On its way north-west, the Aosta Valley ends at the foot of the Mont Blanc massif in the Entrèves plain, just beyond Courmayeur. Here it branches into two large valleys that flank the Mont Blanc chain.
Looking at Mont Blanc from Entrèves, Val Ferret is the one on the right.
Val Ferret is absolutely different from the opposite Val Veny. Despite the looming presence of the Mont Blanc group, in particular the mighty Grandes Jorasses, the aspect is peaceful, restful, at times almost bucolic. Along its path is a sequence of meadows, woods and clearings, furrowed by streams and torrents that flow placidly. Under natural shelters there are small groups of huts, generally well restored.
Morphology of the Val Ferret
Val Ferret is a straight glacial valley, parallel to the Mont Blanc chain. It stretches north-east for about 14 km, from Entrèves to the Col du Grand Ferret (2537 m), where the border with Switzerland is located.
The orographic right flank is dominated by the central sector of the long chain of Mont Blanc, which faces it with rocky ridges, terraces, glacial valleys, moraines. Among the numerous peaks: the Dent du Geant, the Aiguille de Rochefort, the Grandes Jorasses, the Aiguille de Lechaux, the Aiguille de Taléfre, the Aiguilles du Triolet, the Mont Dolent. The peaks and ridges that descend form five large glacial valleys that fall down towards the valley, with important glaciers: the Rochefort glacier, the Planpincieux glacier, the Frebouge (or Freboutze) glacier, the Triolet glacier, the Pré de Bar.
The left side (orographic) of the valley is wooded and, at high altitudes, rich in meadows and pastures. Also on this side there are valleys perpendicular to the main valley. In succession, proceeding towards the Col du Grand Ferret, we find: the valleys of Arminaz, Malatra, Belle-Combe. The peaks that close them are a separation with various districts (Morgex, Gran San Bernardo, Switzerland).
At the bottom of the valley flows, wide but not impetuous, the Dora di Val Ferret. The stream is fed by the melting waters of the glaciers and, as it exits the valley, it flows into the Dora di Val Veny to form the Dora Baltea.
Val Ferret from top to bottom
Proceeding in the opposite direction to the course of the stream, from the mouth of the valley towards the Col du Grand Ferret, four sections can be distinguished.
- The first is the stretch from La Palud to Planpincieux. The beginning is marked by a bar that regulates the flow of cars. At this point the valley is characterized by a bottleneck formed by the slopes of the Mont Blanc chain and by the landslide side of the Mont de La Saxe. This is followed by a long straight stretch in progressive ascent between moraine deposits and sparse groves, exposed to avalanches. Beyond a prominence surmounted by two hairpin bends, you come to Planpincieux.
The only real town in the valley, Planpincieux (1576 m) is made up of some chalets, old hotels and groups of huts, all perfectly restored, surrounded by fir and larch woods. From here, in winter, the long cross-country ski ring starts.
The village is dominated by the famous Dent du Geant, the Rochefort ridge and the buttresses of the Grandes Jorasses. On the opposite side, the steep but wooded side of the Mont de La Saxe faces it.
- The second part consists of a long valley floor of almost 3 km, up to the town of Lavachey, passing through the small town of Prà Sec (1630m).
The valley manifests itself here in all its charm. Large meadows, woods and groves, streams, small groups of huts, a church, a few chalets for refreshment or lying in the sun. Above, the mighty presence of the Grandes Jorasses. Towards the end of the valley, the green peaks on the Swiss border. Behind, towards Courmayeur, the greatest magic: the unforgettable silhouette of Mont Blanc with the serrated crest of Peutérey and, in the background, the head of Val Veny.
The scene takes on very different shades according to the seasons. In summer, the contrast between the glint of ice and the intense green of the meadows is astonishing. In winter, the vastness and soft whiteness of the snow fields on which the eternal giants stand leave you breathless.
Lavachey (1641 m) is a small group of huts and restaurants, a destination for walks and “snacks” based on polenta and various dishes (chamois, sausage, cheese, etc.).
