Alta Via 2 (Gran Paradiso)
Key information: Alta Via 2 (Gran Paradiso)
- Beautiful section of the long-distance Alta Via 2 path, from Lillaz to Rhemes-Notre-Dame in the Gran Paradiso National Park.
- Italys oldest national park is spectacular and diverse, with serene valleys and towering mountains throughout including the 4,061m Gran Paradiso peak.
- Follow this famous trail through this wonderful region of the Graian Alps, sculpted by ageless glaciers and rushing streams; forested valley floors, high alpine meadows, and vast ice-smoothed rockfaces.
- Flora and fauna are widespread and varied; lynx, wolves, chamois and ibex disappearing above and below the treeline; golden eagles and eagle owls soaring and nesting higher up.
- You will be walking in high mountains with unpredictable weather. Come prepared.
- Walkopedia rating90
- Natural interest17
- Human interest4
- Negative points0
- Total rating90
- Length: 34 miles / 55 kilometres
- 4 days
- Maximum Altitude: 3,299m
- Level of Difficulty: Strenuous
The long distance Alta Via 2 runs hundreds of kilometers from the Gran Paradiso park in the west, to the Dolomites in the east. We are looking at the Gran Paradiso section here, many would agree its finest walking, although Dolomites patriots would argue otherwise.
Cicerone's Gran Paradiso-only Alta Via 2 starts at Chardonney or Courmayer, each terminus some distance outside the national park's dramatic peaks and troughs; we narrow the route down to a high-fidelity Gran Paradiso section, picking it up at Lillaz, 1,617m up, on the very edge of the national park proper.
Lillaz is over halfway through Cicerone's advised Stage 3 (Rifugio Peradza to Cogne), and so using it as a trailhead eats significantly into that itinerary. We advise it as starting point because Lillaz itself is accessible (a roadhead), while Rifugio Peradza is secreted away in alpine highlands. To pad out the first day, then, we suggest taking in the Cicerone-listed Lago di Loie walk first, before joining the Alta Via 2 and completing Stage 3, adding around 6 miles and approximately 5 hours to what would otherwise be a pointless 40-minute wander from Lillaz into Cogne.
The Lago di Loie walk starts off steep, but quickly attains its splendour: big, changing landscapes, panoramic views (even as far as Mont Blanc), lakes, crests, and wandering herds of chamois. What is more, it is circular and thereby eschews any repetition and dullness, taking in an area of huge glacially-smoothed granite slabs and the spectacular Lillaz Waterfalls on its return leg. A beautiful picnic point halfway around is popular ? forgivably so for its position beneath high peaks, amidst sloping banks of wildflowers, and looking across at abandoned mining buildings set eerie-like into high clifftops and alpine shoulders. This path actually rejoins the Alta Via 2 (AV2) naturally, joining its descent into Lillaz: thereafter, it is a pleasant, easy trail into Cogne.
High points on the second day - or first, if you cut out Lillaz/Lago di Loie - are undoubtedly Valnontey, reached through pretty flower-filled meadows (there are fantastic botanical gardens here), and the climb past a waterfall and against a southern backdrop of glaciers, on easy switchbacks and old mule tracks, to Rifugio Vittorio Sella and Lago Lauson nearby.
Day 3 (Cicerone Stage 5) is a challenging, rewarding, breathtaking traverse of Col Lauson: the highest point on this trek, and indeed on the whole AV2. It is also the highest non-glaciated pass in the entire Gran Paradiso National Park. Desolate, scoured, barren, wooded, moonscape; detritus-strewn shoulders and crests; in turn the trails maps all of these, even reaching a false pass before the actual col. Views are afforded to the Torre del Grande San Pietro, away south-east, but you can't help but feel they could offer slightly more. Going down the other side stays treacherous underfoot, but here it at last earns its salt: views open out to the park's eponymous Gran Paradiso peak and the huge Mount Taou Blanc. Slightly easier going, now, past the varied geology of the Grivola, and onwards to the precipitous edge of a glacially-sculpted plateau tipping over into the Valsavarenche. On to Eaux Rousses.
