Superb paths under cloudy skies, with light rain in the afternoon.
After an adequate breakfast at Gite Chez Baptiste we set off at 8.45 under skies which would remain cloudy all day. We were the only people staying at the gite apart from a young French couple who today planned to walk to the lakes we had enjoyed yesterday.
Otherwise we saw no other walkers apart from the foursome who are staying at this refuge - we met them earlier when they were looking for the parking spot from which to walk up here.
The top picture is of le Chazelet, from the road up to the Oratoire Ste Anne, a small chapel, from where layers of cloud partly obscured the view down to the Romanche valley.
From the chapel we descended gently to Les Terraces, one of the many small villages in this area. From there, a good track led directly to the metropolis of La Grave, where luncheon supplies were obtained and we enjoyed a lengthy 'pre-elevenses' with the chatty proprietor of the Le Serac Hotel.
The GR54 route would have taken us unnecessarily over a 300 metre bluff, so we followed Kev Reynolds' suggestion and took a perfectly acceptable alternative through the Romanche valley and up to the pretty village of Villar d'Arene.
From here we rejoined GR54 for its beautiful valley section to the bridge at Arsine. Then it would be a relatively short walk up to today's lodgings, so at Susan's suggestion we now adapted our route to visit the Botanical Gardens at Col du Lautaret.
So we headed off up the GR50 path, which very amiably chose an easily graded route far enough from the road to feel reasonably remote, and led us to the well provisioned Col du Lautaret which leads on to the cycling mecca of Col du Galibier.
Sue and I went inside for omelette and chips whilst the others munched their bread and cheese outside. We observed their increasing layering before they eventually took refuge in the café.
It had started to drizzle.
After an hour in the comfort of the café, we decided to explore the nearby Botanical Gardens. Luckily it was out of season, so the usual charge of €6 was waived. Our visit (pictured - middle) revealed a host of Alpine flowers from all over the world, with a surprising number still in flower. A wonderful place. A small exhibition of drawings by flower artists was also interesting, revealing heavy involvement with Grenoble University since the founding of this and other similar gardens in the late 1800s.
Eventually we dragged ourselves away and headed along the path, which contours beautifully around the mountainside (pictured - bottom), with great views even in the light rain, to reach Refuge de l'Alpe de Villar d'Arene, hidden deep in the mountains, by 4.30pm.
Whilst Kev's guidebook insists that it is essential to book this refuge (and indeed it may be to enable them to judge their catering needs), today there are just four others staying here - Michel, Helene, Jean-Luc and Evelyn - the French foursome who we had encountered looking for the car park. They are using the refuge as a base for some day walks. Both they and the lady guardian were very jolly.
Dinner took place after the goat had been milked and involved the disposal of several rabbits, mainly by Roy, washed down with red wine as usual. Cheese (excellent Brie) followed, then creme without the caramel, accompanied by some local dessert wine, shared with our French friends, in celebration of Susan's birthday.
Happy Birthday, Susan.
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