© Alison Shayler
© Alison Shayler
© Alison Shayler
© Alison Shayler
Vallorcine to Le Tour
This hike gives you an overview of the Domaine de Balme, a rolling expanse of alpine meadows interlaced with streams and hiking trails on the Franco-Swiss border.
Starting from the tiny village of Vallorcine, go behind the train station and turn left. There are two options for the ascent; the wide 4x4 track that is a winter ski run or the narrow footpath up Plan Envers. The 4x4 track is far less steep but follows a slightly more meandering route that will take longer, the footpath is a bit of a beast to start with but mellows out a bit once you get into the forest - the choice is yours.
Either way, you’ll soon leave the valley behind and start climbing up through a beautiful forest where you can sometimes come across bouquetin and chamois. Little streams trickle down over the rocks and you quickly feel quite far away from civilisation.
If you’ve come up the 4x4 track then once you’ve reached the bottom of the Tête de Balme chairlift (out of action in summer) you need to keep an eye out for a right hand turn up to Col des Posettes. If you’re on the footpath then turn right when you come out of the forest and you’ll be heading in the right direction.
The route continues upwards, winding it’s way up to the top of the Vallorcine gondola. There can be snow up here even in early summer, so make sure that you have decent boots on if you’re up here before mid-June.
The terrain flattens out soon after the lift station and you’ll come to the wide open expanse of the Col des Posettes; a mountain pass where you can see the meadows unfolding beneath you and Chamonix valley stretching out into the distance. The peak to your right is the Col des Posettes, the highest point of the Marathon du Mont Blanc and worth a scramble up there if you’ve the time and the energy.
From the Col des Posettes you can more or see your route down to the Le Tour lift station, as the paths are all fairly visible. Follow the signposts for Charamillon and you’ll find yourself on a nice wide path that skirts around the mountainside, crossing a small ravine where the Torrent de Balme flows through.
The path brings you to the top of the Charamillon gondola, which you can ride back down to the Le Tour car park. If you want to continue on foot, then the signposted route that sets off just before the lift station is quite short and very beautiful.
The landscape up here is rugged with lots of heather, bracken and wild berries packed tightly in amongst the rocks. It feels very different to the other Chamonix hiking areas, in that once you’ve made the ascent it feels more like rolling moorland than high mountain terrain. The views down the valley are quite breathtaking, with the Mont Blanc Massif on your left and the peaks of Le Buet, Flegere and Brevent on your right.
If you want to enjoy the views from the col without hiking up a steep ascent, you can take the lift up from Vallorcine. If you want to save your knees on the way down you can hike across from the Col des Posettes to the top of the Autannes chairlaft and ride back down to the Charamillon gondola. Be sure to check the summer lift schedules before relying on this option though.
Watch out for
This is a genuine alpine pasture, or “alpage”, so you’ll often meet cows on the paths and there are a few cattle grids to cross.
Who should go
The tough climb at the start makes this a good challenge for those who enjoy earning their views. Once you're at the col there are various options to extend the hike and explore different paths, such the Aiguillette des Posettes, the Croix de Fer or the Refuge Albert 1er.
What to bring
Parts of the path are quite rocky underfoot and the area around the top of the Vallorcine gondola can be snowy even in late spring, so wear decent hiking boots and consider using poles.
This isn't a particularly long or technical hike, so you won't need anything beyond the usual supplies of drinks, snacks, suncream and weather-appropriate clothing.
The map for this area is IGN 3630OT.
Where to lunch
There is a restaurant at the top of the Charamillon gondola but it is a bit canteen-style and not renowned for great food or service. If you want to make a bit of a detour then the Refuge de Balme is a picturesque spot to enjoy a traditional alpine lunch, or wait until you get down to Le Tour and grab a sandwich on the sunny terrace of the tiny Café Le Passon.
Vallorcine is at the far north end of the Chamonix valley, just before the border with Switzerland. It is easily reached by train and the station is right beside the lift station. Le Tour is in between Vallorcine and Argentiere; there is a bus stop in the Le Tour car park at the bottom of the lift station, or you can walk for about 5-10 minutes to reach the train station at Montroc.
Chamonix - Vallorcine, Chamonix