Lake of Annecy
All these routes are clearly marked, equipped with refuge huts and gîtes d'étape, and described in Topoguides. The CIMES office in Grenoble will provide information on all GR paths. In addition, local tourist offices often produce detailed maps of walks in their own areas. You shouldn't undertake any high-level long-distance hikes, however, unless you're an experienced hill-walker; if you aren't, but nonetheless like the sound of some of these trails, read a specialized Hiking book before making any plans, or simply limit your sights to more local targets. You can find plenty of day walks from bases in or close to the parks; and there are some spectacular road routes, too. The Vercors, Chartreuse, Aravis, Faucigny and Chablais areas are the gentlest and quietest introductions.
As for accommodation, you can camp freely on the fringes of the parks, but once inside you're supposed to pitch only in an emergency and move on after one night. Hotels are often seasonal (closed in late spring and late autumn), overbooked and overpriced if you're on a budget but don't want to carry camping equipment, using gîtes and refuges is a better solution. The Alps are as crowded in midsummer as they are in winter (the Chamonix-Mont Blanc area is the worst black spot), but you're more or less obliged to go in high season if you want to walk: unreliable weather aside, anywhere above 2000m will be snowbound until the beginning of July. Drivers should remember that some high passes such as the Col du Galibier and the Col de l'Iseran in the east of the region can remain closed well into June, requiring long detours or excursions into Italy via Alpine tunnels.
The towns in the Alps offer good facilities for campers and hikers, and often provide attractions of their own. Grenoble is the economic and intellectual capital of the region, and has a lively cultural scene; Chambéry and picturesque Annecy are good bases for expeditions into the Parc des Bauges and Massif de Chartreuse, and the countryside around the Lac d'Annecy respectively, though the latter suffers from overcrowding; and Briançon, the highest town in Europe, is close to the Écrins and Queyras parks. The websites www.rhonealpes-tourisme.com and www.alpes-guide.com are useful introductions to the region.
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