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Early on Thursday 30 July we recommenced our journey southwards towards our planned destination of the Alps. We travelled south on the N74 in the direction of Dijon. We joined the A31/E21 at Junction 5 to bypass Dijon. To the east of Dijon we took the A39 south east and then left this toll at Junction 5 to join the N5 in the direction of Dole. Near Poligny we turned onto the D1033 towards Bourg-en-Bresse. To the north of Bourg-en-Bresse we joined the A40 autoroute to bypass the city. As we were unsure of the gradient and road quality towing on the N/D routes, in this mountainous region, we decided to stay on the A40 toll autoroute all the way to our next campsite. We left the A40 at Junction 21 south east of Sallanches and followed the directions on our satnav to Village Centre Iles de Passy.
We had travelled 255 miles from Camping du Lac de la Liez. We had reserved a pitch the day before we arrived by phoning the Village Centre central booking office. We initially paid for 3 nights by credit card over the phone. There was a reservation/booking charge but this was deducted from our final bill. We stayed at Village Centre Iles de Passy for 14 nights at a very reasonable charge of 16.40€ per night (2 adults, car, caravan and EHU).
The site is located close to the A40 and well-signed along the main road from Junction 21. The final approach road, alongside the adjacent Lake, is quite narrow and busy with lake-users so care must be taken, especially if towing. The site is at the end of this cul-de-sac and bounded by a railway line on one side and a small river on the other.
On arriving late in the afternoon of Thursday 30 July we were allowed to take a site map and go and choose a pitch we liked. The site staff, some of whom speak English, are friendly and welcoming in an informal way. They do not seem to stray far from the bar/reception area however! Reception is open from 8.00am to 7.00pm. There is a bar with outside restaurant area under a canvas canopy. This area has a large screen, projector type, TV and, also, live music on some nights. This entertainment did go on quite late some nights but was not too intrusive. A single-track railway line runs along one side of the site but this seems to be an infrequent daytime local service and is not really noisy or intrusive. There is, also, a sports area with outdoor table tennis area and a large marquee for activities but we didn’t use these ourselves. Bread, croissants, etc could be ordered from the bar the night before to be collected the next morning.
This, quite large, valley site (260 pitches) is surrounded by picturesque mountains. It is rather unusual in its layout with groups of irregularly shaped pitches set along tarmac site roads. The pitches are all flat but sizes vary considerably and access is not helped by rather overgrown hedges. Most of the pitches are hedged and there are lots of mature trees giving shade. None of the pitches had views of the Mont Blanc Range. Other nearby mountains can be seen from some pitches but trees block these views for most. There are no pitches with a view of the adjacent lake. The site does have a slightly unkempt look compared with most French sites.
There are 2 toilet blocks which are rather old and in need of refurbishment. These blocks have a mixture of “squatting” and UK type toilets, free hot showers and outdoor, roofed, washing and washing-up areas. One block has a washing machine and tumble dryer under a veranda (5€ by token from reception). The toilet blocks are kept clean. There is no CDP and we were told to use the “squatting toilet” to empty our ‘van’s toilet tank. This was not ideal as there was nowhere to rinse the tank after emptying and so I took a bucket of water for this purpose. I had to empty the wastemaster at the same location. The “push” drinking water tap for our pitch was shared by 6 pitches and it was not easy to fill the aquaroll at it because of its low height and shape – I used the hose on the non-push tap in a washing-up sink. The water pressure was very low.
We used this site as a base for visiting Chamonix and the Mont Blanc Range about 15 miles away. The route to Chamonix was very scenic and generally an excellent road, a dual carriageway in parts. The road was marred a little by road works near to Chamonix which caused delays, particularly at peak times. Chamonix itself tends to be very busy and congested with traffic and visitors. We found getting there very early in the morning enabled us to get a parking space and less crowded cable cars, etc.
On Friday 1 August we toured around the local area. There is a supermarket and a few other shops in the village of Passy only 5 minutes drive away. We, also, drove up into the mountains above the campsite and enjoyed the lovely views. Later in the day we, visited the pleasant riverside town of Sallanches about 20 minutes drive away to buy some food and other essentials. The Sallanches Tourist Information Office offers free wi-fi access which extends to the riverside gardens nearby. The Tourist Information staff spoke English fluently and were extremely helpful and informative.