Day 4 begins another traverse; up to the Col di Entrelor. The morning is characterized by broad valleys, sheer valleys, steep pulls and some shallower, contouring climbs. The bleak, bare landscapes around Lac Djouan are spectacular, with views back to Gran Paradiso, the Grivola et al, then another lake (Lac Noir) at 2,650m. Atop the Col, views south this time to Mont Blanc, Cima Percia, Becca Tsambellinaz, and Punta Tsantelynaz, replete with glacier, on the border with France. On the downward slope you pass a small glacier and its larger moraines, spilling onto grass flatlands with abundant wildlife (chamois, marmots). Picturesque buildings, just one or two, begin to encroach; first, the interesting vaulted sheds of Plan de la Feya, then older and larger ones along the lip of the Val di Rhemes. At the head of the valley, the monolithic limestone of the Granta Parei, then the outcrop Castel di Cucco before finally reaching Bruil, 'capital' of Rhemes-Notre-Dame.
This is the other (western: this route has been walked east to west) edge of the Gran Paradiso National Park, although still teeming with wildlife and still substantial in its highland proportions. The scale and drama don't peter out quite yet, but the most thrilling parts of the walk have, you suspect, just been covered.
Other accounts: share your experiences
Your comments on this walk, your experiences and suggestions, and your photos are very welcome. Where appropriate, you will be credited for your contribution.
Books and Maps
Books on this walk
Gran Paradiso: Alta Via 2 Trek & Day Walks – Cicerone; indispensible
Rough Guide to Italy – Rough Guides
Trekking in the Alps – Kev Reynolds
Walking in the Alps – Lonely Planet Walking Guide
Maps can be bought locally: the best is published by the Park Authority, available at visitor centres.
86: Gran Paradiso Vallee D’Aosta (admittedly in German)
IGC Italien WK 101 Gran Paradiso (also in German)
IGC Italien WK 3 PN de Gran Paradiso (in, er, German)
Best times to walk/weather
Best times to walk
Open year-round, but access is naturally contingent upon snowfall, avalanches and landslides being manageable (they can obstruct both roads and paths). May – October is best for walkers:
- May/June – grazing herds of ibex in the valleys
- July – for flower lovers
- August – high season for Italians (book accommodation in advance)
- September – still catching the sun, and summer’s warmth, but dodging the crowds
- October – Italy stays on summer time, so look forward to rusty hues and crisp, clear days.
Generally fine in season, but come prepared for unpredictable mountain weather and cold nights. Ice can make sections of the path – already tricky – particularly difficult to navigate.
- Col Lauson – in early summer the western side can still be snow-bound and icy.
- Col di Entrelor – snow cover can last into early summer, and ice immediately after bad weather.
Those on organised expeditions will be transported from/to their arranged start/departure points. These tours are increasingly common, but as yet still reasonably rare.
Turin and Milan airports are the most convenient for this walk; routes operated by Easyjet, British Airways and Ryanair. Then, it's trains into the region: for Lillaz, Aosta is the most convenient station, around 30km by road.
By car, the Mont Blanc Tunnel or Piccolo San Barnardo pass take you into the area direct from France. From Switzerland, the Gran San Barnardo pass and tunnel. Within Italy, the A5 motorway from the south runs through Aosta to Courmayeur.
Coach: long distance coaches run from both Turin and Milan into the area.
Walking: you can, obviously, start the trail at Chardonney, and walk to our ‘trailhead’ at Lillaz. The train station at Hône-Bard serves Chardonney via a picturesque road up the Valle di Champorcher.
