Trails in Val d’Ayas

Descending from Alpe Varda

Descending from Alpe Varda

By Cindy Doyle

Trails in Val d’Ayas:

Val d’Ayas lies in stark contrast to Valle di Gressoney’s narrow valley floor and mountains rising steeply from it. Val d’Ayas is a broad open valley with many smaller hanging valleys and unending views of the surrounding glaciers and peaks.  Running high in the mountains in this valley offers glimpses of Mont Blanc and The Matterhorn in addition to Monte Rosa, Castor and Pollux.

Monte Rosa Thermal Spa

Monte Rosa Thermal Spa

As a result of having a wide valley floor, Val d’Ayas is more built up than Gressoney. We stayed in Champoluc, a bustling alpine resort with all the amenities you’d expect to find – including Monte Rosa Terme pool and wellness facility. The jets in the pool area are as good as any massage after a hard day of running. The sauna and ice plunge are also fantastic on the legs. The 4 hour package is perfect for a late afternoon and doesn’t break the bank account at €25 midweek either! Bring a swim hat as well as your bikini/swim shorts… And a book!

Our group spread itself over a variety of hotels and everyone seemed pretty happy with their accommodation. Perhaps I’m biased, but multiple trails left directly from my hotel, Charmant Petit Hotel, which meant an early morning add-on was an easy option if you fancied it! The hotel staff were very friendly too (they had gluten free goodies ready for me at breakfast!), there was a very laid back, relaxed atmosphere and the rooms were extremely comfortable.

Suggested Routes From Gressoney to Val d’Ayas:

You can use the Trek Bus system to transfer your baggage and even yourself, depending on how you are feeling, or as I would recommend – you can access Val d’Ayas a few ways on foot.

To get there, you can run either via Colle del Pinter (up and over to Champoluc) or via Colle Ranzola. Or a steep power-hiking ascent via Passe di Valfreddo.

Suggested Route 1: Via Colle del Pinter: 15km approx. Elev. gain 1200m+:

Running up to Alpenzu Grande

Running up to Alpenzu

You can run once again from Gressoney-La-Trinité on the same paths as Day 1 to Alpenzu Grande. Alternatively, you can access Alpenzu Grande from directly below by running the linking eco-trail between the two Gressoney villages as far as La Madeleine, running a short road section to reach the main road, crossing this and watching for the track on the right leading you up to Alpenzu.

From Alpenzu Grande, take the Alta Via 1 trail to Colle del Pinter and stay on it, descending as far as Frantze (small village just before Crest). From Frantze, leave the Alta Via and descend into Champoluc where numerous accommodation options are available.

Bring a packed lunch today. Besides Alpenzu, there are no food options until you are very close to Champoluc.

Suggested Route 2: Via Colle Ranzola (elev. gain varies depending on route):

From Gressoney-La-Trinité, you can again take the eco trail which links the villages in the direction of Gressoney-Saint-Jean, crossing the Lys river and continue out the other side of the village towards Cialvrino. From here, take the forest tracks up to Colle Ranzola (gain 500m approx.)

From the col, you can decide to add on a summit. Punta Regina (see photos) adds just over another 200m elevation gain. On the other side of the col, Mont Ciosè beckons, which would add an extra 500m. I cannot say how runnable this track is though, as our group chose Punta Regina. The start looked fine, judging by the maps there are some cliffs to watch out for. I’ll let you judge for yourself whether to choose this route!

Down the other side of Colle Ranzola, we ran out of trails quicker than any of us were anticipating. Our Champoluc shuttle bus transfer arrived to meet us where the trail quite quickly became a road.

Suggested Route 3: A technical skyrunning option?

In hindsight, I would have preferred to try the Colle del Pinter route across. Or even have a look at the Passe di Valfreddo. It looks like a steep trek up, but offers the opportunity to stay in Rifugio Arp and spend a day or two running from here. You can also access the refuge from Champoluc or Brusson in Val d’Ayas if you prefer.

The refuge’s site has maps of most trails in the area, but one route intrigued me, it doesn’t appear on this, but does on other maps. It is a ridge or skyline route which incorporates Punta Palasina and Colle di Palasinaz and can be run as a loop from Rifugio Arp. You could also use it to link the two valleys from Valfreddo down to Champoluc or Brusson.

Make your own judgements. Assess your own risks.

Technical running section

Technical running is thirsty work!

It is technical in places, considered an expert hiking route, with some cables and steps built in. So this undertaking obviously depends on your own experience. Needless to say, you make your own judgements, assess your own risks. Photos of the route can currently be seen on Ayas Trekking, but according to the webmaster, the site will go out of commission soon.  It’s a pity because there is a lot of useful information here.

