Walking in the Vanoise: Our Favorite Excursion!

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I have been on vacation in the Vanoise for many consecutive years as a child. When I grew older the mountain massif became a playground for me. Based in Pralognan-la-Vanoise, I’d walk up to the mountain pastures to find my paradise on earth. For someone like me who loves mountains  the Vanoise National Park is definitely a great place to explore. Here’s one of my favourite walk in the region. The climb to the mountain pass of Col de la Vanoise from Pralognan. You’ll love walking in the Vanoise!


Itinerary to the Col de la Vanoise

Walk to the Col de la Vanoise © French Moments

It takes 3 hours to reach the pass of Col de la Vanoise (alt. 2,517m).

The excursion starts at Pralognan-la-Vanoise at 1,420m. But to make things a little bit easier, I recommend taking the Mont Bochor cable car (alt. 2,023 m). If the cable-car is not in service, you can park your car at the hamlet of Les Fontanettes.


Walking in the Vanoise to the mountain pass

First, take a ride on the Mont-Bochor cable-car.

Mont Bochor Cable-Car, Pralognan-la-Vanoise © French Moments

Mont Bochor Cable-Car © French Moments

When you arrive at the top of the Mont Bochor (2,023m) from the cable-car, the view to the village and the Vanoise peaks catches the eye.

Pralognan-la-Vanoise seen from Mont Bochor © French Moments

Pralognan-la-Vanoise seen from Mont Bochor © French Moments

At the orientation table, you can see the three iconic summits of Pralognan: the Moriond, the Aiguille de la Vanoise and the Grande Casse. When walking in the Vanoise you’ll often spot them in the distance…

Pralognan-la-Vanoise © French Moments

The Three Iconic mountains above Pralognan: from right to left – Moriond, Aiguille de la Vanoise and Grande Casse © French Moments

Already, the walk to the Col de la Vanoise follows a narrow track to the Baumettes Refuge (2,057m). In the Alps this type of path is called “chemin en balcon” because it borders a very steep slope.

The view from Mont Bochor © French Moments

The path from Mont Bochor to Les Barmettes © French Moments

Walking in the Vanoise: from the Baumettes to Lac des Vaches

At the chalet of Les Baumettes, the narrow path joins the main track from the village to the the Col de la Vanoise which although steep at some points is wider so families with children are able to walk it, a reason for its success!

The Barmettes refuge © French Moments

The Barmettes refuge © French Moments

It crosses vast alpine landscapes interspaced by some beautiful waterfalls. This is where the marmots are the easiest to see.

Vanoise © French Moments

The shepherds’ huts © French Moments

The old chalets that can be seen on the left side of the track used to serve as ‘bergeries’ (shepherd’s huts).

Vanoise route du sel © French Moments

The path leading to the Vanoise Pass © French Moments

Walking in the Vanoise on this track is a great moment when you know that it used to be taken by thousands of travellers throughout the ages… especially by salt and beaufort traders en route to Italy.

Near a beautiful waterfall, a time-worn plate indicates the entrance to the Vanoise National Park.

Vanoise National Park © French Moments

The entrance to the Vanoise National Park © French Moments

The Lac des Vaches is the boundary between the green grass and the rocky landscapes. The intimidating Grande Casse mountain (3,855m) looks nearer than ever.

Lac des Vaches, Pralognan-la-Vanoise © French Moments

The Lac des Vaches on the way to the Vanoise Pass © French Moments

The Lac des Vaches is probably the most awkward lake in the Vanoise. The hiker has to cross a stone ford which in a hot summer can be almost dry if it hasn’t rained for several days. There are also of course the Tarine cows which lay down on the grass ruminating their previous supper whilst gazing at the passers by.

Lac des Vaches from above © French Moments

Lac des Vaches from above © French Moments

Walking in the Vanoise: from the Lac des Vaches to the pass

After the Lac des Vaches, the track continues with its last ascent in a what could be lunar setting.

