade des Brochaux, a spectacular reward for almost an hour’s ramble.

Beyond the falls we follow another wayward path, this time following the stream from the falls through woodland and down the valley to Les Brochaux, where we break for lunch beneath a parasol on the terrace of l’Abricotine mountain restaurant.

Pointe des Moissettes

View from the Pointe des Moissettes

Having come this far, we can’t resist taking one of our favourite chairlifts all the way to the Pointe des Moissettes (2277m). Summer or winter, it’s an epic haul and the panoramic views from the Pointe des Moissettes are pretty spectacular.

How do you follow that? The following day we find out, by driving across the Swiss border above Châtel, heading round to Champéry, and taking the vertiginous cable-car up to the 1936m Croix-de-Culet and looking back across the valley towards the Pointe des Moissettes.

Châtel village in summer

The full Châtel summer resort review offers lots more insight and inspiration. Find ideas for things to do, places to visit, plus our tips to make the most of your summer holiday in Châtel.

Where to stay

We stayed in a 2-bed apartment sleeping 4-6 people costing from £789 per week (summer 2020). Prices per accommodation (not per person) including standard midweek ferry crossing with P&O from Dover to Calais, self catering.

More information, special offers and booking:
Peak Retreats
023 9283 9310(UK)

Lac du Chevril, Haute Tarentaise

The Réserve Naturelle de la Sassière

If you’re in the Haute Tarentaise in summer, perhaps based in Saint-Foy Tarentaise, Tignes  or Val d’Isère, you’ll have access to a network of  footpaths whose well-signed routes will take you away from the man-made landscapes of the resorts and into some truly magnificent mountain scenery. In these wild places there’s a strong possibility that along the way you’ll see wildlife, and in the height of summer there are spectacular displays of wild flowers.

Footpath to the Lac de la Sassiere, Haute Tarentaise

Footpath to the Lac de la Sassiere, Haute Tarentaise

La Sassière lake lies at the head of a wide valley which is a popular destination for walkers who can reach it easily on foot via the main path (about 40 minutes walk) from the car park. However, there’s a more interesting higher footpath with much better views making a more satisfying circular route (allow 2 hours). From the lake, there’s a possibility of continuing on a footpath to the foot of the glacier. Protected as a natural reserve, the valley is an area being used to study the Marmotte – in summer you will almost certainly have sightings of these creatures or hear their calls.

Lac de la Sassiere, Haute Tarentaise

Lac de la Sassiere, Haute Tarentaise

To reach the start of the valley, turn left off the D902 just after Tignes on a road signed to Le Franchet and La Sassière. It’s a long climb with splendid views back to Tignes. Eventually you reach the Barrage de Saut where there’s ample parking. To follow the upper path, ascend to the right above the barrage (you’ll need good walking boots and plenty to drink). This footpath is narrow and often rocky, with some steep sections.  If this sounds difficult, follow the main path – an easy walk suitable for all ages though the track steepens towards the lake.



Wide view of shallow valley with mountain stream beside footpath.

5 great reasons to spend your summer holiday in the mountains

Summer holidays in the French Alps are becoming really popular. There are lots of activities, wonderful accommodation at a reasonable price and a really friendly welcome, not to mention the amazing scenery. Nowadays, everyone can get to the top of the mountains via key lifts, open specially for walkers and cyclists to access the best trails and viewpoints.

1. Get active…

Instead of lazing on a crowded beach, discover lots of fun activities for the whole family to enjoy (and they’re free).

Le Lac de Tignes, canoes

Tignes is a great place to go if you love trying different activities. The SPORTIGNES card, free from your accommodation provider, gives you access to a huge variety of sports and activities, including tennis, trampolines, water jumps, archery, beach volley etc. You also get two entries to the Lagon swimming pool, one entry to the mini-golf, one to the multimedia centre plus free use of chairlifts for walkers. There’s also a weekly programme of events with music, contests and demonstrations.

Even if you’re not sporty, there’s plenty to see around the lake, not least a gentle stroll around the circumference, with picnic areas and restaurants along the way. Oh, and a renowned golf course.

