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Day Six – Val Ferret – La Fouly

(6 hours – 20kms)

We finally leave the Hotel Crampon this morning after three lovely nights with tremendous hosts.

The highlight of breakfast was Leeanne’s statement that she was contemplating an AFD (Alcohol Free Day) today!

Once the giggles stopped we settled back to our breakfast of fruit, muesli & croissants.

After yesterdays shambles with the bus, Ismael organised a mini bus transfer back to the same starting point.

Tick!

Our route today takes us slowly up the valley and onto the ridge which climbs gradually, and consistently, up towards the saddle which marks, invisibly, the border between Italy and Switzerland.

Once again, excited Australians straddling the two countries for a photo opportunity.

Ismael then took us into Switzerland and up the top of a nearby hill which offered great views down the valley to our nights destination, la Fouly.

After another photo opportunity, Ismael noticed the crowd of walkers strolling down towards our lunch stop at a small farm, and declared a state of emergency. We needed to hoof it down the hill, passing as many walkers as possible, to ensure we snared a table or two for lunch.

With the charge of the light brigade engaged, slow tired legs regenerated instantly, and we tore down the hill passing all and sundry only to get to the farm and find it full!

Sigh!

Tables eventuated and we settled in to our packed lunch and, for those who wished, maybe a beer to quench the thirst.

Well, low and behold…guess who ordered a beer, a whole 4 hours after declaring AFD status!

Evidently the beer was nice, as Paul & Specks had two.

Good luck walking after that, boys?

They walked pretty well, apparently, as the afternoon walk was mainly down hill, all the way to our nights digs in La Fouly, a new place for No Roads, and a pretty cool place it is, all boarding house style, with bunk rooms and shared shower blocks and dunnies.

Our dinner was a local speciality, Raclette, a dish of potato with cheese melted under a heating plate, served with condiments of cured meats, pickled gherkins and onions, served with local wines.

To top off the meal an alpine liqueur, Génépi, was poured in shot glasses to mixed reactions, and from all accounts a few strange dreams later on!

Day Five – Val Ferret back to Courmayeur

(7 hours…20kms)

Today has a slightly different format as we are catching the bus up the valley to the Val Ferret, and walking back to Courmayeur.

The bus ride itself was crazy, Italian style, with demand outstripping supply by a factor of about three! It’s a narrow windy road up to the Val Ferret stop so the bus isn’t big, but that didn’t deter about 80 people cramming into it, the driver pushing everyone further down the back. Talk about stacks on! Plus it was a stopping all stations, as the driver willed more passengers on, sardine style. We were pretty happy to get to the pit stop and rediscover limbs seemingly crushed by the weight of humanity!!

And what a day it turns out to be!

The views before us are breathtaking!

Ismael stated that this was his most favourite day of the walk because of the stupendous views which astound at every turn.

About an hour of meandering uphill, surprisingly not too taxing, especially after the shenanigans of the previous night!

The rest of the morning followed the valley about half way up the hill, with our first look at Mont Blanc itself presenting in all its glory.

It’s not hard to realise why Ishmael loves this particular walk so much, as at times you have to pinch yourselves at the majesty presented before you.

We had a rest at a refuge to soak in the views some more, before continuing on to our lunch spot on the side of the path, packed lunch at the ready.

If Tony was impressed with his lunch spot on day two, I reckon he will need to re-evaluate after today.

As Rach said, you could almost reach out and touch the soaring mountain scene in front of you.

It was right there, just willing you to grab hold of it.

Incredible!

Stunning!

Sadly, we needed to keep moving, which was along the ridge, dodging and weaving around oncoming traffic, all the while marvelling at natures creation thrown up in front of us.

Eventually we came upon the view of Courmayeur way down below us, realising the only way home was down, down, down.

Finally, at about 5.30, we waddled into town and our hotel for a quick freshen up before dinner at a pizza joint in town.

Slightly more subdued than the previous night, but still most enjoyable with food aplenty and good wine flowing.

One last wander down the Main Street, then another nightcap back at our wonderful hotel.

Day Four – Aosta day trip

A change of scenery today, being our rest day, so most of us are off to the Italian town of Aosta, 34kms down the valley by bus from our hotel.

A leisurely breakfast then onto the 8.40 bus which wound its way down the valley, through picturesque villages, hillsides strewn with vines impressive Chateaux perched over the rock faces, and into city with the most preserved Roman ruins in Italy.

