Fairy tale snowshoe hike through the Val d’Arly
Fairy tale snowshoe hike through the Val d’Arly
During our visit to the beautiful valley of the Arly in Haute-Savoie, we went snowshoeing. We have done this before in Méribel, Finnish Lapland and Switzerland, among other places. Yet this hike near rural Saint Nicolas la Chapelle was one not soon to forget. During the short walk of less than three kilometres, we got to know a fantastic winter wonderland. A landscape full of rolling, pearly white alpine meadows and idyllic mountain huts. Read on to find out why you too won’t want to miss this snowshoe hike near Mont Blanc.
Our snowshoe hike at Saint Nicolas la Chapelle in Val d’Arly
Sadly, it is already our last day of travel in the Val d’Arly. As soon as we wake up, we immediately slide open the curtain of our bedroom window. This is because we are very curious about what type of weather this day will bring us. Apparently, it snowed heavily last night, because we see a fantastically beautiful, white world. How lucky we are, because today in particular a walk through the snow is scheduled.
After breakfast, we are taken by 4×4 to the start of the hike. That 4×4 is no superfluous luxury, it turns out once we are on our way. Many motorists from outside the region have been caught by surprise by the heavy snow showers. With skidding, slipping tyres, they are stranded on the side of the road. Fortunately, help is on the way. But if they cannot prove that they were properly prepared for this winter weather on the road, a fine will follow.
Beginning of the walk in the Val d’Arly
Right in front of us, a snow plough provides perfect parking at the start of the hiking trail. We are now in Saint Nicolas la Chapelle, located between the Arly and the southern slopes of the Aravis mountain range. From this authentic Savoyard village you can do many walks in both winter and summer. At least, that’s what we read on an information board with an overview map of this relatively little-visited area near Mont Blanc. On the map, we see that there is even separate signage for winter hiking trails. Namely a purple sign with a snowshoe on it.
We disembark and meet the guides who will accompany us on this hike. We get brief explanations after which we put on the snowshoes – a kind of mini tennis racket for under your own shoe. We are totally ready and looking forward to it. Soon after, we leave the main road on which the car park is located and start the climb.
Tré le Sez
One of the guides rushes at a fast pace ahead of us up the hill. Given the amount of luggage he carries on his back, we marvel at his speed. We fortunately take it a lot slower so that we can actually enjoy the fairytale-white world. It continues to snow in the meantime, adding to the fantastic, winter hiking experience. However, this does cause us to miss the view of Mont Blanc, which the guide says is particularly impressive. This gives us an excellent excuse to return again in summer, we decide.
From the La Bèque viewpoint, we continue our not too tiring climb while zigzagging up the hill. As we do so, we pass several mountain huts that look extra idyllic under a thick layer of snow. The guide tells us that the huts are normally only used in summer when the cattle are grazing outside. However, several farmers have sold their huts to the local government. After a major refurbishment, some of these mountain huts have been released for tourism or for private sale. They have no running water and are not connected to the power grid.
The route eventually takes us to a converted barn where the door is opened for us. The high-paced guide at the start of the walk welcomes us. During our walk during which we paused frequently to take yet another photo, he prepared for our arrival. Thus, the former barn is comfortably warm thanks to a cosy crackling fireplace. And on the long wooden table we found various local delicacies. Like various, delicious cheeses and well-seasoned meats. And, of course, excellent, matching Savoyard wines.
End of our fairytale walk
We enjoy the delicious lunch for a long time and then bid a fond farewell to this lovely spot. The walk back to the 150-metre lower car park is faster than we would have liked. Fortunately, the route is different from the way out. We get some more explanation on how to descend quickly with snowshoes along a steep slope. But it soon becomes clear that the right way is not the fastest or most fun way. Instead, we deliberately drop into the soft snow to slide down at flying speed.
Soon after, we reach the car park. We say goodbye to our guides and return to our ecogîte. The whole group we did the hike with agrees: this really was a super fun winter activity that we wouldn’t have missed for anything!
Click on the photo for a very short movie
Answers to practical questions about the snowshoe hike
There are several snowshoe hikes from the car park. The one we did was three kilometres long with 150 altitude metres. Count on a half-day trip if you do the guided walk including aperitif (lunch).
Our snowshoe hike was provided by François Maillet. He has his own website but it is only in French. However, don't let this put you off as the agency also has English-speaking guides. His email address is email@example.com.
The guided snowshoe hike at Bureau des guides du Val d'Arly costs 40 euros per person (minimum group size of 5 people). This fee includes the guide, equipment and an aperitif with delicious wine, cold cuts and cheeses.
Yes indeed. On the Val d'Arly - Mont Blanc website, you will find several hiking routes. The walks are also well indicated on the information boards at the various car parks. The walk we did is almost the same as Tré le Sez, no 19. You can hire snowshoes in the area.
For the walk we did, there is no route description. But the route is almost the same as Tré le Sez, no 19. The description itself is very brief but you'll find a map and a GPS track on the page that you can download for free. By the way, you can also download our walk as a GPS track.
No, this walk is fine for anyone with basic fitness. You also only make 150 altimeters in just over an hour.
There are no catering facilities directly on the route. But if you keep following the Chemin des Avenières for about 550 metres from the barn where we had the aperitif, you arrive at Alpage des Avenières. Here you can go for tartiflette and fondue, among other things.
There is reasonable accommodation to be found in Saint Nicolas la Chapelle and the villages in the immediate vicinity. We ourselves stayed in the particularly comfortable ecogîte le Toî du Monde in the village of Flumet.
The restaurant above the gîte serves excellent food, we found out by trial and error. Not for nothing does the restaurant have a green Michelin star and a Bib Gourmand rating. There, we met the couple who have completely renovated the old family farmhouse from the late 19th century. The very cosy, tastefully designed restaurant has become so sustainable that we were literally warm even without heating.
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