When my husband suggested 3 days of hut-to-hut hiking in the Alps. Through the Vanoise national park to be exact, I’ll admit I envisioned soggy sandwiches, flea-bitten blankets and biting winds. I was also a little concerned about my fitness level. I’ll admit, I haven’t been the most active since the snow melted. Except for a couple of short dog walks each day I’ve spent much of the summer so far behind my computer working. “You’ll love it” he said….. “And the food is amazing”. OK, sign me up.
Huts booked, rucksack packed and sandwiches made, we were off for a weekend of adventure, hiking in the Alps.
What I don’t think he realised was just how unfit I’ve become sitting behind a desk all day. To say day one was a challenge was a bit of an understatement. After almost 1000m climbing my legs were shakey, my shoulders burned and our water supply fully depleted. But I will admit that upon reaching the Col and admiring the stunning 360 degree view which surrounded us I did feel in awe, satisfaction pulsing through my veins. And the best bit? From here it was downhill all the way to our first night stop, Refuge le Fond d’Aussois. My age is sadly beginning to show now and I’ve started to really feel descents acutely in my knees. That and the fact that I’ve also started buying factor 5 suncream. And we’ve bought an estate. More sure signs of my advancing years.
Let’s be honest, it’s all about the food
Knees aside, it was a gorgeous descent taking in the craggy cliffs dotted with snow and an impressive glacier to behold. Tired and elated after more than 6.5 hrs hiking we arrived at the hut to the exciting and rather random news that we stumbled about a Nepalese night. Joy of joys, curry for dinner! Followed of course by the standard cheese course of Tomme de Savoie. Just in case you forgot you were still staying in the Savoie.
If you’ve never stayed in a manned refuge let me tell you, the food is immense. And in plentiful quantities. Which always brings a smile to my husband’s face with his insistence that I prefer quantity over quality. (In all honesty, I value both in equal measure). For dinner you’ll usually get 4 courses. Soup or salad, followed by a meat and carb-filled main course, a small cheese course (usually 1 slice each – a palate cleanser before dessert it would seem?) and dessert. The fact that we happened upon a curry night was music to my ears.
To complete the evening the Nepalese chef who was also a Sherpa and has summited Everest 7 times gave a presentation on The Himalayas and his time at Everest which as well as being impressive was also a welcome distraction from the ticking clock. Did I mention that lights out is normally just after 9pm? How was I ever going to sleep at 9pm?
And then the sleep, or lack thereof
As I suspected our lingering downstairs was going to cost us, as when we climbed into our bed on the third level of the bunks there was already some aggressive snoring action going on. That and the fact that our room was sweltering mean that sleep eluded me for an hour or two. Top tip if you’re staying in a refuge…. The dormstyle accommodation and thin air at altitude make earplugs a necessity.
But we were ready for day 2
When I awoke the next morning my legs could feel the exertion of the day but I was keen to stretch my limbs and set off into the fresh air and the stunning stillness of the mountains at that time of day. Admitedly this quiet was soon interrupted as we stumbled across a rather aggressive sheep dog. Top tip two from the trip – flocks of sheep and goats are often guarded by rather large dogs to protect them from wild animals. These dogs are trained to bark wildy if you approach their flock. So if you happen upon one of these dogs, stand still, stay calm and let them recognise that you’re not a threat and wander off.
Challenge 1 complete. This felt like an episode of Knightmare and I’d just made it through the room. The rest of the day passed without event. We followed a gently undulating route traversing the mountain with a descent through a pine forest amid the scent of fresh pine needles and a welcome respite from the sun.
Our second hut of the trip wasn’t CAF (Club Alpine Francais) and it showed. Not that they’re bad. Far from it. But this was beautiful. A stunning little chalet nestled between two mountains. The lady owner had an eye for detail and the place was cosy and homely and finished just as you’d expect an Alpine chalet. I could cope with spending the rest of the afternoon here. With hours to kill before dinner we lazed in the deckchairs, reading in the sun, and battled at Petanque which is the French version of boules, enjoyed mostly by aging French gents it would seem.
Despite grazing throughout the afternoon on a cracking salad and some decadent ice creams we still found room for the feast that was dinner. A surprisingly tasty lettuce soup(?!), followed by pork forestiere, a mountain of cheese and cherry clafouti, washed down with a carafe of local wine, and a shot of genepi. Stuffed and tired from the night before, we slept soundly in the comfy bunks, with no snorers in ear shot.
But it definitely ended on a high
Our final day started with a fair old climb of 700m to the top of Col Chaviere. We spotted a number of Marmottes and eagles en route which was surprising considering this was by far the busiest day, with a lot more hikers on the trail than we’d previously encountered. Our weekend concluded with a gentle descent back to Pralognon along a track with a brief stop at a local farm where they make Beaufort and Tomme, which you can buy on site.
Incredibly, considering the food we packed away, I actually lost a pound or two over the week. And I gained a real sense of satisfaction. As I identified on the map the ground we’d covered and took in from below the mountains we’d climbed I felt a strong sense of achievement. That and some slightly weary limbs. I would sleep well that night!
If you fancy hiking in the Alps, staying in mountain refuges then I’d recommend Pralognon. It’s easily accessible, has cracking views and great refuges. You never know, you might just like it!
And if hiking in the Alps isn’t your thing, and you like your holidays with a touch more adrenaline, there’s plenty more options for you.