Guest Notes for Episode 312: Running a Trail Race in the Alps

Categories: Active Vacations in France, Off the Beaten Track in France

Discussed in this Episode

  • Tour des Fiz
  • Balcon des Fiz
  • French learning resources
  • Swimming in France

Trail running and family vacation in France

Trip Outline: The Cummins Family (two enthusiastic adults, two somewhat unruly teenage boys, and one very excited eight-year-old girl). I’ve marked our favorite experiences with an asterisk*

Twitter @mrcutah

July 15-31,2019

At the hottest, most crowded time of the year, because these were the only dates that worked for us.
Started out as a trip to the Alps, but each member of our faculty added to the itinerary. It became a 2 week adventure to visit everything on the family wish list.

Tuesday: Paris

• Checked into a good vrbo near le Centre Pompidou – good location, A/C. Busy street, but around the corner from the Stravinsky Fountain, on the edge of the Marais.
• Walk around Île de la Cité and had dinner, and the kids tried escargot.
• Rode a Bateau Mouche from the left bank near Ile de la Cite and saw the Eiffel Tower light up

Wednesday: Paris

• Slept late
• Eiffel Tower – all the way up and a glass of champagne
• Musée de L’Armée – hit with the kids, we spent several hours here
• Everyone very tired – never made it to the Louvre in the evening as originally planned

Thursday: Paris

• Failed attempt to enter the Louvre by any of three entrances – overwhelming crowds
• Kids really tired
• Sainte-Chapelle
• Ice cream at Berthillon
• Walk through the Marais/ Falafel in the Jewish quarter
• Dinner near the Fontaine Stravinsky, people-watching

Friday: Normandy

• Train to Caen, Normandy from Gare St. Lazare, had some difficulty with our seats and learned a bit about ticketing
• Rented car at train station in Caen (really easy) and drove to Bayeux
• Cathedral, tapestry, lunch in Bayeux – loved the cathedral and this pretty little town.
• *Stayed at a small farm near Pointe du Hoc and Omaha Beach, in a small town called Englesqueville-la-Percée – Ferme de la Rouge Fosse LOVED THIS LITTLE PLACE:
• *Great food and service in Grandcamp at a tiny harbor restaurant called Restaurant de la Maree. John Dory, oysters, bulot and cidre.

Saturday: Normandy

• *Private D-Day guide met us at the farm and jumped into our car for the next 9 hours or so. He was amazing. He held our kids’ captive attention the entire day – Omaha Beach, American Cemetery, Utah Beach. His name is Christophe Rault.
• *All of us really enjoyed Normandy and seeing the site of the invasion – it was the undisputed highlight of the trip for our family.
• Had outstanding mussels and fries at the little café right on Omaha Beach
• Great pizza from a truck at the harbor in Grandcamp

Sunday: Normandy

• My husband did a 20 mile long run in the morning from the farm along Omaha Beach and it was a really memorable experience for him.
• St. Mère-Église – little church and picnic lunch under the trees. Great stop.
• Drive to Mont St Michel – arriving late afternoon
• Check in to hotel on the island, and used the ramparts to get up to the monastery and tour it right before it closed for the day.
• Hotel was fine: Auberge St. Pièrre (sp?)
• Dinner overlooking the water – we had lowered expectations for food quality, so no one was disappointed – thanks to you Annie 
• *Late night adventuring around the island and out onto the tidal flats. Really fun…

Monday: Loire Valley

• Off the island as the crowds began to pour in – and they were definitely pouring in – wow.
• Drive to Amboise.
• Check in to Airbnb – in attic of very beautiful old home outside the castle walls, but really hot with no AC.
• Great dinner at Brasserie Hippeau (we liked it so much that we ate there both nights)

Tuesday: Loire Valley

• Chenonceaux in the morning, and the kids had a great time. We arrived before the crowds and had an easy entrance and the gardens to ourselves. However, the second canicule of 2019 hit on this day, and by late morning, it was miserably hot. We cancelled plans to go to a second château and went swimming instead.
• *We had a great adventure swimming in a natural cold spring fed swimming pool, hanging out with the locals, and learning about French regulations on the types of bathing suits men wear. Posted about it on facebook here:

Site officiel de la baignade naturelle du pays de chambord

Anyone else riding out the current heat wave in the Loire Valley? As the temps climbed toward 106 yesterday, and with three kids in tow, we had to deviate from our original chateaux- hopping plans and find a place to cool off. From a web search for swimming spots, I found a baignade naturelle in a small town not far from Chambord – nothing overly spectacular but spring fed, cold, and it was a great cultural experience hanging out with the locals. And hilarious – with no board/ baggy shorts allowed, and at a lifeguard’s suggestion, our teenagers ended up swimming in their underwear (the tight boxer style they prefer to wear). The manager did say there was a nearby Intermarché where they could buy French style swim suits but they refused 🙂 It was the perfect way to cool off and saved our day from the heat! Here’s the link:

• Really tough evening and night with the heat – really draining

Wednesday: Loire Valley

• Visited Amboise Chateau first thing in the morning – not too crowded and they had an interactive ipad for our eight-year-old that she really liked.
• Departed for the alps in our air conditioned car 