From Rifugio Arp, you can follow the 5B/C trail, past the Valfredda lakes to the Colletto. From here, hang a left up the 3D trail towards Punta Palasina. The trail splits to give you the option of a quick detour to the summit, you must descend from the summit the same way to the main trail and continue on towards Colle di Palasina, taking another left here to follow Trail 105 back to Rifugio Arp.

It’s also worth pointing out that where Valle di Gressoney has the Sentieri del Lys, Val d’Ayas features heavily in the Tour de Six, a similarly styled hut to hut route.

Route Suggestions in Val d’Ayas:

Suggested Route 1: 20km Point to Point requiring shuttle bus. 900m+ elevation gain (approx.)

Starting at Saint Jacques des Allemands, (or possibly your accommodation), this route heads directly up towards Pian di Verra Inferiore in the general direction of Lago Blu. Just before the ‘Pian’, the track splits. Left was our main route, but we continued our warm up as far as the big boulder on the Pian to appreciate the views it offers, before doubling back to pick up our route. This was day 4, and my initial article description gives you some insight as to the route from here into Valetta di Tzere, Alpe di Tzere and Alpe Varda.

From here, continue running towards Alpe di Nana and on to Alpe Metzan where you can stop for lunch at La Tchavanna, an agriturismo refuge which makes its’ own cheeses, yoghurts etc. There are several trails that run in that general direction, but so long as you don’t go lower than the Ru Curtod canal, you should find it.

After lunch, depending on how you feel, you could descend immediately towards Mandriou for a pick up, continue following the Ru Curtod as far as you wish to another road head pick up, drop lower, follow the canal track into the forest, then descending from the canal, continue straight on, passing Varda and taking the track down to Frachey and back to Champoluc. You will need to consult a map with this section, but it eliminates the need for a pick up.

Suggested Route 2: 21km Extrepieraz to Challand-Saint-Victor. Requires shuttle bus.

An easier day of running, with little elevation gain and running through shady forestry, this route was a welcome one in the summer heat.

Beginning in Extrepieraz, heading uphill towards Salomon village, taking Rue Valley down to Rue Col Ranzola, keep heading down until you must cross the main road of Brusson at the junction onto Strada Colle di Joux, picking up trail again on the left after you cross the river Evancon.

Follow the Strada del Ru D’Arlaz, another canal trail through the shady woodland, dropping down just after the village of Arcesaz to make a stop at Dondeynaz & Gamba for a drink and a snack or light lunch. (Booking required). This will probably be the fastest 10km of your holiday, as there’s only 284m elevation gain, so factor this into your timing.

Dondeynaz & Gamba has the prettiest barn I’ve ever seen! (See pic 2nd from left above). Irish farmers could learn a lot from these self-building farmers!! An amazing, hard-working family, they have fantastic cheeses and yoghurts for sale, but their meats are simply divine, they practically dissolve on your tongue. Their philosophies on feeding and caring for their animals can be tasted in the quality of the produce. Be warned though, this is a family farm and being a family, they have kids. Crazy kids!! 😀

From here, the route contours around the 1150m mark and is nice easy running after eating. The trail goes past Orbeillaz, where we noticed a village thermometer reading 40 degrees! We were extremely thankful to be taking it easy in the shade and took every opportunity to cool down that we could find!

Near Grand Hoël, the land opens out and we were momentarily out of the shade before picking up our wooded descent trail down the spur, featuring sculptures in the woods known as Challand Art. It was reminiscent of Devil’s Glen in Ashford, but quite a bit steeper!! We took a detour to visit the Natural Reserve at Lac de Ville, but in all honesty, it was wasted on us in the heat, because all we wanted to do was jump in for a forbidden swim. We were too hot and bothered and still had to make our way down to Challand-Saint-Victor. Our joy returned when we discovered yet another waterfall en route!! Impromptu showering and we were ready for dinner!

Take another look at Trails in Gressoney.

Other things to do in Val d’Ayas:

  • Visit the vineyard and meet local wine producers. An incredibly friendly family run business. Gabriella Minuzzo cares lovingly for her vines and offers tastings and B&B accommodation to you also. A gem of a spot.
  • Eat at Le Cadran Solaire and be sure to ask them about the amazing internal sundial or in Challand-Saint-Victor, try Ristorante Bistrot Ramet, bursting with locals which is always a good sign. For a light meal in Champoluc, try Sans Souci, a new vibrant café bar in the town.
  • Run more routes.
  • Visit the Gold Mine of Chamousira.
  • Go rock climbing down the valley at Arnad.
  • Bring the entire family!

Sites and PDFs worth looking at:

You can follow Cindy on her own blog at www.GoWild.ie

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