An excellent first day in weather that belied the forecast showers and wind.
Bourg is a pleasant place, full of cyclists attempting some of the classic Tour de France climbs such as Alpe d'Huez and the Col du Galibier (thanks Robert for your card btw). Today's extensive market also brightened up the town centre.
Shortly before we braved the streets of Bourg the rain kindly eased, leaving us with the minor inconvenience of damp pavements on which to commence our journey.
After some entertainment from Roy, who thought he had wet himself - but it turned out to be a leaky Platypus, we started steeply up a rock face littered with wires that some would argue were unnecessary. This brought us past Autumn Crocuses and Solomons Seal to the fleshpots of Le Châtelard, namely Hotel la Fôret de Maronne, just in time for elevenses. The owner, Frank, a Belgian exile, explained that the reason we hadn't seen any other walkers on this fine Saturday morning was that we had chosen to visit the area 'out of season'. Fine. We'd understood GR54 to be a popular and challenging undertaking. We encountered no other walkers on today's well graded paths.
Frank commented that Alpe d'Huez houses some 37,000 (do we really believe that?) occupied beds in the height of the winter season, and that his restaurant serves over 100 lunches every day at that time. We may well have been his only visitors today.
After elevenses we continued past a vintage Simca Aronde and through some pretty hamlets before dropping down to Pont Romain in the Sarenne gorge.
It was then a long but easily graded walk, initially past old mill paraphernalia, then through pleasant woodland where we found a bench for lunch. That was because the nearby Auberge de Combe-Haute was shut, its summer season being from mid July to mid August.
Soon after that we moved above the tree line and headed gently through open country (pictured - top) up to the heady summit of the 1999 metre Col de Sarenne, about the height from which overnight snow had receded this morning. A cold wind (today's temperatures didn't exceed 10C) encouraged us to seek the warmth of the nearby Refuge du Col de Sarenne, where we received a warm welcome and were relieved of €25 for five hot drinks, twice what Frank had charged.
The descent to Clavans (pictured - bottom, below an impressive slab of rock) was steep but easy, undertaken in the company of a dozen or so vultures.
A wrong path was taken - my fault - resulting in a direct descent to Clavans-le-Bas and missing the excitement of a visit to the Cimitiere des Huegenots.
The Auberge du Savel was easily located, at 4.50 pm, just before the arrival of a long awaited shower, and we were soon enjoying our own en-suite showers.
Dinner was acceptably appetising, if not exceptional - soup, pasta and veal, tart - and the house red was agreeable. Any residual jet lag was disposed of by way of an early night.
Grass of Parnassus graced much of today's route and is undoubtedly 'flower of the day' - but don't expect many such accolades as most of the remaining Alpine flowers are definitely past their best.
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