03: Frangy to Culoz

Along the Rhône

 

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/de-frangy-a-culoz-par-la-via-gebennensis-34047617

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

From Geneva to Vienne, in the Lyonnais, the first part of the Via Gebennensis is in fact only a long way to find the Rhône River. Sometimes, you brush against it, taking advantage of its soft and generous banks. Other times, you can only observe it from afar and from above the breathtaking meanders of the river which twists with pleasure in the plain. Still other times, you seem to lose it for real, only to join it much later. Today it’s a bit of all of these at the same time. The course runs in search of the river, on the hills of Haute Savoie and Savoie, between groves and countryside. The route finds the majestic river again in the plain when the latter mixes its waters with the torrential Fier River, which carries its fury into the gorges, coming from Annecy. The rest of the program is no more than a gentle and long stroll along the banks of the river.

Before the bridge over Fier River, don’t expect to find large spaces. You will move from grove to grove, with small meadows and few crops. This region clings to the slopes of the Montagne du Prince, behind which Fier River flows. It is only after the passage of the bridge over Fier River that the country really opens up to the Rhône plain.

Difficulty of the course: Slope variations (+402 meters /-489 meters) are low for a long stage (30 km). And again, here you’ll stop at Culoz a bit off the road, as many pilgrims walk as far as Chanaz, which lengthens the stage a little further. Others also stop in Seyssel, also off GR track, which shortens the stage. Depending on the choice you make, you will visit up to 3 departments: Haute-Savoie, Savoie and Ain.

The route climbs a bit to reach Champagne at the start of the stage. Then, it’s just a succession of light ups and downs, the slopes of which rarely exceed 10%. The slope becomes a bit more tough when GR path slopes down at the junction of Fier and Rhône Rivers. For the rest, in terms of effort, it’s vacation.

In this stage, you will walk as much on the pathways as on the roads:

  • Paved roads: 15.0 km
  • Dirt roads: 15.2 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: Constant climb towards the Montagne du Prince.

 

General overview of the difficulties of the route: a few steep slopes, but reasonable around Champagne.

Leaving Frangy, GR path crosses the Usses, a fairly torrential river, reputed to be gold-bearing, which takes its source at Salève Moutain and empties near Seyssel in Rhône River.

It passes under the departmental road which bypasses the village, crosses the Museum of the Cow and the Alpine Pastures, housed in an old restored stable. The museum shows the know-how of mountain people in the manufacture of bells, butter and cheese.
GR path runs along the departmental road for about 100 meters before entering the road that climbs towards Champagne.
The road climbs gently, crosses a small tributary of the Usses River.
Then, the road making zigzags, GR path leaves the latter for small shortcuts which climb quite steeply in the meadows.
Higher up, you can follow the road that leads to Champagne, or continue by shortcuts to the village.
The shortcuts lead to the village.
GR path crosses a village where apparently the peasants are numbering. You can stay in the village, which is what pilgrims sometimes do who have not found accommodation in Frangy or who want to shorten the day’s stage.
On leaving the village, a wide stony path climbs, without much difficulty, through the meadows and gradually approaches a small undergrowth. Throughout this stage, the meadows clearly dominate the cultivated fields. The dominant herds are clearly Montbéliarde cows.
A little up, the pathway narrows, getting closer to the undergrowth.
It then walks along the wild hedges. Here, in rainy weather, the pathway is almost a real torrent.
Moreover, some aftereffects remain from recent rains when the pathway joins a small asphalt road at the entrance to Tagny hamlet.
The road passes near the rare houses of the hamlet.

Section 2: Ups and downs between meadows, hamlets and undergrowth.

 

General overview of the difficulties of the route: ups and downs of little consequence.

 

Instead of following the road, GR path leaves the hamlet in the meadows towards the undergrowth…
…undoubtedly to make you appreciate a sloping wooden staircase which joins the preceding road. The Camino de Santiago is a big fan of these detours, which are often superfluous.
The paved road then reaches Vannecy hamlet.
Beyond Vannecy, the road descends to sink a little into the small dale where Coasse brook flows.
Then the road climbs quite markedly towards Desingy. But since organizers don’t really like to see pilgrims walking on the roads, while here a vehicle has to pass there every quarter of an hour, as soon as an alternative presents itself, you change.
As a change, a dirt road flattens into the countryside under an undergrowth of oaks, maples and ash trees…
…before sloping back up soon after on big boulders to the paved road.
The road then heads to Desingy, which is in fact the center of all these small hamlets that you’ll cross on the hillside, with its small XIIth century St Laurent church by the side of the road. But, in France, when there isn’t even a bakery, can we really speak of a village? But, there is a church, even if, in these small villages, the churches are often closed or only very occasionally attended.
Here, you are a 3 hour walk to Fier Bridge. On leaving Desingy, GR path leaves the main axis for a smaller road, the Route de Compostelle.
It passes a little further in Pelly hamlet with its tidy houses by the side of the road.
The road leaves the village and flattens between meadows, undergrowth and some corn. In front of you stretches the Mountain of the Prince covered with forests. In this stage, you will hardly see any cultivated fields. Here, the cows guard the meadows.

