There was no need for an alarm clock at Rifugio Elena: noisy snores from a neighbouring bunk woke us from our slumber, and a rather inconsiderate person from the far side of the dorm came over and drew the curtains next to our bed. Farewell Land of Nod, hello breakfast: bacon (or was it warm ham?), sausage, a dollop of yogurt mixed with plum jam, (more) stale bread, and a slice of a jammy shortbread tart.
We adjust our rucksacks, pull on our boots (mine are on their last legs) and set off. Grand Col Ferret calls. There’s already a trickle of hikers and mountain bikers making their way up the mountainside. Every so often, we pause to take in the views of Val Ferret: hulking masses of snow-capped granite on one side; gentle slopes carpeted with pines on the other.
We press on. Grand Col Ferret straddles the Italian-Swiss border, and at 2,537m it’s one of the highest points on the route. We don’t stop for long at the peak: it’s a little breezy, and grey clouds are gathering above some of the higher peaks.
From Grand Col Ferret, it’s downhill all the way to La Fouly. There’s still a fair amount of snow on the path, so we follow others’ footsteps through it; it’s easier that way, as the snow has compacted a little. Plus, it saves us from putting our feet straight through a weaker patch and into one of the streams running beneath the snow. The mountain bikers whizz past us, hurtling down the hillside.
The Swiss Alps are just as I’d always pictured them: snowy peaks, pastures filled with grazing cows (complete with cowbells, of course) and quaint dwellings with wood piles. We pass La Peule; tempting as an ice-cold drink is, we’re not too far off La Fouly so we don’t stop.
The TMB criss-crosses La Drance de Ferret, and deposits us in La Fouly before we know it. We’d known it was a short day, but I don’t think either of us had clocked just how little time it would take us. We dropped our bags off at Auberge des Glaciers (presumably so-called as La Fouly sits below Glacier du Dolent and Glacier de la Neuve) and headed outside to tuck into our picnic lunch.
Our time in La Fouly coincided with the annual Verbier St-Bernard ultra-trail (which in fact comprises four routes for differing abilities, ranging from a 29km trail-run taster through to the 111km X-Alpine for the more experienced ultra-trailers). If you’re there in late August, you’ll likely see the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc (UTMB) in action, as it also passes through La Fouly.
We checked in as soon as we were able to, claimed the bunk (the other six ‘beds’ were narrow mattresses on a raised platform under the eaves) and freshened up (the showers turned out to be the nicest so far). One guy who turned up later made a point of laying his ear plugs out on the mattress and later turned out to be the loudest snorer I’ve ever heard – and that’s saying something, as there were some pretty noisy ones on the TMB.
We happily whiled away a couple of hours with a drink on the terrace at Auberge des Glaciers; the owners’ fluffy white dog was a source of near-constant amusement. Since we’d passed on dinner at the auberge – at CHF30pp, we felt it was a little steep – a trip to the supermarket was in order. We were rather pleased with our haul: a freshly-baked loaf, ham, crisps (think Pom-Bears, only these were owl-shaped), yogurts, chocolate and a bottle of Coke, and all for less than half of dinner for one at the auberge.
- Auberge des Glaciers offers both breakfast-only and half-board rates – and is only one of a handful of places on the TMB to do so, in our experience. In July 2019, the breakfast-only rate in a dorm was CHF51.80pp (including tourist tax).
- If you need to stock up on supplies, La Fouly’s supermarket is open seven days a week, from 08:30-12:30 and from 14:30-18:00.