French Alps trip advice

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 fimm 05 Jul 2024

My husband and I have a holiday booked for the 3rd week in September. The dates can't be changed. We want to use public transport as much as possible.

We'd like to go somewhere in the French alps (we think!!). We'd like to do some easy mountain walking/trekking (I quite fancy a night in a refuge) - by which I mean waymarked paths, not technical summits. We'd also like to have some time just relaxing, maybe visiting a nice town/city/castle/whatever.

The Ecrins has been suggested, but somewhere else in the French alps would also be a possibility. 

Is there a decent website for French public transport? A bit of googling has not been very successful. 

This is all a bit vague which is part of the problem... does the Ecrins sound like a good place for this kind of mixed holiday, or is it more a place for a Proper Serious Walking Holiday? Any suggestions for other areas, or for accommodation/things to do in the Ecrins area gratefully received.

(We don't want to go to Chamonix (we've been there) and we don't want to go further south, before somebody suggests the Alpes Maritimes.)

All suggestions/comments/abuse (more or less) gratefully received. 

 RX-78 05 Jul 2024
In reply to fimm:

For trains download the SNCF app. For general planning purposes just use Google maps or city mapper or another general travel app.

Try around pralognan-en-vanoise for walking and refuges. As the name suggests it sits in the middle of the vanoise national park.

 Doug 05 Jul 2024
In reply to fimm:

night train to Briançon or nearby , then depending on the weather either the Ecrins, Val Clarée or the Queyras. All have lots of well waymarked paths, gites & hotels in the valleys & easy to access refuges. But be aware that Spetember is after the main holiday period so some things may  be closed (but it will be quieter)

 johnlc 05 Jul 2024
In reply to fimm:

You might want to look at

A mine of information about travelling long distances by train across Europe.

Good luck!  It sounds great.

 Jack Geldard 05 Jul 2024
In reply to fimm:

If you’re intending to fly to the alps then use public transport, an option could be fly to Milan Malpensa, take the flix bus to Aosta and base there. Nice town, castles etc as requested. Then from Aosta there is loads of mountain walking available, and you can take the lift up to Pila and go from there. Access to mountain refuges etc all up there. I know it’s Italy but very close to France.

Very easy logistically and very cheap travel.

Just an idea. Best of luck.

 iani 05 Jul 2024
In reply to fimm:

By the end of September the weather in the main alpine areas could be breaking with huts closing etc. The Maritime Alps above Tende -via train from Nice, are very interesting with good well signposted trails. Look at Casterino as a base - there’s a hut circuit around the valley of the marvels (archaeology). 

In reply to fimm:

The Écrins and surrounding area is very good for most of what you're after. 

The surrounding area is north of Briançon its  called massive des Cerces and south you have the Queyras both are probably more suitable for the kind of walking you want to do, with lots of refuge options. 

In terms of none walking stuff, there is a series of Vauban forts at Briançon (part of the old town) and Guiletre that you can access. and quite a lot of places like St Veran is the heights working village in the alp (their claim not mine). Also some amazing lakes such as Serre Poncon. 

The issue you have is public transport. It's ok to get here. There is a night train from Paris( need to check dates it runs). Or you can get a TGV to Oulx (Italy) just over the boarder from Briançon, and then there is options to get to Briancon. The problem is day to day public travel isn't that great, you can do stuff but it's not that easy.

The other issue is end of September. The weather maybe starting to change, Normally the start of September is very nice sunny but not to hot. But by the end of the month it can start to change and get wetter (this is across the alps). Also as Doug mention stuff starts to shut down mid September, not everything but you do need to check before you head out.


OP fimm 08 Jul 2024
In reply to ecrinscollective:

Thank you very much everyone.

We'll be coming by train, and that's our usual way of getting to Europe these days, so we have Man in Seat 61 etc bookmarked. It is buses that I was wondering about (and should have said as much!). Google maps is a really good suggestion, but are there any good websites for bus timetables in the area? (My French isn't great but I can probably manage a bus timetable.)

Thank you for the suggestions for areas outside the Ecrins themselves. I'll look in to those. Are there any websites with listings of huts, or is it a matter of locating individual hut websites? I have a map on order but it hasn't arrived yet. I've got an old Cicerone guide to the Ecrins but I'll have another search for guidebooks: if anyone has recommendations they would be useful. My French probably isn't good enough to read a guidebook.

