The image of France in the rest of the world is a country of artisans. Imagine dairy farming with three cows, cheese making in a shed on the farm or grapes stamped by feet to make wine. And while most of this is no longer a justified image (French farming is in the most part on a huge industrial scale) the GR5 has shown us some pockets of the last remaining true ‘french charm’. But none more so than Larche.
Larche is a small town situated very close the the French/Italian border that was destroyed by German and Italian troops in 1944. The whole town was subsequently rebuilt, with our hotel, Relais d’Italie, appearing to be completed in about 1950 and put in a time capsule – to be opened by us on arrival in 2016.
The feel of the room was much the same as my grandmother’s house in Hamilton. Textured wallpaper, plastic concertina doors in the bathroom, crisp white bedspreads. But nothing felt old, worn or grotty, rather it felt like we were in a movie set, transported back in time to a year after opening. The dining room’s louvre shutters created a sepia light effect across the room, further enhancing the retro feeling and dinner was a traditional three course meal of soup, roast pork and fromage blanc. The tablecloth was starched white, the plates warmed and the cutlery was, of course, silver. No Ikea in sight!
With exclusively French being spoken by the delightfully attentive host, who looked like Asterix in a polo shirt, we had a great giggle at orders being lost in translation in between having a prolonged giggle at the marvelous collection of kitsch (but authentic) ornaments on display. While I’m not usually a fan of ceramic lemon stands or pot pourri, the design aesthetic of these relics were excused at Relais d’Italie as they were real antiques…perhaps they were a few of the surviving items from the WWII bombings.
Arriving for an early breakfast at six heure demi (6.30am) we were intending to hurry, concerned about the time we might take for the 38km day ahead. But there was no hurrying the wood-burning stove. Coffee arrived at the table 20 minutes later along with real sourdough bread (very rare for modern France) and several flavours of home-made jam, including kiwifruit (we felt very at home).
The only downside to our time travel – of course no wi-fi.
⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ would stay again.
The Grande Randonné 5 is one of Europe’s premier long distance hiking routes. The full 12 week route runs from the Netherlands, through the French Alps, ending in Nice on the Cote d’Azur. We have chosen the common route of joining the trail at Lac Leman (Lake Geneva) and heading south.
Stage 5 took us from the Queyras to the Mercantour national park. Farewell to any snow but certiainly not to dramatic peaks and mountain passes. Lots of interesting forts and WWII relics here as it was a hotly contested border between France and Italy in both world wars. Most impressive is Batterie de Viraysse towering over 1000m above Larche.
The route then traverses the Mercantour east passing a few ski stations and cliff top villages. By now the trail feel very Mediterranean. Highly recommend an evening at Refuge de Longon, a fantastic mountain experience with food, wine and a Fromagerie.
Oh yeah, brush up on whatever french you have. You’ll need it here…
Distance: 132km over 4 days
Difficulty: Called upon several times to climb 600m in one go, including a vertical kilometer at Roya.
Also published on Medium.