Wild Camping in the French Alps

Wild Camping in the French Alps

As we stand in the middle of a patch of woodland halfway up the mountain, I start to wonder if I’ve made a mistake. Tall, spindly pine trees surround us and our guide, Herve le Sobre, is eagerly hanging a series of colourful silk parachute hammocks between the trunks. “Don’t expect to get much sleep tonight,” he says with a grin as he gives a quick tug to the final knot. I reply with a nervous laugh.

We spend a lot of time in the French Alps, specifically in Morzine in the Portes du Soleil region. During this particular visit we had hiked mountain trails, attempted mountain biking and spent many an afternoon swimming and paddle boarding in the Lac de Montriond. Now, as our holiday neared an end, we were trying something completely different. We were going to camp wild in the mountains.


Bivouac at Lac de Montriond. © Katja Gaskell

In French wild camping is known as “le camping sauvage” and involves setting up your tent or, as in our case, hammock, away from an official campsite. Herve has been a mountain guide for well over a decade taking visitors hiking and mountain biking during the summer months and snowshoeing and sledding during the winter. He also leads bivouacking experiences for guests looking for adventure. To date these trips have been targeted at adults. However, I was going to try it with my two oldest children, aged 12- and 10-years-old.


Bivouac at Lac de Montriond. © Katja Gaskell

When we meet Herve it’s already late afternoon. Our rendezvous point is a small parking bay on the road leading up to the mountain resort of Avoriaz. From here it’s a gentle hour-long walk along winding mountain trails to reach the patch of trees that will be our home for the night.

Once the hammocks are set up and we’ve unfurled our sleeping bags the kids are tasked with collecting wood for the fire. As the sun begins to set Herve grills sausages and hands out chunks of baguette and thick slices of Abondance and Tomme de Savoie cheese. Before long the evening light has disappeared altogether and we’re reaching for our headlamps. We roast marshmallows over the open flames and sandwich the gooey, sticky mass between chocolate biscuits.


Bivouac at Lac de Montriond © Katja Gaskell

And then it’s time for bed. I should point out that we are not a family that camps. Adventure, yes. Camping, not so much. I have something of an irrational fear of the dark and my children like to sleep with the hallway light on at home. In the middle of the mountains at night, however, the sky is very, very black. So, it’s with some trepidation that we manoeuvre into our sleeping bags and settle into our hammocks, head torches safely within reach should we need them.

Lac de Montriond

Lac de Montriond © Semnoz/Wikipedia commons

Surprisingly, we  fall asleep quickly, aided by the gentle swaying of the hammock. And, for the most part, we snooze soundly. Or at least we sleep much better than I ever thought we would. Dawn breaks around 5 a.m. accompanied by the sound of distant cow bells, bird song and gentle snoring from our guide. My eldest is the first to wake and emerges from our wooded hideaway to see a pair of chamois running through the long grass. My daughter sleeps so deeply cocooned in her hammock that we eventually have to wake her up.

“In French we call this experience ‘insolite’,” says Herve, “meaning ‘one of a kind’.” As we sit drinking cups of tea made by Herve on his camping stove I understand exactly what he means. This has been a truly unique way to experience the mountains and one that I can’t wait to repeat.


You can book a bivouacking experience with Herve via his website.

For more information about Morzine and to plan your trip, visit the official tourism website: www.morzine-avoriaz.com


Camp at Lac de Montriond  © Katja Gaskell

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