So as far as family campouts go, this was by far the coolest trip that we have completed. It totally blew our minds. And Oskar exceeded all our expectations of what a 3 year old is capable of. Read on if you want to find out about a more challenging, yet totally achievable family adventure in the French Alps!
This adventure was the result of a catch up with our good buddies Rob and Jen, who live near Chamonix and as such live an outdoor life that we (at this stage) can only dream of. I won’t pretend to have done any of the organising of this trip; it was entirely down to Jen and her research and planning. That being said – it is an incredibly simple adventure to organise, but definitely benefited from Jen’s local knowledge in order to know that it would be appropriate for the kids. But now she has done that and we have recced it for you, consider it an awesome family adventure waiting to happen!
This was our 11th family campout of 2017 and took us to an Alpine mountain hut called ‘Le Refuge de la Pointe Percée‘, which stands at 2164m in the French Alps. We begun our hike at the Col des Annes, some 500 metres below.
From Jen and Rob’s place we drove to the Col via an oh-so scenic route, winding along some utterly breath-taking mountain roads, with the most free-range cattle you could imagine roaming the lush pastures on either side; these are the delightfully happy cows that produce the milk that makes the famous Reblochon cheese – a traditional local produce. The drive was absolutely incredible.
Our windy route took us a joyous 2 hours (there is a faster more direct route, but why would you?). Enrolee we also stopped for a quick coffee at the Col des Aravis just because it was a glorious day and we wanted to sit in the sun and soak up the beauty of our surroundings. Comically Jen announced that this was where she and her girlfriends would stop for a drink when they cycled the route (what the….!?!?!) before heading home. Indeed the roads were lined with hardcore cyclists pounding their way up the mountain – a beautiful route if you are fit enough!
After our refreshments at the Col des Aravis, we carried on the short journey further to the ‘Col des Annes’, where there is a cluster of farm buildings, lots of happy hairy cows and a few cafes and restaurants (selling mostly cheese-based delights!).
The Col sits at a height of 1720m and was the starting point for our hike. According to the sign, our destination – the ‘Refuge Hut de la Point Percee’ – was a supposed 2 hour walk away. However, clearly this was not the case when your group includes a 5 year old, a 3 year old and a 2 year old!
The kids had been prepped for days about their ‘big adventure’ and how they were going to ‘climb a mountain’ and also about how hard it would be, but what an amazing challenge to undertake, and how strong they were, how we knew they could do it, etc. etc. After a lot of anticipation, snacks, sun-cream, fluids, and general faff, we started our hike at 12.30pm, under the bluest of blue skies and a scorching sun.
We adopted a slow plod, which we maintained for the duration of our hike. Jen had Thomas in the baby-carrier, and Oskar and Louis walked, although I had an emergency kiddie carrier incase it all went to pot. However, thankfully this was only used to carry the lunch and a bundle of accessible snacks and water (rather than a 20kg fidgety tired toddler!)
There were lots of steep paths to begin with, winding up through the vegetation, before emerging above the tree line. Once we popped out on top of the ridge the views were epic and we could see where we were heading, which was a good motivator for the kids.
There was the odd winge, or the cry of “are we there yet?” or “how much further?”, but genuinely Oskar and I just walked and talked, and as long as we kept chatting (i.e. he was distracted), he just kept putting one foot in front of the other and didn’t think about it.
This did mean A LOT of chat about Fireman Sam, which Paw Patrol character I would be, which type of emergency service vehicle I would drive if I could, and a lot of ‘role play’ conversations about rescuing people from various disasters (burning buildings, sinking ships, etc.) but it was pretty cute and actually so nice to have such long conversations while plodding along.
We stopped for lunch at 2pm (having had a tonne of snacks before we set off) and settled for a spot that is really up there in terms of the best picnic spots ever, in a field of wild flowers and looking down the valley. Pretty hard to beat.
After a refuel of crusty baguette and a spot of formal, we carried on up, winding our way along the ridge. The kids enjoyed adding to the many cairns enroute and there was a pretty steep section with chains bolted into the side of the rock to hold on to. The boys were absolutely fine and thought it was pretty cool, though I must admit we did hold their hands pretty tight going up here as it would have been easy to skid or trip. But they managed it just fine.
Oskar loved the scrambling sections and they all had good fun climbing up through the narrow rocks. With the sun beating down, we also took some shelter in these rocky sections, taking the time to ply the kids with juice and biscuits to keep them going, which they no doubt thought was the best thing about the whole trip!
With half an hour to go, Thomas the two-year old also decided that he wanted to have a go at alpine hiking and demanded to be taken out of his baby carrier. He then did a stirling job at hiking the last hundred metres of ascent.
Those descending who we passed could barely believe their eyes as they were confronted by the sight of three miniatures scrambling up the rocks, totally focused on getting to the top and chatting along as they went.
We arrived at out destination – Le Refuge de al Pointe Perceé – at 5pm and sat on the balcony enjoying the last of the sun and a well-earned cold beverage.
The ‘Refuge de al Pointe Perceé’ is so called because it is located right beneath the Point Percée, the highest point of the Aravis Mountains (2750m – a climbing peak). It is also referred to as the ‘Gramusset Hut’. It’s a pretty sizeable hut, sleeping 42 people across 4 dorms. It wasn’t busy when we were there and we had a 10-bed dorm to ourselves (though to be fair I can’t imagine many people wanted to share with a bunch of kids/toddlers!) It’s a basic hut but does everything you need. You can fill up with water, buy drinks, it serves up a warm dinner and hot drinks/bread for brekkie, there’s a drop toilet, and plenty of rugs for sleeping (though you bring your own sleeping bags).
We enjoyed our dinner on the balcony at 7pm as the sun was setting, although the kids were starting to lose it by this point (fair enough!) We managed to shovel some of the sausage/pasta soupy/casserole into them before aborting mission and taking the superstars to bed.
Given it was a totally new and foreign place, Oskar, despite being wrecked, took a little persuading to go to sleep and I ended up lying down with him…. After which I was pretty ready for sleep myself! Jen had even more coercing to do with Louis and Thomas, so in the end we all just gave up and had a pretty early night and were tucked up in our bunks by 9pm.
By 7am we were packed up and breakfasting on cereal, bread, jam and lashings of hot chocolate and strong coffee. The kids had slept well and were on good form and by 7.30am we were back outside, bags packed and ready to head off. At 8am we departed from the hut, starting our descent.
It was chilly to begin with as we were in the shadows of the Aravis, but within half an hour the skies were blue and the sun was pounding down again. It was another spectacular day.
Psychologically day 2 was good for the kids as they knew they had managed it the previous day and now just had to go down. They were super-excited and just cracked on with it! Again, we just took our time, went at their pace, plied them with snacks and just enjoyed the time to gaze around and take in the views.
We arrived back at the Col des Annes and our deathly hot cars at 11am. The boys were hot, sweaty, covered in dust and with a multitude of scratches, bumps and bruises on their legs. But they had walked every single step of the way themselves and we were so incredibly proud of them. I think they realised they had done something pretty cool too and felt pretty pleased with themselves (rightly so!). Months on, Oskar still refers to “the mountain he climbed in France” and we often talk about it.
So if you want a challenging yet totally cool mini adventure to do with the kids, then this is absolutely it. It was only two days (well really only 24 hours!) but we felt like we had experienced and achieved so much more; it honestly felt like we had been away for days (in a good way!). It is super easy to organise: you can book the hut and meals online; the route is clearly sign-posted all the way from the Col des Annes; it’s super cheap (approximately 50 euros per adult for food/accommodation per night) and the hike is totally do-able.
The question is…. Where next?