Last year we decided to walk the Traverse of the Alps, from Thonon on Lake Geneva to the Mediterranean coast at Nice, 420 miles across the high Alps, mainly in France but crossing into Switzerland for part of the walk and hugging the French/Italian border in places.
The walk is part of the much-longer GR5 Trail which starts on the Hook of Holland, but the Alps section is considered to be one of the most spectacular long-distance hikes of Europe, a description which we would totally endorse.
We had originally planned to walk the Tour of Mont Blanc, but my husband felt that this might be too strenuous for me so we opted instead for the ‘Traverse’, and the motto for this is….never, ever listen to your husband.
We decided to do the walk in two parts, the first 200 miles to Modane in the Vanoise National Park in June and then returning in September to tackle the second part from where we left off, the theory being that we would avoid the hottest time in the Alps of July and August. This theory also proved slightly wrong as it was very warm for both parts of our trip but with little wet weather to speak of we consider ourselves very lucky as we were walking for 30 days, mostly at heights between 1400 and 2400 metres.
We booked all of our accommodation prior to setting off, a mix of hotels, guest houses, as well as a sprinkling of mountain huts, the latter all with basic washing and dormitory facilities, and, as we were to discover, an incredible range of excellent food, produced from goodness knows where.
During the first 200 miles we traversed high cols and alpine meadows full of stunning flower displays, watched the sun going down over the Mont blanc range from our overnight ‘hut’, walked down through ski-resorts with all their paraphernalia, but with the slopes absolutely covered with blankets of flowers, (glacier crowfoot, eidelweiss by the hundreds and numerous types of gentian). We enjoyed the antics of marmots, and chamois and marvelled at mountains reflected gloriously in mirror-like lakes.We also crossed the Col de L’Iseran, at 2770m, the highest point of our walk.
Most of the flowers were over when we returned for the second part, but the grasses gave a beautiful and more Mediterranean feel to our journey and walking through the Mercantour Park was an unforgettable experience, it being more remote and wild than the northern section had been. A flower highlight was to see fringed gentians growing in profusion along our route and on our very last day, autumn lady’s tresses.
We arrived at Nice, pretty tired, but so pleased that we had ‘done it’ in good weather and without any illness/accident. We got to the beach, plonked our rucksacks on the pebbles, stripped down to the underwear (and socks because of the pebbles) and sank into the warm and welcoming Mediterranean. Looking around afterwards, we quickly realised that we were wearing more than most people on the beach!
So how would I sum up our trip in a few words….well strenuous and gruelling come quickly to mind, but are far outweighed by two others….exhilarating and spectacular.
We enjoyed the company of fellow walkers on some days, (yes there are others who are as daft as us), and experienced kindness and excellent hospitality from all of our overnight hosts.
We still cannot believe, when we look at the map, that we really did walk from Lake Geneva to the Mediterranean, a kind of Alpine Coast to Coast, but we do have masses of pictures to prove it. Our only worry now is….just how do we follow that!
This ‘tell us your story’ article was sent in by Carol and Jim Watson. If you'd like to share a story with us then please do - we love to hear how you've been using your guidebooks.