Review of an unescorted walk in France and Switzerland by Inntravel, in Summer 2002.
Another good walking holiday from Inntravel, walking over the rolling hills and mountains of the Jura. The title is a bit ambitious, since the first and last few miles from and to the lakes are done by mountain railway. Inntravel supply detailed walking notes, and 1:25,000 French and Swiss maps covering the route. The hotels supply a picnic lunch (usually excellent ham and cheese baguettes with various trimmings such as fruit, salad, cakes etc, and some water). We supplied a bottle of vin rouge to accompany it.
Accommodation was in small family-run hotels in small villages at between 950 and 1150m altitude. The daily walks climbed on a mixture of paths, tracks and forestry roads over forested hills to 1250m (1450m on one day), descending into the next valley at the end of day.
Days 1 to 4
Not a good start - our scheduled BA flight out from Heathrow to Geneva was an hour late taking off. Fortunately, the trains taking us from Geneva airport to Nyon half-way along the north shore of Lake Geneva run every hour or so, so we didn't have long to wait. At Nyon, just outside the station, we switched onto a tram (just enough time for a beer at the bar next to the tramstop), which wound steeply up for three-quarters of an hour through the pastures, villages and finally the wooded ravine up to the terminus at La Cure, at an altitude of 1150m.
Just a couple of hundred meters up the road is the Hotel Arbez Franco-Suisse. This is an odd hotel right on the border between France and Switzerland - they claim that half the tables in the dining room are in one country, the rest in the other. There are French and Swiss customs posts on the road past the hotel - bizarrely, these are shut at night, and anybody can drive straight across the border. You could easily smuggle chocolate and cuckoo clocks into France if you wanted.
A nice hotel, with good rooms and a well-equipped bathroom. Good cuisine and attentive waiter in the dining room, nice continental breakfast the following morning. Service was a bit lackadaisical - they forgot bar orders, failed to ask us whether we wanted tea or coffee for breakfast, and took forever to check us out.
Since we'd arrived mid-afternoon, we took the opportunity to stroll a few km down into the small town of Les Rousses to look around and do some shopping. I decided to stroll back a different way, following a path to the west of the town, which turned out to be a bit of a route march.
We decided to ignore Inntravel's walking instructions for the next day, and Mme Arbez was helpful in advising us on our planned route. We followed the GR de Pays du Tour de la Haut-Bienne from the western end of Lac des Rousses up into the Rissoux forest, joining up with the GR5 and following it all day, with our picnic lunch taken reclining on some comfortable soft logs at the side of the path in the sunshine. Just after the viewpoint at La Roche Bernard the path joined up with Inntravel's GR suggestion starting from Bois d'Amont, and dropped steeply down a slippery, muddy track into the valley, then eventually along the D46 into Chapelle-des-Bois and the Hotel Les Mélèzes. This was a long gruelling day in the forest, about 20km, with few views apart from at La Roche-Bernard. Most of the day spent on forestry roads or tracks.
It started to rain as we arrived at the hotel. This set a pattern for the rest of the week - clear sunny mornings, sunny spells in the afternoon, and rain late afternoon, evening and night. Another reasonable hotel, with simple food, a reasonable room, but with a small bathroom, and one of those shower curtains that try to cling to you. A word of warning - just up the D46 from the hotel is a distillery (you can visit it on the walk into Chapelle-des-Bois). Don't try the gentian brandy on sale at the hotel - it doesn't smell of gentian, and it tastes like meths (or rather, what I imagine meths tastes like...).
After a pleasant breakfast, a panicky start to the day, as I couldn't find my compass, but it soon turned up hiding in a pocket of Linda's pack. A good short day's walk through dew and rain-soaked grassy meadows up into the forested hills to take lunch at le Pré d'Haut, a clearing on the top of a hill, with a winter mountain refuge, and an aerial farm. Descending on a narrow forestry track, we were surprised to be overtaken by a massive 60-seater coach (empty apart from the driver). Again it clouded over and started to drizzle mid-afternoon as we descended into Chaux-Neuve and the Hotel du Grand Gît (we don't make up these names, honest).
