Cycling fanatics will know the Col du Grand Colombier from the 2012 Tour de France; for the uninitiated – myself included, prior to this hike – this mountain pass in the southern Jura is a superb visual gateway to the Alps. Spectacular views from the summit await those who are prepared to hike to the summit and have achy legs for days afterwards – or if you’re not quite feeling it, you could always drive your Citroën 2CV to the summit instead.
Back in mid-October, I signed up to hike the Col du Grand Colombier with a group of Lyon-based language assistants. Having purchased my train tickets in advance, I set off for Lyon Part-Dieu just after 08:00. At the station, I met up with Olivier (who had organised the trip), his friend François and five assistants who had also signed up for the hike. After a bit of a kerfuffle regarding tickets and the “composting” machines, we caught the 08:34 Geneva-bound train to Culoz in the nick of time! No less than five minutes into the journey, Olivier received a call from an assistant who had run late and wanted to know if we were waiting for them – unfortunately for them, to quote Olivier, “le train est parti” (“the train has left”) and we weren’t going back for them.
After a scenic hour-long journey through the Bugey, we arrived in Culoz. Ominous clouds heralded our arrival and we were feeling somewhat disappointed that the blue skies had disappeared. Nevertheless, the show hike must go on – so off we trotted through the town and up the mountainside. Before long, we passed a vineyard and took a short pause to sample the leftover grapes – fear not readers, it’s a perfectly acceptable thing to do post-harvesting season.
The road was covered in tags from fans rallying their idols and spraying multi-coloured messages onto the course. A little further uphill, we veered off the road and joined a forest path; much to our delight, the eerie mist soon gave way to blue skies and promising visibility levels.
After what felt like an eternity of zig-zagging up a scree-littered path, we arrived at a cluster of picnic benches to enjoy our picnic lunch. After a veritable feast including cheese, crisps, coconut chocolate, grapes, salad, pizza niçois and biscuits, we set off on the final ninety-minute or so stretch to the summit.
Leaving the forest behind, we rejoined the road to reach the summit. Though the peak was still a little way off, seeing the Alps on the horizon spurred us on. Since time was on our side, after a few group pictures at the summit of the Col du Grand Colombier (1501m) we continued on to the Croix du Colombier (1525m). From here we could see the Rhône wending its way through the valley, the expansive Lac du Bourget and, on the horizon, the Alps.
It was extremely windy and therefore freezing cold at the summit, so after dozens of photos and a few snacks we decided to make our way back down to Culoz. For most of the descent, we retraced our steps through the forest; though nothing like Yewbarrow’s scree slope, this was still rather uncomfortable on my knees.
Arriving in Culoz, the light was beginning to fade; by the time we had boarded the 18:25 service to Lyon Part-Dieu and made ourselves at home on the floor due to a lack of seats, it was pitch black. Although my legs ached for days afterwards and getting up at the crack of dawn the next day for classes was torturous, the views more than compensated for this.
- Once on the path, you simply follow the red and white GR (grande randonnée) signs to “Le Grand Colombier”. It is, however, advisable to arm yourself with a copy of the IGN (3331 OT) “Rumilly-Seyssel-Le Grand Colombier” map.
- Allow seven to eight hours for a return trip from Culoz; take sufficient snacks and water as there’s nowhere to stock up once you’ve left Culoz.