How to Hike the GR5, The Grande Randonnée Cinq (Five), through the Alps.

Tips and Routes:
Briancon to Larche

By David May

Copyright 2004 - 2012, All rights Reserved
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General Information:

1. Why the GR5 and GR52?

Difficulty

Who should use this site?

Other Long Distance Alpine Hikes

About the author

2. The Entire GR5, from the North Sea to the Mediterranean (three months) (only summarily described here with a few references).

The Alpine Crossing, from Lake Geneva (Lac Léman) to either Nice or Menton on the Mediterranean. Nice is a 4 weeks walk from Lake Geneva, Menton, almost 5 weeks. I recommend the walk to Menton over the GR 52 variant, if you can possibly find the time.

Types of trekkers - "purists" and "easygoers".

Costs and Budget

3. When to Go and When to Walk

Accommodation: Types and Reservations

Planning your Route

Meeting People

4. Trail Identification and Direction Marks

Gear

5. Books, Maps, Internet sites, GPS

6. Conditioning, hiking speed, rest days

7. Shopping and Communications

8. Top sights attractions:
Lake Geneva Steamer*;
Dent d'Oche**;
Samoens*;
Chamonix area*** (a very slight detour; consider allowing three or more sunny days);
Briançon**;
Sospel*and Aspremont* ;
Nice** and Menton**.

9. GR5 access points:

Author's Route Recommendations and Tips for the demanding hiker:

10. Starting Points on the South Shore of Lake Geneva: The official St. Gingolph or Thonon-les-Bains, vis-a-vis my preferred starting point of Evian-les-Bains. Advantages and disadvantages. Getting there. Detouring to visit the Dent d'Oche**.

11. Accommodations from La Chapelle-d'Abondance to Chamonix (or Les Houches).

12. Accommodations and route, Chamonix to Briançon.

13. Accommodations and route, Briançon to Larche: My difficult but thrilling back way out of Briançon.

14. From Larche to the Vésubie Valley.

Recommended for the intrepid: Partially off-trail variation in the northern Mercantour Park to beautifully austere and isolated lakes.

Isola 2000 short-cut to the lower GR5 or GR52, possibly saving a day or more and much more interesting terrain than the official GR5 route

15. From the Vésubie Valley to the Mediterranean:

Comparison of the GR5 to Nice vis-a-vis the GR52 to Menton: Two possible endings for your walk.

The GR5.

How to handle the 2,000 meter (6,600 foot) descent from the Valley des Merveilles to Sospel on the GR52.

Don't miss the stupendous GR52 final day from Sospel to the Mediterranean at Menton.

From Briançon to Larche

The GR5 to Ceillac

The GR5 runs in an enclosed valley near a dirt road as it climbs to the Col des Ayres. You will stay in a gîte d'étape or in hotels that are a 7 to 7 1/2 hours' walk from Briançon. Another 2 1/2 hours of walking will bring you to Chateau Queyras, and from here another 5, to Ceillac. Thus Ceillac is a 2 or 3 days away from Briançon..

My difficult but thrilling route to Ceilliac

My unofficial route takes 3 days and will test you physically, but the views on the first day will amaze you while increasing your familiarity with French military history; and the bushwhacking that follows as you descend, among the marmots, is also an exciting experience not repeated elsewhere. Purchase a 1:25,000 IGN topographical map of the area, reference 3536OT, before setting off. Do not take this route in bad weather!

Leave the upper town (the Cité Vauban) of Briançon (1,290 meters or 4,300 feet) by a gate on its south side. Follow the road downhill a bit, and cross the deep river gorge (a stupendous view down). Climb in switchbacks up the road passing the first of the forts on your left, the Ancien Fort des Trois Têtes. The road continues up the hill to a junction at 1,435 meters (where the GR5D crosses from Fontenil) Cross this, and continue southward (up) to Fort Christiane. The path continues up the hill, sometimes on the dirt road, sometimes not, in multiple switchbacks. Your views become longer and longer, as though in an airplane taking off.

After passing several fortifications, you reach the Ancient Fort de L'Ínferne at 2,300 meters (7,500 feet), 1,000 meters (3,300 feet) above Briancon, and eventually the Ancient Fort du Gondran and the Sommet des Anges. Each fort apparently had the job of protecting the one below it from attack. You can see some prison cells in one of the forts. Briançon now looks tiny, and you can spot the many glaciers of the Ecrins peaks. With sightseeing, and assuming you are fit, allow 4 hours for this climb.

From the Sommet Des Anges, you need to bushwhack your way down through meadows filled with marmots, passing to the right of a little lake. Pick up the trail descending to La Chau, at 1,900 meters. It is now a 6 kilometer walk along a level road to les Fonds, where there is a good Gîte d'Étape. Allow 8 hours in total.

(As an alternative, you could walk from the Sommet Des Anges down to Cerviéres, where there are several hotels. If so, you can cross the Col d'Izoard, and pick up the GR5 at Brunissard.)

The following day, you follow the GR58 and stay in Ville Vieille (with a good gîte d'étape, or Chateau Queyras (GR5). The next day continue to Ceillac.

Ceillac to Larche

Ceillac has the last food market before Larche.

From the porch of the gîte d'étape, Fouillouse.

Hikers south of Ceillac going to Fouillouse have the choice between two shorter days and one long day. The refuge and the gîte d'étape at Maljasset are about a 6 hours walk from Ceillac, and it is 3 1/2 hours from Maljasset to Fouillouse. It takes almost 9 hours to reach the lovely Gîte d'étape at Fouillouse in one stretch (saving one-half hour by bypassing Maljasset).

The Maljasset-Fouillouse section of the GR5 is mainly upon a level, low-traffic road, with rural surroundings, and frankly, it is one of the most boring parts of the total GR5. My easygoing hiking companion hitched a ride to Fouillouse.

You might want to note the sign over the graveyard in Fouillouse, stating in French that "We were what you are, and you will be what we are". From Fouillouse, a pleasant five hour walk brings you to Larche, where you have a choice of the relatively sumptuous Gîte de Larche (for a gite) and some new hotels.

Rhododendrons along trail between Fouillouse and Larche.

 

Italian Routes to Larche from Maljasset bypassing Fouillouse

A correspndant from Germany has called my attention to several possible routes through Italy from Maljasset, discussed in a book on the GR5 in German by Philipp Bachman.  Since you must stop in Maljasset, they require three days from Celliac to Larche. They bypass the mainly boring 11.5 kilometer segment along the road to Fouillouse. I discuss them in the following paragraph, but until I have tried these routes myself, I have no opinion.

From Maljasset (1919 m), following the "Tour de Chambeyron" route, the first day, in about 6 hours, you cross the Col de Mary (2641 m) to the refuge at Campo Base (1640m). The second day, passing by the villages of Chippera and Saretto (about 1,500 m), you have a choice of three routes to Larche (1664m)-- either via the Col de Sautron (2685m) (on a GR de Pays) or direct via the Col des Monges (Munie in Italian) (2439m), or following the Tour de Chambeyron route and again crossing the Col des Monges, in about 7 to 9 hours depending upon the route chosen. .  All but the very beginning of these Italian routes are fairly well covered on the IGN map 3538ET; Maljasset is on map 3537ET.

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