02: Mont- Sion Pass to Frangy

Over hill and dale along the Mount Vuache

 

DIDIER HEUMANN, ANDREAS PAPASAVVAS

 

We divided the course into several sections to make it easier to see. For each section, the maps show the course, the slopes found on the course, and the state of the roads. The courses were drawn on the “Wikilocs” platform. Today, it is no longer necessary to walk around with detailed maps in your pocket or bag. If you have a mobile phone or tablet, you can easily follow routes live. For this stage, here is the link:

https://fr.wikiloc.com/itineraires-randonnee/du-col-de-mont-sion-a-frangy-par-la-via-gebennensis-33584713

If you only want to consult lodging of the stage, go directly to the bottom of the page.

Today’s route is a long transition back to the Rhône valley, which will be found the next day. Because the Rhône River, when leaving Switzerland, makes a big detour behind Mont Vuache, a sort of barrier between Switzerland and France, near Bellegarde. The course passes all day through the undergrowth in the countryside. We can only wish you to walk here in good weather, because, if, unfortunately, you cross this region in prolonged rainy weather, you will have to conscientiously clean your shoes on arrival, the paths being numerous and often turned into mud torrents.

Difficulty of the course: Slope variations (+416 meters /-872 meters) speak more for a downhill stage. There is only a severe climb. But this one counts. This is the climb to Chaumont. As for the descents, they are not all easy. There are many slopes above 15%, but it’s downhill, for those with not too rusty joints.

In this stage, a large part of the course takes place on dirt roads, which is quite rare and should be emphasized:

  • Paved roads: 7.0 km
  • Dirt roads: 14.2 km

It is very difficult to specify with certainty the incline of the slopes, whatever the system you use.

For “real slope”, reread the mileage manual on the home page.

Section 1: Over hill and dale between meadows and woods.

 

General overview of the difficulties of the route: a steep climb at the start of the stage, then hilly areas without much consequence.

 

GR path leaves Mont-Sion Pass at the crossroads of the road that climbs to St Blaise.

From the start, a wide dirt road, which becomes stonier as you slope up, climbs through the meadows on the Mont-Sion hill, above Charly village. It’s a good coffee pusher, right after breakfast.

Below stand the houses of Mont-Sion Pass.

At the top of the hill, the pathway crosses a sort of small plateau. Today the weather is wonderful. But if you do this stage, like the previous one in very rainy weather, the paths will often be flooded.
In this region, the soil absorbs little rainwater and small torrents overflow. The pathway reaches the place known as Croix de Vin. In this stage, the indications on the way are very provided.
The stony dirt track continues to progress a little on the plateau, in the meadows and under the clumps of oaks …
… before gently descending on the ridge.
Quickly, the track arrives under the ash trees in the heights of Charly.
Charly is made up of fairly modest farms and houses. This is where you can find accommodation if you haven’t found a place before. Beyond the pass, a small road also arrives here, which eliminates the need for people in a hurry to make the detour through the meadows above Charly, especially in bad weather.
GR path leaves the village, joins the small departmental D23 road, which it follows a few hundred meters. Vehicles on the roads are scarce in the region.
GR path crosses the small stream of Nant Trouble, then leaves the road for a stony lane.
The Chemin de la Croix de Biche, which can be muddy in bad weather, first crosses deciduous undergrowth. Here you have the complete panoply, maple trees, oaks, hornbeams and beeches, and even chestnut trees and ash trees on the edge. And of course, dense creeping vegetation.
Further on, the pathway finds clearings.

Small reminder: be careful, on this track you come to an unspecified junction! So, there is only one solution: choose, according to your instincts. You take one, but if after a few hundred yards you don’t see a sign on the track, then go back because you made a mistake. Simple, isn’t it? In rainy weather it is easier because you see the footsteps of those who have gone before you in the mud.

The pathway, between grass and dirt soon reaches a small plateau.

Section 2: With the Vuache Mountain, on the horizon in front of you.

 

General overview of the difficulties of the route: downhill especially, but rarely leg-breaking, except at the bottom of the dale.

