Saturday, 1 December 2018

Food on the GR5 trail through the Alps

A mix of food from an organic food store in Mondane

On long-distance walks I like to resupply as I go along. There are many reasons for this. One is that it's the easiest option and doesn't require packing and sending food boxes. Another is that I find it interesting to see what I find and end up eating. It becomes part of the adventure. And if there is something I don't like I just don't buy it again. Buying food as I go along also contributes to the local economy.

On the GR5 I had no idea what food suitable for backpacking I would find along the way. For the first few days I bought food at a supermarket in Geneva before catching the train to the start. The coffee and dried milk I bought then lasted almost the whole walk as small quantities weren't available. The muesli, granola bars, chocolate, trail mix, and pasta meals - my usual trail diet - were gone by day three.

My friend Lionel Morel at the Chalets de Bise

Amongst long-distance hikers in the USA there's a saying that you should never pass a cafe or shop without buying something to eat. That's because these are rare. If I'd done that on the first half of the GR5 I'd have been eating much of the time as I passed several restaurants every day. Earlier in the season that would have applied to the whole walk. Setting off as summer ended I found most of the mountain refuges, which operate as restaurants during the day, and even restaurants and shops in villages closed after mid-September.

Most days during the first two weeks I did stop at a restaurant once or twice, which meant I didn't need to carry much food.. Being vegetarian there were not many options and I mostly ate bread and cheese (and the varieties of the latter were amazing) or omelettes with cheese or mushrooms.



















Dried meals commonly found in supermarkets and village stores in the UK and the USA like macaroni cheese or pasta & sauce were absent from most shops along the GR5. All I could find were pot noodles, two of which were needed to make a full meal. Some places I couldn't find even these and ended up with packet soups and bread as my evening meal.


A side trip to Chamonix on day 5 meant I could shop at outdoor stores as well as supermarkets. The former had specialist cook-in-the-pouch meals and small packets of muesli. I was not impressed with the taste of either - nor the high price!

Lac de Cristol


















Tortillas and cheese at the Lac de Cristol


























One of the joys of the generally good weather on the GR5 was having lunch outdoors with a superb view. Sometimes it was hard to start walking again.



In a few places there were picnic tables. At the one above in the cool of the woods I made a hot drink, nibbled raisins, and wrote my journal.


On day 21 I left Briancon with two to three days food, expecting to find restaurants and shops open in villages over the next week. Four days later I was rationing food as everywhere was closed. Some of the villages felt like ghost towns. Then I came to the tiny hamlet of Foullouise. I was not expecting anything to be open in such a small place and was not surprised when the gite and the bar/restaurant were closed. The guidebook didn't mention a shop so I was delighted when I came upon a little epicerie, especially as it was open.




The epicerie had limited supplies but enough for the next few days. Big packets of soup made two evening meals each with cheese added. Trail mix and chocolate did for lunch. The shop had no plain bread, crackers or biscuits, just a large panettone so that became my breakfast for several days. You have to be adaptable when buying food along the way!

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