The following stretch of valley leads after about 3 km to Arnouva, where the road ends.
After Lavachey the valley shows a prominence, climbed by two hairpin bends. The next route is relatively flat, but wilder. The bottom of the valley features an alternation of meadows, groves and morainic terrain. The valley of Frebouge, with the beautiful Aiguille de Lechaux, overlooks the opposite side with the valley of Malatrà.
Arnouva or Arpnouva (1776 m) is another small group of huts. In summer, the bus rides end here. Beyond, the road continues unpaved and closed to private traffic.
- The last section leads to the Col du Grand Ferret (2537 m) and to the border with Switzerland. The valley becomes narrower and absolutely glacial, to rise in the last part with the grassy slopes of the pass.
Just beyond Arnouva, on opposite sides there are 2 other valleys: the valley of Triolet, with the Aiguilles de Talèfre and Triolet, and the valley of Belle-Combe, as narrow and horrid at the beginning as it is alpine at the top. The moraine terrain is crossed by the dirt road that leads to the Elena Refuge (2061 m), clearly visible at the top on the right. The last stretch is dominated on the left by the spectacular flow of the Pré de Bar glacier, surmounted by the elegant pyramid of Mont Dolent (3820 m), defined as the “mountain of the three nations” because of the borders of Italy, France and Switzerland.
Attractions in Val Ferret
Val Ferret is an area of high landscape and naturalistic value.
Looking at it from the end (Arnouva or the Col du Grand Ferret), it has the “U” shape typical of glacial valleys.
The Mont Blanc group on this side appears, perhaps, less oppressive than in certain points of the Val Veny, but certainly no less impressive. From the Dente del Gigante to the Grandes Jorasses, up to Mont Dolent, it is a succession of glacial ridges and cirques, where ice and granite are the undisputed rulers. This universe of granite contrasts in an exciting way with the green of the other side and the placid valley floor.
Various points of the valley allow the observation of chamois and herds of ibex. The latter, in particular, can be met with a certain ease on the slopes leading to the Col du Grand Ferret. Sometimes, deer and roe deer can also be spotted. Furthermore, it is not uncommon to come across foxes and weasels around Planpincieux.
Activities and sports in Val Ferret
During the summer season, Val Ferret is the ideal terrain for excursions of all kinds.
The valley floor offers opportunities for short trips within everyone’s reach. The slopes and valleys on the left orographic side allow numerous itineraries from easy to difficult, which reach refuges (Bertone, Bonatti, Elena) and high-altitude passes. On the Mont Blanc side there are more demanding itineraries towards the refuges (Boccalatte, Dalmazzi) and the bivouacs (Gervasutti, Comino, Fiorio), some on the verge of climbing difficulties.
One of the main stretches of the Mont Blanc Tour takes place in Val Ferret. The itinerary ascends from Courmayeur to the Bertone Refuge and continues at high altitude, climbing over the valleys on the opposite side of the Mont Blanc chain, up to the Bonatti Refuge. It then continues to the Elena Refuge and climbs to Colle du Grand Ferret, from where it leads to the Swiss Val Ferret. The route is very popular and it is not uncommon to come across hikers from all over the world.
Mountain bike enthusiasts can choose from various itineraries, first of all the one that runs from Entrèves all the way on the valley floor up to the Elena Refuge. The more experienced, on the other hand, can take the Mont Blanc Tour itinerary or the famous “balcony”.
From the point of view of mountaineering, Val Ferret is the setting for many classic itineraries, such as the ascent to the Dente del Gigante, the Rochefort ridge, the normal route to the Grandes Jorasses and the normal route to Mont Dolent. In addition, in the Triolet valley, numerous modern climbing routes have been opened around the Dalmazzi Refuge. For lovers of cliffs and free climbing, beautiful equipped walls can also be found near Arnouva, where the carriage road ends.