At the end of the undergrowth, GR path joins D23 departmental road at a place called La Croix de Biche. If you follow the directions given by the Compostela shell, the direction is always given by the base of the shell, not by the fan. It is good to remember this message, if you are new to the Camino de Santiago in France, but not always elsewhere.
A wide dirt road then goes off to reach a sort of large plateau, which you often guess to be swept by the winds. This vast luminous plateau, which contrasts with the severe darkness of the mountain on the horizon, is like a sea tossed by the swell of ears of wheat swaying in the wind.
Because here, cereals are grown and people ride horses. It is always a pleasure to see the majesty of a horse, whether it trots or rides, and whose imposing stature grows as it approaches you. In front of you, on the horizon rises the mountain of Vuache, which belongs to the Jura chain, from which it is separated by the Rhône gorge, near Bellegarde. The mountain, which rises to 1,100 meters, delimits the Geneva Basin with Salève Mountain. The Rhône River flows behind Vuache Mountain.

You get at the place called Bacchus, in the middle of the fields.

The pathway crosses the plateau then begins a slight descent. From here, you can see quite clearly on your right the fault of the gorge de l’Ecluse.

Here the poppies dance in the oats.

Shortly after, the wide dirt track approaches, gently sloping down, the small hamlet of Chez Grésat.
Here, everything breathes good nature, peasant life and its old stone farms.
On leaving the hamlet, GR path spends a short time on the tar, then finds again the stony pathway.
The latter slopes down frankly into the countryside.
Further down, the tar replaces the pebbles and the small road continues its descent.
The road arrives at the bottom of the descent in La Motte. At first glance, this village, like the other villages in the region, seems rather peasant in nature, although we can imagine the presence of Geneva commuters. In the village, you’ll find accommodation. Here, you are 1 hour walk to the locality known as Pierre33, a crossroads.

GR path then joins the small departmental D123 road which leads towards Chavannaz. It takes the county road for a short time, crosses the Mostan, the small brook that flows here.

A beautiful iron cross planted in the foliage marks the Chemin des Côtes. From here, the track will pass for a long time far from the villages, often in the undergrowth, in an area where there will be little human presence.

The Chemin des Côtes (coast) is aptly named, at least at the start of the climb.
Near the village, the stones have been removed, but as you climb between the clearings and the undergrowth, the shoes pass over often sharp limestone pebbles.
Here, too, the route is not well marked. Warning! This is not to insult the organizers of the route. But, since there are fewer pilgrims here than on Via Podiensis, the attention may be less intense.
The climb is quite short and soon the pathway reaches the forest.
It is then a long crossing of a hardwood forest. The pathway undulates gently in the middle of the ruts. On the Camino de Santiago, depending on the weather, you can go from paradise to almost hell. Here is what we observe after a period of great dryness. So, imagine the picture in a period of sustained rain. Sometimes you will have to face the clay, because walking through the brush by the side of the path is difficult here. You can also observe here and there footprints of shoes or bicycle wheels from previous passages. So, for your comfort, pray to Heaven to assure you of its mercy.

Section 3: At the foot of Vuache Mountain.

 

General overview of the difficulties of the route: downhill especially, without major problems, except before Verney, where the pathway can be bogged down.

 

The passage in the forest is quite long, but not interminable. Towards the exit of the forest, when the clearings appear and the country opens up again, the pathway runs through the grass and becomes milder. Though!
The pathway continues a little further through the grass at the tree line.
A stony path then descends towards the plain at the foot of Vuache Mountain. On the lower left of the mountain, you can already see Chaumont where GR path will run later. The descent is sometimes very steep.
The pathway joins a small road at the bottom of the descent, in the place called Verney. In front of you stretches the village of Jonzier.
GR path does not go towards Jonzier. It branches off at a right angle to the left on a small asphalt road.
Further on, it is a long crossing of fields and meadows, in the middle of groves and small houses, which you do not know if they are still in use. Some are in state of repair. Looking at the license plates, you can guess that foreigners are going to set up their second homes here. The land must be less expansive here.
For pilgrims, the tarmac road stops at the entrance to the forest, at a place called Pierre 33. The road continues on to the village of Minzier. Why a parking lot here? Because there is a sporting track present, but, as is often the case in this kind of place, the general public no longer pushes themselves through the gate. These sports venues experienced their heyday in the last decades of the past century. They should now almost be placed in the category of museums.