Section 3: Below the Mountain of the Prince.

 

General overview of the difficulties of the route: ups and downs of little consequence.

Throughout this stage, you will thus walk from a small village, let’s say rather from one hamlet, to another, most often on the paved road, sometimes on the dirt. Here, the road crosses the meadows and the charming countryside to arrive in Moucherin hamlet.

Below Moucherin, you ‘ll see the Pelly Castle in the greenery, an old medieval fortified castle, completely restored, where even a romantic gîte is present.

The landscape is open below on the Rhône plain, but where the route runs, you rather stroll at the edge of the forest under the Mountain of the Prince. In fact, a large part of the stage takes place under the foothills of this large, heavily wooded mountain, but of modest amplitude, which overlooks the Rhône valley and behind which flows Fier River. Many walkers cross these places formerly held by the Resistance, especially to admire the cliffs overlooking the Fier Valley, under which you’ll walk later.

Beyond Moucherin, the road quickly reaches the small Findreuse brook. Here, oaks and ash trees compete for space with beeches, and hornbeam sprouts. But, you also see rare chestnuts or maples. Conifers, especially spruces, are inconspicuous at this altitude.

Further on, the road slopes up a little until it reaches a larger road in the woods. The hinterland is crisscrossed with small roads of this type that lead to small farms or remote hamlets.
Here you’ll slope back down into the woods towards the locality named Le Vernay.
But, GR path leaves the axis of descent and sets off on a smaller road, uphill, between meadows and very rare crops. In front of you the Mountain of the Prince is forest to the top of the mountain.
The road runs soon through the hamlet of Curty, in front of some rather elegant houses.
The road dawdles a little near the stone cross of the hamlet nestled under the oaks and deciduous trees of the forest.
Beyond Curty, the road climbs a little further, passes in front of another cross, here made of stone. In the region, wood is often the first choice for erecting crosses.
Further afield, the road climbs a little more, but in a reasonable way, in the deciduous forest, crosses the small Martinet brook. In the region, the streams are very discreet during periods of good weather. On the other hand, they are very unleashed over periods of prolonged rain.

At the top of the climb, the road passes to a place known as Chez Cudet. Here a panel indicates many directions. Ours is the one that heads to Seyssel. But, above all, there is a sign that indicates the best means of protection against ticks, as the forest here is known to harbor these charming insects. Be careful though, Lyme disease is a nasty chronic disease, but not all ticks carry Borrelia. Far from it!

A wide dirt road descends for a long time, sometimes on a fairly steep slope, sometimes even sloping up a little. Everything takes place between the bushes and the deciduous trees, where small beeches and small oaks dominate. Beech, which is also called foyard, fayard, fouteau, or fau, is very present in eastern France. The forest is far from being a model of elegance here.

Section 4: Step to step to reach the Rhône River.

 

General overview of the difficulties of the route: in constant descent, sometimes with very sloping passages.

The pathway gradually reaches the end of the undergrowth.
At the bottom of the forest, GR path crosses a small paved road.

Yet, it continues on the dirt road to reach the place called Sous Les Ralles. This is where a variant leaves for Seyssel, via the Chemin des Côtes. Many pilgrims, who do not like to travel very many kilometers, go to Seyssel. For others, the bridge over Fier River is an hour and 20 minutes’ walk away.

Here the dirt road continues, almost flattening in the meadows, under ash, chestnut, hornbeam and oak trees.

At the bottom, you’ll see the Rhône River for the first time from Geneva, in the vicinity of Seyssel. The river likes to make long turns in the valley, having carved out often different rocks, accentuating the meanders, with the disappearance of the Quaternary Era glaciers.

