I have many fond memories of camping in the French/Swiss Alps with my family every summer. Hiking up mountains, swimming in glacier lakes, wooden chalets with flowers lining their balconies and hearing the soft peal of bells from cows grazing up the mountainside, all hold special places in my heart. These three weeks in the Haute-Savoie were a time to reminisce, but also to discover new heights amongst those awesome peaks.
On our way to the next workaway stop, we visited Lac d’Annecy – a place I have been to twice before: once with family and again with the big band from university. It was here that we were moved on by the police for the first time – in a quiet lakeside village where we had parked at the side of a lane. The ‘telling off’ coincided with a big storm, and the van was leaking more than ever (now dripping right into the passenger seat), so we weren’t in the best of moods!
However, we did have lovely weather for the full day we spent cycling around the lake 😊
So…onto workaway no. 3! It was a relatively short stay – only two weeks – partly due to the hosts taking on more workaways than they expected/the work not being suitable for Kieran’s back. The time flew by, but I also felt like we packed in so much and made some great relationships in such a short amount of time that Les Contamines-Montjoie became home for an instant.
The hosts were a Dutch-American couple with their son (who went to Bristol uni the same time as me), and they all gave us a very warm welcome. There were two other couples staying, also workawayers. Aurelie (French) and Jeroen (Dutch), who had cycled all the way from Holland (!!), were camping out in the little patch of garden. Sophie and Bob, a British couple, were also living in a van – although a much swankier and less leaky one than ours! Together we fit rather snugly in the tiny apartment.
The day we arrived, the valley was cloaked with fog, and we had no idea what the surroundings looked like. We got a big surprise the next morning:
On a more personal note, the common tongue used between us was English, which made me feel much happier and content compared with the beginning of the Ardèche workaway!
We were given a tour of the chalet that was in the process of being constructed – the hosts’ future house. It looked pretty good already – at least it had all four outside walls and a roof! It’s been a running theme that all our workaway hosts have built their own houses…[and it’s got a bit of an idea forming in our own heads too…]
Anyway, we only ended up doing a tiny bit of ‘construction work’ – marking out screed guides for the ground floor slab, applying a layer of lime/concrete render on the back wall in preparation for hemp & lime plaster, and treating some mould that had begun to appear on the wooden beams. For the most part, we helped with food preparation and other household chores because the onsite work involved a lot of heavy lifting.
The work hours were quite different to what we were used to: we did three 8-hour days and had the other 4 days free to do as we wished. This allowed us to do a lot of day-long hikes: up to the Glacier de Bionnassay,
We went up twice to les chalets de Miage because the first time it looked like this:
On a clearer day however…
I got to do plenty of wild swimming 😊 there was a private lake at the top of the village, but after 6.30pm the lifeguards left so we went several times after work for a swim and some yoga/core exercises. Aurelie was an actual yoga instructor so she showed us some Ashtanga Yoga moves!
We also hiked up to a glacier lake at the snow level, and I braved the chilly waters (for a few short minutes!)
We felt very inspired by the other workawayers, as they were super super active: Bob and Sophie would casually run half marathons up the mountains and then go for an equally gruelling bike ride in the afternoon. All four of them were keen climbers, and it just so happened that the climbing world championships were being held in Chamonix on our second week there.
We drove up on the evening of the finals, and squeezed our way through the crowds to get a glimpse of the champions. Not that Kieran and I had any idea what to look for in the world’s best climbers – but we were pretty impressed!
As a bonus, when the competition ended we were treated to an epic firework display for Bastille day!
We spent an amazing few days in Chamonix. We were camped right next to a popular climbing spot – where the fantastic Jeroen and Aurelie taught us how to climb and belay!
Kieran was a natural, and completed a 6a+ on his first day! Some climbers nearby told us about a ‘tradition’ that if a person completes a difficult climb they weren’t expecting to, they must buy everyone ice cream, apparently. So Kieran obliged 😊 We both feel pretty hooked on the climbing high already…new favourite hobby?
The following day we hiked up to Lac Blanc, famous for its picturesque views of Mont Blanc and the surrounding peaks. It’s a popular route, although the vast majority of people take the cable car most of the way up. So the closer we got to the lake the more packed out the path got, like a trail of ants on a pilgrimage up the mountain.
We also saw ibex!
We were treated to a red tinted sunset one evening (forgive the camera, it is slowly losing a corner…)
It was such a lovely way to end our time in the ‘Pays du Mont Blanc’. We left on my birthday, and spent the morning chilling by Lac de Passy (also with great views of Mont Blanc etc.), before continuing onto Lac de Bourget on our way to the next workaway.
We also stopped by one more lake on our way to Drome, Lac de Monteynard-Avignonet. A much quieter and secluded place, with a lovely free lakeside parking spot (if you know how to convince the barrier to do your bidding…) and a cool suspension footbridge over a gorge-y part of the lake.
Now to the Drome…