Here, you are a long hour’s walk to Contamine Sarzin and two hours to Chaumont.

A wide forest path, sometimes quite stony, then crosses the Bois de Massy, a deciduous forest, with here and there a few spruces and Scots pines. Here the hardwoods are mainly beech and hornbeam sprouts. Chestnuts and oaks are not yet very present. You are in fact in forests that resemble Swiss forests, where beeches dominate when spruces and firs are not present.
The pathway flattens here is, much less bogged down than in the previous forest. At least in dry weather! The forest is very pleasant here, less dense, more open too.

The pathway then arrives in the place named Sur Le Sion, where a variant leads to Contamine Sarzin via the village of Marlioz. GR path heads to the locality called Couty.

Section 4: In the dale where the Coquetière brook flows.

 

General overview of the difficulties of the route: ups and downs with some slopes sometimes quite steep.

From here, after having crossed the brook of the Coquetière buried in the copses, a small paved road heads towards the village of Minzier.
But quite quickly, GR path leaves the paved road.
A pleasant pathway, not very stony, then slopes down slightly through the wheat in the direction of the Vuache Mountain. From here, you can clearly see the houses of Chaumont at the bottom of the mountain. Contamine Sarzin is located below the neighboring hill on your left.
Soon after, under the high-voltage line, in the middle of the meadows where the Montbéliardes cows graze, the pathway arrives at a place known as Couty, where you can join Minzier, if you feel like it. There is room and board over there, a stone’s throw away.
Beyond Couty, the slope becomes a little steeper, in the limestone.
Further down, the pathway passes through a locality called Lachat, an hour and a half walk to Chaumont.
At the bottom of the descent, GR path joins a small departmental road, where the Coquetière stream flows along the undergrowth.
It then runs along the stream in the undergrowth, to cross it on the Peccoud bridge, where two fishermen talk that we won’t be able to disturb.
Beyond the bridge, a pathway climbs towards Contamine Sarzin, between undergrowth and clearing. The slope is severe and stones are present in number. When you walk for a long time on the Camino de Santiago, your foot quickly makes an accurate diagnosis of the nature of the soil.
The climb is not very long and ends on the Vernettes plateau.
A small asphalt road then runs through the open countryside, very slightly uphill.

The road then reaches the Plaine des Vernettes locality, a stone’s throw from Contamine Sarzin.

On the way to the village, all pilgrims will stop at La Grotte de la Vierge, known as the Grotte de Lourdes, erected in 1941 by the parishioners of the village. The bench near the cave was recently unveiled. This cave of naive inspiration will not only be an object of devotion by believers. Because everyone who walks on the Camino de Santiago quickly learns that behind the objects of worship are often also hidden other essential goods. Here too, the icing on the cake, a clear water tap is present behind the tuffs.

A stone’s throw from the cave, the road arrives in the village, nestled under the small wooded hill next to Vuache Mountain.
A small paved road leads down from the village.
Then it slopes up back towards the wooded hill in the middle of fruit trees and meadows.
At the foot of the hill, which is in fact an extension of Vuache Mountain, GR path branches off on a wide dirt road.

Section 5: Ups and down on the foothills of Vuache Mountain.

 

General overview of the difficulties of the route: rather tough course, with first the steep descent to the Borbonnaz waterfall then the climb to Chaumont, often with slopes well above 15%.

