This challenging 4-day hike is an excellent introduction to the rugged landscape of the Ecrins National Park. Despite being only 4 days long, during this walk we will climb four cols over 2000 m. Starting out from the famous Tour de France climb of Alpe d’Huez, we walk across the high mountain Plateau d’Emparis to La Grave, the renowned off-piste ski station with its stunning views of the Meije. From here, the walk takes us across the Col d’Arsine down to the old town of Monetier-le-Bains in the Serre-Chevalier valley, where our trip ends.
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Day 1: Pick up from Lyon Airport. Walk from Alpe d’Huez to Châtelard, 4 hours walking.
Day 2: Châtelard to Besse, 6-7 hours walking.
Day 3: Besse to Villar-d’Arêne, 8-9 hours walking.
Day 4: La Grave to Monêtier-les-Bains, 7-8 hours walking
Suitability: This is a moderately challenging hike, suitable for regular, fit hill walkers. We will be walking for up to 9 hours a day, with up to 1100m height gain per day. Altitude is not generally a problem, however, we will be walking above 2400m, at which most people will feel some shortness of breath.
Accommodation: Accommodation throughout will be in basic but comfortable hotels and small gîtes. Single rooms are available on days 1, 3 and 4, subject to a single supplement. On day 2 we will stay in a gîte with small dormitories.
Meals: All breakfasts and dinners (with the exception of dinner on the final day) are included in the price. Lunches are not included. We will either stop at a refuge or mountain restaurant at lunchtime, or purchase packed lunches from the overnight accommodation.
Transport: There will be a transfer from Lyon Airport on Day 1 and a return transfer to Lyon Airport on Day 5. Other transfer options may be possible on request.
Group Size: 4-10
Day 1 Arrival Day: There will be a timed transfer from Lyon airport to Alpe d’Huez on the morning of the first day. After a late lunch by the beautiful Lac Besson, we will walk to our first evening’s accommodation at Châtelard. The walk is largely downhill, and will be a good warm-up for the days ahead. We arrive at our hotel in time to relax in the surroundings before dinner.
Accommodation: Comfortable hotel
Altitude Gain: 150m
Maximum Altitude: 2070m
Day 2: Châtelard to Besse-en-Oisans: After breakfast at our hotel, we begin our walk. An easy start over the Col du Marronne brings us to the Col de Cluy. From here there are two options. One is the tough climb to the Croix de Cassini, our high point with great views of the Oisans and of tomorrow’s challenge, the Plateau d’Emparis. An airy ridge leads us down to the Col de Sarenne with its remote road crossing. An easier alternative takes us to the Col de Sarenne via the more sheltered Sarenne Gorge. The trip leader will make the decision as to which route we take depending on the weather and the ability of the group.
The whole area has a remarkably wild feel to it, despite being just behind Alpe d’Huez. From the col, we have a spectacular view over the Ferrand Valley, which we will be descending into. After a stop for our packed lunch, we descend nearly 800m to Besse, our stop for the night. Accommodation tonight is at a friendly auberge.
Accommodation: Cosy Gite
Distance: 19km or 17km
Altitude Gain: 1250m or 950m
Maximum Altitude: 2373m or 1990m
Day 3: Besse-en-Oisans to Villar-d’Arêne: Today is one of the highlights of the entire GR54 route, as we hike across the famous Plateau d’Emparis. Expect to see marmots, vultures and maybe even a golden eagle.
After breakfast, we head straight into a 700m climb to the Col de Bichet. From here we have a short descent, followed by another 200m climb to the Col de Souchet at 2365m. This marks the highpoint for the day, and after stopping to admire the views of the Girose and Tabuchet glaciers, we descend to the world-famous ski resort of La Grave. From here, we take a gentle uphill path out of the town to the village of Villar-d’Arêne where we stop for the day. Our accommodation tonight will be at a basic hotel.
Accommodation: Basic but comfortable hotel
Distance: 20 km
Altitude Gain: 1200m
Maximum Altitude: 2365m
Day 4: Villar-d’Arêne to Monêtier-les-Bains: An early start today, as we have another big day ahead of us. We stock up on snacks and start the climb up to the Col d’Arsine. While the climb is long, it is neither technically difficult nor steep. There is the option to stop at a refuge along the way for lunch. Once at the col, we have an impressive view into both the Romanche and Guisane valleys. Depending on the time, we may be able to take a short detour to visit the glacial lake of Arsine.
The descent into Monêtier follows the Petit Tabuc river past a series of smaller lakes. The marmots in this region are known to be particularly habituated to humans, so we may even see them up close. Depending on the time we arrive in Monêtier, there may be the option of unwinding in the famous thermal baths from which the town gets its name. Our trip will finish this evening with a celebratory meal out in a local restaurant.
Distance: 20 km
Altitude Gain: 900m
Maximum Altitude: 2354m
Day 5: Transfer Day: After a last breakfast together, we will transfer back to Lyon airport.