2. Pull on your boots and go for a real walk…

There are well-signed trails for all abilities, including long-distance routes for experienced walkers (with mountain refuges for overnight stops).

Beaufortain, mountain view Areches The Beaufortain walking tour would delight anyone who adores Savoyard picture-postcard chalets and lush Alpine pastures, turquoise blue lakes, flower-filled meadows and herds of cows, bells-a-tinkling… a timeless image of the Alps. Join a guided tour with an experienced leader for an unforgettable Alpine holiday.

3. Let the train (and the tram) take the strain…

It’s easy to travel to the Alps by train from the UK, but the Tramway du Mont Blanc will take you to the top of the mountain too.

Tramway Mont BlancIn summer the world-famous mountain tramway remains as sensational as when it opened in 1913, and climbs all the way to the Nid d’Aigle (2380m), an epic journey of around 1hr 15min. There are two main departure points – Le Fayet and Saint-Gervais, with six stops en route, enabling walkers to follow varied signed itineraries.

4. Fnd out what a mountain bike is really for…

There are testing downhill trails where you can seek white-knuckle thrills in most Alpine resorts, with chairlifts specially adapted to take you and your bike to the summit. Those of a gentler disposition can enjoy cycling in stunning scenery around Les Saisies in the Val d’Arly where a bike-carrying bus service transports you back to the village.

Mountain-biking, Les Saisies, Val d'Arly

5. Discover real Grand Touring…

The scenic Route des Grandes Alpes runs for 684km from Lac Léman to the Mediterranean – an amazing Alpine experience, including many of the classic climbs and descents made world-famous by the Tour de France.

Lac de Roselend, Beaufortain

The Route des Alpes, as it was originally known, was conceived by the Touring Club de France in 1911, and during the 1920s soon became one of Europe’s most celebrated touring itineraries. The Route was finally completed in July 1937, with the opening of the 2770m Col de l’Iséran, the highest pass in Europe. Col de l’Iséran isn’t opened until early June and many Cols will close after the first snowfalls in October so plan your journey accordingly.

High veiw of cattle grazing above mountain valley at Chatel

Summer Walk – Alpage de Barbossine, Châtel

Châtel lies at the end of a long and rather beautiful valley. Viewed from above, the village forms a pleasing splatter of chalets surrounded by pasture and forested slopes, rising to the craggy peaks of the Portes du Soleil mountain area. Rubbing shoulders with the Swiss border, Châtel is one of 12 villages, both French and Swiss, which make up this huge area, where winter and summer holiday adventures are made a reality by an extensive network of tracks, trails and lifts.

Low view of footpath sings and walker on path above Chatel

The trail begins beside the Morclan chairlift top station

To make the most of a visit here it’s essential to talk to your hosts or visit the Tourist Information Office for ideas. During our own week-long stay we wanted a get-away-from-it-all walk, and to sample some local produce, so we asked the Tourist Office team what they would recommend. That’s how we found ourselves standing at the head of the glorious Barbossine Valley taking in the breathtaking views. Far below us we could just make out our destination  – the Chalet de Barbossine, where we were assured we would find a great lunch made with AOC Abondance cheese.

High veiw of cattle grazing above mountain valley at Chatel

In winter the Barbossine valley becomes a black ski piste

We’d started the day by taking the Super Châtel lift, then the onward chairlift to Le Morclan at 1970m. If you have a Portes du Soleil Multi Pass (free if you’re staying for two nights or more with a participating accommodation provider) all the lifts are free. From the Morclan top station we found the footpath sign to Barbossine and followed the ridge, while enjoying some amazing views. At the Col de Folière we followed a footpath sign to ‘Chalets de Barbossine’ and found ourselves at the head of a deep valley.

