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A hike or mini-adventure in the mountains for me always involves spending one or more nights in an auberge or refuge. I'm frightened of sleeping alone in the open, I don't know how to find a spot to pitch my tent and, what's more, I'm reluctant to give up my creature comforts by cutting back on equipment to lighten my bag and spare my back.
However, I'm increasingly tempted by the idea of totally disconnecting and the freedom of spending a night under the stars; so, this summer, I took the plunge and spent my first night camping in the mountains!
Let's set off for a weekend adventure together!
We set off for Maurienne, at the foot of the Lauzière mountain range, a favourite hiking area. Forests, mountain pastures, high mountains etc. The landscape is extremely varied - the ideal place to escape for a weekend. I met up with some friends who have children so we did two day-long hikes and one night under canvas.
For this experience, we combined comfort and a complete change of scene. Who hasn't dreamt of falling asleep near a lake, lulled by the sound of the wind blowing through the trees? Who hasn't imagined waking up to the sound of bird song and the sun rising over the mountains?
The aim was to find a quiet, unspoilt spot but with a certain level of comfort and I found the perfect site, near the Refuge du Lac de la Grande Léchère. The car park was ten minutes' walk from the bivouac site so I could take all my favourite camping equipment and also enjoy the hospitality of the refuge, with a shower, dinner and lunch between my two days of hiking.
First of all, I called the Refuge du Lac de la Grande Léchère to ask permission to bivouac near the refuge (bivouac regulations are very specific to each mountain range) and our group of friends booked half-board so we wouldn't have to worry about food. The refuge is located 2 hours' walk from Saint-François Longchamp and I strongly recommend that you stop off to refuel or try a home-made dessert, at the very least.
With a car park just 10 minutes' walk from the bivouac site, I didn't opt for the minimalist camping experience. To get used to the experience of sleeping under the stars and to recover between two days of walking, it was important that I got a good night's sleep.
The Quechua 2 seconds tent is a real favourite: there's no getting lost in an instruction manual or need for physical manipulation; I immediately figured out how to pitch it but also - and more importantly - how to pack it away quickly into its cover! I really like the fact that it has 2 separate entrances and I particularly appreciated the Fresh&black technology which meant I could have a lie-in. The inside of the tent is completely dark and I wasn't aware of the sun hitting the canvas in the early morning. There are several storage compartments inside to help you get your bearings: my torch and my smartphone were never far away. I got the feeling that my friends were jealous of my tent with its easy-to-pitch design.
Self-inflating mattress for 2: No need to take a pump with this self-inflating mattress for two. Its size (132 cm wide) means it fits perfectly into the Quechua 2 seconds tent. It's the perfect size, easy to inflate and more comfortable that some of the beds in rural hiking refuges. It's too heavy for touring adventures but ideal for bivouac excursions like this.
Memory foam pillow: Since I was going for comfort, I chose this very lovely pillow.
A double duvet: in my view, after the double mattress and memory foam pillows, the best thing for a night camping is this giant duvet that you can both slip into. I sometimes feel a bit smothered in the sarcophagus-style bag but sleeping in this model was as comfortable as spending a night in my bed.
Slides/flip-flops for the evening: After a long day of walking, there's nothing like being able to slip off your shoes and get air to your feet.
Merino wool clothing: Although in summer the days are hot, the nights can be cooler, particularly when you're high up. A fabric that I really love because it doesn't restrict you and keeps you warm, is merino wool. It's an absolute must!
This list of equipment may seem heavy and cumbersome but then again, when you're camping near your car, you can choose whatever you want! If I'd been carrying my bag for the entire two days of hiking, I would certainly have opted for lighter items.
For food, because we'd booked half-board, a few bars and dried fruit plus a packed lunch were enough for the day.
The first day, we parked the car at Les Perelles, above Saint François Longchamp. We packed our picnics and prepared our bags for the day; although it was cloudy, we smeared ourselves with sun cream (both adults and children) to protect ourselves from UV rays and then headed off late morning towards the Col de Monjoie below the Roche Bénite (Blessed Rock). Because we were hiking with children, we walked at quite a gentle pace with lots of breaks so as not to exhaust them. After roughly 1.5 hours of walking, we stopped at La Platière, 2,000 m above sea level, near a small lake. We saw wildlife, played at the water's edge and glimpsed the car below... The break was very beneficial and then we headed back down. 6.5 km with roughly 450 d+ elevation gain covered in 4.5 hours with a picnic break.
The 2nd day was fantastic! A new day and new hike exploring Lake Blanc and then Lake Bleu. A very easy 4.5 km hike, that we found on the tourist office site, with 300D+ elevation gain and lots of interesting features! In winter, the mountain slopes form part of the ski resort while in summer, the paths are invaded by cows! The children really enjoyed this loop which runs just below the top of Cheval Noir. They found edible plants, learnt the names of cows and saw firn (partially compacted snow). They loved it and so did I!
There's no shortage of trails in the surrounding area and there's something for everyone: from easy walks to more demanding hikes. If you're planning a holiday in Saint-François Longchamp, remember to check out or download this complete hiking guide, available on line (link: https://reservation.saintfrancoislongchamp.com/medias/documents/documentation/documentation-21RANDOETE-FR.pdf ). Trail runners will also be able to find inspiration for their training sessions (link: https://www.saintfrancoislongchamp.com/que-faire-pendant-mes-vacances-au-ski-ou-a-la-montagne/animations-et-activites-illimitees-en-montagne-en-savoie/randonnee-en-savoie-panoramas-et-nature/ )
This trip can be adapted according to participants' ability. If travelling with children, two days was a good amount to time to introduce them to the sport. We adapted the hikes to suit their fitness levels, preferences and weather but when planning the weekend, we knew we were guaranteed a great sleeping spot.
Before you embark upon an adventure in the great outdoors, camping under the stars, carrying a full kit, I should add that, as a city dweller, I found camping near a car park, not far from a refuge was the perfect solution.
At the end of the weekend, I like to bring back a souvenir... Something edible! I love hikes and I also love eating food so, after expending all that energy, I never miss the opportunity to stop off somewhere local.
Blueberry pie, jam etc. I like all regional products and this time I filled up on cheese!
The La Chambre cooperative is located in the heart of the Maurienne region. Here, they collect the milk from 22 different producers, which they then process and mature to produce Beaufort - one of my favourite cheeses!
The shop sells a range of products as well as raclette, reblochon and tomme; and there's a grocery section that will also whet your appetite.