The countryside is gentle here. You are a little out of the woods of the Mountain of the Prince. The pathway soon arrives at a place called Romaz, 3 kilometers to Fier Bridge.
Then GR path takes a small road which descends between recent villas and countryside towards Prairod village.
The road crosses Prairod where there is a little cultivation and market gardening.
From here, GR path still follows the road, down a bit, passes near St Nicolas stream, which you can hardly guess.
Further down, it leaves the road for a lane that smoothens into the meadows, at the edge of the undergrowth.
At the start of this path, it is still gentle, laughing nature.
MBut, further on, it is no longer a path covered with roses, but with hornbeam sprouts, bushes and wild grasses that awaits you here.
The further down you walk, the steeper the slope. Everywhere hardwoods, more hardwoods, always hardwoods. Of all species.
It is especially at the end that the slope is steep (over 35%). Enthusiasts mountain bikers are advised to go there on foot! Indeed, the path plunges into the dirt and pebbles to Vens d´En-Haut. When you are in a beautiful forest, the slope, you look at it almost with curiosity. But if you are walking in something that looks like the jungle, it’s pretty sad, right?
Fortunately, a certain charm reigns in the hamlet, which will undoubtedly get you over your bad mood, if by chance you were in this state of mind.

Here you are 1.4 km to the Fier Bridge. GR path joins the paved road that heads to Vens. Be careful here, don’t take the wrong track! Follow the road, as another pathway climbs steeply into the magnificent cliffs and gorges overlooking Fier River in Mountain of the Prince.

The road therefore descends to Vens d’En-Bas.
The road crosses the village, from which you can see the castle, an old fortified house from the XIVh century.
Beyond the village, a pathway leaves for a moment in the meadows, gently descending on a ridge. In front of you, you can see the Anglefort Castle on the other side of Rhône River.
From the ridge, the view opens onto the gorges of Fier River on your left and Rhône River on your right. These are two very contrasting views. The gorges appear very severe under the steep cliffs.
At the end of the ridge, the pathway descends steeply (more than 15%) into the undergrowth and the weeds.
The descent is short and the pathway joins the large departmental D991 road near the bridge over the Fier River. If you have passed through Seyssel, this is where you will join again GR path.

Section 5: Walk along the Rhône River.

 

General overview of the difficulties of the route: course without any difficulty.

 

The bridge over Fier River is the border between three departments. You leave Haute-Savoie for Savoie, if you walk along the Rhône River. But, if you continue straight on beyond the bridge, you enter the department of Ain.

The Fier River, born in the Aravis range, passes through Annecy and arrives here to empty into the Rhône River. Its power and slope are such that it enters the river shortly after the bridge in the opposite direction of the current. The waters of Fier River aren’t a dazzling blue, but the ducks can’t tell the difference.

On the mountain side, Fier River is even wilder, more terrific.

So far, the course has been pretty demanding. But from here, physically, it’s the scheduled vacation. Immediately beyond the bridge, your course turns right into the Espace Sports et Nature of Fier. It is a very large park, on the edge of the river and a pond, under the trees, very busy during the good season and on weekends. The site is just magnificent.
A wide road soon joins the edge of Old Rhône River in this region known as the Chautagne, a vast alluvial plain that goes as far as Lac du Bourget, where poplars and vines grow.
The Vieux Rhône (Old Rhône River) corresponds to the old bed of Rhône River, between a dam upstream and its restitution downstream, bypassed by the installation of hydroelectric facilities. There are nearly 20 such sections between Lake Geneva and the sea. An artificial canal adjoins the Vieux Rhône to ensure the system is balanced, depending on the floods.

You’ll walk here in Chautagne, a small country of Savoy, sparsely populated with its 5,000 inhabitants, concentrated between Rhône, Fier and Bourget Lake. The canoeing along the Vieux Rhône, through the Chautagne, from Seyssel to Channaz, over a 14-kilometer route, has many followers.

The road arrives precisely towards one of these dams, the Motz dam.
Beyond the dam, the asphalt road continues for a bit and soon turns into a dirt road. Here, it is the first time that you’ll learn that you are really walking on GR65 track, 290 kilometers to Puy-en-Velay.
Here GR path will leave the banks of the Rhône Rver to climb into the dense undergrowth. You will certainly be disappointed not to be able to walk along the banks of the river throughout its course. But, the banks are often swampy, so dangerous.
GR path crosses the undergrowth on a narrow lane covered with pebbles, in the hornbeam sprouts, all kinds of bushes and small alders, very slightly uphill.
You’ll get to a small plateau in the meadows and briefly follow a small asphalt road.
Soon after, a wide dirt road runs into the undergrowth. Here, the deciduous trees, including many maples, beeches, oaks and chestnuts, have beautiful protective heights.
At the end of the woods, the pathway climbs through the grass towards the large departmental road of the region, the D991 road.
When you’ll get here, on your right stands the hamlet of Langefan, where GR path is not supposed to go. Instead, you should take a path that descends below to the village of Les Iles. But, we haven’t found it. It’s up to you to try! But if you can’t find it, that’s okay. Follow the departmental road and join the village by road. It’s a story of 300 meters.The village of the Les Iles is just below the departmental road, on your right.

Section 6: In the gloomy plain of the Rhône River.

 

General overview of the difficulties of the route: course without any difficulty.

