Family hikes around mountain lakes
Many of us are familiar with the large lakes occupying France's Alpine valleys (Annecy, Le Bourget, Serre-Ponçon), however heading for a small, charming lake in an Alpine pasture and perhaps stopping for a picnic is one of the most popular pastimes for any family hike. After a one- or two-hour ascent, on a climb covering between 300m and 600m on a well-marked path, what could be more pleasurable than sharing this mountain experience with your loved ones?
These family hikes do not include the country's pre-Alpine ranges, where the limestone geology is such that rainwater seeps through and penetrates the rocky landscape, carving out chasms and caves along its path and creating natural attractions of a different kind.
In the Alps
- Lac d'Allos, in the Mercantour
Perched at an altitude of 2,230m in the heart of the Parc National du Mercantour, (Alpes-de-Haute-Provence) this superb high-altitude lake, overlooked by Mont Pelat (3,052m), boasts a remarkable ecosystem and mountain flora and fauna. The lake, which is easily accessible via the Val d'Allos, feeds a tributary of the Verdon, a river which pierces through the Southern Alps along its very own "Grand Canyon."
- Lacs du Valgaudemar, in the Hautes-Alpes
This incredibly wild valley cuts deep into the south of the Les Ecrins range. It leads to several isolated villages and provides an opportunity to embark on numerous little-known hikes and mountaineering routes. The hike to the "miniature" Lac du Lauzon (2,000m) is one of several easier walks starting out from the Refuge du Gioberney chalet hotel. Impressive rock walls and spectacular waterfalls characterize this almost-Himalayan landscape. A further bonus after a long and arduous ascent is the chance to admire the Pétarel lakes.
- Lac Blanc, in Chamonix
This highly photogenic lake, nestled at the bottom of the Massif des Aiguilles Rouges, at an altitude of 2,350m, provides a truly magnificent view of Mont-Blanc, which stands opposite it. The site, which is managed by the Asters association, is listed as a "réserve naturelle" and although very popular, it is a must for visitors.
- Les 7 Laux, in the Belledonne range
According to local tradition, the word "laux" means a lake. This collection of seven lakes is the perfect setting for a wonderful trek through the heart of the little-known Massif de Belledonne between Grenoble and the Oisans (Isère).
- Lacs de la Vanoise, in the Savoie
The first-ever national park in France (created in 1963) covers a huge mountain range populated by thousands of chamois and ibex. Hikers are almost certain to get close up to a herd of these charming "mountain acrobats" (making sure that they don't disturb them) by heading towards one of the 100 or so documented lakes in the Vanoise. The main hiking access routes are from Aussois or Termignon (on the Maurienne side), Pralognan (on the Tarentaise side) and Rosuel/Peisey-Nancroix. One of the numerous and welcoming refuges in the area, near the Lacs de Plan Richard, is known as "Entre-le-lac" (between the lakes), which says it all!
Situated in the Massif Arve-Giffre range (renamed "Grand Massif" by local ski resorts), this lake stands in a superb landscape of high pasture and rocky crests in a "réserve naturelle" to the north of the Pays du Mont-Blanc. At an altitude of "just" 2,060m, the ascent to the lake is long and steep (a 3hr climb one way) as the footpath begins at a relatively low altitude (Sixt-Fer-à-Cheval). The reward, however, is out of this world.
- Lac de Gaube Parc des Pyrénées
Perched at an altitude of 1,700m, beneath the watchful gaze of the Pic du Vignemale (at 3,298m the highest peak on the French side of the Pyrenees), this beautiful and large mountain lake is accessible via a chair lift, although it's well worth making the effort to reach it on foot. The access point to the Lac de Gaube, namely the Pont d'Espagne, to the south of Cauterets, is stunning in its own right.
Accessible from two sides (the Aure valley to the east and the Barèges valley to the west), this superb section of the Pyrenees is a listed "nature reserve" and is home to a string of attractive natural and man-made lakes at various altitudes. The Lac de l'Oule can be reached from Saint-Lary and Espiaube (Aure valley), while the Lac de Flère, and the highest lake, the Lac Bleu (2,600m), are accessible via Barèges.