View of walker on mountain footpath in Summer above Chatel

The path zig-zags down the initial steep section

It was pretty obvious that the descent we were about to undertake wasn’t exactly going to be a gentle stroll. A challenging black ski run in the winter, the path zig-zags to ease the downward route through steep mountain pasture. We had company – the herd of Abondance cows, who were clearly much too busy grazing to bother us, and who didn’t seem to mind the slope at all. We, on the other hand, were glad when the terrain finally flattened out a bit, and we could take in more of the scenery. By this time we could clearly make out the individual farm buildings below and were hungrily anticipating our lunch.

View of chalet restaurant with with mountains above Chatel

The chalet enjoys a spectacular location

The Chalet de Barbossine is only open during the summer (in winter the cows are housed in the valley and the farmers’ summer quarters are closed up). In good weather you can sit outside beneath parasols at picnic tables, although there is indoor seating. The proximity of the cowshed and the handful of fragrant cows occupying it is surprising at first but we soon get over it, it’s not long before we have our food and anyway we’re happy just to be here. As well as running the café, the farmers also make the Abondance cheese, as we see when the farmer goes into the ‘cave’ to replenish the kitchen. You can read more about this tasty regional cheese in our feature Alpine Regional Cheeses on the website.

Wide view of walkers on mountain footpath among summer pastures

The lower section is a gentle stroll

Appetites satisfied we leave the Chalet and rejoin the path, now a proper farm track, and making a gentle descent through meadows and trees. It’s a pleasant hour’s walk through the forest on a hot summer’s day. We eventually begin to hear traffic and glimpse chalets as we emerge at Super Châtel. We then join a footpath, signed back to Châtel, which as it turned out was quite cut away by a rocky stream and very steep. Our advice would be to avoid this and follow the road – if you’re lucky you could even catch a passing shuttle bus.

Wide view of cycle and footpath with mountains and village of La Chapelle d'Abondance in distance

Sentier des bords de Dranse, Châtel

We’re no strangers to the Portes du Soleil, having skied from Châtel, Les Gets, Morzine and Avoriaz. All the same, we’re intrigued to see how everything looks and feels in summer.  Our apartment accommodation at CGH Les Chalets d’Angèle in Châtel holds happy memories and overlooks the Dranse valley. It’s just a short ride downhill from there to join the Sentier des Bords de Dranse, meaning Dranse riverside trail.

Bike route and footpath sign between Chatel and Abondance, French Alps

Bike route and footpath signage shows both times and distances

Cycling les Bordes de Dranse

The Sentier des Bords de Dranse is a 20km trail which follows the course of the river down the valley to Abondance. Equally accessible to walkers, it’s an easy trail and the perfect way to get right back to nature with the minimum of effort – just the kind of thing our hybrids – ‘VTCs’ – were built for. The initial quick run down through a tract of forest is about as steep as it’s likely to get, and we’re soon onto a near-flat path with the river dancing and flashing on our left.

Bike rider beside cycle route and footpath with river

The cycle trail runs alongside the river Dranse.

Coffee & croissants

On our right is a now-grassy expanse which we’d previously crossed in glacial temperatures behind a team of sled-dogs. Today, though, we’re glad of some tree shade as we roll with little effort and in near-silence beneath a cloudless sky. The relaxed run continues, with a few photo stops, until we’re level with La Chapelle d’Abondance, where we turn off, stand on our pedals and power our way up to the village in search of an unhurried coffee and croissant break.

We don’t have to go too far to find just what we’re looking for: Le Fournil. The service is friendly and the range of fresh-baked breads and pâtisserie mind-blowing. One coffee and pastry later and we reluctantly leave the shady outside table and hop on our bikes to get back on the trail.

Wide view of cycle and footpath with mountains and village of La Chapelle d'Abondance in distance

The riverside trail passes the village of La Chapelle d’Abondance

The only way is down. And then…

We’re around the halfway point along the route (altitude 970m), so after rejoining the path back at the riverbank we resume our leisurely, slightly downhill run towards Abondance. Along the way we pass a few walkers, a lone runner and a couple of other bikers, but mostly it’s just us, the river – more a broad, shallow stream, really – and a perfect summer day. We’re still in the mountains, though, and to prove the point we eventually round a bend, part company with the Dranse and meet a short, steep climb which defeats even our lowest gears. After a quick push we’re on the flat again, re-mounting and gazing around us at a changing landscape.

