Since we arrived in Annecy, we’ve been told the Glieres Plateau (Plateau des Glières) was a must-to-see in the region. Coming from Thorens-Glières, the road climbs the impressive limestone escarpments of the mountains in 10 hairpin turns. Suddenly you arrive at the plateau where the high-pasture land alternate with conifers and rocky crests. At the Glières Pass, the Memorial remembers the fierce fighting between the French Resistance and the German army during the Second World War. We’ve been there for a family outing a few days ago and here is what we discovered…
Where is the Glieres Plateau located?
The Plateau des Glières is part of the Bornes massif in the French Alps of Haute-Savoie. The limestone plateau is situated between La Roche-sur-Foron and Annecy, both distant of 30 kms. The site belongs to the communes of Le Petit-Bornand-les-Glières and Val Glières. Actually les Glières is not a plateau but a flat valley at an altitude of 1400-1500 m between the mountains of Auges and Frêtes. The Alpine pastures intended for cow grazing is dotted with old farms and chalets, some of which have been transformed into restaurants or gîtes.
The word ‘Glière’ means a rocky and sandy plateau without rivers. That’s true, curiously you won’t see any much water up there! On this topic an informative sign along the Sentier nature reads:
A lot of water falls on the plateau des glières (about 1,750 mm). Strange as it may seem, there are few streams or torrents to be found: where does the water go?
The Plateau des Glières is made up of sedimentary soils of marine origin.
The surface water network is well developed when it occupies the bottom of valleys filled with impermeable soils (sandstone schists) which give rise to peat bogs and marshlands. However, this network is practically nonexistent on very crocked and eroded limestone areas (karren) through which rainwater can pass unhindered.
The limestone is dissolved by the rain water containing carbon dioxide and the water eats out underground shafts, galleries and halls. In the Frêtes mountain the development of these underground hollows follows the direction of the waters flowing into an underground river located beneath the Plateau des Glières. This river channels the waters until they reappear at MORETTE in the Fier valley (near THONES).
The Resistance at the Glieres Plateau
Standing slightly below the Col des Glières is the national monument of the Resistance. The white memorial was designed in 1973 by Émile Gilioli to recall the souvenir of the local Resistance who fought here against the Wehrmacht.
From the 31st January to the 26th March 1944 some 465 men gathered on the Glieres Plateau to organise the local Resistance against the collaborationist Vichy régime. They collected parachute drops of weapons from the Royal Air Force. The remote site had a number of advantages for it was poorly accessible by road, making it hard for the enemy to plan an attack.
Twice in February and March 1944, the Vichy security forces failed to eliminate the Resistance of the Glières. Then on the 26th March 1944 the 157th alpine division of the German army forced the Resistants to retreat. 129 members of the Resistance were killed.
The local Resistance reconstituted and eventually regained possession of the Glieres Plateau. Along with other Resistance groups, the Maquis de Glières contributed to the liberation of the whole region. Haute-Savoie was then the first French département to have been liberated without the help of the Allied forces.
A signposted trail (Sentier histoire) leads you around the 1944 parachute drop zones with informative panels (in English) on the life of the men who fought in severe cold weather condition.
The Memorial’s crypt and the central flagpole
The national monument of the Resistance is a symbol of victory, hope and resistance, edified in memory of all those who took part in the French Resistance. It contains a crypt where you can enter in.
The interior of the monument houses works of art that were all donated by the sculptor of the monument, Émile Gilioli (1911-1977). The monument was inaugurated on 2 September 1973 by André Malraux. Gilioli designed the crypt to echo the outside of the monument.
Next to the monument is the central flagpole. An informative panel reads:
The French flag stamped with the Lorraine cross was hoisted to the top of this pole. Resistance-fighters from each section gathered here at three decisive moments.
- The 20th February: at this time the Battalion numbers 320 resistance-fighters. Tom Morel solemnly presents to them the pennant which bears the motto: LIVE FREE OR DIE.
- The 13th March: Lieutenant Jourdan has replaced Tom who was killed in the night of the 9th March along with warrant-officer Georges Decour. They are buried at the foot of the flagpole after receiving military honours. Their bodies are transferred to Morette in May.
- The 18th March: Captain Anjot takes command of the 465 men who now form the Battalion. In his officer’s uniform of the 27th Battalion of Chasseurs Alpins he reviews his troops and runs up the colours. A week later the Germans attack.
The colours are taken down from the flagpole by Alphonse Métral during the disengagement on the 26th March at 10pm and hidden in the valley.
Outdoor activities at the Glieres Plateau
The Glières Plateau offers a wide array of activities.
The main activity in winter is cross-country skiing. The Glieres Plateau gives access to over 30 groomed trails at all difficulty levels. Other activities include snowshoeing and a sledge run for kids.
In summer, outdoor activities include hiking and speleology. A number of accompanied hikes are organised to discover the local fauna and flora, as well as the Resistance heritage. However, all the tours are usually conducted in French.
This place is great if you come with kids! In July, we followed the discovery trail (Sentier nature) across the alpine pasture. This is the best way to discover the Glieres Plateau. The ‘Sentier Nature‘ is 1hr to 1.50hrs long and starts at the Col des Glières (Glières Pass). Our 4 year-old daughter was very excited to observe cows (with their bells), ant-hills, grand pine trees, an alpine stream, and we even took the time to fill a pot of wild blueberries. The distant sound of cowbells from the herds of Abondance cows definitely contributes to the alpine atmosphere.
Plan your visit to the Glieres Plateau
The high-pasture area of the Glières Plateau is accessible from Thorens-Glières through the valley of Usillon (D55). The winding paved road was opened in 1967 and ends of the Col des Glières where there is ample parking. From the pass, the dirt road continues to Chez la Jode where it reaches the paved backroad that goes down to Le Petit-Bornand-les-Glières.
There are a number of chalets opened in the plateau that provide great food and/or alpine cheese such as reblochon or tomme of Savoie. In one of them we bought a full-cream / raw milk reblochon. We didn’t (yet) try any of the restaurants up there but locals told us the Gautard Restaurant (121 Route du Plateau, 74570 Thorens-Glières) was their favourite.
While driving up to the plateau we saw a few cyclists courageously climbing the steep hairpins. If you are fan of cycling, read about Will’s 5 climbs of the Plateau des Glières on Cycling Challenge.
If you are more interested in hiking in the area, check out the Massif des Bornes-Aravis walking guide you can get on Amazon (French only):
You can also get the IGN map (the one I got before moving to the area) number 3430ET (La Clusaz – Le Grand-Bornand) which covers the Plateau des Glières.
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