I think I’ve now spent more time walking in the French Alps than any other place in the world, even including the hiking I’ve done in Australia and New Zealand.
This year’s leg was six days hiking the GR5 and its variants between St Paul sur l’Ubaye and St Martin de Vesubie.
It’s still an annual highlight of my life to spend a week in the mountains with my Dutch friends.
Here’s why I keep going back there:
(1) The scenery
The French Alps have an enormous variety of landscape, from rolling farmland, dense forests, and rocky snow-capped peaks.
(2) It’s challenging but achieveable
We’re not getting any younger, and when the daily walking poked up over seven hours with climbs and descents of 1500 metres each day the knees felt it. But the fitness level built through the week and the pain subsided.
Significantly, most of the people we see hiking here are active 50 plussers, nearly all of them French. Those wimpy kids are doing it on mountain bikes.
(3) The accommodation
We stay in a mixture of refuges, gites d’etappe and auberges, usually with shared facilities, rough but charming. (Thanks, Marga, for booking all the accommodation.) Food is hearty mountain fare, with beer and vin available. The cost of demi-pension (bed, breakfast and dinner) is usually between 35 and 40 euros a night.
Inevitably we meet other hikers and sometimes spend a few days walking together. Thanks, Gerben and Ineke for the company during the week.
(4) The lunches
We pick up excellent bread, cheese and saucissons in the villages we pass through every couple of days, to supplement the nuts and fruit we’ve brought with us from Holland. We normally have time to pick an attractive spot on the grass for an extended dejeuner.
(5) The villages
We love the French mountain villages with their picturesque church steeples, narrow alleyways and sleepy town squares.
(6) The trail marking
Getting lost on the GR5 is seldom a problem. We follow the red and white markers on rocks and trees beside the trail. But it also helps to have Klamie and Kees with their maps and guidebooks. Thanks, gentlemen, for the expert route planning and the navigation!
(7) The logistics
Some villages on the GR5 have train stations, but most do not. There is usually a bus that comes along some time, with time for a cafe as we wait for it.
(8) The locals
If you thought French people were arrogant and unfriendly, especially to those of us with limited language skills, a week in the Alps would change your mind. Yes, we were lucky to have our French amie Agnes to do the serious talking, but everybody is made to feel welcome. Merci!
(9) The final destination
This time it was Nice. Always nice.
(10) The company.
As with any travel, it’s the people you meet. And the ones you spend time with. Thanks to the team, and also to those of our regular members who sadly weren’t able to make it this year. We missed you!