Distant view of the Abbaye d'Abondance and mountainside, French Alps

The onion spire of the abbey church in Abondance

Alpine cheese, and an onion spire

By now the once-broad valley has narrowed and the surrounding peaks feel as if they’re closing in. Everything is vibrant green, however, and spread across their billowing contours are fertile Alpine pastures bounded by dense tracts of larch and pine forest. The track, though, remains relatively flat, and ahead of us we glimpse the familiar Savoyard ‘onion’ spire of the Abbaye d’Abondance, founded in the early 12th century. The track passes farm buildings, a few chalets and the local garage before emerging in the heart of the village. It’s an attractive spot, but is already starting to wind-down for midday, so we pick up some local AOC Abondance cheese, a fresh baguette and cold drinks.

Summer view of cyclist and walker on track near Abondance, French Alps

The final stretch of the Sentier des Bords de Dranse near Abondance

Abondance: a cheese-lover’s paradise

Things move at a relaxed pace, as summer visitors ahead of us get the full cheese dégustation experience, but once we’re provisioned it’s time to look for a picnic bench. Experience has taught us that a shady one can be a big ask in the mountains, so we try riding up to the nearby Esserts gondola ski-lift, currently in summer hibernation, which might just offer some welcome shade. It’s a pleasant but ultimately fruitless detour, so we decide to head back to a bench we’d spotted beside the track which brought us here from Châtel. Again there’s no shade, but it’s vacant and a great spot in which to reflect on the trip.

We’ve covered some distance, the easy way

The Sentier des bords de Dranse probably won’t suit most of the riders who come here for a white-knuckle challenge. Instead it offers the perfect way to ease into the most natural of surroundings, with plenty of time and distance to enjoy them. Getting back to Châtel is undemanding, too, with the option of a shuttle bus return ride if time is tight or weather conditions suddenly deteriorate. We’d do it all over again in a heartbeat.

Walkers at Le Monal, Sainte Foy Tarentaise

Summer Walk: Sainte-Foy Tarentaise to Le Monal.

This worthwhile walk begins at an altitude of 1550m in the ski village of Sainte Foy Tarentaise (above), which has a generous  visitor parking area which is signed as you enter the village. Clearly visible in the distance is the neighbouring ski village of La Rosière. The departure point for the start of the walk is indicated not far above the parking area by a rustic painted sign.

MP-Saint-Foy-Tarentaise-28558The initial gradient is quite steep but soon settles into a more or less steady climb through pine and larch forest, with occasional glimpses of the mountains – the ski areas of Villaroger and Les Arcs lie just across the valley. So far there’s plenty of shade to keep things pleasantly cool on a sunny day, and you’ll have the sound of birdsong for company.

Keep going eventually after a few steeper zigzags the path leaves the forest beside a much smaller unsurfaced parking area. This can be reached by car by following the road through St Foy and turning right above the main ski village onto a winding mountain track, although there’s no guarantee of finding a vacant parking space at the top – and of course by doing it this way you’ll miss the magical, near-silent world of the lower forest section.


From here things open up and the path broadens into a track cut into the mountainside. For now the dense forest still hides the views, but bursts of wildflowers hint at what might lie ahead.

Sure enough, before long the gradient eases, levels off and then begins a gentle descent. Visible in the distance are the rooftops  of a tiny hamlet set among mountain pastures, although what really focuses the attention are the long-anticipated views which have suddenly opened up across the Haute Tarentaise valley.

MP-Le Monal-28562

Ahead, tucked away out of sight in a valley below a hydro-electric barrage is the village of Les Brevières and beyond it the world-famous ski area of the Espace Killy, shared between Tignes and Val d’Isère. For walkers it’s a rich reward for the climb from Saint Foy, and at the approach to the hamlet is another, in the form of an opportunity to fill a water bottle from a refreshingly cool mountain spring signed as ‘eau potable‘.


