Photo: in the Orbe Gorge.
Along the Orbe river through a beautiful and very quiet gorge. This is not as spectacular as the more famous the Gorges de l’Areuse can be at times, but it is much much quieter – I hardly saw anyone else the whole time.
Ticking off another of the Jura Reds. I had actually intended to do a weekend going from Vallorbe into the top section of the gorge and then climbing out part way down out to spend the night at Romainmôtier and then visit La Tine de Conflens on the 2nd day, but the recently added red section lower down the gorge near Orbe meant I had to do the whole thing.
The Orbe isn’t very long at 64km, but it is very varied. It rises in France, flows into the Vallée de Joux, then vanishes into the ground before springing out of the very impressive cave system at Les Grottes de Vallorbe (highly recommended), from the caves to Vallorbe the flow along the valley is lazy and gentle, it then cascades down through a gorge to Orbe, before entering a controlled canal and gently flowing towards lake Neuchatel.
Route: Vallorbe – Les Clées – Orbe
Length: 17km, +343m, -622m.
For more hikes in Switzerland see my list of hikes.
Season: Most of the year. The highest point is below 800m, but it is liable to be icy in the gorge over winter.
Arrival/Departure: Train or bus to Vallorbe / Light rail from Orbe.
Supplies: There are shops and restaurants in Vallorbe and Orbe. There is a restaurant at Les Clées and fountains shortly before reaching the village. Otherwise the whole route is in a wooded gorge with hardly any sign of humanity.
Alternate routes/shortcuts: Starting in La Day would skip the first 3km and go straight into the gorge. There aren’t any transport stops in the gorge (not even in Les Clées), buses run along the road above the gorge but these require a +1km walk and climbing up.
Exposure/Hazards: Care needs to be taken in some sections if it is damp then it can be very slippery. The red ‘mountain path’ is fairly narrow at points with steep/sheer drop.
- The whole route was very quiet. I could count the number of people I saw on my fingers, and most of those were locals going for their morning jog around Vallorbe.
- There are a number of little caves, consider bringing a decent torch or headlamp. I only had a phone to hand so didn’t go exploring.
Notes along the route
I started in Vallorbe to link this up with my previous visits to the caves and Lac de Joux. It would have been quicker to start at La Day station but the first few km along the lazy Orbe with wide views of the valley (the only open views on the route) were worth the extra effort.
At La Day station the footpath crosses a field then both path and river descend into a gorge which lasts almost all the way down to Orbe itself. There are two ways down, following the sign to the left for Orbe leads into a section of cascades rather than just through a forest.
Dropping into the gorge and crossing a dam the river turns and drops down through a narrow gorge on what is one of the best parts of the route. The highlight of the route was the Saut du Day where the river suddenly turns into a waterfall. Maybe I was lucky with the amount of rain in the previous week, but the power and quantity of the water crashing down was way beyond what I have seen in the Jura before. Some kind person even bolted a viewpoint onto the side part way down so you can see the whole thing (oddly this viewing platform isn’t recorded or advertised anywhere). This apparently once looked very different with a power plant built down the side of it, now all that remains of that is a tunnel under the waterfall.
From the Saut du Day to Les Clées was magical: autumn colours in the trees, clear autumn sunlight mingling with a few patches of mist, and a riverside path all to myself.
At rough the half-way mark around 9km the gorge opened up and entered the tiny village of Les Clées. There is a restaurant on the path and a castle (more of just a watchtower really) just off it which I only saw after leaving but apparently it is free to go up and look around the garden.
At Les Clées the path onwards has left (gauche) or right (droit) options through the gorge (with the chance to swap part way on a bridge). Studying at the map it looked like the right path (on the north side) would stay closer to the river whilst the left climbed up and into a meadow near a road – so I took the right at first then swapped over to the left for the red section. This was fine if a little dull: a few minutes through some fields with a view over the village, then a long section of walking through forest out of sight of the river.
The route picked up again as it dropped down into the gorge, crossing it on a little bridge, then joined the red mountain path section. The red section started off promising but about halfway through it climbed out of the gorge and was simply a wide path through flat forest above the gorge. The freakiest thing was the Grotte d’Agiez, a cave which was apparently industrialised and looks like it was designed as a horror film set. The first part of the red section reminded me of the Cotes de Moron with a narrow path along a steep hillside (only less impressive in this case).
There is another path which splits off at the start of the red and stays low in the gorge, but that is currently closed. There are a series of Street View photos showing what it is like. There isn’t anything but a signpost and a laminated sign to stop anybody from carrying on down that, so I am guessing it is enter-at-your-own-risk rather than truly closed.
The last km as the river comes out of the gorge and gently flows along and enters the outskirts of Orbe were pleasant enough if a bit forgettable.
Orbe itself has a bit of an old-town like everywhere. I only had time for a quick look but it didn’t seem to be anything special. There is a little light rail with hourly connection to Chavornay for regional trains to Yverdon-les-Bains or Lausanne.