France 2007 Day 5: L'Echalp to Abriès

Posted on 25 August 2007 in Travel and Holidays (No comments)

On paper, it looked like a great idea. Get a taxi from the hotel up to the Refuge Agnel. Then walk up an ascent of 500m to the Col Vieux, get some truly fantastic views, admire the fact that there might be snow there in July, then amble down hill towards the destination - some of it along a river - to your final destination. Sounds great! No problem.

Just one catch. It's a 1550m descent and you've got a dodgy knee that you want to rest.

Ah. Yes.

Thankfully our instructions had a backup plan - in case of bad weather or laziness apparently. Unfortunately they weren't that helpful given that they were pretty much, get the taxi to L'Echalp (€30 supplement), walk up hill to some lakes, walk down hill from the lakes.

Still that river m'larky doesn't sound too bad...

A Mountain Backdrop

And that's what we did. At 9am we met our taxi driver and her red van/car thing, asked to go to L'Echalp instead and arrived at a car park next to a river with a fantastic view of mountains in the background.

With a walk of something like just 8km, we could take the day easily, and most importantly, rest my leg leaving me (hopefully) ready to get back to the hills the following day.

The church at La Monte

And so we set off, following the picturesque Guil Torrent, walking mostly just a small way away. A little way in we crossed over the river, and did a little circuit around the tiny hamlet of La Monte.

Looking along the GR 58D

Part way round, we stopped off part way round at a lovely little shaded patch near a stream with some fantastic views of the surrounding area.

Lizard on the rocks

It was also here that Catherine spotted a stout stick - slightly crooked, slightly knobbly but firm enough for me to use to spread my weight around a bit, and give the knees a little less strain. To add to the fun, we spotted a lizard, basking in the sun on a pile of rocks.

The view from our picnic spot The Church at Ristolas

Back on the river path, we walked on towards the village of Ristolas, stopping just outside in a shaded glen for a "much" deserved rest, and then on through the peaceful and almost deserted village itself - its church dominating the landscape. Bar a few people sat outside a Gite, there was almost no one around.

As it got towards lunchtime, we stopped again - crossing the river one more time to find a little wooded picnic area, packed with families (well four) relaxing in the shade, scoffing food. Finding a peaceful spot near the river, we sat down and had another break - enjoying the weather and reading our books, whilst munching on the statutory piles of bread and cheese.

Abriès in the distance

From there it wasn't exactly a taxing walk into our destination for the day - Abriès. In fact we got there about 3pm, with the only stress being that our instructions leaflet had only partially been updated to take into account the new name of the place we were staying - the Chalet de Lanza.

One dump of stuff, and a change of clothes later, and we were walking round the charming village - buying postcards and other shopping, and wandering up to see why the ski lift was running in the heart of summer.

Two go and see Mount Viso

Télesiège de Gilly

It turned out that the ski lift would take up to the top of a hill, in order to get a view of the mighty Mount Viso - a monster of a mountain which is actually over the border in Italy. It sounded like a plan and a half, and one swift return to the hotel to pick up my camera, and we bought our tickets and boarded. It was getting on for half four or so - and one quick chat with the bloke selling the tickets revealed that the last lift down was at half five. Plenty of time to get off, wander over to the view point and come down again.

Mount Viso from l'Aiguiller

A short walk later (and having stood in half of Southern France's cowpats whilst I was at it, and we were admiring the view. Sadly Viso was slightly hidden by clouds, but it was great all the same - and with it being a fantastic 180° view, an attempt of a panoramic photo was called for - the results of which you can view, stitched together slightly badly using a Linux app called Hugin.

With the view dutifully admired, we wandered back for our easy lift back down to town - spirits were high at having such a stunning climax to a day that, whilst it might not have been very taxing, had certainly been relaxing and with some beautiful views.


The high spirits were quickly dashed when we got back to the ski lift to find it all closed up. Whilst the chairs were still running, the barriers were up and there was no one around. Within a few minutes, even the chairs stopped moving, bar the gentle rocking motion caused by the breeze.

It had closed for the day. When we'd got on, we thought they said the last lift down was at 5:30, but we when we got there at 5:15 it was shut. Clearly it was said that at "cinq heures est fini" not that it closed at "cinq heure et demi".

Having spent all day on flat ground trying to rest my knees, one simple mis-translation meant we had to do the unthinkable - walk downhill, with a descent of about 450m.

To make things worse, there were no signs telling us a route down. Not one. The only possible option we could find was to follow the ski run as it zig-zagged down the hill.

Abriès in the distance

Even worse, I was going down hill 450m down a steep ski run, on a warm day with no water and with only my trainers on, rather than a sturdy pair of hiking boots. True it gave us some stunning views, but my knees were quickly in pain again. I was very worried that - through necessity - I was about to undue all the days rest and relaxation, and that tomorrow, I'd be spending another day in agony.

Worried? Paranoid more like. We had two more full days of walking left. We'd come down hundreds of miles to be here, and at this rate I wasn't even going to be able to finish off what we've started.

There wasn't even a reliable way of telling how far we had left to go. At first I thought about following the numbers on the giant, lamppost high metal poles that lined the ski-run - going down from 120 or something - only to find they randomly stopped at about 100 then started at 1 again.

In normal circumstances, it wasn't exactly a long descent. Something that 30-40 minutes. But with the knees twanging with every step, it felt longer. So much longer. Every footstep seemed to take an eternity. The end, when it did come, couldn't come soon enough.

And when it did come, it was followed swiftly by a much deserved beer.

Back at the Chalet de Lanza

Chalet de Lanza, Abriès

Abriès was host of a four day music festival, with bands playing in a couple of outdoor locations in town - one of which happened to be right outside the hotel cafe/bar area. It was pretty busy, but there was some space outside and we sat, supping glasses of La Tormente Blanc watching an interesting band called something like Mouillekin, who mixed rock (almost heavy metal in parts) with a saxophone and trombone. The stress and pain of half an hour ago was swiftly removed as the beers and the music played their part.

And with the hours getting on, we moved inside to the tiny dinning room, to feast on some wonderful food - a chilled courgette soup followed by a fantastic lasagne for me (still seeming a strange thing to eat in France!) and what was described as an omelette, cooked with courgettes for Catherine. I say described - it looked more like half cooked scrambled eggs in terms of texture - suggesting perhaps a slight mistranslation. It certainly wasn't mis-cooked as Catherine declared it to be delicious.

After washing it down with some delicious local rose wine, it was followed by a fantastic apricot tart and of course, coffee. We retired to our room to write postcards and get some rest. Despite the setbacks earlier, I was determined that we'd be doing a full walk the next day...

Number of different cheeses eaten on day 5
Andrew0 (wot? no cheese?

For more photographs of this holiday, have a look at my France 2007 photo set on Flickr

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