But Val Ferret is not an environment only for people who walk or ride. Also fans of fishing, golf and horse riding are at ease here. In fact, the stream that flows in the valley is a fishing reserve for a long stretch, where you can catch trout and char. The game of golf is played in the beautiful nine-hole golf course that extends near Prà Sec. A true wonder at the foot of the Grandes Jorasses.
During the winter season the valley turns into a paradise for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. From Planpincieux begins the long ring of the cross-country skiing which, when conditions allow it, reaches Arnouva. Cross-country skiing lessons also take place here.
Danger of avalanches permitting, the mountains and valleys on the opposite side of Mont Blanc are one of the best environments for ski mountaineering. Moreover, some more interesting climbs also take place in the group, such as the one to Mont Dolent.
Dog sledding is also practiced in Val Ferret, on sleds pulled by dogs.
Connections and centers in Val Ferret
Val Ferret is connected to Courmayeur by a carriage road, which from La Palud represents the continuation of the Larzey-Entrèves municipal road. It can also be taken from state road 26 on the right, at the last bend before the Mont Blanc tunnel.
In summer, access is almost always regulated. Shortly after La Palud, the barrier is located. In summer it allows the presence in the valley of a maximum number of cars. Beyond this number, you must leave your car in one of the car parks and continue by shuttle bus, which touches Planpincieux, Lavachey and Arnouva.
In winter the road can be traveled up to Planpincieux, but during the day it is closed to cars. To go up it is therefore necessary to use the shuttle bus to Planpincieux. The rest of the road up to Lavachey and Arnouva is transformed into a cross-country ski track.
The inhabited centers in the valley are Planpincieux, Prà Sec, Lavachey and Arnouva. Planpincieux is the only one with services. The others have at most hotel accommodations and restaurants.
The low population can be explained by remembering that Val Ferret is a protected area, and therefore it is not allowed to build. But we must also add the problematic reachability in winter. In fact, the exposure to snow avalanches of the first section forces a total closure of the road in some high-risk periods. In recent times, the threat of a landslide from the Mont de La Saxe at the beginning of the valley has also been added, which is creating many problems for the inhabitants of Entrèves and the whole Val Ferret.
Services and support points in Val Ferret
Val Ferret is served by a shuttle bus line departing from Courmayeur and Entrèves to Arnouva. The service operates during the summer and winter seasons, but when it stops in Planpincieux. The stops are in all inhabited centers, at the parking areas of the valley and at the departures of the main trails.
Val Ferret is equipped with the typical facilities and services for summer and winter tourism.
In Planpincieux there are some hotels, excellent restaurants, bars, ski and mountain bike sales and rental shops and the Foyer de Fond. Chalets, small restaurants and refreshment points can be found in refurbished huts along the road from Planpincieux to Lavachey. A little beyond Planpincieux there are also points of sale for typical cheeses.
The refuges are numerous. Some serve as support points along the Mont Blanc Tour: Bertone, Bonatti, Elena. Others are located on the slopes of the Mont Blanc range, perched in the middle of the glaciers. This is the case of the Torino, Boccalatte and Dalmazzi Refuges and of the Gervasutti, Comino and Fiorio Bivouacs. Some, such as the Canzio and Jachia Bivouacs, are located in daring positions and can only be reached by good climbers.
As already mentioned, one of the most boasting facilities in the whole valley is the Courmayeur et Grandes Jorasses Golf Club, a magnificent golf course at the foot of Mont Blanc.
The Aigle Hotel almost overlooks the municipal road that leads from Courmayeur to La Palud and Val Ferret. Therefore, it is incredibly convenient for all those who want to go to the valley.
By car, just exit the hotel and take the road that leads to Planpincieux in about 3 km. Depending on the season of the year and the accessibility conditions, it is then possible to continue to Lavachey, Arnouva and the other smaller villages.
From our hotel, Val Ferret can also be easily reached by bus. In fact, the shuttle that connects Courmayeur to the valley stops about 200 m away from the Aigle. More comfortable than that? …
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