The hamlet looks and feels in every respect like an idyllic spot far removed from worldly concerns, but in winter the sense of remoteness is heightened, to the point where getting here after heavy snowfalls means making a rather longer trudge up from the ski village in snowshoes. We know exactly how much more physically demanding that can be, because we’ve done it ourselves – but there again the sense of achievement is correspondingly greater.

Beyond the hamlet the track continues its gentle descent and briefly enters a wooded area. After curving to cross a fast-moving stream strewn with boulders. In fact, this is more than no mere stream but turns out to be the Ruisseau du Clou river, which now flows alongside the path for a while, before making a steep descent into the valley far below.

Wide view of shallow valley with mountain stream beside footpath.

Once across the river the track enters a sheltered valley setting, with more coniferous plantations beyond pastures which are ablaze with wildflowers during our mid-July visit.

Visitors walking towards the village, showing the beauty of the mountain landscape.

A few minutes later, after a couple of lazy, sweeping arcs, the track passes between rows of upturned stones and passes a tiny limewashed chapel set beside a huge boulder. Visible behind it are two huddles of stone chalets roofed, as is the local tradition, with flat riverbed stones known as ‘lauze’. Welcome to Le Monal.

Tiny chapel, with chalets behind, in a sheltered clearing with trees and mountainsides.

Even in summer there’s a refreshing sense of remoteness here, a quality which means that things shut down completely soon after the first snowfalls of winter begin to make things impractical for habitation. For now, though, it’s a magical and privileged location.

Cottage garden with chalte and snow-capped mountains

That thought is not lost on the fortunate chalet owners, who manage to pack a lot into the brief summer period, including some cheerful cottage-style gardens and productive vegetable beds. While you’re here you can picnic or enjoy a drink or meal in a choice of two cafes, while resting your feet for the return trek and taking in the dazzling scenery.

Exterior of chalet-style cafe, showing larch roof timbers and restored stonework.

As you’ll discover if you decide to follow this path, the route itself is every bit as enjoyable as the destination, and serves up a succession of varied landscapes destined to change forever the perceptions of anyone who has yet to fall in love with the mountains in summer.

Return walk, showing track, river and conifer forests.

A final bonus is the sight of Sainte-Foy Tarentaise as most skiers will never have seen it, resplendent in summer mode. It’s the kind of revelation which draws us back to places we’ve come to love as skiers, and which have inspired a desire to discover the mellower side of their dual personalities. We’ve yet to be disappointed.

Stone chalets in the heart of the ski village, with summer flower displays and a mountain backdrop.

Walker with dog in snow. Photo Daniel Frank

5 Practical Tips for Taking Your Dog Hill and Mountain Walking

The French Alps offer many grand adventures for those that seek them out, including skiing, as well as activities like dog-sledding, and mountain walking. But people aren’t the only ones that can experience the beauty of the Alps. As a pet owner, you know there’s nothing better than enjoying one of your favourite pastimes with your best friend, Fido. For advice that will make your first (or next) outing together stress-free, check out these practical tips for taking your dog hill and mountain walking.

Woman snowshoeing in snow with dog. Photo Bonnie Kittle

Is Your Dog Ready?

If this is the first time you’ve taken your dog mountain walking, start with a short, easy trail that’s appropriate for his size and stamina. Remember, Fido doesn’t have shoes to protect his paws, so choose terrain that’s not too harsh, preferably with dirt versus rock paths. It’s also important to ensure your dog knows and responds to all commands appropriately. You don’t want to find yourself in a situation where you need him to listen, but he’s busy smelling the flowers instead.

Women walking on a mountain trail with dog. Photo Holly Mandarich

Beware of Other People and Animals

One of the main reasons to make sure Fido responds to commands is that you may run into other people, pets, or wild animals on the trail. If your dog chases anything that runs away from him, you’ll want to keep him leashed for his safety and yours. You may also wish to consider researching the local plants in the area so you and Fido will know what to avoid.

