For a week, I had a wonderful opportunity to explore the enchanting village of Tignes with fellow blogger Cecile from Nomadic Hippie 2.0.
Tignes is located just 8 km away from the Italian border, at an elevation of 2100m. It’s a world-class ski resort which hosted the 1992 Winter Olympics freestyle skiing, and has hosted the European Winter X Games in 2010 and 2011. The town itself is home to little more than 2000 people, with countless more coming for the summer and winter holidays.
I, however, did not arrive during the tourist seasons. I came in the off-season, when most of the shops and all the ski lifts are closed. During tourist seasons, getting to Tignes is as simple as jumping on any of the numerous buses. Instead, I had quite the adventure hitchhiking my way there. However, the travail was more than worth it.
The apartment we had was on the seventh floor of the highest building in the “lower” half of Tignes. Basically, the perfect vantage. From the living room window, we had a breathtaking view of the village, the upper lake and several ski runs, as well as the year-round glacier rising to 3600m. From the kitchen and bedroom windows on the other side of the building, we had views of the mountains, including those across the border in Italy.
In the afternoon sun there are marmots everywhere, sunbathing on the rocks or running back and forth along the summer mountain-bike paths. In the evening, foxes can be seen running around the village. Birds are everywhere, and high in the mountains cows and sheep range free.
What’s particularly interesting about Tignes is that it’s not the original town. After World War II France needed electricity. In 1952, a dam was built at the end of the valley and the town was submerged beneath the new lake. The citizens were relocated, but were able to make a pilgrimage to their old village once a decade when the lake was drained and the dam was inspected and repaired. I say were, since the dam is now stable and they no longer need to drain the lake. Cecile visited the location the last time they drained the lake, and brought back some amazing photos. Check out her story about the underwater village.
Aside from a LOT of writing, we went on three wonderful walks/hikes. The first was just through the villages and around the lake. By the way, Tignes has the highest golf course in Europe.
The second was down to the main lake where the original town is submerged. It was only 2.5 km, but the huge waterfalls along the trail were beautiful. The water was certainly cold, but that wouldn’t have stopped me from swimming, had I worn my bathing suit. Along the way is an old stone lodge which a guy fully refurbished and opened as a B&B you can rent. I certainly would stay there, if I had the money.
On my last day, Cecile and I went up to a refuge far back in the mountains. The path we took is actually part of the GR 5, the Apine trail running 2500 km from Hoek van Holland on the North Sea to the Mediterranean. We hiked up to 2652m, before beginning our descent down to where the refuge and lakes were.
French refuges are not for refugees, but rather are huts for hikers and travelers in the mountains. Beds are €10 a night, plus €1-2 for the utilities. Off season the bathrooms are closed. We had wanted to spend a night in the refuge, but on the weekend it was raining so we couldn’t hike up, and we didn’t have time otherwise, as I was only there for five days. The law of the traveler strikes again, and I’ll just have to go back someday for that experience.
When you plan to go to Tignes, I would definitely recommend the summer or the winter when attractions are open. In the summer, the lifts are free for hikers and mountain bikers. In the winter, the lift tickets run for about €249 a week. On October 1st, the glacier opens up, and you can get lift tickets for €25 for one day or €48 for two days. This is a resort town, and there aren’t any hostels. The cheapest lodging you’ll find runs about €50 a night, although there are several Couchsurfers in town you might be able to stay with. And as I mentioned, don’t go in the off-season if you want easy transportation getting there. Otherwise, you’ll just have to get lucky with Blablacar, or unbelievably lucky hitchhiking.
I can’t recommend this town enough. I certainly plan to be back myself, especially when I have the wherewithal to spend a week skiing. I still need to stay a night in a refuge! It’s also just a great place to relax and write, and I got some wonderful posts and stories written, including the beginning of a special e-book… Stay tuned.