Queyras days 1 to 4

We are having a rest day in St. Veran after three very good days of hiking in sunny weather.

We are in the Queyras region of France, doing a slightly modified version of the GR58 route. Most people start in Ceillac and make it an eight to ten day loop. We started in Montdauphin which adds an extra day at each end. The start from Mountdauphin is a hard day: 1800m total ascent, 435m descent, two cols (mountain passes), eight hours walking. But it was a beautiful day and we finished at isolated refuge Furfande, accessible only by foot and helicopter. It felt decadent to shower in water heated by gas flown in (héliportage in French), but I enjoyed the shower after a long day. The view of the Alps from the refuge is terrific.

Day two we hiked to Ceillac. We lost most of our previous day’s elevation gain then hiked over a pass. Another long day. Besides being the normal start of the GR58, Ceillac is also a stop on the GR5 as well as popular spot for day hikers. We stayed the night in the same big bustling gîte we used last year.

(Note on accommodation. In Italy, a mountain hut is called a rifugio; in France it is called a refuge. Refuges are usually isolated, basic, but serve meals and have all a tired hiker needs. Not all have showers. In or near towns gîtes d’etape offer dormitory space and sometimes private rooms. Like refuges, the meals are set (no choice) and served family style at large tables. Unlike refuges, gîtes have all modern cons and fresh bread.)

Day three was not as hard or as long, but again, beautiful. At the col we did as most hikers do and made a short 100m additional climb (without our packs) to the 2540m Tête de Jacquette for an exceptional view. We could see a col to the south that we crossed last year on the GR5. Then down to St. Veran which at 2040m claims to be the highest continuously-inhabited village in Europe.

Today we are enjoying a day off this historic town. The gîte we are in was a customs hall in the 19th century for trade between France and Piedmont (now part of Italy). We have a small private room which is treat for a two-night stay.

The weather has been perfect: sunny, not too hot, at times completely cloudless, at higher elevations the sky such a deep blue it seems unreal.

Queyras days 5 and 6

Day 5 (Aug 13) St.-Véran to Refuge Agnet

Good day with good weather and some good alpine walking. There was thunder and lightning last night, but no rain. We took the optional higher route out of St.-Véran. This involved a bit of early climbing, but then took us along an old canal route for easy level walking and good views of the valley. Once again, our way was briefly blocked by sheep. Lots of marmots whistling up and down the grassy slopes. A long but not too steep climb to the col. At 2880m this is the highest we have walked in the Alps. The 300m descent to the refuge across a large rock and scree slope was surprisingly easy. The guide book cautions that it is steep and it would certainly be difficult in wet weather, but the trail is good. Some low cloud hanging about the pass and the descent. The refuge is big, busy and noisy. We have a cozy two-person loft in one of the dorm rooms which gives us a little bit of privacy.

Day 6 (Aug 14) Ref Agnet to Ref la Monta

Good weather again. A short easy climb from the refuge to a col at 2800m then a descent to our refuge in the tiny hamlet of la Monta at 1663m. The refuge is small, quiet and friendly. On the way we walked by two beautiful alpine lakes and since it was a short day, we sat for a while to enjoy the alpine. The refuge has the most marvellous of amenities: a washing machine. Our clothes are drying in the sunny windy weather. We have internet access here but only if you sit in the right place; the thick stone walls of this old building block the signal from going far.

Queyras days 7 to 9

Queyras day 7 (Aug 15) Ref la Monta to Abriès

A 900m climb from refuge la Monta in the Guil valley to a panoramic summit, a ridge walk along the Collette de Gilly, and an easy descent to the small town of Abriès, in the same valley, about 80m lower than we started, all in fine sunny weather. A very good day.

