What we discovered in the Glieres Plateau

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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 km. The site belongs to the communes of Glières-Val-de-Borne and Fillière.

Actually, les Glières is not a plateau but a flat valley perched 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.

A rocky and sandy plateau

Informative panel at the Plateau des Glières

Informative panel at the Plateau des Glières

The long grassy stretches of the plateau offer wide views of the surrounding mountains.

  • The plateau itself is home to various open environments: peat bogs, hay meadows, pastures and various types of grassland.
  •  The slopes (Auges and Frêtes mountains) are mainly composed of spruce forests on lapiaz and beech forests at lower altitudes. 
  • Then rocky limestone bars mark a break in the slope.
  • On the summits and ridges, there are dry grasslands and some pine forests.
Plateau des Glières © French Moments

The Plateau in summer © French Moments

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 Glières in the past

Before the road was built, the climb to the plateau was done on foot or, in winter, with sledges pulled by horses. This was the only way to supply the inhabitants.

In 1914, there were 120 houses and barns on the Plateau des Glières. 150 people lived there all year round. Until the dawn of the Second World War, there were several cafés, two grocery shops, a school and two sawmills.


The Resistance at the Glieres Plateau

Glieres Plateau

Memorial of the Plateau des Glières © French Moments

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

Glieres Plateau

Inside the memorial of the Glières Plateau © French Moments

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. 

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.

Glieres Plateau

The central flagpole © French Moments

The central flagpole

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

Glieres Plateau

The Glieres Plateau © French Moments

The Glières Plateau offers a wide array of activities.

In winter

Plateau des Glières in winter © B. Brassoud - licence [CC BY-SA 4.0] from Wikimedia Commons

The Plateau des Glières in winter © B. Brassoud – licence [CC BY-SA 4.0] from Wikimedia Commons

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

Plateau des Glières © French Moments

Our daughter enjoying her walk at the Plateau des Glières © French Moments

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.

Around Annecy - Plateau des Glières © French Moments

Late spring flowers © French Moments

The ‘Sentier Nature’

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.

Glieres Plateau

Picking up wild blueberries at the Glieres Plateau © French Moments

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.

Plateau des Glières © French Moments

An abondance cow © French Moments

All along the route, 12 informative panels explain the diversity and natural beauty of the Plateau des Glières.

Informative panels along the Sentier Nature © French Moments

Informative panels along the Sentier Nature © French Moments

Click here to download the itinerary of the Sentier Nature.

The hamlet of Auges

This is my favourite hike on the Glières plateau. Its course makes us cross several zones of mountain pastures.

I park at the car park near the Gautard restaurant (take the small tarmac road of the Chemin du Collet), at 1,390 m. This place is called Paccot-Sud.

Plateau des Glières - Montagne des Auges © French Moments

The car park at Paccot-Sud © French Moments

The ascent to the Pas du Loup through mountain pastures and forests

The signpost informs us that the climb to the Chalets des Auges will take 1h20.

Plateau des Glières - Montagne des Auges © French Moments

Starting point of the walk © French Moments

The path goes up following a stream in the Alpine pastures to a farm: the chalet des Mouilles (1,500 m).

Chalet des Mouilles © French Moments

Chalet des Mouilles © French Moments

A beautiful pastoral landscape awaits us: the alpage des Mouilles.

Alpage des Mouilles © French Moments

Alpage des Mouilles © French Moments

At the Plan des Mouilles (1,525 m), the path joins the one from the Maison du Plateau.

Plan des Mouilles © French Moments

Plan des Mouilles © French Moments

Further on, the path climbs into the spruce forest.

Plateau des Glières - Montagne des Auges © French Moments

The spruce forest © French Moments

A few metres of it is laid out to allow us to cross the wetland on dry foot.

Plateau des Glières - Montagne des Auges © French Moments

In the forest © French Moments

Then the path starts to climb seriously!

Plateau des Glières - Montagne des Auges © French Moments

The path that climbs to the Plan du Loup © French Moments

The Plan du Loup (North) is reached at 1,670 m. It takes on the appearance of a cirque over which the alpine meadows extend.

