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Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes France - Samoens in the Alps, September 2014


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Travel day, driving from Lenk in Switzerland to Samoens in a France. The 3 1/2 hour drive took all day.

We left Lenk around 10:30. We stopped in Saanen, near Gstaad, to have a walk through the village. Things have changed. Their is a tunnel bypass so the main road no longer goes thru town. The center of town is pedestrian and there is a large underground parking lot. We used to drive along the Main Street and park. Now it is set up like a mini Gstaad. But it still feels like the old Saanen. The shops are all the same.

They were having a cheese market, with tables set up for local cheese makers. Lots of samples. I tried some, and it was good, but it is a very plain cheese.

The day was sunny and warm. We drove out the Gstaad valley, through beautiful mountains, to the area east of Lake Geneva. Then we followed the southern shore of the lake. We stopped in Saint Gingolph, a lakeside town on the border. We had a nice lunch on the Swiss side, but they were busy and the service was painfully slow. Steve had a lake fish, I had the vegetable plate. We skipped coffee or we would still be there.

We drove along the lake and through Evian, a beautiful and busy lakeside town. Then we turned south and into the alps. It was a beautiful drive. Much of it looked like Switzerland, especially the houses - wooden chalets. But the cows in France don't wear bells!

We got checked into our apartment which is not as perfect as our Lenk one but is nice. We can walk into town. Samoens is small. We had a quick walk around.

We have a laundry room here! Laundry is all done and hanging. Can't wait to get out and see this area tomorrow.

I first heard of this area years ago because someone I followed on Twitter owns a vacation rental here. Then I read more about it and thought we might like it. There is a lot of hiking, but no mountain rides to make it easy.

When were at the Carrefour market a herd of cows went by. But no bells :(


Photo of the view of the mountains from our vacation rental.

French cows do wear bells, some of them. We saw and heard them today.

This morning we woke to a heavy cloud layer so we did not feel guilty sleeping late and then listening to BBC Broadcasting House. Finally we went out and walked around town. We are only 6 blocks from the center. The bakery was open and has very good bread. We sat on the main square and had a mediocre coffee. Next time we try a different cafe. Lots of people around. At 1pm the sun broke through the clouds and it was sunny and almost hot.

We had lunch at home and then drove to the end of our valley, past the cute village of Sixt Fer a Cheval, to the end of the road in the Cirque du Fer a Cheval nature preserve. There are large parking lots and they were almost full. This area is a large meadow, forest area surrounded on almost all sides by large rock mountains. They form a horseshoe (Fer a Cheval). The valley is cut through by the River Giffre. There are many hiking trails, some easy ones and some difficult. Lots of people were out walking.

We did the easy 1 hr walk along the river on one side and back on the other. It was lovely. Instead of being on top of the mountains looking out, we were in the valley looking up. The river starts here from the waterfalls on the mountains. There must be glaciers further back. The water is clear, running over black and white rocks making everything string shades of white, black and grey. Beautiful.

We bought a hiking guide and map at the tourist office yesterday, refusing the guide for "family hikes" and taking the real hiking guide which, like most guides, is ordered from easiest to most difficult. I think we are only up to the first few hikes. The ones they call easy are 3 hrs ascent of 900 meters - no gondolas to help out here! I wonder if we can exchange it for the family walks? :)

It is a beautiful area and I think we will have a fun week. We will do a day trip to Annecy, and even to Chamonix if we are avoiding the harder hikes here.

Photo of the 600 yr old Lime tree in the main square of Samoens.


Photo from our walk in the Cirque du Fer a Cheval.


I posted a few more photos in the Media section.
Today was sunny and warm, with some cloud. This evening we had lightening, thunder and some heavy rain - very dramatic. Big lightening while I am typing this (not so much typing as tapping it out on my iPad).

We did another easy walk today, this time we walked from the house to the river and then along it to the next village. The trail is good and the first half was lovely because you saw the river, but then it went into woods and became a bit boring. We walked back through the town. Two hours of easy walking.

It is a wide valley here with steep mountains on the south side and more shallow on the north, where there are villages with large fields. We drove up the mountain south of Samoens to Samoens 1600, a ski area at the top (elevation 1600 meters). It was a long drive up (20 mins) going through a few villages on the way. At the top is a new ski village, all closed now. Lots of rides and it looks like a big ski area. In the winter a gondola brings people up there.

It is too bad that they don't do like the Swiss and turn their ski areas into summer hiking areas by keeping some of the gondolas and chairlifts open. Still, there is a lot of good hiking here.

We drove around a bit more to see some of the other villages. Things are quiet. Some of the restaurants are closed for the season.

Photo of the River Giffre near Samoens.


Photo of an old barn on the edge of town. There are a lot of these old barns around.

Woke up to beautiful sunshine after last nights heavy rain. We walked to the bakery for breakfast things, one of my favorite France traditions. It is an excellent bakery with several types of bread, good croissants and good looking pastries. Even muffins!

We were going to drive to Annecy but since the weather was so nice decided to do a hike instead. The guy who checked us in recommended a hike to the Refuge de Sales and the hiking guide says it is the most popular hike in the area. Even though it is two hours of climbing with a 700 meter gain, the book says it is easy. These French hikers are tough!

We drove to Sixt, a few miles away, then took a long mountain road that took us from 800 to 1200 meters. The parking lot was almost full - on a Tuesday off season! We started at noon and I think we were the last. The hike goes from 1200 to 1900 meters and the signs and book say 2 hours ascent, 1.5 hours descent. We walked uphill for 3 hours and made it to the third waterfall at 1800 meters, but turned around because we were tired and had a way to go still the refuge is a restaurant and a dormitory where people stay. For the last 30 mins of our walk up a lot of people passed us going down. We should have got an earlier start. Also dark clouds were coming in.

