Author’s note: This post is a continuation of my series on trekking La Tour de la Vanoise in the French Alps. For previous post, click here.
After our unexpected afternoon in Geneva (for post click here), we returned to the airport to meet our guide Mark along with the other two guests joining us on our trek through La Tour de la Vanoise. Our group would be small, only four trekkers along with our own, personal mountain guide, France-based Brit, Mark of Simply Savoie.
Over the years I’ve come to learn that in terms of hiking groups, the smaller the better. In Nepal, it was only my dad and me along with our guide Hari and porter Chhring. That made the entire experience “easy” when it came to decision-making. Every single decision we made along the way in terms of when to start and stop, how fast to walk, how long to walk, what to eat, where to eat and more depended only on us. I often looked at the large trekking groups of twenty or more people and thought to myself, I’d never last! The more people you add to the group, the trickier and more frustrating it can be for both the guide as well as the trekkers to ever get anything agreed upon and done. Thus we were overjoyed to learn that there would be only two others joining us along for the week in Vanoise, a mum and son team from the UK. What could be better?
Shortly after five, our new friends arrived. Christine and her fourteen-year-old son Jonathan (aka Jonty) would be our closest companions for the next seven days. I instantly connected with Christine, a passionate, avid hiker and traveler like me save ten years older. Christine has traveled the world roaming around Australasia for years until finally settling down in the UK to start a family and a career in teaching. She was my kind of companion.
We loaded up Mark’s Euro-truck (I don’t know what else to call it as we don’t have this kind of truck/SUV back home in America, land of the huge SUVs and Suburbans) and were on our merry way to Pralognan-la-Vanoise, our launching off point for the trek. We instantly hit it off as a group and bonded over shared stories and lots of laughs.
Three hours later, we arrived in the mountainside village of Pralognan-la-Vanoise. My dad and me were completely, utterly exhausted as it was nearing eight o’clock yet three and five am our time back in the States. Neither of us had slept more than three hours on the plane ride over to Europe. Thus we were very, very tired and anxious to finally arrive at our destination.
Pralognan-la-Vanoise is a surprisingly beautiful town. I must admit that I wasn’t sure what to expect. A lot of alpine towns around Europe have given way to tourism and over-development into messy, noisy conglomerates (unfortunately the fate of my once beloved Chamonix). Instead of endless t-shirt shops and ugly, modern buildings, Pralognan-la-Vanoise has retained her lovely french charm.
There were potted flowers everywhere, in the window-sills, along the streets, and upon the fences. The buildings remained enchanting with their old-styled alpine architecture unchanged. Wooden, brick and stone buildings aloft with huge windows lined with flowers. What could be more romantic than that?
I adored the charming feeling of the town which is a setting off point to day-long and overnight treks throughout La Vanoise National Park in the summer, and is a thriving ski resort in the winter months. Pralognan-la-Vanoise has just the right amount of traditional hotels (no chains, thankfully), great french dining and local shops. It has all the offerings of a fine French alpine town without the crowds, tourists or McDonalds. It was my kind of place.
When we arrived on Saturday a festival of sorts was taking place in Pralognan-la-Vanoise. I had to snap a few pictures of the locals playing these long horns and dressed in traditional attire.
Our hotel was french-owned of course and called Hotel du Grand Bec. Only a two-star, this little gem offered affordable accommodations in a great location and delightful french cuisine. Although we were beyond exhausted when we finally arrived in Pralognan-la-Vanoise, I’ve learned that one of the secrets to beating jet lag is to sleep and eat at the times of your host country. My body was screaming at me that it was 3 am and time for bed, while the french were gearing up for a fine meal with three or four courses and local wine too. How could I refuse a meal like that? Not a chance.
I dug in with hunger and anticipation, enjoying each savory and delicious little bite and sip of Vin de Savoie, realizing this was why I had traveled all this way to France. Joie de vivre. Joy of life. Something the French truly know.
Stay tuned….Day one of the trek coming up next! Let me sort through my zillions of photos and pick out the best. Wish me luck. It is going to be hard!