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Hike – Border hopping along a ridge by Champéry

    Hike Champéry Col de Cou

    Photo: View from the Pointe de Fornet.

    A varied and very scenic route which comes with the novelty of crossing the border into France and back a number of times.

    I did this as a day hike whilst staying in Champéry.

    Key Information

    Route: Pointe des Mossettes – Col du Fornet – Col de Cou – Arète de Berroi – Cantine de Barmaz – Le Champ de Barme – Champéry.

    Length: 17.5km, +470m, -1675m.

    Date: 2023-July-10.

    Hike Champéry Col de Cou

    For more hikes in Switzerland see my list of hikes.

    Practical Information

    Season: Late Spring to Autumn. Even after a poor winter there was still snow around the path at 2000m in places.

    Arrival/Departure: Cable car to Pointe des Mossettes via Champéry / Train from Champéry. For the cable car it is better to get a usable Multipass card (3 CHF) and pay for a day pass to be loaded onto it (15 CHF) than buying individual tickets which would cost 14 CHF each for the 3 short stages if you are starting in Champéry.

    Supplies: The only option on the route for food and drink is the Cantine de Barmaz after 12 km.

    Alternate routes/shortcuts: A slightly shorter (and much less steep on the descent) route is taking a left turn after the Col du Cou and heading down into the valley instead of up to the Arète de Berroi. This is not as impressive, but is still a very beautiful route down a quiet forested valley with some pretty farmhouses.

    Exposure/Hazards: There are a few places on the ridge after the Col du Fornet where the path is a bit narrow/rocky and some careful footwork and use of hands is required. There is a cable for assistance and it isn’t dangerous (falling would just mean bouncing down a grassy hillside rather than a cliff).

    Other points:

    • I did this on a Monday morning so it started rather quiet with only a few other people taking the first cable car up and almost nobody on the first half of the route. Repeating a chunk of the route on a Friday there were more people about, but it was never busy.
    • The Swiss Topo and Mobility maps are a bit useless here. Despite having all the topographical data the route mapping stops dead at the border and it won’t show which paths are on the French network.

    Notes along the route

    The cable car ride from Champéry is rather scenic in itself. First the cable car up to Croix de Culet, then a short walk to the chairlifts which go down in the valley to Les Crosets and up to the start point at the Pointe des Mossettes.

    It is worth taking a quick walk up to the little summit of the Pointe des Mossettes for the panoramic view that it offers over the region. From there I set off along the ridgeline towards the. The first few valleys are through the Portes du Sol ski region so there are hibernating chairlifts and big gravel roads all over the landscape.

    Hike Champéry Col de Cou
    View from Pointe des Mossettes.
    Hike Champéry Col de Cou
    Looking along the ridge from the Pointe des Mossettes.

    After the first sleeping chairlift the path switches into France without any fanfare. Surprisingly this was actually my first time in the French Alps. I had been in the mountains in all the other alpine countries, and to France (even cycled there from my house), but never in the Franch Alps before. Despite having Annecy and Chamonix on my to-do-list for the better part of a decade. Even now I only made it a few hundred meters over the border, but that is better than nothing at least.

    The path up to the first pass at the Col de Vorlaz is a bit confusing. There is a small footpath through the meadow which is shorter and requires less height gain than the road (it is more interesting too). but it isn’t signed and only exists on the Swiss maps (not even OpenStreetMaps is aware of it). To add to the fun there was a long barbed wire fence that the owner had not bothered to put back up after winter, so hidden in the flowers alongside the path was spikey metal tetanus.

    The French side was eerily quiet in the first few valleys. No cows. No huts or farms. Just me, hibernating chairlifts, and the rather impressively ugly resort of Avoraiz in the valley below. In contrast the little glimpses into Switzerland during this section were full of life and the sound of cow bells floating up.

    Hike Champéry Col de Cou
    Hibernating chair lift at the Col de Vorlaz.
    Hike Champéry Col de Cou
    Looking down the valley to Avoraiz.

    At the pas de Chavanette there is the option to drop back down a steep path into Switzerland (or just pop over the border again for the novelty of it if you are looking down the slope). I had wondered if this was the better option in the event of snow blocking the ridge (there were a surprising number of patches around at 2000m) but figured everything out of sight was south facing so would be clear (and it was).

    The views and atmosphere totally changed at the Col du Fornet. The ski infrastructure stopped and alpine farms were scattered about.

    Shortly after the pass there is the chance to take an unmarked path up to the top of the Pointe de Fornet. This view doesn’t provide much that you don’t get from the path anyway (the peak is only 100m higher and the path almost loops around it), but it is a little bit higher and you can see everywhere at once so it is worth the detour. Take care at the top, it is a sheer drop into Switzerland (the path stays just below the ridgeline so should be fine)

    Hike Champéry Col de Cou
    Looking up to the Col du Fornet.
    Hike Champéry Col de Cou
    View over Mont Blanc and the Savoy alps from Pointe de Fornet.

    From the Col du Fornet the path follows the French side of the ridge line traversing a steep grassy hillside (the Swiss side is a steep rocky cliff). There are a few points where the path is a bit worn and care is required, but these have cables for assistance. Mostly it is easy going with stunning views.

    The ridge leads down to the Col du Coux which sits on the Swiss/French border and was apparently such a smuggling hotspot that this fairly remote pass has a (now disused) customs post.

    Reentering Switzerland I followed the path up to and then along the Arète de Berroi ridge, before dropping down through the forest into the Plan Barme. This required a bit more height gain and a steeper descent than going straight into the valley on either side, but the views were well worth it.

    Hike Champéry Col de Cou
    Along the Arète de Berroi.
    Hike Champéry Col de Cou
    Descending to the Plan Barme.

    Barme is the end of the road for public traffic and there were as many cars parked up as there were cows in the neighbouring fields. I had a rest and cool drink on a deckchair at the Cabane de Bermaz. A lovely spot for a rest.

    I followed the Torrent de Barme stream along a brief section of plain, then the landscape changed suddenly into a cirque/gorge. Descending (quite steeply for the surface of the path) into the forest around Champ de Barme with towering cliffs overhead.

    After this the route entered the point of ‘last few tedious kilometres’ with wide paths/roads and limited views for the rest of the hike into Champéry. Still beautiful, but not as interesting as at the start and the temperature was rising as the day went on and I descended lower into the valley..

    I took a different route via Les Parses which added a bit more height, but also took me past a little self-service shop at Ferme Berra selling amongst other things a very welcome ice cream.

    Hike Champéry Col de Cou
    Cabane de Bermaz.
    Hike Champéry Col de Cou
    Descending to the Champ de Barme.

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