We were met at the bus stop by our guide for the morning, Elizabeth, who proceeded to spend the next three hours delivering us to all the main historical sites, filling us with information about the Roman way of life, giving us a sense of how the village would have looked in ancient times.

First to the Criptoportico Forense which is amongst the best preserved archaeological vestigial from the Roman era.

Next the Museo Archeologico Regionale, exhibiting many pieces from the 8th millennium BC until the Middle Ages.

Onwards through the old town, all the while being serenaded by the most beautiful hymn music, being piped through speakers hanging from the ancient stone wall around the cobblestones laneways, and originating from the basilica in the heart of town.

As luck would have it today is the most religious day on the towns calendar, a public holiday to celebrate the patron saint of the Valle D’Aosta, Di San Grata.

As we were moving around town so was the procession to honour Di San Grata, the highlight of which was the bronze casket holding his relics.

The atmosphere was mesmerising, the music hauntingly beautiful, it was such an honour to be able to witness this most auspicious occasion.

Leeanne was genuinely moved to tears by the spiralling choral notes.

As the parade moved past us we continued under the last remaining watchtower hovering over town, sitting on the ruins of the protective city wall.

On to the Teatro Romano, with its 22 metre high southern facade giving a wonderful foreground to the soaring Alps behind, before finishing our tour at the old city limits and a remarkably well preserved Roman archway.

Those Romans sure knew how to make a building that stood the test of time!

Phew…time for lunch in a great Italian restaurant surrounded by a terrific stone way with refreshing beer garden of grass and shaded trees, then a last look around before heading back to Courmayeur at about 3.30pm.

Relax, maybe a beer or Spritz (which our hotel excels at!) then off for tea at another Italian bistro, expertly chosen by Gemma & Liz who didn’t join us in Aosta, as they had already been there before Chamonix.

A last wander around town, then maybe a red or two (thanks for the magnum, Specks!) back at the hotel, then it was probably time for bed…we do have to walk again tomorrow.

Day Three – Les Chapieux to Courmayeur

(19kms…6 hours)

Another great start to the day, with a breakfast of muesli, the freshest croissants ever, home made yoghurt, and a multitude of different breads and fruits.

We had time for a quick wander around town and a team photo by a wonderful two story stone barn before being bused up the narrow winding lane to our start.

We had a slow steady climb in the morning which was meant to provide stunning views of Mont Blanc for the first time but with the weather slowly deteriorating we lost our views and discovered the variables of weather in the alps as the rain slowly built.

After three false starts on whether to put on the wet weather gear or not, we were finally kitted out but not before a few of us got wet with our indecision, lesson learnt. With weather gear on, we continued up the hill till we reached a saddle in the mountain which was the border between France and Italy.

Luckily the rain dissipated and we were able to see two countries side by side, a novelty for an Aussie.

Happy snap time, then back down the valley to have our packed lunch overlooking the beautiful vista, but the best laid plans…

The rain persisted, persistently, and any thoughts of eating in it went out the door and the decision was made to keep walking to the bus stop which was taking us into Courmayeur.

With the bus due at 1:40pm we had an hour and a half to get it so it was full steam ahead as we marched stoically on, wet weather gear being tested to the max, following the raging river down hill, mainly on narrow roads, making it to the bus stop with five minutes to spare.

Evidently we weren’t the only trekkers who had arrived at the decision we had, as the queue to board was both long, and pushy! Welcome to Italy.

Got to love Italy, just cram them on and hope for the best, as about 60 hot, wet and sweaty trekkers clambered aboard for the 30 minute drive into town.

Probably not the most scenic venue for a baguette, but beggars can’t be choosers.

Our accommodation for the next three nights is the Hotel Crampons, a lovely, typical, alpine style hotel, all balconies and bright flower boxes.

The hotel is wonderful, the staff tremendous and the rooms well appointed, roomy and comfortable.

Strangely, we found the bar pretty quickly for a beer or two, then a wander around town before dinner at a small Italian bistro.

Lots of laughs, especially when Kate vanished into the kitchen, winning new admirers left, right and centre.

With a rest day tomorrow, maybe time for a post meal drink or two back at the hotel, making plenty of noise and keeping the hotel staff most amused.

Mmmm, looks like the loud Aussies have taken over!

Day Two – Les Contamines to Les Chapieux

(8.5 hours…21km’s)

After a restful nights sleep, weary aching joints staggered down to a great breakfast, before heading off at 8am.