Soon after, the pathway runs through the grass between meadows and wheat, heading towards the undergrowth. You have the Vuache Mountain in front of you.
The descent into the undergrowth is very steep, with slopes between 15 and 25%, difficult and slippery in strong weather. Pebbles are in abundance.
At the bottom of the descent, the pathway reaches the Roman bridge, known as Pont de Pissieu, dating from the beginning of the XVIIth century. Under the bridge, the impetuous Fornant stream has created beautiful pots in the place of the Barbannnaz waterfall. The site is fresh and beautiful, and the magic acts as a real invitation to relax a little.

The piers of the bridge are worn and wet. From stone walls and spooky boulders the water streams, and close by opens the abyss, from which the levitating water droplets escape.

You have to take advantage of it, even exaggerate a little the presence of the stream, because the rest is not a real pleasure. You will go from 440 meters altitude to 570 meters, over about 1 kilometer with slopes between 15% and 30%.
At the start, the pathway slopes up most often in the undergrowth, cutting the road which climbs in laces, towards the village of Malpas. The road is quite busy, being the axis that goes from Geneva to Culoz, then Yenne.
A short break will undoubtedly be beneficial to you when you reach the first houses of Malpas.
Here, a moment of respite is granted to you. When leaving the village, be very careful, because GR path leaves the road on your right, at the corner of a discreet house, for Chemin Bataillard.
The Chemin Bataillard has to be earned. This is where the steepest slopes of the climb arise. The undergrowth is quite exuberant, sometimes with a little air of jungle, under oaks, beeches and ash trees.

When you’ll find the signpost, you will no doubt breathe a sigh of satisfaction.

Here, approaching Rocher Bataillard, the slope becomes less demanding in the deciduous undergrowth. You’re under the cliff. You hear voices. Mushroom collectors? Nay, they are mountaineers. This is not Mount Blanc, but here rock climbing is practiced.
Then, the forest path continues to a place known as Chez Margoet.

Here, the walking times offered are a bit crazy, probably times offered to experienced mountaineers. 35 minutes for the 2.9 km to Frangy. Few pilgrims ensure this performance. And again, 5 minutes to reach the village of Chaumont. It’s more than 10 minutes and it rises strrply…

If you climb to the village, and it is worth it, a terrace will allow you to cool off under the ruins of an XIth century fortified castle. There were walls here, a fortified town belonging to the counts of Geneva which locked the valley. The castle was razed by the troops of Louis XIII during the VIIth century.

The church of Ste Agathe, which mixes Gothic and Romanesque dates from the XIVth century, restored in the last century.

Sloping back down to Chez Margoet, GR path follows the tarmac road down for a moment, then a grassy pathway that winds behind the hedges.
It reaches the place called Pré Magnin, and then continues a little on the road, until it comes time to fork near a small stream in the meadows and the undergrowth.

Section 6: Downhill to Frangy.

 

General overview of the difficulties of the route: sustained descent at the end of the stage (more than 200 meters of descent).

A lane will then meander through the grass under the fruit trees …
… then in the undergrowth until reaching the Pré Boisé locality.

Here, in the disorder of the undergrowth, it is above all the vines that are concerned. On the other side of the valley, you can clearly see the hill above Contamine Sarzin.
Further afield, the pathway descends a little more steadily, with slopes of up to 15%, in the middle of undergrowth, brush, weeds and moor. The vegetation is complex here, greatly disorderly.
Lower down, the path is reorganized and civilized in the meadows.
GR path reaches a paved road, crosses Vépy brook, and climbs towards the first houses of Collonges d´En Bas.
A small road then climbs a bit towards Collonges D’En Haut, but there is no real village center here.
Rather, there are a few large farms where the road passes on the way down.
Beyond the last farms in the village, GR path begins to descend steeply towards Frangy, first in the undergrowth.
The closer you get to Frangy, the steeper the slope becomes in the meadows, sometimes approaching 20%. Approaching the village, the path runs through the undergrowth. There are even lampposts in the forest to show the way at night. What luxury!
The pathway then arrives in Frangy behind the church.
Frangy (2,000 inhabitants) is a small, quiet village near the Usses River. You can find all the shops there, but the accommodation possibilities here are minimal. Here, too, many inhabitants have to work in Geneva.

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