The Grande-Casse from the Vanoise Pass © French Moments

The glaciers of the Grande-Casse from the Vanoise Pass © French Moments

Walking to the Col de la Vanoise © French Moments

Walking to the Col de la Vanoise © French Moments

The last lake, the Lac Long, marks the approach of the Col de la Vanoise (2,517m) with a great view of the Aiguille de la Vanoise on the right.

Lac Long, Col de la Vanoise © French Moments

Lac Long, Col de la Vanoise © French Moments

The natural lake lies at the foot of the Grande Casse, the highest mountain in the département of Savoie.

Arriving at the Col de la Vanoise

At the pass, a refuge for experienced hikers was built more than a century ago. It was named for a while after the French President Félix Faure who had lunch there in 1897.

The Grande-Casse from the Vanoise Pass, Pralognan-la-Vanoise© French Moments

The refuge of the Vanoise Pass with the Grande-Casse in the background © French Moments

Impressive glaciers surround the pass. That might explain why edelweiss flowers (Silver Star in French) can be seen in June-July at just a few steps from the refuge.

Edelweiss spotted at the Col de la Vanoise © French Moments

Edelweiss spotted at the Col de la Vanoise © French Moments

The immediate surroundings of the pass are remarkable to visit and are at the very heart of the Vanoise National Park.

In fact there are many mountain lakes with their pure waters which are worth a visit: the Lac des Assiettes, the Lac Rond or the Lac du Col de la Vanoise. Marmots, ibex or chamois are easily visible for this is their homeland.

A marmot © French moments

A marmot © French moments

The main hiking track of the old “Salt Route” keeps on going towards Tignes with magnificent views of La Grande Motte (3,653 m), the Maurienne Valley and further on to Italy.

On the way back to Pralognan

On the way back, it is possible to take an alternative route that goes down to the left side of the Aiguille de la Vanoise. It reaches the hamlet of Les Fontanettes through the Cirque de l’Arcelin.

Les Fontanettes © French Moments

Stone chalet in the hamlet of Les Fontanettes © French Moments

From Les Fontanettes, it is possible to go down to Pralognan-la-Vanoise via several paths. One of them passes by the remarkable waterfall locally known of “Cascade de la Fraîche”.

Cascade de la Fraîche, Pralognan-la-Vanoise © French Moments

The Cascade de la Fraîche, Pralognan-la-Vanoise © French Moments

Nearby, at Rocher de la Fraîche is an orientation table. It gives an understanding of the site of Pralognan.

Orientation table at Pralognan-la-Vanoise © French Moments

Orientation table of Rocher de la Fraîche at Pralognan-la-Vanoise © French Moments

The walk ends with the crossing of the little hamlet of Les Bieux. The centre of Pralognan is only 5 minutes away.

Pralognan - Les Bieux © French Moments

Walking through the hamlet of Les Bieux © French Moments


How to get to Pralognan-la-Vanoise

Pralognan-la-Vanoise is easily reached by car thanks to France’s excellent system of motorways and expressways.

From Paris, Lyon, Strasbourg or Marseille, all the roads lead to Albertville where the dual carriage-way to Moutiers brings you closer to the village. From Moutiers, it will take you only 30-45 minutes to reach the village at an altitude of 1,400 metres.

If you travel from overseas, take a flight to Lyon or the Swiss airport of Zurich or Geneva, and rent a car from there! Geneva is actually one of the closest airports to the Savoie region.

If you wish to visit this village from Paris on a 4-5 nights stay, take a TGV train to Moutiers and a coach from the little town’s station (www.altibus.com) that will take you directly to the resort.


More info!

Have you been to the Vanoise? If so, share with us the highlights of your visit by commenting below!

Inspired by walking in the Vanoise? Pin it for later!

Explore the Vanoise National Park © 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. In 2014 he moved back to Europe from Sydney with his wife and daughter to be closer to their families and to France. He has a background teaching French 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.

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