Pine forests, alpine meadows and charming Swiss villages are all in abundance today on this, the easiest day of the trip, as you hug the river through the valley with only a modest climb at the end to reach Champex-Lac.
Today’s trail is unique because rather than heading high into the mountains, the path keeps to the valley hugging the Dranse de Ferret river and skipping from one idyllic spot to the next. As the easiest section of the Tour du Mont Blanc, it provides an opportunity to relax in the rejuvenating nature of pine forests and alpine meadows. Enjoy it, for this respite, is only brief and tomorrow there are new cols and mountains to tackle!
Walk through the valley which is punctuated with Swiss villages that time appears to have forgotten. As a whole each village is a scattered collection of wooden chalets that seem to set the scene for a fairy tale. Zoom in and you’ll discover that each individual lodge oozes character and tells a story, from the neat jumble of firewood that props up the side wall, to the jaunty angle of the roof, to the deep smell of pine forest as you wander past; this is an enchanting place far removed from the world many of us know.
Finish in the village of Champex-Lac which appears well-deserving of its nickname, ‘Little Canada’. Surrounding a glacial lake with vivid turquoise tones and set against a backdrop of pine trees that roll up the mountain slopes, you could indeed be across the Atlantic and in Canada. It’s a splendid spot to spend the night or enjoy a picnic on your arrival!
Dip your feet in the Champex-Lac. It may not be as cold as you think, and it’ll do them a world of good (as long as you don’t walk with wet feet immediately after)!
There are several river crossings. There are always stepping-stones available but these may be slippery, and especially when wet. Take extra caution on these crossings.
Such is the way of Alpine hiking that you need to be prepared for all seasons and weathers; sturdy hiking boots, warm clothes and a waterproof/wind-break layer are all required, as is plenty of sun-cream and a healthy respect for the sun.
Walking poles will be a big advantage on some of these ascents and descents.
Ensure your phone is fully charged; if you doubt the battery will last throughout the hike, it might be beneficial to bring a power bank.
This walk is isolated with few opportunities to buy food or water so be sure to bring enough with you.
Points of Interest
Champex-Lac is known as ‘Little Canada’ for its vast forests, rugged mountains, wooden chalets and turquoise-hued alpine lake. You can walk around the lake, go for a swim, rent pedalos or SUP’s (Stand Up Paddleboards), try your luck with a fishing rod, or just sit back in a bar and admire the view with a cool beer or local wine.
Traditional Swiss Villages
Today’s trail passes through the villages of Praz-de-Fort, Les Arlaches and Issert, each a scattering of antiquated wooden chalets that overflow with flowers, prop up logpiles and wouldn’t appear out of place in a fairy-tale or the front of a postcard. Despite, or perhaps because of, the remoteness, they each appear a most idyllic place to live.
Sentier des Champignons
As you approach Champex the Tour du Mont Blanc joins with the Sentier des Champignons or ‘Path of Mushrooms’. There are information boards detailing the existence of mushrooms in this valley, though these are written in French only. But, you will be able to enjoy the sculptures carved into tree stumps along the trail, and perhaps even spot a few of the well-camouflaged mushrooms!
If you wish to skip walking completely today you can catch the Swiss Post Bus via Orsières to Champex. Timetables available at the bus stop in La Fouly or,
La Fouly – Orsières/Orsieres to Champex timetables are available here: http://www.sbb.ch/fahrplan.html
Food and Drink
There are several opportunities to buy food today. The villages of Prez-de-Fort, Les Alarches and Issert have a few options for small stores, cafes, and restaurants. You will pass them in quick succession between 8.5 and 10.5 kilometres.
You don’t need to carry too much water today as each village has taps and fountains where you can fill up easily.