Stage 11 - Through the Vercors

Stage 11 looks like the toughest stage yet.  It is 217 km and involves 9,000 metres of climb over 9 days.  After what is essentially a linking day from Chateauneuf-du-Rhone to Dieulefet along the GR 429 the E4 heads north along the GR9 all the way to the Swiss border.

The toughness of the walk is a reflection, in part at least, of the change in geology.  The younger mountains on the eastern side of the Rhone valley are different to the ancients on the west and the foothills of Alps and Jura come with deeper valleys, tougher ascents and descents than the Massif Central.

From Leoncel onwards the walk takes you through the Vercors Natural Park .  The landscape has been described as a limestone "citadel" which dramatic cliffs and long gorges.  It actually was a citadel against the Germans in the 2nd World War with the Resistance provoking a bloody response from paratroopers landing on mass in the area in gliders.

Day  1, probably after a rest day at Chateauneuf-du-Rhone, is a really long one, 39 kms.  Can't find any accommodation on the route and it will be nice to get onto the GR9.  Highlight of the walk, which is through fairly gentle, wooded countryside, is probably the 10th century abbey at Aiguebelle.  Dieulefet, an ancient pottery centre, looks like a nice town and has plenty of accommodation.

It might be possible to walk all the way to Saillans on day 2 (33 kms, 1500 metres) but after such a tough day 1 that looks like a stretch.  The alternative is a short walk to the small village of  village of Bourdeaux,  (13 kms) leaving Saillans for day 3.

Day 3 looks like a dramatic walk, 20 kms, 1200 metres of climb and 1300 of descent before arriving at Saillons.  The climb involves ascending the Massif de Saou and the potential views from the top could be amazing with huge cliffs dropping north and east into what looks like a gorge below.  It looks like a very steep descent into the small town/village of Saillons.
Massif de Saou
Day 4 is a 20 km walk to Plan-de-Baix, 1068 metres of climb and 551 metres of descent.  Most of the climbing is at the end of the day and after you have gone through the village of Beaufort sur Gevanne.  Plan-de-Baix is a small village but it looks it has a family activity centre (as well as a Gite D'Etape) so there should be some accommodation. 

Most of the climbing has been done on day 4, so day 5 is 28 kms of fairly high level walking, a climb near the end near the Col de Tournoile, and then a steep descent to Bouvantes-le-Bas where there is accommodation.  On the way you go through  Leoncel, a small village with a Cistercine Abbey.  

The walk is now tracking along the western side of the Vercors Natural Park and the last four days of the walk look particularly dramatic.  The day of the four (day 6) starts with a hard climb out of Saint-Martin de Colonel up to 1300 metres, over the Col-de-la-Machine, along a ridge walk with potentially great views to both the east and west, before a really steep drop down to Pont en Royan.  This is a 25 km walk with 1200 metres of climb - something around an 11 hour day.

Pont en Royan is a famous beauty spot, a medieval village where houses are built into a cliff and suspended over a river - would be a good place to stop but I should in Grenoble in two days time so will probably press.  Pont en Royan is also the gateway to what looks like the most dramatic part of this stage, the Massif des Coulmes. 
Pont en Royan

Day 7 is a 22 km walk but mainly uphill.  Walking firstly up along the Bourne Gorge and up its side along what must be a steep path you get to the top at around 1300 metres.  The scenery should be dramatic.  Having won the height the hard way you then loose 500 metres dropping down to the small village of Rencurel which has accommodation and is the target for the day.

Day 8 is another day with a lot of climb.  An initial 500 metre climb and a small descent takes you past the small ski resort of Autrans.  After 25 kms in total and some 1,500 metres of climb you arrive at the Refuge at La Sure

After three tough days the last day involves a march, mainly down hill, into Grenoble.  16 kms, 500 metres of climb, 1700 descent, so should be there for lunch.  Grenoble will be a good place to stop and recuperate.


  1. From Châteauneuf-du-Rhône (see my comment to Stage 10) E4 follows GR429 for 36 KM to the East, ascending 600 meters. Unfortunately, my old Topoguide (1992) seems to imply that you walk this in one day as there are no lodgings at all. But there is a 2009 edition of the same Topoguide 904, which may have good news for you ...
    At the end of those 36 KM, all you find is another trail, GR9, which you may follow for 5 KM to the South (leaving E4) to find yourself a bed in the town of Dieulefit. Or you follow the GR9 and the E4 to the North for 7 KM (climbing another 200 meters), trusting that you can sleep in the gîte de Fontlargias (make a reservation!).
    The good news is that from here to Switzerland, you will not leave GR9 anywhere.


  2. Saillans (with an a) and Plan-de-Baix seem logical places for the night; there was a gîte in Leoncel, but I do not know if it still exists. From Plan-de-Baix it is only 12 KM to Leoncel, so you will want to advance further on Day 8 above. Perhaps you can sleep in one of the ruins (Bouvaret, Maison Brun, Petit Musan or Granges)? Another option is a hotel 5 hours after Leoncel, in Bouvante-le-Bas, if it is still there.
    From Lower Bouvante it is 7 hours to the hotel in the farm of Rayes, and one hour more to Pont-en-Royan, so this would be feasible for you, less dramatic than you fear. There is also a hotel and a gîte in Choranche, another hour along the GR9.
    You can very well sleep in Rencurel after 6 hours of walking, ignore Autrans (which is off the E4 anyway) and spend a night in the gîte of La Sure. This brings you to Grenoble in 3 days, but who tells you that you have only 2 days?
    When you look down at Grenoble before entering the metropole, you will see a dark cloud above it that never goes away. It is smog ... never so visible as there! Are you sure you want to recuperate there?