Avoid Excessive Cold or Heat

With a thick layer of fur to protect them, many people don’t think dogs experience cold as we do. That’s not always the case. Smaller breeds can get cold easily, so if you’re taking a tiny Fido along with you, check the weather forecast and “dress” him appropriately. The same applies in cases of excessive heat. Do your research in advance and choose a trail with plenty of shade for your dog to rest out of direct sunlight.

Dog wearing coat in snow, on lead. Photo by William Moreland

Pack a Bag for Your Dog

You likely already have a few things in mind to pack for your dog’s adventure outdoors, including a collapsible water bowl, first aid kit, lead, insect repellent, paw balm for his pads, and waste disposal bags. You might even want to consider purchasing a pack for your dog to carry since you’ll have your own to manage. If you do, take your dog along shopping so he can try on different options and you can make sure the final choice is a good fit. You’ll want to train him to wear the pack without argument, so let him sport it around the house and on short walks to get used to the idea.

Doggy ID

Probably the most important thing you can do to protect your dog on your mountain walking adventures is to have him micro-chipped. It’s also best to ensure he’s wearing proper identification on his collar and a GPS tracker. The last thing you want is to lose Fido in the Alps. That certainly would not be a good ending to a grand adventure with man’s best friend.

Roger Moss with mountain bike in front of Tunnel du Parpaillon

Riding The Lost Alpine Route by Mountain Bike

Not far south of Briançon lies the beautiful Vallée de l’Ubaye, accessed today via the 2109m Col de Vars, a classic climb in the Tour de France. However, further along the mountain ridge lies an earlier, much higher pass created by the military to service the garrisons of French troops which for centuries defended the valley against attacks from neighbouring Italy. Long since abandoned, the lost Alpine route scaled the wild, rugged Massif du Parpaillon and still appears on larger-scale maps. Was it, I wondered, still possible to follow the Route du Parpaillon from end to end? Attempting it on a mountain bike seemed like the ideal way to find out.

Mountain track between stone chalets, with steep-sided valley in Massif du Parpaillon, French Alps

The final stretch of tarmac, above Sainte-Anne-la-Condamine.

The route begins as a gravel track among lush wildflower meadows high above the village of La Condamine-Châtelard at the eastern end of the valley, and soon enters dense, echoing forest. An uphill slog on this wooded section brings me to the Pont du Bérard, beside a craggy cascade, followed by a steep hairpin climb. It doesn’t ease until I finally emerge from the forest to confront Buvette Grill le Petit Clausis – a cheerful cabin-style refreshment bar for walkers following the GR 6 footpath. Resisting its temptations, I press on over a rugged stone and timber bridge spanning the Ruisseau du Parpaillon, a mere stream until the winter snows melt.

Slate tablet beside mountain stream in Massif du Parpaillon, French Alps

Key information for travellers in an idyllic, sheltered spot on the route.

Now things really open out, the rough track ahead laid out like a dull grey ribbon following the contours of the steep valley sides, and there’s an surreal feeling amid a landscape of dull, bleached-out shale showing through grass struggling to thrive beneath the burning summer sun. The relentless climb makes progress painfully slow, but the scenery becomes ever more startling, with few clues as to the route’s former importance.

Wide view of unsurfaced mountain track with hairpin bends above steep-sided valley

The hairpin climb to the tunnel – from now on things get even rockier.

Higher still the route tightens into a seemingly endless hairpin ascent, repeatedly crossing and re-crossing a deep gully gouged by torrents of rain and melt-water. Spanning it are primitive timber bridges with gaping holes and sagging, time-worn timbers; in these exposed conditions nothing has an easy life. I press on, though, and eventually rounding the final bend of the climb, to glimpse the legendary Tunnel du Parpaillon, looking insignificant amid the vastness of the surrounding landscape. My final burst of energy produces a stirring round of applause from a large group of Italian hikers.

Old timber bridge with mountains and valley in background

An air of abandonment adds to the sense of remoteness.

After the tough climb I dismount thankfully and begin to take in the incredible surroundings. The tunnel entrance records its constructors and the altitude: 2643m (almost 9,000ft) almost certainly makes this Europe’s very highest road tunnel. Looming above it, the Col du Parpaillon sits on highly unstable terrain, and keeping the pass open during winter proved impossible, so the tunnel was bored through the rock 60m or so below the ridge and opened in 1901.