I had wondered if we were going to be totally too late in the season, but I am getting the impression that we should be able to do some mountain stuff. Sounds like we could be lucky or unlucky with the weather. Plans will need to be flexible.

Thanks again!

 Doug 08 Jul 2024
In reply to fimm: is usually a good site for information on huts & bunkhouses although always worth checking with individual hut sites once you've identified places of interest.

 spenser 08 Jul 2024
In reply to fimm:

You can find some of the buses for the region on here:

I don't know if there are extra buses, but certainly the bus from Briancon heading down the valley is on there (69, I caught it last week). The timings aren't terribly helpful though!

 Badpanda 08 Jul 2024
In reply to fimm:

I also think the Queyras might be a very good option for you - except I'm not sure about public transport. Fine to get there - train to Guillestre and then bus. But don't know once you're up there.

Its pluses are its famously good weather (especially useful in late September), its lack of development and its nice people. And it's cheap. The trees will have started to colour up a bit, and it has good wildlife. Has nice refuges and gites d'etapes (check opening) and some pretty villages.  Look at any IGN map and you can plan out great walks just using the marked paths. You could do a multi day walk linking the valleys which would solve the public transport problem. Can recommend accommodation or specific walks off the marked routes if you like. 

 zb1 08 Jul 2024
In reply to fimm:

If you open Google maps on a phone, zoom into a town or village and tap on a bus stop (little blue squares with a white bus on). You can zoom back out and it will show you the routes and timetables. Reasonably reliable but I have no idea if it shows all the busses in the area.

 AndrewB121 08 Jul 2024
In reply to fimm:

I was in the Écrins in September last year, we got the night train straight from Paris to L'Argentiere la Bessee very easily, but all the buses up in the valleys were shut for the season. We were able to hitchhike around easily so that's a good option if you're comfortable with that, but if you're hoping to get public transport everywhere you may find things tricky. However, all the huts were still open and everything was nice and quiet, so if you can get around and the weather stays good it's lovely. 

 Badpanda 09 Jul 2024
In reply to Badpanda:

Apologies if I'm teaching my grandmother to suck eggs, but you should be able to access IGN maps on camptocamp. Find a route in the region where you want to go, expand map, and click on the IGN map option. Then move around in the map.

Seems to work, if you don't have, say, a Footpath subscription. 

 Doug 09 Jul 2024

or use & select carte topographique IGN to get the 1:25 000 maps with footpaths etc

 HardenClimber 09 Jul 2024
In reply to fimm:

Train to Bourg St Maurice and walk in the Vanoise....

Think the buses up to Val d'Isere are so seasonally limited.

Great intermediate walking in nice mountains.

(Trains to Modane also work well).

 HardenClimber 10 Jul 2024
In reply to HardenClimber:

That should read..... buses up to Val d'Isere are NOT so seasonally limited...

 Toerag 17:31 Wed
In reply to fimm:

> We'd like to go somewhere in the French alps (we think!!). We'd like to do some easy mountain walking/trekking (I quite fancy a night in a refuge) - by which I mean waymarked paths, not technical summits. We'd also like to have some time just relaxing, maybe visiting a nice town/city/castle/whatever.

> All suggestions/comments/abuse (more or less) gratefully received. 

Why the French Alps in particular? Are you planning to fly to Paris then train down?, or training all the way from Edinburgh?

I can't vouch for the French alps, but Italian / Austrian / German alps tend to close their lifts and huts in the third week of September.  This could make a large difference to your plans!

If you're not hell-bent on French alps then I'd suggest the German alps south of Munich, the Zugspitze / Estergebirge / Hoernle area in particular - plenty of mountain walking to do on good paths with public transport, and interesting places to see when you're not up a mountain (Munich / Innsbruck / Neuschwanstein etc.). Has the advantage of summits around 1400-1600m, and ones in the 2000m+ range, so you can often avoid high peaks in cloud / strong winds / snow by doing the lower ones which are mostly forested bar the summit 'bald heads'. Lifts around Garmisch will be open too.

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