The hike up was beautiful. The first hour was steep but manageable through pine forests. We were walking along a fast moving river. There were three big waterfalls along the trail. We came out of the forest to a stunning valley. Flat and wide, with the river down one side and with steep, high rock mountains on either side. We walked down this valley for an hour. A beautiful waterfall was at the end. We claimed up to the top of the waterfall. This is where we turned around.

I found the ascent not that difficult, but had problems with the descent. It was steep and rocky. Plus wet from last nights rain and a bit slippery. We only had one walking pole each, but we needed two. My knees and feet hurt on the way down. It started drizzling for the last 30 mins.

It was cool on the hike because of the forest and he altitude (which I like). When we got back to Samoens at 6pm it was very warm and it had not rained here.

On this hike we wanted to see an Ibex (they are in this area). We spotted a female and her baby at the third waterfall. It was quite thrilling.

Photo of female Ibex on the trail. Her baby was nearby.


Photo of the beautiful valley we walked through.

Today was market day but there were only clothing stalls, no food stalls. I think probably because it is off season. I managed to purchase a few French made handkerchiefs. The town was lively even with the lame market.

We went into La Jardin Botanique Alpin - the Alpine Botanical Garden - created 100 yrs ago by a wealthy resident. It has plants from around the world, including a California sequoia. The garden starts at gates near the main square and a walking path snakes up the steep hill through the gardens. The upper part is alpine. One of the historic Samoens churches is in the garden - small, built in the 1600s. We got good views over the town.

After the garden walk we did some grocery shopping, just a few things.

In the afternoon we took a mountain road from Samoens up to a pass at 1700 meters, Le Col de Joux Plane. The mountain road passed through beautiful hamlets and farms in the pastures on the hillside. I really like the buildings here, the beautiful dark wood old chalets and barns. It is scruffier than Switzerland, a little wilder looking. The mountain roads here are more interesting and there are more of them.

We did a short hike (1 1/2 hours round trip) to a view point, La Bourgeoise. We looked out over the Samoens valley and could see Le Cirque de Fer a Chavel, the horseshoe of mountains at the end of the valley. And above that was Mont Blanc!

The day started out sunny, but clouds moved in during the afternoon and there were dark clouds over Mont Blanc. We didn't get rain until this evening. The valley is so steep that the sun does not hit the town until 9am. Before that you can see it on the mountain tops.

Two days left. We had thought of doing day trips to both Chamonix and Annecy, but we have enjoyed this area so much we didn't do either. We may do one tomorrow.

Photo of the 17th century church in Le Jardin Botanique Alpin in Samoens.


Photo of view of Mont Blanc, with Le Cirque du Fer a Chavel in front.

Our internet connection is getting worse. I am sitting in the entrance way where I get the best signal.

Today we drove to Annecy. Fast autoroute for half the drive. Just an hour to the city outskirts. I have heard horrible things about the traffic. We were booked for 3 nights back in 2007 and I cancelled a few days before and we stayed in Gstaad instead. The traffic in July probably would have been bad. Annecy is a popular summer destination. Today the traffic was fine, road signs good and we drove right to the center and parked in a big underground lot.

It was overcast and drizzling all morning, but the sun came out in the afternoon. The center of Annecy, along the canals, is full of restaurants. Block after block lined with restaurants. We picked a small one beside the canal and Steve had lake fish, I had fondue! All the restaurants say minimum of 2 ordering fondue, but they made me a single portion. A lovely lunch.

We spent a couple of hours walking around the medieval center, then along the lake. I was disappointed in the look of the lake, but that changed when the sun came out and the lake turned a shimmering blue.

Annecy is pretty, but it is not as beautiful as being right in ten mountains. I am glad we did not stay there for our week. The medieval center is pretty, but it is surrounded by a modern city. The lake is beautiful and you see the mountains rising up from the shores but it is not as dramatic and beautiful as I expected.

But it was a good visit and I was happy to finally see Annecy.

One day left. We won't go to Chamonix. We spent a few days there 25+ years ago, and did some hiking there. Maybe another time. Instead we will pack a picnic lunch and go back to Le Cirque de Fer a Cheval, the horseshoe of mountains at the end of this valley, and do another hike.

The typical tourist photo of the old prison on the canal.


Photo of the canal leading to the lake.

Cloud and rain this morning, ugh! We were in our hiking gear ready to head out when it looked so dismal that we decided to stay in. Oh well. Then just after lunch the sun came out, the skies were blue, it was hot.

We drove out to Le Cirque de Fer a Cheval, just a few miles down the road at the end of the valley, where we went last Sunday. This time instead of full parking lots there were only a few cars. We did the 2 1/2 hour walk to Le Fond de la Combe. We had done half of this on Sunday. It is almost flat and follows the River Giffre to the mountain where the river starts from the waterfalls. There were a few other people out walking. This is a popular hike in season and even has a restaurant half way along (closed today).

It was beautiful. The trail takes right to the back if gone horseshoe and you are surrounded by high mountains with many waterfalls coming down.

What a lovely last day.

Tomorrow we drive to Geneva airport (1 hr 15 min drive) and fly home. We have missed three weeks of summer weather in England, but we had great weather on our trip. I think I will sleep for a week when we get home. This has been a fabulous vacation.

Photo of the walk we did.


Photo of the waterfall we walked to.


Photo of Steve crossing the narrow bridge.


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