On Saturday 2 August we travelled into Chamonix and bought a 4-non-consecutive-days-in-15 “multipass” for each of us for the Mont Blanc Company which gave unlimited free access to all of their 9 telecabine, teleseige, train and tram routes up into the mountains surrounding Chamonix. The passes were very expensive at 93€ each but gave good value for money compared with the single journey prices and we made full use of them to maximise their value.
After buying the multipass we took our first, and most spectacular, ascent into the high Alps. This ascent was on the teleferique to the snow-covered Aiguille de Midi. The teleferique is one of the steepest in the world and covers the ascent in 2 stages. At one point the teleferique has a drop of 500mt below it. The Aiguille has an altitude of 3842mt. As well as the cable car dock the Aiguille has a restaurant and viewing terraces. These terraces enabled us to look out upwards to the summit of Mont Blanc and across the snow fields and glaciers surrounding it. It is possible to walk on the snow nearby and we tried this briefly. There is, also, an ice tunnel. The incredible vista of snow-covered mountains is breathtaking. In fact it was literally breathtaking as the high altitude left us feeling a bit sick, dizzy and breathless. From the Aiguille we watched mountaineers starting up the steep snowfield and ridge on the Three Mounts Route to the summit of Mont Blanc.
After exploring the Aiguille de Midi summit station we took the Mont Blanc Telecabin (20€ extra) across the Vallee Blanche Glaciers to Point Hebronner in Italy. The views of the snow covered peaks, and glaciers from the 4-seater cars were incredibly beautiful. At Point Hebronner we ventured out onto the glacier for a short walk.
Sunday 2 August was a sunny day and we had a restful day back at the caravan. We walked in the park surrounding the lake adjacent to the campsite. On Monday 3 August we visited Sallanches again. On the far side of Sallanches there are a number of retail parks one of which has a large Carrefour hypermarket and we went there to buy food and other essentials. In the same retail park is a McDonalds' restaurant with a free wi-fi connection. The McDonalds' wi-fi is in range of the retail park car park and I logged-on whilst we were parked there.
On Tuesday 4 August we travelled into Chamonix first thing in the morning and took the rack railway to Montenvers. At an altitude of 1913mt Montenvers terminus overlooks the foot of the Mer de Glace. At 7km long, with a surface area of 40km2 and a thickness of up to 120mt thick, the Mer de Glace is the second largest glacier in Europe. Nearby is a small museum showing alpine flora and fauna and a gallery carved into the mountainside with a display of local crystals
From near the Montenvers station we descended by a short cable car and several staircases to the glacier itself and visited the ice cave which is hewn into the glacier. The cave, which is re-carved each year, is fascinating with a number of ice sculptures of "furniture" and animals. In the nearby hotel as well as a restaurant there is a small museum telling the history of the railway. We had caught the first train of the day and by the time we returned to Chamonix at 11.00 hours the queues for the train were very long indeed.
During the afternoon of Tuesday 4 August we drove west through Chamonix and along the valley to Argentiere. From there we took the 2 stage cable car to the Les Grand Montets with an altitude of 3,275mt. From the summit station we had a super view over the surrounding mountains and over the Glacier d'Argentiere.
On Wednesday 5 we drove over St Gervais early in the morning and caught the first tram of the day on the Mont Blanc Tramway. Although it was before 09.00 the tram was very crowded and this got even worse as the tram stopped on subsequent stations and more passengers boarded. The tram is the oldest and steepest rack and pinion railway in France. The tram climbed steeply up into the mountains until it reached its terminus at the rocky Nid d'Aigle at an altitude of 2,380mt. As the tramway was very busy and it was necessary to book a timed-ticket for our return when we arrived at the Nid d'Aigle. From the rocky summit of the Nid d'Aigle we took the rough path which led to the nearby lake with views toward the Glacier de Bionnassay and Mont Blanc. The Nid d'Aigle is the beginning of the "easy route" to the summit of Mont Blanc (2 days return) - a bit beyond our abilities and fitness however!! We took the tram back down the mountain and arrived back at St Gervais just before noon.
