Stage 12 - Grenoble to the Swiss Border

Getting to the Swiss border, where the E4 turns firmly east, involves a journey of some 245 kms, 10,500 metres of climb and 9110 of descent.  The planned schedule involves 9 days of walking.  Coming up with a plan for the route has proved more difficult than the other French stages as accommodation seems to be more limited.   At the moment there are a couple of days which, because of the lack of accommodation, look too long.

North of Grenoble from La Bastille
You can break the walk down into three parts - a really dramatic, and tough, first three days through the Chartreuse Natural Park; a gentler central stage which eventually takes across the Rhone (for the second time, with the Rhone now flowing east to west and out of Lake Geneva); and finally an upland section the last couple of days of which are in the Haut Jura Natural Park.

The Chartreuse Natural Park is built around the Chartreuse Massif which is the mirror image of the Vercors and shares the same dramatic limestone scenery.  Grenoble sits strategically in the gap between the two.

The walk takes you through the Rhone Alps region and (I think) the departments of Isere, Savoie and Ain.  After Grenoble you don't visit any significant towns which partly explains the sparse accommodation.

Grenoble, the start point, is the second largest city on the E4 route (I'm saying that Budapest is on the route) and I guess I will spend at least a day there (recovering from the tough last three days of the Vercours route).  There is lots to see.  One of the main sites is La Bastille, a huge fortification which sits above the town.  The E4 route takes you close and then above La Bastille on the first day.

After a rest the day one walk will be a sharp wake up call involving an all day climb up into the Chartreuse from Grenoble.  The views should be great.  In addition to the climb, the challenge is to find some accommodation on the route which makes it possible to avoid an extra climb the next day.  It probably makes sense to stop at Sappey-en-Chartreuse after a 13 km walk from Grenoble and a climb of 1250 metres and a descent of 600 metres.

Day 2 over Dome de Bellafont
Day 2 at the moment is a bit of a problem.  The first accommodation I have been able to find on the route is 27 kilometres from Sappey-en-Chartreuse (at La Plagne) and because that looks very limited it probably makes sense to go a bit further onto Entremont Le Vieux.  Climbing 1700 metres and walking 30 kms is getting close to a 13/14 hour walk - not good - but at the moment it is the only option I have come up with.

At least day 3 is more straightforward.  The target is Les Eschelles, a 20 km walk involving 600 metres of descent and a village at the end of it with accommodation.

Although the E4 has now dropped out of the high Chartreuse accommodation on the route is still scarce.  As a consequence the day 4 plan, like day 2, looks too long.  The target is Gite d'Etape near St Maurice de Rotherens (doesn't look like it does food), a walk of 29 kms with 1300 metres of climb and 900 metres of descent.  Looks a nice walk, particularly the ridge walk towards the end which promises views across the plain to Lyons.

Next day, day 5, your into the valley proper descending 800 metres down to the banks of Rhone, tracking and then eventually crossing it just before you get to the day's destination Culoz.  Culoz is a small market town with a population of 2,600 people (plenty of accommodation).  Culoz's most famous feature is the Grand Columbier, a mountain which towers above it and which has to be climbed the next day.  Grand Columbier is a famous Tour de France hill climb.
Grand Columbier

As well as having to climb Grand Columbier, day 6 is also challenging terms of accommodation.  There are two options so far: the first is a Gite d'Etape near Brenaz (after 18 kms and a climb of 1500 metres); and the second is a Gite d'Etape near Les Bergonnes (29 kms and a climb of 1770 metres - almost certainly too far).  I don't think there is food at either stop-over.

Depending on which option I end up with (the first almost certainly) - next day's walk is the small village of Saint-Germain de Joux (where there is definitely accommodation).  The walk will either be 33 km (600 metres climb and 1300 descent) or a 20 km walk (270 metres climb and 960 drop) - both feasible.

Pressing on with with the mad rush to the Swiss border (thoughts of Steve McQueen on a motor bike in the Great Escape) the plan for day 8 is a 30 km walk up out of the valley of Saint German-de-Roux, through a series of small settlements (Marnod, Giron) and fairly densely wooded countryside, before dropping down to the small village of Lelex.  If 30 kms and 1200 metres of climb is too far I could call it a day after 20 kms at Le Berbois.

There are options for day 9.  I could either do a short  8 km walk to the Col de la Faucille, (with 1000 metres of climb) or put in a big shift and carry on for another 25 kms to Saint-Cergue at the start of the Swiss section of walk.  Both places have accommodation but although Saint-Cergue has more (not a lot more).  At the moment I'm planning to go all the way into Switzerland but either way it would great to find somewhere nice to stop, recuperate and reflect on what will have been an epic journey through France


  1. Hi John,
    Im very happy to find your homepage. Very impressive your idea to walk from Spain to Hungary on that long way. I have a plan to do some similar pilgrimage from the other end of the route finishing in Finisterre in 2011. I'm a young hungarian doctor working in Scotland. If you are in need if informations about the hungarian stages let me know, maybe I can help you.
    Best wishes

  2. Janos

    Thanks for your comment - will be publishing the whole itinerary at some point and we may be able to work out when our routes cross. Would be great to get your advice on the Hungarian section of route, which follows the Blue Tour, and I'll be working on that in next few weeks.

    Best of luck on your walk


  3. According to "Auf Tour in Europa" E4 follows GR9 until up the Col de la Faucille (hotel and restaurant). Here E4 does not turn sharp left with the GR9, but goes straight with the BL (GR Balcon du Leman). This GR brings you via the castle of Puthod (in ruins) to Petit Sonnailey, where you enter Switzerland. You keep on following BL to the top of La Dôle (1678 m)and down to Saint-Cergue (plenty hotels).
    Saint-Cergue is also where you start to follow the Jura-Höhenweg (but you will still hear French).

  4. The distance from Col de la Faucille naar Saint-Cerque is 25 KM over easy terrain (La Dôle is not high or difficult).