Transportation, Lodging and Eating Choices
For a resident of the United States, walking the GR 5- GR 52 undoubtedly requires a bigger budget than does the Appalachian Trail or Pacific Crest Trail: first to get to Europe and back, and then – unless staying in a tent – to pay for the costs of lodging. That said, a GR5 hiking trip costs far less than a European city vacation, and much, much less than a commercially-guided biking or walking trek.
Northern European and British readers of this site will find the costs of a GR5 – GR52 trip quite reasonable.
Train transportation from (say) Paris to Lake Geneva and back from the Mediterranean should cost a total of a good bit less than 200€ (2019) per person, if your French is good enough to buy your train tickets from the French Railroad French Internet Site well in advance and pick up your ticket at a railway station in France. If you purchase your tickets in Britain or the Untied States from Rail Europe they will be at least 20% more expensive, but that may well be worth it to save trouble.If you buy your tickets at the last minute in France, expect to pay somewhat more than the advance fare. For groups of three or more it may be easier to rent a car one-way. The cost of the rental, in 2014, was about the same as three one-way tickets purchased in France. By the time you add tolls of €50 to €100 and gas or diesel fuel, your total cost per person for three will probably bring the cost to 1.5 times the individual train tickets. The three companies with the cheapest one-way rentals are Hertz, Avis, and Eurocar. I personally enjoy taking the French high-speed trains, and would choose train over car for most trips if starting from central Paris. But I generally price out all alternatives.
If flying directly from the USA or England, then it will be cheapest to fly to Geneva and return from Nice. From England, Easyjet services both destinations.
To reach intermediate GR5 breakpoints, it may be best to fly to Lyon or Nice and take a train or a bus from there.
Lodging and Food
You can walk the GR5-GR52 in an “accommodation-only”style, or in a “accommodation and meals” style, or (or in a mixture of the two). Most refuges and gites provide a room for doing your own cooking. Most also provide full service family meals or menus. Hotels usually provide both room only rates and half-pension rates (dinner and breakfast), which are about fifty percent more per person.
In 2019, a night’s lodging, per person, in a French Club Alpin (CAF) refuge (hut) along the GR5 and 52 ranges from €20 to €25 per person andabout €30 – €35 for dinner and breakfast. The lodging cost, but not the food cost, of a Club Alpin Refuges is cut in half if you are a member of the French Club Alpin or a true mountaineering club in your home country (but not, for example, in the USA the Appalachian Mountain Club or Sierra Club). Joining the Club Alpin Français (you must choose a local club) costs about 80 €, so it would take 4 or 5 nights in CAF refuges to pay the cost of membership. (To join the CAF, follow the link on this iInternet page: http://www.ffcam.fr.)
One or two star hotels cost about €40 to €80 per person in a double room, or somewhat less in the Southern Alps. If you take dinner and breakfast as well as lodging, gîtes and refuges cost per person about 40 to 50 Euros per night, while half-pension in hotels cost €65 to €85 per person in the northern Alps and about €55 to €65 Euros in the southern Alps.
Bivouacking: I have met on the GR5 ultralight bivouackers carrying probably ten pounds of gear and exchanged emails with others carrying much heavier packs. It is not possible to bivouack everywhere along the GR5 and its variants, but it is usually possible. The advantages of bivouacking, to my mind, are lowered costs, less noise at night in the gites and refuges, and ability to break up those few days that require excessive hiking hours to reach a refuge. The disadvantages are: the extra weight that must be carried, the lack of comfort, the greatly reduced opportunity to meet with others in gites and refuges, missed opportunity to experience French cooking, and finally the inability to bivouac or camp in most of the spectacular Vanoise Park.
A budget for the GR5 could be less than 50 Euros a day per person if you are going to stay entirely at refuges and gîtes d’étap, and do your own cooking or eat out inexpensively (at pizzeria’s, etc.) If you are going for full service with a mixture of refuges, gîtes, and inexpensive to moderate hotels (double occupancy in a room), and if you spend, say, 10 euros each day on lunch and 5 euros on incidentals, a budget of 80 – 90 Euros per person per day should be attainable. Bivouackers might get by on a budget of less than 20 Euros per person per day. Thus, a two week trip along the GR5, per person, including train transportation but excluding transport to France, might range from less than 400 Euros to 1,200 Euros or more.