Going through villages is something that happens almost everyday on the GR 5; usually, more than once a day so it’s a key part of the experience. With recreation being such a big part of the scene in the Alps, it’s taken over a lot of the rural environment and some locations have more lodges and restaurants than farms and sheds. I tried to not spend much time in the urban but still feel a quick overview of what can be expected might be of interest. North to south:
First village met worth the name, first clear water spring on central location of many about to come.
La Chapelle D’Abondance
Beautiful valley, recreational village with a traditional feel mostly spoilt by the main valley road being the main street.
I had to spend a full day here due to illness. Good size village, busy with tourism but otherwise quiet and lots of beautiful, big mountains around.
In the Chamonix valley but a bit away from all the big surf, still divided by a secondary road. Touristy, as usual.
A wider than usual valley gives more sense of room to yet another road-transected, tourism sold nice little village with the most enticing boulangeries imaginable to the hiker.
At last, some rural appeal high on the slopes of the Iseran Valley. No transecting road here and very limited services but the hostel looked great.
At the Iseran valley bottom, Bellentre seems to take the worst of both worlds: no tourist resort aseptia neither traditional charm and little services. Maybe I was feeling gloomy that afternoon.
Hanging on the southern slopes of the Iseran valley, Montchavin is touristy but quiet and the traditional architecture is beautiful and very well preserved. Full service in a little packet and the campground is very nice.
Tignes-le-Lac / Val Claret
Amazingly distorting winter resort with lots of summer life. The huge 9 storey blocks are particularly out of place in a formerly beautiful glacial bowl.
Another narrow valley with a main road and a resort built around it with little to no traces of the village it must have been. At least, the campground is simple and quiet.
Bonneval Sur Arc
I only surveyed Bonneval from high in the valley slopes but it looked beautiful, just off the main road and secluded at the head end of the beautiful Arc Valley. I wished I had gone down to visit.
Farther down the Arc Valley which probably lessened the tradition to tourism ratio but still a quiet, charming village at the flat bottom of an impressing valley.
At a wide turn of a green valley and at the very feet of the Vanoise mountains, Pralognan is touristy but quiet. I appreciated the effort to promote pedestrian over motorized traffic.
Just around mid-trip between Leman and Mediterranean, Modane is a sizable village that looked perfect for a major ressuply and some rest. It turned out not such a good idea: a decaying town in a trans-frontier transport hub where railway lines take the place of pastures in the valley flats. At least, the supermarket is big so the ressuply part was true and the campground was a welcome island of peace that almost saved the experience.
An ancient ski resort is still modern by historical standards. Pass by quick.
The only real sizeable town that’s on-trail. The strategic location makes for a wonderful history lesson and the old town is a must visit. Probably a good place to take a break if the urban environment is no problem.
Extremely quiet hamlet though it seems it’s more recreational than rural nowadays. The setting is magnificient in an open valley with a view.
So close to Brunissard it’s almost the same village but here the main road goes across. Better the former.
100% touristy but with an emphasis on the traditional. The castle is a very nice view.
I liked Ceillac. I found it a nice mix of rural an recreational in a superb setting at the usual valley bottom, not too enclosed this time and with beautiful mountains around. The two successful visits to the local boulangerie certainly influenced my impression.
A tiny hamlet with literally four or five stone buildings two of which are lodges of some kind. The CAF hut is certainly nice. Amazing scenery.
Largely impersonal village, quiet but with no particular charm. The road along it is secondary but trans-border so I guess it tends to get busy.
The tarmac of the winding road is the only flat-like thing in this tiny, stony hamlet. The hostel feels nice.
St. Dalmas le Selvage
Beautiful village where everything from walls to ground seems to be stone. Secluded setting among lesser mountains with a somewhat Mediterranean feel.
St. Etienne de Tinée
Sizeable village at the urban side of rural but with a traditional, not so touristy feel. The Tinée valley definitely shows the Mediterranean environment.
Just a ski resort. Shops. Restaurants. Pass by.
Another small, stony village with flavor in a secluded location. Scenic outside seating at the bar.
Amazing, almost aerial location in a steep mountainside for a village where there’s basically nothing flat. Beautiful stone architecture and nice views towards the lower Tinée.
St. Sauveur sur Tinée
Winding urban plan following the winding road on the valley bottom. Not particularly scenic and a bit claustrophobic.
Scenic location on a secondary saddle (at least, there’s some flat ground). The old buildings are beautiful; the new additions, awful.
Super-nice stone monument in a wide valley. The trunk road is quiet enought to not be too disturbing.
A small town with yet some nice architecture. Urban busy but not too overwhelming for being just a day away from trip’s end.
A touristy, beach location with a nice old town. Not too bad for an initial reintroduction to urban life for a hiker used to the mountains.