Train information: www.trenitalia.com
Local bus services: www.regione.vda.it/trasporti
See Walk Summary above. Stages:
Lillaz – Cogne (2.5ish miles; +6 miles if you add in the Lago di Loie walk)
Cogne – Rifugio Vittorio Sella (5 miles)
Rifugio Vittorio Sella – Eaux Rousses (10 miles)
Eaux Rousses – Rhêmes-Notre-Dame (10 miles)
Possible problems, health, other warnings
- Mountain weather: expect snow, rain, severe cold and wind into early summer. Some of the steep rock can get very slippery when wet or icy. Come prepared.
- Heat and strong sun. Carry enough water and protect yourself.
- Heights: can be dangerous; not for those who have difficulties with heights.
- This is remote country: help may be hard to get quickly if things go wrong.
See also the websites in our useful links page for more detailed, and up-to-date, information.
Safety and problems: All walks have inherent risks and problems can arise on any walk. Many of the walks featured on this website involve significant risks and possible problems. This website cannot, and does not purport to, identify all actual or potential risks, dangers and problems that may relate to a walk or a country. Any person who is considering undertaking this walk should do careful research and make their own assessment of the risks, dangers and possible problems involved. They should also go to “Important information” for further important information.
Make sure you have appropriate insurance.
Guided or independent?
Most people do this walk independently, but you will need to be self-sufficient during the day (almost every night on the trek is at a manned refuge, with staff who will be able to help in emergencies; and offer that essential hot meal!)
Some people form or join organised/supported expeditions.
Expedition organisers include:
- Ramblers Holidays – www.ramblersholidays.co.uk
- PLEASE HELP Walkopedia by recommending any reputable tour organizers that you know of – local or otherwise.
The guidebooks have a selection of possible accommodation for the towns you pass through (Cogne; Eaux Rousses; Rhêmes-Notre-Dame).
In the park, wild camping is forbidden, but there are enough established sites if you want to take that option.
However, camping means missing out on the various manned Rifugi; real treats. Set often in idyllic, high lookouts, they are either Italian Alpine Club or locally-run, and offer that essential – a hot, home-cooked evening meal. In the Italian high season (July but mainly August) advance bookings are likely to be advisable for weekends.
Search for Gran Paradiso accommodation here (Italian National Parks list): limited hotel/inn availability inside the park.
Hostelbookers usually has a good selection of cheaper-end accommodation.
Other information and tips
A three-day extension is possible, in the high reaches of the south Valsavarenche, Val di Rhêmes and Valgrisenche. Beginning at Eaux Rousses (see the Cicerone guide).
Useful websites and information
There are many websites with relevant information. Here are some that we think are useful or have been recommended to us.
- Valle D’Aosta tourism page – www.regione.vda.it/turismo/default_e.asp
- …And their Alta Via 2 page
- Gran Paradiso Wikipedia page. As usual, a good starting place.
- Gran Paradiso NP – www.parks.it/parco.nazionale.gran.paradiso/Eindex.php
- Try www.flickr.com for pictures of this walk.
Other things to do in the area
Italy has a huge variety of great walks. There is likely to be a good walk within range wherever you may be.
- The Cicerone book has a multitude of ideas, particularly within the Gran Paradiso park.
- Monte Rosa, Mont Blanc & the Matterhorn are nearby (and seen from various parts of the AV2).
- Plentiful walks in the Dolomites, including the famous Alta Via 1.
Skiing, climbing, mountain-biking, rafting. Ahem: Italy, so eating. There is even a cable-car trip to be had directly over the incredible Mont Blanc massif, from Palud (Italy) to Chamonix (France). The list goes on.
Safety and problems: All walks have inherent risks and potential problems, and many of the walks featured on this website involve significant risks, dangers and problems. Problems of any sort can arise on any walk. This website does not purport to identify any (or all) actual or potential risks, dangers and problems that may relate to any particular walk.
Any person who is considering undertaking this walk should do careful research and make their own assessment of the risks, dangers and possible problems involved. They should also go to “Important information” for further important information.
share your experiences
Add your experiences, suggestions and photos. We would be delighted to receive your writing and ideas (which will be attributed appropriately where published).
Anyone planning an expedition to this place should see further important information about this walk.
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