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Talk about an inauspicious start! The day dawned misty, overcast and chilly – like we’d been transported to Scotland overnight – and we had rain gear on before we left the hotel. After a 20-minute walk along the main road, we came to a sign – pointing the wrong way! We decided to ignore it and headed into a steady, steep grind up a road (first paved, then gravel, then paved again as we gained elevation) that wound back and forth past vacation chalets and under ski-lift cables. There were virtually no views aside from the occasional glimpse of mist-filled valleys.
After a brief, poorly marked detour over a gorge (and a bridge marked “fragile” – Tom valiantly allowed me to go first!), we ended up on a path following a river into Les Contamines-Montjoie, our goal for the first night. We’d planned on camping but we were soaked from rain and sweating in our rain gear, so we started looking for a hotel. Good luck! The town had shut down that day. I mean literally: the restaurants had signs that they would open again in December, the hotels had closed that day, and no stores were open. The town tourism office had a nice note that it was open until Sun., Sept. 18 (that day) but this was right above the sign that it was closed every Sunday!
This brought us to Col de Voza, our high point for the day at 1653 m. We didn’t linger in this windy, empty plain, heading immediately back down through several small villages and across a couple of glacier-fed streams. We made the mistake of skipping a lunch opportunity in the first town – Bionassay – and, as a result, didn’t get any lunch since there was nothing open in any of the other towns!
We gave up after trying a couple of places and headed a couple of kilometers farther along to a campground, only to find that, despite the fact that their website had said they’d be open until Sept. 28, they’d decided to close that day as well. Thank goodness I had my phone as I called ahead at this point to find that Chalet Nant-Borrant, 45 min. away, was still open and had space. Off we went, past a pilgrimage chapel and up a rocky, steep road into a misty, open slope where the charming and homey chalet waited for us – with hot showers, cozy rooms, great food and beer! It was just us and a pair of Israeli guys so we had a relaxing night eating and chatting in the dining room. Not a great start, but all’s well that ends well!