Wednesday – Tuesday: French Alps and Trail Race

• Stayed in a great little chalet near Argentière, on the northern end of the Chamonix Valley. The neighborhood is called Les Grassonets.
• Used forest trails to get up and down the valley, get bread, etc… really lovely.
• It rained and rained. We had just two clear days.
• *Aiguille du Midi – really worthwhile and a great family adventure, the kids loved it. Beautiful sunny day. The gondola was very crowded with tourists from all over the world – and we had a few cultural encounters.
• Rainy days – we didn’t hit the trails in Chamonix as much as we thought because of the weather, but the kids appreciated some down time. Everyone was feeling tired after the heat of the Loire Valley. We tried all the cheeses and all the wine, and the soaking tub on the deck of the chalet. Ran into town for provisions via forest trails. We didn’t even make it over to Annecy – they were having bad weather as well.
• Day trip to Courmayeur in Italy through the Mont Blanc tunnel –beautiful place, but I wouldn’t recommend given the long wait in line to pass through the tunnel.
• It was crowded everywhere in Chamonix – perhaps because of the heat wave elsewhere in France and Europe?
• Fondue in a small cabin at the base of the Argientière ski resort – very fun.
• *Sunday was race day! Here’s what I posted about the race for the group:


Getting back to normal life after several fantastic weeks traipsing through France this summer with husband, two teenagers, and an 8-year-old. Huge thanks to Annie and her podcast and to this incredible group. Here, I found information that helped us with virtually every leg of our journey. Thank you, thank you, thank you! We had one experience that I haven’t previously seen described in this group – we ran a trail race in the Alps. So, I’m trying to give back a little with this quick summary of our experience.

Our Why: My husband and I live in the Wasatch Mountains of Utah and like to run on trails – we do a lot of that. We’d heard so much about the amazing trails in the Chamonix area that we decided to spend a full week of our trip there. Our challenge was that we would be traveling with kids/teens … and with our kids, a big adventure like a circumnavigation of Mont Blanc was out of the question. We run trail races here in the states, why not participate in a race while we are in Chamonix? Trail races, if you are into that sort of thing, are a great way to tour unfamiliar backcountry areas – with well-marked courses and food every 3-5 miles. I googled around for a race calendar and found a race near Passy, France that looked incredible.

We ran the Trail du Tour Des Fiz in July, a large event with multiple race distances including a 2-day race where you stay overnight at a refuge, ultra distance events, a kids race, and even a participation hike that included tastings of local cheese (!). We ran a 15K race, and we had pretty awful luck with the weather. The day of the race, it poured rain (so much so that I took very few photographs). We couldn’t see a thing – no inspirational views, sorry to say. I think the weather tends to be good for this race, but weather is weather, it can change. We were soaked to the bone despite hats and rain jackets. We were slipping and sliding down muddy trails and splashing through puddles (actually, that part was fun), couldn’t see a thing.

Yes, we were disappointed that we didn’t have views, but it was still a very cool experience. We loved that we were the only two Americans in the entire race, and it was fun to experience something like this with French people (instead of other tourists). And we were served the best post-race meal I’ve ever had, along with an official race beer. Even with the bad weather, it was magical running up through mountain refuges and chalets, with the wood smoke coming out of the buildings and lace curtains in the window. Cow bells rung by actual cows, not spectators. Shouts of “Allez! Bravo! Courage!”. Just so cool and unique. I’ll remember it for a long time.

Lessons Learned from our Experience

I am no expert on running trail races in Europe. One race. But here’s what I learned:

· It is easy to find running events in the Alps. Just use google and you’ll find multiple web sites that list races in France and elsewhere.

· It was really easy to participate – this race operated pretty much like races in the U.S., no big surprises, with exception of the medical clearance form…

· In France, you cannot participate in a race without a medical clearance form, signed and stamped by a physician. No form, no race. Federal law of some kind. In searching around the internet, I found the most helpful information about this (and forms to use) here.

· In the registration process, a little French language ability (or at least, google translate) is helpful. We definitely needed to speak French if we wanted to communicate with volunteers and other participants at the race. Personally, I’m trying to improve my French, so that made me extremely happy.

· VERTICAL GAIN. As you might imagine, these races tend to have a lot of vert (vertical gain), more so than most mountain races in the U.S. During a race, this translates to a lot of steep hiking up, and running the downhills/ flats. Heads up. The race web sites will give you the vertical gain in meters. You can convert that to feet and compare to your run data on strava, garmin, trainingpeaks, etc… to get a sense of what you are getting yourself into. Especially if you are not accustomed to running in the mountains.

· I think this was a great experience to add in to our trip, but given the weather, I can’t recommend planning an entire trip around an experience like this. It is a great bonus, but a risky main event.

· We truly need races that involve cheese tastings in the U.S. – stellar idea just waiting to be imported J

Tuesday: Making our way home

• Returned our rental car in Geneva and flew to Paris for our last night, economical but funky space-themed airport hotel. My daughter’s favorite hotel 
• Took the metro into the city for dinner at a random left bank café. So much fun.

Wednesday: Flight Home

• Direct flight Paris to SLC


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Categories: Active Vacations in France, Off the Beaten Track in France