Just two days after my first trip to the Parc Naturel Régional du Pilat, I found myself back in the area again, this time to hike the first twenty-six or so kilometres of the Aqueduc du Gier. (I’m not sure which part of my brain thought that two lengthy hikes in almost as many days was a good idea, for my legs certainly weren’t of the same opinion, but I thoroughly enjoyed myself, even if I did end up horrendously sunburnt.) Once upon a time, this eighty-odd kilometre long aqueduct transported water all the way from the Vallée du Gier to Fourvière. Although much of it has crumbled away in the intervening centuries, surviving elements of it remain to be seen today.
Shortly after my family visited me, I ventured out to the Parc Naturel Régional du Pilat, one of six regional natural parks in Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes. At this time of year, the park is a vast expanse of lush green meadows, trails bordered by bright yellow gorse and fields and woodland filled with the animal kingdom’s newest arrivals. Crêt de la Perdrix, the park’s highest peak, commands stellar views of the surrounding valleys and rolling hills – and, most importantly, is entirely do-able as a day trip from Lyon.
When I first visited Grenoble, back in December, the city was under a heavy blanket of fog and it was freezing; the second time around, the skies were blue and a heat haze smothered the mountains to the south. Encircled by three mountain ranges, Grenoble certainly lives up to the title plastered across all the postcards sold in the city. Capital of the Alps it is, undoubtedly. With the Parc Naturel Régional de la Chartreuse, the Parc Naturel Régional du Vercors and the Parc National des Écrins (along with its foothills, the Chaîne de Belledonne) to choose from, there’s no shortage of trails to hike in this region.
Pérouges is, without a shadow of a doubt, one of the prettiest villages I have ever visited. Perched atop a hill, this medieval walled village has rustic charm by the bucketful: winding, cobbled streets, wisteria bursting out of cracks in the walls and traditional metal shop signs that creak in the breeze. The timber-framed buildings with their pebble-dashed walls and exposed beams ooze character; aside from the occasional TripAdvisor sticker in a merchant’s window, it’s as if time has stood still.
Since we weren’t catching a train back to Lyon until mid-afternoon, we figured we had enough time to hike up a mountain – and if needs be, we’d simply catch a ski lift back down. After deliberating over Planpraz (1,999m) and La Flégère (1,894m), we decided on the former and then thought we may as well ask our Airbnb hosts roughly how long the ascent would be. “Ten minutes,” they replied confidently. Laurence and I exchanged a confused look, Our Airbnb hosts may be into trail running, but surely even they couldn’t run up this beast in ten minutes? “On foot?” we queried. “Oh,” they said, upon realising we didn’t intend to catch the ski lift up, “In that case, around three hours.”
The Téléphérique de l’Aiguille du Midi has been transporting visitors to the summit of one of the Mont Blanc massif’s highest peaks since 1955; for those with no mountaineering experience – myself included – it’s the closest you’ll get to the summit of Mont Blanc. At a dizzying height of 3,842m, the Aiguille du Midi commands stellar views of the Chamonix Valley, the Aiguilles Rouges and the Mont Blanc massif. It also serves as the gateway to the Vallée Blanche, a world-renowned off-piste ski route; the descent of almost three thousand metres over glaciers edged with seracs and riddled with crevasses is not one for the inexperienced.
Nestled between the Aiguilles Rouges and the Mont Blanc massif lies the alpine town of Chamonix-Mont-Blanc, a haven for winter sport enthusiasts and hikers alike. Chamonix-Mont-Blanc, more commonly referred to as Chamonix, hosted the first Winter Olympics in 1924. Over the past century, it has become a firm favourite amongst lovers of the great outdoors, offering everything from off-piste runs and paragliding to nature trails and via ferrata. Back in February, Laurence and I spent three days exploring this alpine wonderland – and our only regret was not spending more time there.