The drive to the Parc Naturel régional du Massif des Bauges was about two and a half hours; the last forty-five minutes were through the park itself and involved many winding roads climbing up a mountainside before reading a raised valley. The location is much more cosmopolitan than I was expecting, with shops, restaurants and supermarkets. From the descriptions, I was expecting something much more rural. It was a little disappointing, as I’d been expecting something woodsy.
We found the hotel without an issue though finding the entrance was more of a challenge as it is at the very back of the building, a partially converted barn. The outside terrace was full of people eating lunch; it is a trendy venue for food in the area. We checked in but had left our bags at the car, so we settled straight into a seat for some food. Once again, the menu option was much more cost-effective than ordering discrete meals; even not wanting anything too heavy, it worked out more sensible to have the menu.
The food was excellent, a red cabbage and feta salad, meatballs and a creme brûlée with lemon and whipped egg whites. The wifi password was a string of numbers, which our waitress said was someone’s birthday. It was very clearly hers as the other two people who work at the hotel (her parents) were not turning 30 this year.
Having eaten, we then headed out for a hike down to the river and lakes. Mad dogs and Englishmen go out (for a hike) in the (30+) noon-day sun.
We reasonably quickly moved from roads to a rough track in the forest, and after twenty minutes or so, we came to a field with a pair of abandoned houses. The map said to keep going straight as there was a bridge to cross. My friend was not unenthusiastic as the wood had rotted through, and the girders were deeply rusted. I ploughed on ahead, balancing on a beam, my camera in one hand, the other on the railing. I got pretty far until the bridge ended in twisted metal hanging collapsed over the river. Quite some time ago.
We then decided to follow a track that ran parallel to the river. It took us through a beautiful forest and ended at a lake. We followed the road further north, passing a group of kids on horses breaching the river and shortly saw a break in the fences and wondered if this was a point we could cross to the other side on a bridge. Rather than doubling back, I insisted we carry on through the undergrowth following a game trail. Once we fought our way through the thorns and bushes, we reached another field, and I was about to propose we climbed a barbed wire fence when my mate pointed out we could walk through the gap in the wall and get back on the road.
The rest of the hike was on the side of the main road. Though the views were great, the sun was relentless. There was no shade, and it was a sweltering walk back to the hotel. Rather than going in and taking our bags up, we instead jumped into the car and drove a short distance to the main square of the town of Le Châtelard. It is a very peculiar place. A pizza restaurant/bar is part of a hotel (the only other hotel in town), two art galleries, a travel agent for adventure sports, a very fancy looking public toilet, and an artisanal leather shop. There is also a supermarket and a pharmacy. No pubs, no general shops. It is a peculiar place. It also becomes apparent why our hotel restaurant is so popular at lunchtime. There is only so much Pizza you can eat every week.
We drove back to the hotel and finally took our bags to the room. We’d been out walking in the sun for quite a while, so I took a well-needed shower. The room was great, large, with a lounging couch, two beds and a beautiful bathroom. The windows all have shutters on them, so you can leave them open at night for the ambience or close them and use the air conditioner. It is very much as I would think an old fashioned coaching inn would be like—family-run, tasty food that brings in the locals and six rooms for weary travellers. Unlike coaching in, there is indoor plumbing, of which I am very grateful!
Having showered, I got restless, as I tend to when I have nothing to do, so I went out (leaving my friend who was not at all restless) to see the supermarket and pharmacy! I was looking for Beard Oil, as my hipster beard looked more wild man of the mountains since the oil I brought had run out. I’d had no luck in the previous towns, but maybe a location with an artisanal leather shop would have a hipster population. (Also, there have been some remarkable moustaches on the older French men on this trip, though I suspect they’d frown on the idea of beard oil for personal grooming.)
There was no luck getting the beard oil. The pharmacist first directed me to the shaving cream; then, when I stroked my beard and emphasised the word oil (in the most natural way the English have to communicate in a foreign language), she showed me the canola oil for dry skin.
I then explored the supermarket, which was surprisingly large considering the tiny town, but there was no luck there either. I did pick up two large local beers for my friend and me to try, warm as we had no mini-fridge, and I’d seen the hotel was more or less deserted on my way out, and we might struggle to get a beer before dinner.
I got back to the hotel and opened the hot beers. They were surprisingly pleasant.
We had a very traditional french farmhouse breakfast, which was a nice touch: croissants, cheese, ham, fresh-squeezed juice and coffee. Surprisingly the coffee was from pods rather than a fresh brew. It was a lovely place to say, very relaxed, amiable staff, and the food was great. The two older owners had somewhat limited English, but their daughter (who, based on the wifi password, turns thirty this year) was much more fluent and was very helpful.
We headed out of the village and along the trail that took us back to the main roads. Once we got to Annecy, we joined the motorway to take us into Switzerland and to CERN. We knew at the border that we would have to buy a Vignette (a licence you stick to your windscreen) to drive on the Swiss motorways, and as the only way into Switzerland is the motorways, it is a bit of a scam.
We got to the border, having filled up with Diesel (or Gazole) at a very confusing petrol station in the middle of a rebuild, and we were unable to stop in one of the five parking spaces reserved for getting a Vignette at the main office. So we carried, on hoping we’d see overflow parking and have to walk back. This did not happen; instead, we approached the Swiss motorway entrance and waved to one side by a police officer.
He was very friendly and just asked us to buy the Vignette we were missing for the normal price. It was faster and more convenient than parking up and buying on at the official stand. Once we had that in our window, we were on the way and entered our fourth country of the trip.