Today’s leg of the Tour du Mont Blanc had several seasons rolled into one: a damp, drizzly start (on went the waterproof trousers and jackets, only to be removed a quarter of an hour later when the rain cleared) followed by blazing sunshine and, later, scattered showers. Having made the most of the breakfast spread – think freshly-baked bread, cold cuts of meat, fruit, orange juice and steaming mugs of hot chocolate – we set off for Champex-Lac.
We could have merged our fifth and sixth days on the TMB as they weren’t especially taxing, but it was nice to have a couple of more leisurely days. For the first few kilometres, the trail skirts the edge of the mountains, passing through the fringes of Forêt Derrière. We spy waterfalls tumbling over granite rock faces and wild strawberries growing alongside the path. Needless to say, we can’t resist picking a handful. We bump into a couple of walkers – a father-son duo – from just outside Cambridge, and walk with them for a while. We only met a handful of Brits on the TMB and, bizarrely, half of them were from East Anglia.
Onwards and – for a change – downwards into Praz de Fort, a quaint little hamlet with wooden chalets, well-tended veggie patches and chicken coops. A little further on, we spot an adorable moggy lazing by the path. (I probably have more photos of other people’s cats than I do of any of my own (now-deceased) hamsters and gerbils.)
We run into two American couples we’d seen earlier in the day, and chuckle when they explain which part of the States they’re from. “We’re from Vermont. Have you heard of Ben and Jerry’s?” “Yep.” “That’s where we’re from!”
We pass a garden bedecked with garden gnomes, dodge the over-enthusiastic sprinklers on the fields surrounding Les Arlaches, and continue on towards Issert.
Here, we pick up the Charlotte la Marmotte sentier didactique des champignons (a family-friendly trail which teaches children about different types of mushrooms) which links Champex-Lac with Orsières. Now, the path climbs steadily upwards. I’m not entirely sure how a small child would make it up there on their own two feet as it’s pretty steep at times, but the carvings of woodland creatures, mushrooms and toadstools liven it up.
We come to a halt. There’s a stream flowing freely over the path ahead, and everyone is second-guessing themselves, convinced they’ve taken a wrong turn. We pull out the map: there’s only one way to go, and that’s forwards. À la Michael Rosen’s We’re Going on a Bear Hunt, we can’t go over it, we can’t go under it, (oh no!) we’ve got to go through it. We splash across. On the other side, we meet walkers going in the opposite direction on the TMB; confirmation we’re heading in the right direction.
We cover the last few kilometres in decent time, and arrive at Champex-Lac around lunchtime. It’s too early to check in, so we pay a visit to the boulangerie and the supermarket and plonk ourselves down by the lake for a spot of lunch.
We spend the afternoon chatting to others in our accommodation and wandering round Champex-Lac. It’s not a big place by any stretch of the imagination, but there’s enough to keep us busy for a few hours until tea – which turned out to be hefty portions of couscous to start, a chicken pasta main (I ate the chicken, and passed the pasta to Laurence) and ice cream for pud.
- Pension en Plein Air has both dorms and private rooms, and accepts payment in either Euros or Swiss Francs. Pay in Swiss Francs if you can, as their exchange rate isn’t especially good! In July 2019, half-board in a dorm cost CHF71pp. We booked via the Tour du Mont Blanc website.
- If you’re looking for souvenirs, Vachement Suisse (Route du Lac 42) has some lovely, locally-sourced trinkets and postcards.