Queyras day 8 (Aug 16) Abriès to les Fonts de Cervières

A harder but more rewarding day. Like most days on this part of the trip, the day is a climb to a col from a village in the valley, then down to another village. This day was a 1300m climb and an 800m descent. The climb was a good grade for most of the way and for the first part of the day, we were in the shade. A bit steeper climb took us to lovely mountain lake and then a stiff climb to the col. The descent was lovely, following a stream, and we had a long break soaking our feet in the icy water. Les Fonts de Cervières is a tiny hamlet with cows wandering the dirt streets, but it has road access and a busy gîte doing a good lunchtime and afternoon trade. We encountered a group doing a tour on horseback, one in full western dress (see the photos).  The weather continues warm and sunny

Queyras day 9 (Aug 17) les Fonts de Cervières to Souliers

Another up and down, but a short and easy day. Again, good weather and lovely country.

Some random thoughts on this part of the trip:

They are all French
Almost everyone hiking here is French. There are almost no foreign tourists. We have met one couple from the UK, two Germans, and Inge overheard a couple speaking Dutch. We have seen a few Belgian and Swiss license plates, but the vast majority are French. The Queyras is unknown outside of France and we would not know it if we had not walked the GR5 last year. Everyone is friendly and we have become friends with a number of French people walking the same route. At dinner we have great conversations in our bad French and their English. No language problems.

French hikers do lunch
Unlike hikers at home who gobble lunch and press on, the French hikers find a shady spot and settle down for an hour of food and laughter. A French family arrived a bit late at the gîte yesterday after falling asleep at lunch on the trail.

French families do things together
Imagine taking young children hiking for a week and having them love it. Imagine a couple going hiking for a week with their adult children and a the boyfriend of one of the children. They eat together, chatter, laugh and enjoy each other.

Grasshoppers, flowers, butterflies and marmots get lots of attention
Walking on rocky trails, you look at your feet a lot. The insects and flora get close inspection. The brilliant green grasshoppers are everywhere and from time to time you walk through a bunch of butterflies feasting on something and suddenly they are all around you. It is silent here except for the sound of the wind and the constant whistling of the marmots. They are busy creatures standing alert, whistling to each other at the approach of hikers, scurrying through the grass and disappearing into their burrows. Some caution is needed walking off the trail as marmot burrow holes are everywhere in the alpine.

Queyras days 10 and 11, end of the hike.

Hello from Montdauphin. We finished the hike today, a day early. We combined two planned short days into one long day and avoided wasting a sunny afternoon sitting in Brunissard,  a town with little appeal.

Today we are back in the hotel we stayed in on August 8, the day before we started the walk. Such luxury: towels, bed sheets, a private room! The weather has been very hot, 35 degrees today, and for the last few days the sky has been cloudless. Perhaps a thunderstorm tonight.

Day 10 (August 18) Souliers to refuge Furfande

A good morning climb up to overlook Brunissard, our original destination for the day. We had planned to stretch the day out a little by hiking up to a pretty alpine lake before descending to Brunissard, but after looking at the town (barren ski resort with no charm), we decided to do what most others were doing and press on to Furfande, a refuge we thoroughly enjoyed on our first night. Four quick phone calls and everything was arranged: move the reservations at Frufande and Montdauphin ahead a day, cancel the reservation at Brunissard, and add an extra day in Briançon. A mobile phone is invaluable at times! We did stop in Brunissard for coffee. It was a long, hot hike to the col Furfande at 2500m, but very pretty. Much of it was in the shade, but still hot, and the last 500m to the col was in the sun. Fun evening at the refuge talking with some of the French hikers we had come to know.

Day 11 (August 19) Refuge Furfande to Montdauphin

Goodbyes to everyone at the refuge this morning. Lots of shaking hands, hugs, and good wishes. We felt sad to be starting our last day and leaving new friends behind. We took our time leaving the valley and as we walked over the next col, we talked about what a good hike it had been. I think we will return to walk this again, perhaps with some variations such as the leg that goes into Italy near Mt. Viso.

A long descent to Montdauphin followed, sometimes steep, some of it through forest, but the last few kms on a very hot road. We soaked ourselves at a public fountain in a small town on the way down.

Tomorrow, Monday, we take a 35 minute train ride to Briançon where we will spend two days. Wednesday will be travel: a bus back to Oulx in Italy to catch the TGV to Paris, a short Metro ride in Paris to the gare du Nord, the Thalys high-speed train to Holland, and a local train to Deventer.