Rocky mountain track leading to tunnel, below the Col du Parpaillon

A first glimpse of the tunnel, below the Col du Parpaillon.

Beyond a pair of huge steel doors lies total darkness, with an eerie sound of water dripping from the rocks of the tunnel roof, but I’m determined not to turn back, so don a thermal fleece from my back-pack, along with an LED head-light, then climb back on the bike and select a low gear. After launching off into the tunnel I ride at a steady pace, to keep moving through the deep pools of water I can barely see and to aid stability if and when I hit the expected sheet ice.

View into interior of unlit stone tunnel du Parpaillon

A few metres in it’s total darkness, with glacial temperatures.

The cold inside is intense and the darkness becomes total, and since the tunnel curves throughout its 468m length, the exit is hidden until you’re some way in. Eventually, though, I focus upon a  tiny white dot, block out thoughts of what might be hanging in the darkness overhead and manage to keep moving when I hit patches of ice.

Wide view of mountain track with warning road sign and deep valley in background

The northern descent from the tunnel is much gentler.

I finally reach the warm sunshine with a sense of elation and personal achievement. A young Italian cyclist and his girlfriend, looking doubtful, ask me if its safe to ride through, but decide against it. For me, though, it’s all behind me, and I focus instead on the beauty of the very different landscapes which are now unfolding ahead.

Summer colours in valley at foot of the the Route du Parpaillon, on the approach to Crevoux.

The softer side of the Route du Parpaillon in summer, just above the village of Crevoux.

Now it’s all downhill on a stony, unsurfaced track swirling between mountain pastures filled with Alpine wildflowers. Things are much softer on this side of the mountain, the picture-postcard mountain imagery adding a whole new dimension to an epic journey. Eventually, I cross a fast-flowing stream, pass a few rugged stone cabins and enter silent conifer forest. Minutes later the gravel gives way to tarmac before crossing the Torrent de Crévoux above a broad valley above the authentic-looking hamlet of La Chalp. After a streamside descent to the village of Crévoux I pause beside a faded plaque recording the completion in 1891 of a major section of the Route Militaire du Parpaillon by the 6th Group Alpin. Their great adventure made it possible to undertake mine.

Wide view of group of walkers looking at mountain scenery

Italian walkers take in the startling scenery below the Col du Parpaillon.


A day in the life of a wolf

MountainPassions teams up with multi-activity specialists Undiscovered Mountains to bring you this extraordinary account of tracking wolves in the Southern French Alps.

European Grey Wolves are present in the Southern Alps

European Grey Wolves are present in the Southern Alps and are a protected species

We awake early and set off in search of wolf activity, in a wild, mountainous and little-visited corner of the French Alps. My husband, Bernard Guillaume, is the expert – he’s a high mountain guide and wolf enthusiast, and we’re tracking wolves with clients on wolf tracking trips with Undiscovered Mountains. Under no illusions or expectations that we will find anything at all, we’re nevertheless rewarded almost straight away by the discovery of fresh tracks. Two tracks, one slightly smaller than the other, in the classic straight-line formation, suggest this is a wolf, rather than a dog; Bernard confirms it is probably a father and his son, who are known to patrol this territory.

We follow the tracks up a wide forest track – the wolves have chosen to follow the path of least resistance. The tracks are steady and regular… it seems they are strolling, not running. Are they walking on full bellies and gradually digesting,  patrolling their territory as part of a regular control, or are they searching quietly for prey?  The tracks continue upwards, and we come across a fresh dropping. It looks like a large dog poo but full of hair, and as Bernard pokes it open, we discover bits of bone too. Just next to it is a smaller poo of similar consistency but with the addition of berries, giving it a slightly red colour, “This is a fox poo..” explains Bernard, “they often follow the wolves in the hope of scavenging their prey, and leave their mark as they go.”  Further up the wolves defecate again, but this time the fox has not followed suit – perhaps distracted by something else along the way.

