Before I left Lyon, I was intent on returning to the Parc Naturel Régional de Chartreuse. Put simply, my visit to the southern edge of the park back in February had whetted my appetite for more and I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to see another tiny corner of this majestic mountain range. I also had my eye on a little trip over to Chambéry, and it just so happens that this quaint little town provides easy access to the natural park. (A win-win scenario, if you ask me.) The map was purchased, the packed lunch packed (no items left in the fridge this time!) and the alarm set. On y va!
I caught the first direct train of the day to Chambéry, which left Lyon at the delightful hour of 06:50, and promptly fell asleep for most of the journey. (Fortunately, I woke up in time to admire the scenery as we passed along the north-eastern edge of the park on the approach to Chambéry.) Upon our arrival in Chambéry, I wasted no time in beetling through the town to pick up the GR96 towards the Chartreuse; there would be time to explore the centre later in the day. With the elevation gain came expansive views across the valley towards the Massif des Bauges and the Lac du Bourget.
The sun was playing ball, the skies were blue and there were mountains everywhere, covered in dense woodland. (Quite literally.) Soaking up the views of the Massif des Bauges on the eastern horizon and the limestone cliffs of the Chartreuse to the west, I was in my element.
I walked on, passing clusters of country cottages, and eventually arrived at Croix de la Coche, the perimeter of the Parc Naturel Régional de Chartreuse. I made a couple of accidental deviations from the path, but it was easy enough to rejoin the main path, which by this point was winding through dense woodland. To my horror, dangling on silvery threads from the trees were dozens, if not hundreds, of caterpillars. They spun and swung on their threads, adorning virtually every branch that overhung the path. I hate spiders, but I quickly discovered that I hate wriggling, dangling caterpillars much, much more! I couldn’t help but think it wouldn’t be all that difficult to end up swallowing one by accident, so I sped up and out of the forest as fast as my little legs could carry me. (Emphasis on the little, as my sister so kindly points out.)
To tell you the truth, the hike began to feel like a bit of a slog – mostly, I suspect, due to the fact that the woodland, at that time of year, obscured any potential views of the surrounding mountains and valleys. I was feeling mightily relieved when, four hours later, I arrived at Pointe de la Lentille. Here, the path forks, and I headed in the direction of Pointe de la Gorgeat for my much-deserved lunch break. (At the time, I wondered why it took me so long to get there, but a quick post-hike Google search informed me that Pointe de la Gorgeat is 1,486m high, so I guess that explains it.) My stomach was growling by this point, but I was glad I’d held out, as the view was absolutely stunning and well worth the wait (and the caterpillar-fest). This was a lunch with a view – and probably one of the most spectacular views I’ve ever had in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region.
I had planned a longer route, but in the interest of having some time to explore Chambéry after my hike, I shortened the return leg. As it turned out, it wasn’t the most brilliant of ideas, as the map’s version of a path certainly wasn’t mine. (Sound familiar?) Said path was very steep, not all that far from the cliff edge and covered with loose rocks and dry leaves. I wouldn’t hesitate to say that this isn’t a path suitable for young children – there’s no safety barrier, and one wrong step could quite easily be your last.
Fortunately, due to the path’s hair-raising gradient the descent was much faster than the ascent and I was soon nearing Le Grand Plateau. 24.25km later, having passed through the southern suburbs of Chambéry, I was back where I started in the heart of this pretty, alpine town.
Chambéry reminded me of Annecy, only with fewer tourists. Like Annecy, it’s surrounded by picturesque peaks, has buildings with pretty pastel-coloured façades and dozens of little cafés and independent shops. Flags strung across the streets flapped in the breeze, and even by late afternoon it was still gloriously warm. I couldn’t resist the siren calls of the sorbets from Augustin, and happily wandered the streets with a cornet of passion fruit sorbet in hand.
Chambéry is a town of fountains, and my favourite was – by far – the one affectionately known as ‘Les Quatre Sans Culs’. (I’m sure a look at the photo below will tell you all you need to know about how that nickname came about!)
All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed exploring Chambéry and the northern edge of the Chartreuse – and I’m gutted that it’s no longer on my doorstep!
- It sounds obvious, but check the train times in advance, and don’t cut it fine when it comes to the return leg of your journey. As nice as Chambéry is, you don’t really want to run the risk of missing the last train of the night – which is surprisingly early, for the record.
- For hikes in this area, arm yourself with a copy of IGN Massif de la Chartreuse Nord 3333OT. Trails are generally well-marked, but there are a couple that you could miss without an accurate map.