Travel writer Lebby Eyres visited the Alps for some high-altitude hiking – here, she shares her picks for the best walking holidays, routes and spa hotels…
The higher up Mont Blanc you walk, the more other-worldly the landscape becomes. I’m beyond the tree line, at 2,400 metres, close to the refuge of the Nid d’Aigle, where the grass peters out and the rocks take over. It’s safe to say, walking and hiking in the Alps is a magical experience.
A fellow hiker comments that it feels like a set from Game of Thrones – I half expect a White Walker to appear through the mist hanging over the glacier of Bionnassay, an impressive wall of rocks, ice and snow on the western side of the mountain. Luckily, there’s no such spectral occurrence, but we do see some delightfully chubby marmots and a herd of nimble ibex.
What’s the terrain like for hiking in the Alps?
The terrain here is rather trickier for humans, and as our French walking guide Gonzague whisks out his hiking sticks I’m regretting leaving mine back in London. But I’m fairly agile, and feel the mental and physical benefit of being among the clouds. Hiking at altitude is great for fitness, quickly increasing the red blood cells in our bodies, and the positive effect on my stress levels is positively profound.
Time for a confession, however: as impressive as 2,400m sounds, my hiking group did have a little help getting so far up into the mountain.
The Tramway du Mont-Blanc takes passengers from the town of Le Fayet, which is in the valley, up to the Nid d’Aigle, with several stops along the way to admire the views. It’s perfect for summer walkers as well as operating during the ski season. But any climbers intending
to go higher and reach the top via the Gouter Route must have specialist equipment with them.
Walking tours to try on holidays in the Alps
Before travelling to the end of the line, we stop off at the Col-de-Voza, at 1,653m, for a 5km walk around la Tete de la Charme. Gonzague is very knowledgeable about the local flora and fauna, and it being mushroom season, the ground is covered with fungus of varying degrees of toxicity.
Suffice to say, don’t pick any unless you’re with someone who knows what they’re doing. Even licking the classic red toadstool with white spots will make you hallucinate for 24 hours, he tells us. We steer clear, and instead try the wild thyme and wood sorrel, and have a good sniff of some wild carrot leaves.
This area is part of the 10-day Tour de Mont Blanc route, and in the winter, the slopes become the Les Houches and St Gervais ski area. They look innocuous in summer, but are challenging once the snow falls.
Luxury hotels and spas
What any hiker needs after a strenuous day up in the mountains is a dip in some thermal spa water, and Les Thermes de Saint-Gervais are a short drive from the station in the bottom of the valley in Le Fayet. The spa, which has been there since 1807, has interior and exterior pools and saunas, and bathing in the warm waters helps ease muscular pain.
Our group is staying at Hôtel L’Armancette in Saint Nicolas de Véroce, a charming village about 10 minutes from the town, and a short
drive to the Saint-Gervais tramway station. The newly-opened hotel has 17 rooms with a variety of luxury accommodation for couples or
families, and features a bakery on site as well as a restaurant, La Table d’Armante, offering a delicious set dinner for 49 euros. There’s a wonderful indoor-outdoor pool with views over the peaks. My top-floor room even has a log fire!
Best hiking routes in the Alps
There are hiking routes that depart directly from the hotel, too. A 5km round route takes us to the hamlet of Carteyron, where the road becomes a track and then a small path that snakes around the side of the mountain itself. For more strenuous hiking, you can head upwards towards the Plateau de la Croix, a 90-minute round trip which can be lengthened by walking up towards Porcherey, or down into the valley to join up with the lengthy Sentier du Val Montjoie towards Les Contamines.
And after a healthy weekend hiking, why not treat yourself to dinner at La Petite Cuisine at La Folie Douce hotel in Chamonix? It’s a 30-minute drive from Saint-Nicolas. With its decadent atmosphere, it’s a huge contrast to the serenity of the slopes, but the perfect way to ease
yourself back into urban life.
Top tips for walking holidays in the Alps…
- For more info on the area, see savoie-mont-blanc.com and tourism.saintgervais.com.
- Tickets on the Tramway du Mont-Blanc cost from €33 return and Gonzague Delobel is available to hire for 220 euros a day (visit guides-mont-blanc.com).
- Hotel from €350 for a room for two with breakfast in summer, and from €450 in winter (visit armancette.com).
- A session at Les Thermes Saint-Gervais Mont Blanc costs €35 per person (visit thermes-saintgervais.com)