After our beautiful drive through the Grand-Saint-Bernard Pass in Switzerland, we headed to the traditional Swiss town of Champex-Lac to meet up again with the Tour de Mont Blanc. Champex-Lac is one of the most idyllic Swiss mountain villages I’ve ever seen as it is surrounded by a beautiful lake with the magnificent Alps towering above in nearly every direction. Nestled in the French-speaking Canton of Valais, Champex-Lac is the perfect place to linger and spend a day or two soaking in its beauty and taking a hike.
We arrived in the early afternoon with a few hours to spare before continuing on to spend the night in neighboring Martigny. Had we known how special it was in Champex-Lax, we would have definitely preferred to stay there. We found Champex-Lac to be quite stunning and charming. Set at an altitude of 4,921 feet (1,500 m) with the peak of La Breya (7,198 feet/2194 m) rising high above, this traditional mountain village has a lot to offer in addition to being one of the starting and ending points for the clockwise circuit of the Tour de Mont Blanc.
Since we were short on time and unsure of what our best option would be for a hike, we decided to follow our way up to the top of La Breya. We found a placard with a list of hikes in town -all with estimated hiking times – however, for some reason, we completely missed the trail and ended up climbing straight up a black diamond ski run instead!
It was a grueling, angry 2.5 hours on the piste noire (as the trail had no name and was simply called “the black run”). As an avid skier, I knew exactly what we’d gotten ourselves into and it hurt. We panted and sweat the entire way up and complained about our achy knees. There was even a point when I secretly wanted to turn around and head back as we had no idea exactly where this piste noire was taking us and if we’d even end up with a view. Perhaps the entire hike would be a waste.
But as always, my dad was right. We ran into another set of intrepid hikers and asked them where the piste noire went and they told us to the top of La Breya, a knee-busting but worthy ascent.
When we finally reached a bit of shade and were off the rocky path, I could see that we did indeed have some pretty incredible views. At the top, we could see the entire valley all the way to Martigny and even Mont Blanc off in the distance. Was it my favorite hike of our Tour de Mont Blanc? No. But in the end, the spectacular views made me forget a little bit about the discomfort of ascending the piste noire under a hot summer day in July.
Once on top, we decided to have a cold drink and ice cream at the La Breya restaurant (pictured above). The staff laughed at our choice of getting there and told us that the best route up and down is to follow the winding rue d’Arpette (which takes 2.5 hours each way). Unfortunately, we did not have the time for a leisurely walk down so ended up instead riding the chairlift back down to the base.
If you have ever ridden a chairlift down the mountain instead of up, I have one piece of advice! Don’t! It was absolutely terrifying and at parts, I had to close my eyes and pretend it wasn’t so steep. I tend to be a little bit afraid of heights. Yet once again, on the positive side the views were absolutely magical especially the panoramic of Champex-Lac far below.
While the hike was not my favorite, it still added to the experience of doing our intergenerational “do-it-yourself” Tour de Mont Blanc. Thankfully we still had plenty of excellent hiking ahead of us as we moved on to our last stop and best of all, Chamonix.
If you go:
Check out the Champex Tourist website for recommendations on hikes, where to stay and eat, and what to do.