Plan du Loup © French Moments

Plan du Loup © French Moments

Then the path climbs even higher to the place called Pas du Loup (Wolf Passage).

Cirque of the Plan du Loup © French Moments

Cirque of the Plan du Loup © French Moments

Arriving at the Pas du Loup © French Moments

Arriving at the Pas du Loup © French Moments

The view from the Pas du Loup

From there, a magnificent view of the Glières plateau, the Pre-Alps, the Sous-Dine and the Parmelan, as well as the Jura Mountains in the distance.

Pas du Loup - Plateau des Glières © French Moments

Pas du Loup – the view to the Glières Plateau and the Jura mountains in the background © French Moments

We soon reach a ridge with another fabulous view, this time to the east: the Aravis range and Mont Blanc.

Pas du Loup : the view to the Aravis and Mont Blanc © French Moments

Pas du Loup : the view to the Aravis and Mont Blanc © French Moments

The rural path, known as “Les Auges”, takes us to the hamlet of Les Auges. It follows the crest of the Auges mountain with the Pic de Jallouvre (2,408 m) in the background.

Pic de Jallouvre (2,408 m) © French Moments

Pic de Jallouvre (2,408 m) © French Moments

This is where herds of abondance cows and sheep graze.

Alpage des Auges - Abondance Cow © French Moments

Alpage des Auges – Abondance Cow © French Moments

Depending on the season, you can observe typical alpine flora: yellow gentian, orchis, European trolleys, centaury, alpine snowbells and spring gentian.

Alpage des Auges © French Moments

Yellow gentian, Alpage des Auges © French Moments

The hamlet of Les Auges

Before 1944, the hamlet had 12 cottages belonging to private owners.

Hamlet of Les Auges © French Moments

Hamlet of Les Auges © French Moments

The site was subjected to numerous German air attacks during the Second World War. Then, in March 1944, the cottages were burnt down by the Wehrmacht so as not to shelter any maquisards.

From 1967 onwards, the owners rebuilt eight of them with the help of war damage. The chalets are now used as second homes.

Hamlet of Les Auges © French Moments

In the hamlet of Les Auges © French Moments

They all offer a view of the Aravis mountains and the Mont Blanc!

Hamlet of Les Auges © French Moments

A chalet with a view to Mont Blanc! © French Moments

With binoculars, you can admire the sparkling glaciers of the massif:

A closer look at the glaciers of Mont Blanc © French Moments

A closer look at the glaciers of Mont Blanc © French Moments

I even saw the Mont Pourri (3,779 m), one of the highest peaks of the Vanoise massif:

Mont Pourri from the Alpage des Auges © French Moments

Mont Pourri from the Alpage des Auges © French Moments


Plan your visit to the Glieres Plateau

Glieres Plateau

The Glières Pass © French Moments

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.

Glieres Plateau

The alpine pastures of the Glières Plateau © French Moments

Places where to eat

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.

Plateau des Glières © French Moments

A reblochon cheese we bought at a farm in the Plateau des Glières © French Moments

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.

The Tour de France at the Plateau

While driving up to the plateau we saw a few cyclists courageously climbing the steep hairpins. If you are a fan of cyclingread about Will’s 5 climbs of the Plateau des Glières on Cycling Challenge.

In 2018, the Plateau hosted the Tour de France for the first time. An extremely popular stage of the cycling race, the Plateau des Glières was again included in the 2020 cyclist race.

Tour de France 2018 in Thorens-Glières © French Moments

Projection of the race in Thorens-Glières just before the arrival of the cyclists © French Moments

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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Plateau des Glières, Pinterest © French Moments


 

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About Author

Pierre is a French/Australian who is passionate about France and its culture. He grew up in France and Germany and has also lived in Australia and England. He has a background teaching French, Economics and Current Affairs, and holds a Master of Translating and Interpreting English-French with the degree of Master of International Relations, and a degree of Economics and Management. Pierre is the author of the Discovery Course on the Secrets of the Eiffel Tower and the Christmas book "Voyage au Pays de Noël".

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