Or take the gondola. Which we decided to do today to make our hike to Lac Blanc do-able in a day. Plus, there’s just so something so quintessentially “The Alps” about boarding a bright red gondola and being whisked at high-speed up the mountains. I’ve been skiing my whole life and yet there was still something thrilling about jostling into place, being surrounded by people speaking French, the doors hissing shut, and sliding quickly and silently up the mountain. Looking behind, the valley floor grew small, looking forward, the top of the mountain came rushing at us.
La Flegere is a popular ski area in the winter and the start of many good hiking trails in the summer. Our hike was a four-hour loop from the top of the gondola up to a high mountain lake called Lac Blanc. Normally, there is a restaurant there where you can order food and drink, rest, and take in the view but there had been a rock slide the week before and the restaurant was closed. Europeans know how to do the outdoors. The hiking is not for the faint of heart, but there is always something civilized waiting for you at the top: crepes, a glass of wine, a baguette, a mountain refuge. You will not find anyone eating PowerBars here.
We shouldered our packs and started up the trail. It became very steep, very quickly. Only a few minutes into our hike, I heard the tinkling of little bells. Yay, more goats! It’s such a charming addition to the mountain experience. This was a mixed flock of sheep and some spectacular goats, the likes of which I had not seen before. Just look at this coat! The flock was followed by the shepherd and two dogs. I’m so fascinated by what their lives must be like.
The hike was described as one of the most popular walks in the Chamonix area and it was rated a difficulty of 1-2. This made it sound like a stroll in the park. After the first hour we concluded that the French had a different rating system than we did. This hike would have been marked as 5 out of 5 for difficulty in the U.S. Also, we would have been the only ones doing it. The terrain was steep and rocky and in places metal hand and foot holds had been affixed to the sheer rock to allow you to climb portions that would have otherwise been impossible. And yet, everyone was out there doing it. We saw a family with 3 children under the age of 10. There were many (I’m not joking), bent, white-haired, shaky, elderly people with walking sticks shuffling along. Sonia and I would look at each other in astonishment and mouth “OMG” silently. You would NEVER have seen old people doing this hike at home.
Sonia and I are both somewhat fit and fairly sturdy hikers, but I would be lying if I said we weren’t relieved to arrive at the lake. Somehow I managed to neglect to take a photo. I must have been tired! We sat a while, had snacks of mini bouchette (My new favorite sausage-they are tiny-the size and shape of your pinky), juicy peaches, a slab of cheese, and salty cashews. We watched in amazement as the elderly creakily made their way triumphantly to the top, and everyone else put their hands on their hips, turned in a circle to take in the view, and heaved a huge breath of exhaustion. Once rested we scrambled and rock hopped our way cross mountain to pick up the ski run that would take us back down to the bottom. Along the way, we encountered wild blueberries. Yum!
The way down while less taxing on the lungs was now taxing on the knees. Are we getting old?!
I’m embarrassed to say it but we were pretty whipped. But wait! There was a new spa in town and they had room for us that evening. It was UN. FREAKING. BELIEVABLE. Check it out if you are in Chamonix or one of the other properties in Italy. It’s called QC Terme which admittedly sounds like a pest control service, but it was amazing. I anticipated spending an hour or so because how long can you really soak in a hot tub. No. There must have been 20 different experiences. It was like a luxury water park for grown ups. There was an outdoor warm water pool with a warm waterfall that looked up at Mont Blanc, warm pools with underwater seats that bubbled, a dark steam room with tiles made to look like the night sky, a sauna decorated with antique skis, waterbeds to lie on and look up at imagery projected on the ceiling with soothing music playing in the back ground, a wine barrel full of salt to do a body scrub, a snow machine if you needed to cool off, a Himalayan salt room lined with bricks of Himalayan sea salt lit from behind, honestly the list goes on. I didn’t even make it to all the rooms and we were there for 4.5 hours! There was also a buffet provided from 6:30-7:30: gazpacho, charcuterie, cheeses, croissants, crusty breads, fresh fruit, smoothies, olives, the list goes on. All of that for the low, low price of 42 euros. Whaaaaaat? I know. It was incredible. Here’s some photos.
How can you not plan a trip to Chamonix now that you know…?