 

You are now in the hamlet of the Iles (Islands), just below the road. The route starts in the direction of Mathy and Pont de la Loi, about a two-hour walk, just before arriving in Culoz. From here, the course will seem endless to you. They will almost be only successive straight lines in the wide plain. Fortunately, the trail sometimes runs along the Rhône River, very often bordered by fields of wild bear garlic in spring. In bad weather, the river sometimes carries trunks and branches.
A dirt road path leaves the hamlet to reach the meadows and fields. Here, it is a plain, alluvium, so a country more suitable for crops, with fruit trees, poplars and ash trees.
Further on, there is an asphalt road. GR path here weaves between the corn and the industrial area.
The industrial zone, of which we do not know the use, is very scattered here. Soon the road approaches a roundabout. At the roundabout, no more traces of the track. If in Haute-Savoie, the signs were perfect, sometimes even too much, in this region, it is not the same enthusiasm. We’ll help you find your way. It does not go in front of you nor to the right towards the factories. No, you have to turn left and walk back a little towards the departmental road to get back on the course. In fact, a good Sherlock Homes would have spotted the little Compostela shell on the reverse loss of priority signal! It’s very discreet as a signage, but a thousand apologies to the planners of the way. But, they could have done better.
The small road then continues its progression in the plain, along cultivated fields, until it finds Mathy’s first houses.
Mathy, it’s two or three houses by the side of the road, as far as you’re concerned. There is a shelter for pilgrims at the edge of the road. Nice initiative, alas, not a drop of water available.

Here, you can choose a variant that heads to Serrières-en-Chautagne, if you want to stay or eat there.

As soon as you leave the hamlet, the dirt is back on a long straight line, the end of which you cannot see.
The dirt road then drags on in the plain, on the Serrières dike, between wheat, corn and undergrowth. Not a living soul here. One of those dreary plains, crossed from time to time by a cyclist bent over his machine.
Corn fields are the kings. There is nothing more understandable. The Rhône River is nearby and the water must seep through the roots.
Then the dirt road enters the undergrowth, now closer to the river.

Section 7: Return to the banks of the Rhône River.

 

General overview of the difficulties of the route: course without any difficulty.

 

GR path now gets near the Rhône River. There are prohibition signs everywhere. It is said that water can rise unexpectedly during periods of regulation of dams. From time to time, a gap in the undergrowth allows you to see the river behind the mound. Is the river so dangerous that you can only guess it by stealth? Nowhere on the course will you have the leisure to admire it up close. Curious, right?
GR path then plunges with pleasure into the undergrowth on the dirt, under the shade of large deciduous trees.
A little further on, it emerges from the woods for a few moments before returning to it.
Shortly after, the tar replaces the dirt road, because GR path shares the cycle track, which crosses part of the wood, with more and more cyclists. Here, you’ll come across poplar plantations.
Water from the river sometimes enters the land, which necessitates the use of small bridges.

Further afield, the cycle track deviates a bit from the river to come back soon. Here, you are near the Malourdie Islands and there are many canoeists on weekends in good weather. They, at least, have plenty of time to admire the river. In this region there are very few conifers. Poplar groves hold an important place there, in the middle of oaks, especially pedunculate, but also ash trees, beeches, hornbeams, large maples, rare lime trees. On the banks of large alders and locust trees hold the ground, to avoid the floods of the river.

Then, GR path departs from the river again, follows the cycle track a little, then moves away to walk through the undergrowth on the grass.

In the hardwoods, it soon arrives at a locality called Les Borsières, 40 minutes to the Pont de la Loi.

Then, through the grass, the pathway returns again to the river.

You follow the river, but, as we said above, you don’t see it often. Signs also encourage people not to approach the banks. Under the branches of the ash trees, you can see the mountain of Grand Colombier above Culoz.

GR path continues on its way through the undergrowth, a stone’s throw from the water. But, it is getting closer to civilization, the small houses of the small village of La Loi.
GR path skims past the village which, too, does not soak its feet in water.

Section 8: A stopover in Culoz.

 

General overview of the difficulties of the route: course without any difficulty.

 

At the end of La Loi, the pathway will follow the banks of the river a little longer, at the foot of the Grand Colombier mountain …
… before arriving under the piles of the Pont de La Loi.

GR path continues along the river towards Chanaz. But, it’s 1 hour 40 minutes from here. So, a good solution is to leave GR65 path to take GR9 path which leads to Culoz, just across the bridge. The city, located under the mountain of Grand Colombier, is a strategic station on the TGV Lyon-Geneva line.

Here, Rhône River is of great majesty and the bridge also crosses a beautiful pond covered with water lilies at the entrance to the small town (3,000 inhabitants), with all the shops.

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