As we arrive in a small sheltered clearing, the tracks change their rhythm and we see shorter paces, skids and slides, and then large areas of rolled-out snow. What’s going on here? Were they playing, maybe chasing after an animal that has crossed their path? We see no other tracks to suggest the second explanation and it’s a perfect spot to chill out, so maybe they did just that – a bit of messing around before an afternoon nap. We do the same, and eat our lunch where the wolves had considerately flattened the snow for us.

Wolf prints

Wolf Prints

After lunch we pick up the tracks again and follow them. They continue up and up, still following the path of least resistance and keeping the same rhythm. Then, for no apparent reason, the tracks separate. One goes off left down the side of the mountain, while the other continues along a forest trail. Bernard explains that they are probably separating to hunt. We follow the wolf on the forest trail. He’s briefly distracted, and goes towards the edge of the trail before his partner rejoins him – obviously there was nothing very interesting down there!

But they’re not giving up yet, and shortly afterwards they split again. Then suddenly our wolf does a huge jump, and we can see the skid of his landing as he sprints off down the mountainside. We quickly understand why. Just ahead we see the tracks of a chamois crossing the path, obviously unaware of the approaching predator just behind him. It’s now too steep to attempt to follow the pursuit, but Bernard has a look with his binoculars in search of blood or other signs in the snow. He finds nothing. We continue along our forest trail, and after a while the wolves come back. Did they catch the chamois or did it escape? They’re back in their patrolling stride, making it easy to follow them while picturing the father and son bonding as they walk.

We stop for a drink, and Bernard spots a chamois opposite us on the other side of the mountain. It’s limping, as if injured. Is this the fated chamois the wolves attacked? Did it escape with a broken leg – or is this an old injury from some other event? We’ll never know the answer, but we understand perfectly how tough the reality of life is for animals in this wilderness.

The wolves decide to take a short cut up the mountainside but it’s too late for us to follow them. “They are almost certainly going up to the col..”, says Bernard. “It’s a well known passage for animals to pass through.” We take a short-cut back down, off-trail in the woods and mountainsides. It’s great fun and half way down Bernard stops and suggests we howl. “There’s a good chance that the wolves have gone round to the other side of the mountains from the col. If we howl, they may respond.” We howl and hear it echo and rebound off the mountain sides. Then we wait in silence: nothing. So we carry on.

Guide Bernard Guillaume howling

Guide Bernard Guillaume howling

I drop back briefly and let the others go off in front. The mountains are silent around me, and then I hear it – the faint but unmistakable echo of a howl. I stop and listen, focusing intensely on the sound. At first I don’t believe myself; surely it can’t be the wolves replying to us? But if it is I must get to the others quickly, to see if they heard it, too. I run, and of course all the noise of my running cuts out any other sound. I arrive breathless, assuming they have heard it. But they haven’t, so we stop and listen again.  I suddenly feel very stupid – maybe it was my imagination getting carried away?

And then I hear it again, this time stronger. In fact, we  all hear it, and exchange awestruck looks. We listen and then Bernard howls again. When we stop and listen again it’s definitely the wolves, and there are many voices in the pack – certainly more than two. The sound is eerie but at the same time joyful, and is powerful, too… I can almost feel the sound waves hitting my body. It’s also one of the most magical wildlife experiences I’ve ever had. We continue to exchange howls with our mystery wolves for 10 full and glorious minutes before they move off, and the howling stops. We also head off and continue back down to the car, ending up just to the right of where we started.

Arriving from a different angle means we spot something very important, which we’d missed this morning. In the field behind the track is a carcass. It’s a deer, but all we see is blood-stained snow and lots of tracks going back and forth. It’s almost certainly the early morning kill of the wolves we followed today, and the rest of the local animals have finished it off during the morning. Now even the bones have been scavenged and taken off to feed hungry bellies hidden in the forest.

It also completes the picture, and now we can imagine the wolves with their bellies full, proudly patrolling their territory, relaxing, playing and hunting probably more out of instinct than of need for today…

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