For the afternoon of the 5 August we chose to see the Alps from a different aspect and drove to the east of Chamonix to Les Plaz. From La Plaz we took the chair life to Flegere, altitude 1,894mt, and then continued by the 2nd stage chair lift to the summer ski centre of Index, altitude 2,396mt. From these vantage points on the northern side of the Chamonix valley there were excellent views of the Mer de Glace glacier and the peaks above it to south of the town of Chamonix.
On the morning of Thursday 6 August we travelled back to Chamonix and from the north side of town took the 2 stage cable car to Brevent. The first stage is to Planpraz, altitude 2,000mt and we then took the more spectacular stage to the summit of Brevant, altitude 2,525mt. At the summit of Brevant there is an observation point which gives long distance views in all directions and, also, a small cafe. The summit is particularly famous for its spectacular views of Mont Blanc which towers over the valley's opposite side. We enjoyed a picnic lunch at this lofty vantage point.
After lunch on Thursday 6 we descended again to the car and drove north east along the valley. After looking around some of the villages we parked near the cable car station at Le Tour. We used our multipass for the last journey of 4 days. After first ascending to Charmillion, altitude 1,856mt, we then took the 2nd stage of the cable car to Balme, altitude 2,270mt. From the summit station we walked along the well defined track north to the Col de Balme and on across the border into Switzerland. After stopping at the mountain refuge for some refreshments we returned to the cable car station and descended back to the car. By choosing the 4 best days, weather-wise, to use our pass, and visiting 2 of the smaller routes on some days, we were able to travel on 8 of the 9 cable car routes.
We spent the rest of our time at Des Iles enjoying the local area. Next to the campsite, and only 2-3 minutes' walk from the main gate, is the Lac de Passy. The Lake is set in open parkland and very popular with both campers and local residents, of all ages. From the lakeside park there are beautiful views to the snow-capped Mont Blanc Massif in the far distance beyond the lake. The Lake has extensive grass and woodland areas and, also, several coarse sand beaches. The lake beach nearest to the campsite slopes, very gradually, and is very popular for paddling and swimming. There is a roped-off section for small children and lifeguards on duty during the day. There are, also, public barbecues, picnic benches and a small café. The pathway encircling this elongated lake is popular with cyclists and runners. There are small novelty electric boats for hire on a roped off section of the Lake. We spent several days swimming in the lake, walking and cycling around its perimeter and lying on the grass reading.
The weather during our stay at Iles de Passy was generally excellent and sunny with temperatures over 30oC and only a couple of wet days. Our mountain visits provided some welcome relief temperature wise. Aiguille du Midi was below 0oC and we had to wear our hats, gloves and long trousers.
I would recommend this site as a basic base for the Chamonix area. Its location, a distance from Chamonix, meant that its pitches were much less crowded-together than on the sites nearer to Chamonix. Although it did not have many amenities the nearby Lac de Passy and its surrounding park made up for this and was a real asset.
After staying for nearly 2 weeks near Chamonix we fancied moving down to Lake Annecy. Partly because of the good reports that we had heard and, also, because we had our Zodiac inflatable, with outboard motor, with us and wanted to take it out on some water.
Having read various reviews we decided it would be worth driving down to the Lake Annecy area to look at some sites we had chosen as strong possibilities in our Campsite Guidebooks. On Saturday 8 August we drove, solo, through the mountains from Sallanches on the D1212 to Ugine and then took the D1508 to Doussard at the southern end of Lac d'Annecy. We first looked at Camping Nubliere but despite assurances at their reception they don’t actually have any lakeside pitches or pitches with Lake views as it is screened from Lake by a high hedge. Camping Nubliere just had lakeside access through a grassy area. We then moved on to check out International Camping de Lac Bleu nearly next door.
Lac Bleu is situated at the extreme southern end of Lake Annecy right on the shoreline. When we enquired at the reception they were able to offer us pitch (No 201) actually on the lakeside from 13 August for the 13 nights that we wanted. We booked this then and there, although that did cost us a rip-off 25€ non-refundable/non-deductible booking fee. We then returned to our pitch at Passy.
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