From London to Grenoble on the train is a bit over six hours on uncrowded and super fast trains. I was worried about finding space for my GIANT pack (that contained all the camping and hiking gear for two people for six days, including food!), but the train from Paris was pretty empty. It was a comfortable journey through beautiful countryside.
From Grenoble, rent a car in the station and drive to Ecrins National Park, only an hour away on easy roads. This park has a stunning selection of walks, including the 10 day Tour L’Oisans also referred to as the GR54. I did a few sections of this route and loved it. You are surrounded by peaks, with new ones revealing themselves around every bend. The scale of the place feels enormous as you start hiking from the valley floor.
If you love waterfalls and alpine lakes do the section up to Lac Muzelle (starts from Bourg D’Arud, only about 15 minutes from Bourg D’Oisans — bus runs back and forth during the summer only, not in September!). There were amazing waterfalls all the way up, about four hours straight up. And when you get to the top, it is even more beautiful than you can imagine. An alpine lake surrounded by towering peaks and a glacier. Also grazing sheep and the smartest dogs, which are trusted to manage the sheep on their own and even herd them around. We were confronted by one of the dogs, huge white furry things, which barked at us for a few minutes and then left us alone. I wonder how much training they require? I can’t imagine any dog in New Zealand being capable of that.
The Refuge was in an amazing spot on the edge of the icy lake (brought my togs, but no way was that going to happen). And, much to our surprise and delight, there is a hot shower, real mattresses and bedding, and a five course dinner and breakfast served. It was the best hut experience ever. Some people were camping on the flats by the lake, but it was a cold and rainy night, so I’m glad I decided to treat myself with the hut.
You can turn this walk into a 2-3 day loop as well by continuing on to Lac Lauvitel, another pretty alpine lake, but we weren’t able to make it as the slate cliffs down to the lake are treacherous in the rain. Everyone we saw warned us not to go on, so we listened.
Another section of the GR54 starts from Bourg D’Oisans, a good valley base with bike rentals for the nearby and infamous climb up to Alpe D’Huez. I did it in the reverse from Huez to Bourg D’Oisans — about a three hour walk through meadows, forests and pretty alpine villages.
I would highly recommend this region and would love to come back and do the ten day circuit. The GR54 is supposed to be a bit tougher than the Tour de Mont Blanc, another popular ten day walk. But this region is spectacular and doesn’t have the same amount of crowds. I was there the first week of September and it was pretty quiet. Most of the villages had closed, but the huts are mainly still open until mid-September.
Cicerone’s guide book on the national park was excellent — all the info you need with hut opening times, services, and details on the best walks in the region.
My next post will have more pics from another walk in the French Alps, not on the GR54, but just as spectacular.