Six members of Walking Group R went on a walking tour in the Queyras, a French National Park in the Hautes Alpes near the Italian border. The tour was organised by a French company Safrans Tours. We were to stay in 3 different hotels and undertake 6 walks. Our main luggage was transported for us. The walk details were in French as the company did not usually cater for English visitors. We used Google translate to obtain an English version and also had GPS versions of the route. With this and our school French we hoped to avoid getting too lost!
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We had decided to go by train which meant an overnight stop in Valence on the way. The first day of the trip went smoothly. On the second day our train to Mountdauphin-Guillestres, where we were to pick up a taxi to complete the journey, was delayed but we were able to let the taxi company know so all was well and we arrived at Le Chamois in Molines-en-Queyras in mid-afternoon. The heat had generated an Alpine thunderstorm so we settled in before taking a walk round the village. We were fascinated by the sundials, a feature of the area, and by a village baking oven that dated from the fifteenth century. The oven reached a temperature of 380 degrees until the stones were white and then bread baked to last the whole winter. We thought the bread must have been a bit like hard tack. We then went back to the hotel for a delicious meal. (Note: this group will come back fatter despite the walking)?
We set off early so as to be back before any thunder storms. The walk was described as a gentle introduction so that we got used to the altitude - the highest village in the alps, St Véran, is in the Queyras. Apart from one fairly lengthy steep descent which was mentioned in the walk details, this was fair. The sky remained blue throughout with the clouds just beginning to gather as we returned. The views were spectacular and we managed to follow the directions reasonably well apart from one glitch. We were set a stiff examination in wild flower and butterfly identification. We all failed but did get some photographic evidence. Do help us by trying the quiz at Flower quiz
Local ice cream at the hotel and the promise of another good meal finished off a great first day.
We had been provided with two routes for the transfer, one quite short and an Alpine one. We decided to split with Carol, Chris G and Diana doing the shorter route and the rest of us doing the Alpine route. We adapted the shorter route a little so that we walked together to a Berg, or Shepherds hut, before splitting. We all took a break at the Berg following quite a climb up to it. The group doing the shorter walk then followed a track down through an Alpine meadow and had a leisurely walk to our hotel. Their main adventure was meeting a large Patou dog. Thesedogs are used to guard sheep in the area. The rest of us set off up from the Berg, following a clear trail up and up to La Gardiole de l'Alp. This took 2.5 hours as the going was steep and we stopped frequently to admire the superb views and wonderful flowers. We had lunch and then set off along the ridge. There was an occasional scramble but the views all round were stupendous. We descended from the ridge at the Pas du Chai. The descent was enhanced by several marmots showing themselves and teasing the photographers. The flowers, particularly the gentian, gave us great pleasure. We had excellent weather all day with just a rumble or two of thunder when we were safely enjoying beer outside our hotel in Le Coin.
We woke to another lovely morning and the hotel suggested breakfast on the terrace which we readily agreed to. There was a possibility of thunder in the afternoon so we made an early start. The walk started uphill and then picked up the route of an old water channel, contouring very gently up along the valley. It then descended to the road and took a lower route back to our hotel. The weather stayed beautiful throughout, some early heavy looking cloud in the distance dissipating during the morning. We were very slow along the track as the flowers were amazing and had to be both admired and photographed. In addition the path had plaques at various places, sometimes with pictures of birds and sometimes with poems about water. (See Plaques) At the turning point there was a memorial to the builders of the canal with both pictures and words. Near the memorial was a picnic table where we had lunch. Our return along the lower route was by the river and partly on the road. We were rather quicker! In the evening we enjoyed a Raclette meal, each taking our turns at extracting the melted cheese from the specially designed machine.
The hotelier transported us to the Refuge Agnel, near the Italian border, and very kindly agreed to pick us up from there in the afternoon. This made it possible for us to follow the GR58 to Lac Foréant and a bit beyond so as to see the next lake, Lac Egorgeou, in the valley, and return the same way. The thunderstorm in the night had cleared and left everything a bit cooler. The views were superb, helped by blue skies with fluffy clouds, and the flowers were again lovely . In particular, the three who had not been high up earlier could see gentians in all their glory. The marmots were very entertaining today both on the way up, when we saw a group playing and fighting, and then on our way down, when we had fun photographing more of them some of whom allowed us to get very close to the entrance to their burrows.
The forecast was a little bit iffy but any rain was due in the afternoon, probably about 3pm or so. Chris F said he would lead the shorter route to La Chalp so that David and Camilla could do the longer one. David and Camilla's route went along the valley towards Col Agnel and branched off right to go over Col de Longet. The climb up to the Col was steady but never too steep. Towards the top we saw an animal (a bit like a large dog) moving on to the top of a nearby hillock - the marmots were screaming! David took a couple of photos that confirmed that this was a wolf! We climbed onto the Col and took in the stunning views. The route down was very pleasant and we stopped for lunch where a mule route traversed ours and one of the mules in a passing group showed close interest in Camilla's lunch! The rain came just as we were entering St Véran. When we looked at the map to check the final bit of the route, David discovered his glasses had gone missing. We continued none the less with only a slight hiccup as a path was somewhat indistinct so we took the road to La Chalp.
We again split as Diana and Chris G wanted to spend some time in St Véran and the rest of us thought we would do a round walk incorporating a look for David's specs. We walked together back along GR58 by the river until the Pont Vieux. At this point Diana and Chris crossed the bridge and went up to explore St Véran. The rest of us continued along the river in search of a suitable bridge to cross. The map showed crossing points but it was not clear if they were bridges or fords. After one place where there was not a bridge we continued along the GR58. At the second possible place there was a sign and, indeed, a bridge. It was a little 'basic' but we crossed safely. We then had a very steep climb up to the road where David and Camilla had walked the day before. We followed their route in reverse as far as the mule crossing where they had had lunch. Alas no specs were found! We lunched and then took the canal route back to St Véran. This was a superb route both for the views and the wild flowers. We got back to our hotel after 18km of walking and nearly 900 metres of ascent, happy apart from those still missing specs.