Ismael claims today to be the most difficult day of the walk with over 1200 metres of ascent, and 900 metres of descent, food for thought as the body warms up.

The Mont Blanc circuit is essentially 10 days of climbing from the valley up over mountain passes, and back towards the valley each day. Total ascent is about 10,000 metres, and the same descent.

Basically we are going up and down big hills as we sort of circle the Mont Blanc Massif, the group of glacier fields surrounding Mont Blanc itself.

From Les Contamines at 1170m we climbed slowly and steadily up to Croix du Bonhomme at 2443m, through beautiful pine forest, into low covered flooring all with breathtaking scenery to elevate the aches and groans of protesting muscles and joints.

The path we are taking this morning is an old Roman road and the highlight of the morning was crossing an ancient Roman bridge, a magnificent stony arched structure which has stood the test of time admirably.

We stopped for lunch high up in the Alps, munching on baguettes of ham and cheese, or salad, marveling at the vista confronting us.

Tony went so far as to say it was the best lunch of his life! Certainly hard to argue with.

Refreshed, we spent the next three hours slowly winding our way down the valley to our destination at Les Chapieux 1549m, a tiny village comprising of only a handful of stone cottages and two small hotels.

Ours, Les Chambres du Soleil, was a wonderful family run two story hotel/pension with a great patio to enjoy a beer or wine, and a freezing stream out the back which some prevailed upon to ease out the soreness in tired limbs, with a beer in hand of course.

Day One – Chamonix to Les Contamines

Day One – (7 hours…16 km approx)

Finally the day we start walking arrives, after two years in the making and many training sessions up and down hills, stairs and ramps!

An early start with breakfast at 7.30, and on our way at 8am to Les Houches by mini bus, and the cable car to our much anticipated start at La Chalette, but not before plenty of photos to commemorate the moment.

The morning was a mix of beautiful pine forest trails, short steep climbs and descents: fields of low shrubs with wild blueberry bushes carpeting the floor.

A cable bridge crossing at the Passerelle du Glacier was a highlight, especially for Kate and Rach who may not like heights!

More up and down, then a great lunch of potato omelette and green salad at the beautiful Refuge de Miage.

Most agreed that the morning had been tougher than expected, with legs taking time to acclimatize to the steep terrain.

The weather was mild to warm, producing buckets of sweat, as glutes hammies and quads got reminded of what all the training had been about.

Another nasty climb was just the ticket with a full stomach, followed by a steep windy descent, taking a couple of hours, until finally arriving at our destination for the night in the small township of Les Contamines.

Our accommodation for the night is at Chalet Hotel La Chemenaz, which had excellent modern room plus if you’re keen a pool, sauna and spa.

For Tony and I, a serious match of table tennis to sweep away some stiffness!

Dinner was demolished, and everyone was tucked in by about 9pm.

A most satisfying, if slightly shocked first day.

Annecy to Chamonix

We left stunning Annecy in mid afternoon by bus, arriving in Chamonix at about 5.30.

We were met by a few of our crew and hiked out to our hotel which is a little out of town, as the biggest endurance event in Europe climaxes today. The UTMB ultra endurance races around the Mont Blanc region, including a 160km run around the same route we will be taking. Our walk takes 10 days, the winner of the ultra marathon took 20 hours!

Lots of undernourished, skinny people staggering around town as our crew chowd down on pizza/pasta/hamburger & and or steak at a restaurant in the centre of the village.

Chamonix is quite a large town, with a vibrant shopping/restaurant/cafe strip, and a typical holiday vibe.

It was great to finally be all together, as we rounded out our walking crew with Gemma & Liz, who have been in Italy for a few days, and Denise & Dan straight from Oz.

After a busy evening we only have one full day in Chamonix, spent wandering the streets, doing a bit of shopping, maybe partaking in a pre lunch G&T, and have a birthday lunch with Rachel who is spending her first birthday away from her family.

Some went up the chairlift, but not the most famous, the Aiguille du Midi, as it is closed for repairs. Something about frayed cables, or some such!

Pretty important to the machinations of cable cars to have fit and healthy cables, non?

The Aiguille du Midi is the second most visited attraction in France, after the Eiffel Tower, and the closure is costing approx 1 million Euros per day!

More window shopping, a beer or wine and a 6pm briefing with our guide Ishmael.

Afterwards we had a welcome dinner which turned into a small birthday celebration for Rachel, with Champagne (thanks Specks) and a cake courtesy of our hotel.