|Beautiful views and sunshine every day of the trip (but this may not be the case every year)|
Grenoble is the nearest airport, but it's only open during the ski season, not in the summer. Lyons airport is an option, but we chose to go to Geneva, which worked out fine. We got a bus to Grenoble and another to Bourg d'Oisans, the start of the walk.
Arriving mid-afternoon, we considered starting the walk straight away and getting a couple of hours of the first stage done, but got no answer in phoning the hotel in Le Chatelard, so didn't risk it - just as well, as it seemed to be closed when we passed through next day.
Instead we checked in at the Hotel des Alpes (not smart, but cheap - double room with bath & breakfast 40 euros), bought some bread & pate and sat under a tree by the river enjoying a nice relaxed picnic. Bourg d'Oisans was full of cyclists, as it's at the foot of the famous Tour de France climb up to Alpe d'Huez.
DAY 1 : BOURG D'OISANS TO CLAVANS-LE-BAS
The walk starts with a scramble up a rocky slab, which was rather surprising, and we were soon high up overlooking the flat valley. Further up, we could look across at some of the 22 hairpin bends on the road up to Alpe d'Huez, with cyclists toiling up in the heat. Although this is a ski area, the hillsides don't seem to be marred by ski lifts. It was a sunny day and we cooled our feet in a freezing cold stream before trudging up to the Col de Sarenne. A cup of tea in the refuge cost 5 euros and a long wait, once we'd got the attention of the odd old man running the place, but was worth it. From the top La Meije and Le Rateau can be seen.
The way down the other side followed a steep loose path, and passed several horrendous-looking mountain bike paths pitching downhill - glad to be walking. We got a bit lost somehow and had to backtrack, and so arrived in Clavans-le-Bas very late (around 19.45) rather worried we wouldn't get any dinner, especially as the first place to stay was closed. But luckily we found the Auberge du Savel, with a nice room available and a really delicious pork stew and tarte aux myrtilles for dinner, for 46 euros each - wonderful.
DAY 2 : CLAVANS-LE-BAS TO LE CHAZELET
Next morning we set off down the hill to Besse-en-Oisans. The tourist office tried to phone ahead to Le Chazelet for us, but got no answer. Everywhere seems to close down at the end of August. We found a bakery at the end of the village, but it seemed to be closed. However, we knocked on the door, it opened and a woman said 'Two minutes' and the door closed again. In two minutes the door opened again, and there was the baker taking some beautiful loaves out of a wood-fired oven. His feet were covered in flour. The bread was wheat/rye sourdough, 1kg weight, which was rather more than we wanted to carry, but there was no choice and it would keep for a week. They sold cheese too and so we enjoyed bread and cheese for lunch every day. In fact bread and (hard) cheese is ideal trekking food - tasty and nutritious, and a hard cheese doesn't go off even if you can't keep it cool. We kept on with this lunch plan for the rest of the trip.
A steep climb up via the Col Nazie took us up to Col Bichet, where we stopped to cool off, eat some bread & cheese and look out over the Plateau d'Emparis, a high grass moorland. The path led across and gradually up to the Col du Souchet, with wonderful views of La Meije with its glaciers. It was then downhill all the way to Le Chazelet. A party of horse riders came up past us, carrying tripods like surveyors. On the way down, the path crossed a new ski piste where a new lift was under construction.
We got to Le Chazelet about 5.00pm. The gite seemed to be closed, so we ended up in the hotel Le Relais d'Emparis - 40 euros for the room, 10 for breakfast, and 14 euros for a cold plate of charcuterie which was what we ended up eating when we couldn't find anywhere else open. The room was very thinly built, with loud flowery wallpaper and other clashing flowery patterns everywhere, very 1970s, but the view out of the window of La Meije was wonderful.
DAY 3 : LE CHAZELET TO REFUGE DE L'ALPE DE VILLAR D'ARENE