A comfortable hotel, with spacious room, good food and friendly atmosphere. Notable for the torrential rain which fell all that night, filling us with dread for the following day, which however dawned bright and fine.
We cadged a lift into Mouthe with Mme Nicod, saving about 6km of valley floor walk, and walked across to the source of the river Doubs, which emerges from a cave entrance at the foot of a cliff. Our path then ran steadily upwards through forest and across open meadows. Near La Vannode Chalet, we were puzzled by a repeated musical trumpeting sound from the trees, like a child's musical toy saxophone being blown repeatedly. Soon a large dark bird flew over - my first Black Woodpecker!
Just as we reached Corneau Chalet, it started to rain steadily. Fortunately, there was no-one in, so we sat on the doorstep for our lunch, sheltering from the rain under the broad eaves. The rain didn't look like it was going to stop, so we donned waterproofs (for the only time on the holiday) and set off. However, after an hour or so it eased off, so we soon doffed our waterproofs and completed the descent from La Boissaud down into the valley and the Hotel les Sapins in Longeville-Mont-d'Or (1050m).
This was a better hotel than the brochure led us to believe - "simple" sometimes being a synonym for "grim". In fact, our room was spacious, comfortable, clean, modern, well decorated. The evening meal was perfectly edible, and the hospitality friendly. The bar was rather bare, but since the village really looked like a farming town (with three big covered water troughs, constantly re-filled, in the main street), I imagine the proprietor was used to farmers in wellies covered with cowshit. Interesting old photos of the village in the bar.
Days 5 to 8
Poor walking notes from Inntravel for this big day - they became completely baffling within five minutes. We gave up on them, and walked straight up the road in a more or less straight line south east, then east to the col above Chalet du Gros Morond, turning right onto the ridge up towards the top of the Mont d'Or at 1461 meters. Great views all around from the top - we could see way back west towards La Cure where we'd started, down to Jougnes where we were to stay that night, and south-east into Switzerland. The high mountains to the west and south were up in the clouds - fortunately we weren't.
The walking notes say that this is a good area for chamois - and so it proved. As we started to descend from the next peak on the ridge at 1463m, we spotted a herd of chamois on the hillside south east of the Refuge just over the border in Switzerland. I counted 27 individuals through the binoculars.
Then the walking notes became vague and confusing, referring to the farmhouse of Pralioux-Dessus as "...at 1276m". This was rubbish - it's clearly marked on the map as 1314m. The sign on the front of the farmhouse says "1976" - presumably the year it was built. The notes-writer clearly can't read. The notes then ask you to descend to "the bottom of the hill". Do they mean down to Vallorbe in the valley at 764m? No they don't - just down to a clearing and a junction of paths at 1230m.
Back over the border and a long climb up from Source du Creux Soudet. We again left Inntravel's path to ascend to the chalet at the top of the Télésiège des Roches, right under the Mont d'Or summit. Again we were rewarded by good close sightings of chamois as we neared the chalet - first a group of two, then a singleton, followed by a group of seven. This last group stayed nearby, watching us just a hundred metres or so away as we sat on a seat outside the chalet for a late lunch.
A long, long descent down an at times slippery, muddy path, before climbing up over Mont Ramey (just a hill really), and then down into Jougnes and a couple of welcome cold beers on the terrace outside the Hotel le Couronne, looking back up to the ridge of Mont d'Or. A long but successful day. Madame was the only proprietor on this holiday who spoke English to us. A very welcoming hotel, with a dining room packed with locals, and an excellent dinner. The only black mark was the bathroom, which was impossibly small and contained some very noisy pipes.
