Best time to visit the French Alps

Best time to visit the French Alps


Temperature & rainfall

For taking on the Tour de Mont Blanc, the best time is between June-Sep, although honeypots get crowded in July-Aug. Sept is perfect, with empty trails, but still warm and sunny. Most guided summit tours of Mont Blanc also take place during these months, when the mountain huts are open. Temperatures during this time vary from 15-25°C in the valleys, 5-15°C on higher passes, dipping to a freezing -20°C at the summit. For snowshoeing, the Alps tend to have a white blanket Dec-March, but with temperatures dipping to below -10°C.

Things to do in the French Alps


WHAT TO DO & WHAT NOT TO

What to do in the
French Alps


With myriad waymarked ways, from the Tour de Mont Blanc to the Grandes Randonnées (GR) long distance trails, hiking in the French Alps is some of the best in the world. The network, which often follows ancient shepherd or hunting tracks, makes self-guided walking vacations a great option along, for example, the GR50 and GR54 in the Écrins NP, or the GR52 in the Mercantour. You can even take a donkey to carry your bags. There is plenty of guided walking in the higher peaks, such as Haute Savoie or Mont Blanc, providing safety in the mountains plus local expertise. Conquering the cols by bike is also popular, following in the imaginary slipstream of Tour de France heroes.
Winter vacations in the French Alps allow you to steer clear of the piste posse, and traverse the wonderland in more tranquil ways. Such as snowshoeing or ski touring, both sumptuously slow-snow travel, pondering the pistes rather than bashing them. Follow sections of the Tour de Mont Blanc in the snow, or explore the Écrins NP where expert High Mountain Guides help you explore untrodden tracks up to heights such as the Plateau of La Coche, around frozen lakes and through the St Leger Les Melezes larch forest.
When the snows melt, the Alps become a proverbial playground for all outdoor lovers, with activity vacations to suit all ages and abilities in Chamomix, the Écrins NP where you can raft the Durance River or climb and canyon in the vertiginous Valgaudemar Valley.

Things not to do in the
French Alps


Don’t ignore mountain safety and, ideally, go with an internationally qualified mountain leader, particularly at higher levels. The UIMLA International Mountain Leader and the IFMGA Mountain Guide are the only internationally recognised qualifications in the mountains worldwide. Safe walking boots, the right amount of layers, waterproofs, water and an emergency kit are key. And be avalanche aware, even as late as May.
Don’t be blasé about summiting Mont Blanc. It is a serious challenge, and one to be done in the hands of experts, with top equipment and plenty of planning. Avoid the charity climbs which race to the top and back down again, rarely leave money in the local economy and are also responsible for a lot of waste left on the mountain.
Don’t bring your car if you can avoid it. The mountains can get very congested and there is a superb rail network in France, with many tour operators organising collections from railway stations. And when you hit the hills, either on foot or bike, stay on the allocated paths as much as you can to minimise your impact on habitats and ecosystems.

French Alps travel advice


TIPS FROM OUR FRIENDS IN THE FRENCH ALPS

Training advice


Chloe Knott, from our leading French Alps supplier, Exodus:

“Always read the trip notes that accompany your trip, as they will give good guidance on how fit you need to be. We find that women tend to underestimate and men overestimate their abilities. If you are doing a moderate walking trip, you want to be doing a good five hour walk every weekend on varied terrain. And do this every weekend for about three months before your trip, upping the amount of walking you do each weekend. For a challenging trip, do a challenging walk at weekends, but also some cardiovascular workouts two or three times a week. So about an hour in the gym, with 20 mins on treadmill and twenty minutes cross trainer, for example, and then some core exercises too. All for about three months before you go.”

Gear advice


Chloe Knott, Exodus: “Wear boots with ankle support and, if you have bad knees, take walking poles. I am definitely a two pole girl. I wouldn't do a trek without them now. I have seen so many people with knackered knees that I think it is better to use them now and then not have knackered knees later. Always pack good waterproofs, a hat and gloves even in summer, as it can get windy and cold at some of the cols. A CamelBak water pouch is great, as you can top up at natural springs or at mountain huts.”

Getting off the
beaten track


Sally Guillaume, from our supplier, Undiscovered Alps, shares her French Alps travel advice:
“The Valgaudemar Valley is a big, austere, narrow Alpine valley with glaciers and peaks of over 3,000m on either side and was discovered by famous Alpinist, Edward Whimper, but has never gained the reputation of say the Barre des Ecrins because the summit is a little bit lower, so it doesn’t hold the same kudos as doing a 4,000m peak. The advantage in terms of mountaineering is it’s totally off the beaten track, so you’re not going to be sharing a refuge with 200 other people and treading on their poo and rubbish outside. It feels how Alpinism was when Alpinism first started”.

French Alps travel advice


TIPS FROM OUR TRAVELLERS

At Responsible Travel, we think the best people to advise our travelers are often... other travelers. They always return from our tours with packing tips, weather reports, ideas about what to do - and opinions about what not to.

We have selected some of the most useful French Alps travel tips that our guests have provided over the years to help you make the very most of your vacation.
“We expected our young children to grumble about the hiking but in fact they exceeded all expectations and walked 5 steep miles per day for 3 days in a row. It's easy to under-estimate what your kids (and you) can do. The most memorable part of our vacation was our 6 year old and 4 year old leading "Leonidas" our donkey through the French Alps, sleeping in a beautiful yurt in an Alpine meadow, and feeling like we'd done something completely different to the typical "bucket and spade" type of vacation.”Alison Godfrey on our Mercantour family walking vacation
“We decided to have two rest days, one in Courmayeur and one in Champex. It was a very good decision. There is lots to do in Courmayeur and Champex is a very charming little town. Although three of us hiked to La Cabane d'Orny on the extra day in Champex, but most were happy to have a bit of a rest, treat their blisters and sore muscles. Unless you belong to the very young, I would recommend some rest in between in order to do the whole tour in comfort.” Elizabeth Kirchhoff on our Mont Blanc self-guided walking vacation
“A key theme of the vacation was to appreciate the flora and fauna which was a really fresh and new perspective for me. It helped me 'slow down' and marvel at the detailed wonder of nature.” Cathy Buffini on a guided walking vacation
“The most memorable part of the vacation? Following wolf tracks along an icy river through a snow covered forest and, at last, finding the remains of a wolf kill. The views over the snow capped mountains after a hard snowshoe walk through the forest.” Jennifer Steward
“We went with an open mind and embraced all the opportunities presented in terms of activities. I think this is important when you are planning to stay in a chalet with other people you don't know. We tried things we have never done before - like swimming by the waterfall, white water rafting, sleeping in the mountain refuge. So be brave and experience things together you have never done before. It's great for bonding.”Jane Hansesgaard on a family adventure vacation
Photo credits: [Chamonix: Rhys A.] [Tour du Mont Blanc: simonsimages] [Valgaudemar: Florence Ramel] [Paragliding: Fredi Bach] [Nature around the Alps: Nina]
Written by Catherine Mack
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