A trek down to the off-licence at the other end of the village to stock up with supplies for the day before struggling to make sense of Inntravel's misleading instructions. The quality of their walking notes has dropped from its usual high standards. Eventually we worked out the right road, and off we went up an easy forestry road, turning off after 5km down a lane, where the notes again departed from reality, confusing signs, mentioning gaps in fences that weren't there, and failing to mention a vital left turn. We sailed over the border into Switzerland as a result. Back on the right track after a few minutes puzzling over the notes and the map, we stopped off to perch on a couple of nice soft rocks in the sunshine for our picnic lunch.
We walked parallel to the border past a cage full of huskies at La Beuffarde, and shortly afterwards, the Customs Post near L'Auberson. A stroll along a path behind the old village of La Coupe eventually led over and down into the main street of Les Fourgs, and the worst part of the whole trip - a long slog down the street to the Hotel Le Creux des Pierres. Les Fourgs is a long straight ribbon with old farm buildings set back a long way from the road, and tractors everywhere.
Our room was small but comfortable. We had hoped for a balcony, but were shown to a room at the back of the hotel without one. We met up with two retired ladies who were busy working their way through the Inntravel brochure, and who had a room at the front with a balcony. Still, they had the traffic noise. The dinner was good - we had the trout - but the cheese course consisted of a bizarre fondue-type of thing - a large bowl of thick, melted but rapidly-cooling cheese was brought to the table along with a basket of bread. We gave up trying to do anything with this, and the bowl then passed from table to table. Presumably they top it up with more cheese and bung it in the microwave at the beginning of the evening.
Unfortunately, I'd managed to rick my back at some stage (not from walking - I woke up with it at Jougnes), and was in some pain. Walking was not a good idea, so we hitched a long ride with the luggage to the next hotel past the spectacular Chateau de Joux. The Hotel le Tillau is spectacularly situated at the end of a long country road just a couple of hundred meters from the Swiss border. A delightful wooden Alpine chalet-style building, with a welcoming salon, smelling deliciously of a wood fire, smoked ham and freshly-baked bread. A small but comfortable room in which I spent the day resting on the bed, Linda and I working on a massive crossword.
A delicious evening meal, and lots of wine and cognac to dull the pain.
This was to be a massive day - over 20km, and again my back wasn't up to it, so we once again hitched a ride with the luggage. We immediately got a bonus as a stoat jumped out into the road in front of the car just a few hundred meters from the hotel and ran in front of us before veering off into the long grass. This was a long journey, back past the Chateau, back through Les Fourgs, over the border post at L'Auberson and up through Ste Croix to the Grand Hotel at Les Rasses.
This is a hotel that clearly prides itself on traditional values, harking after a faded golden era of Edwardian Alpine travellers. Very comfortable and spacious room, with quality doors opening out onto a huge shared balcony/terrace where we ate our picnic lunch. The notes promised us a breathtaking view over the foothills down to Lake Neuchatel, with the Alps rising spectacularly behind the lake. Unfortunately it was cloudy so we missed it. We had a drink in the bar, went for a swim in the pool, and read books in our room until dinner.
We have spotted a pattern in these sorts of hotels - the posher they think they are, the further away from you they place the bottle of wine at dinner, so you can't top up your own glass, and the smaller the quantity of wine the waiter gives you when he remembers to top you up.
An average meal, enlivened by a huge party of German OAP walkers who were clearly ending a massive multi-day yomp at the hotel. The buzz of conversation from them increased in volume as the level of wine in their bottles decreased, and every so often somebody stood up to make a speech to loud cheers and applause.
The following day we had a long wait before being run down to the station in Ste Croix for the spectacular mountain railway journey down the forested slopes to Yverdon on the shores of Lake Neuchatel. Poor Linda struggled with our cases, barking at me if I tried to help. You can't see the lake from the station where we changed trains onto the express to Geneva airport, and an uneventful and punctual flight home.
A pleasant enough holiday - our sixth from Inntravel. Good hotels, good but not strenuous walking, nice scenery. Mixed weather, and a bit muddy on the tracks at times. Excellent picnics, but make sure you get enough water for the trail - not always supplied. I rather spoiled the end of the walk by ricking my back.