• Michael O'Keeffe

A Trip to the Alps - Part I: Massif des Cerces, France

Updated: Dec 3, 2020

It may be a minute before we can travel abroad again. Fortunately, we are lucky here in the U.S. to have so much in our backyard. However, that doesn't mean I'm not dreaming of my next trip overseas. In the meantime, I decided to pull some photos out from my trip to the Alps of France and Italy back in the summer of 2019 before all of this craziness. This trip was a whirlwind journey for me as it was my first time to Europe and I was solo. I learned a lot, saw some incredible places, and had quite the adventure. This post will focus on the first leg of my journey to the Massif des Cerces in the French Alps.


An 8 hour direct flight to London-Gatwick, followed by a 4 hour layover, and finally another 2 hour flight landed me in Verona, Italy. This was my first stop of my journey. Though I was in Europe to hike the Alps, I decided I wanted to spend some time in at least one city to experience the culture and history of the country. Verona sits in northern Italy on the banks of the Adige River. I found the city to be quite lovely with beautiful architecture and art. I spent the evening walking down the crowded streets eating pizza and taking photos.

The Adige River flows through the beautiful city of Verona in northern Italy.


After a night in Verona, I woke up early, hopped on a train to Milan, picked up a rental car and drove west to France. For the next few days I'd basecamp out of the vibrant mountain town of Briançon. I found a lovely Airbnb up above town on a farm where the hosts were very sweet and welcoming. The town itself has a laid back ski town vibe without the hustle and bustle of some of the bigger towns in the Alps. There seemed to be few tourists not from France which was what I was hoping for. The goal was to explore as much as I could in the next three days before I returned to Italy for the second half of my trip. Upon reflection I can say I regret not staying in Briançon for the entirety of the trip (it was beautiful), but you live and learn.

Anyway, not even an hour after checking into my Airbnb I was on the road again making the easy 30 minute drive to the trailhead for my first big hike of the trip, Col des Cerces. This 8 mile loop was originally intended to be a summit of one of the peaks, but the peak itself was socked in clouds so I turned it into a loop which ended up being just incredible! Several pristine lakes set between massive verdant wildflower meadows under towering limestone peaks. I'll let the photos do the rest of the talking.

Lac du Grand Ban

Hiking among the verdant alpine meadows.
Pointe des Cerces

The green meadows were quite striking.
The limestone peaks were quite gnarly.
A herd of sheep on the hike back down to the car.
Looking north towards Vanoise National Park.


The following day I was ready for another hike. This hike would end up being just as impressive as the first one. I drove north from Briançon about 20 minutes to the trailhead. The trail begins in a small village before a steep start passing a few farms along a cascading creek. The trail then climbs into a big meadow with wide open views of the neighboring peaks of the Ècrins as well as the craggy limestone peaks of the Massif dec Cerces. The goal was to reach Col de la Ponsonnière, which provided a view down towards the Col des Cerces where I hiked the day before. It was truly amazing how much world class terrain there was in just a small area. I didn't even get the chance to explore one of the other two ranges that also border Briançon. I guess I'll just have to return someday. Anyway, here are the photos from this all time hike.

Not a bad spot to make a refuge.
The wildflowers were absolutely stunning!
A stream cuts through a valley beneath big limestone peaks.
The peaks of the Massif des Cerces are rather intimidating.
Another refuge with a view.
Incredibly rugged terrain in the Massif des Cerces.

Looking back the refuge from the Col.
A tarn under giant peaks.

Finally at the Col.
Looking back towards the Col des Cerces where I had hiked the day before.
Back to the refuge as the sun begins to set.
The mighty glacier crowned peaks of the Ecrins emerge from the clouds.

Lac Grand
A wonderful view into the valley I started from.
Cows on a farm under the mighty peaks of the French Alps.
One last look at this mountain refuge.
Distant glaciers in quintessential Alps country.
A small village beneath mighty peaks.


The last hike I'd get to do in France before heading back to Italy was a short, but steep trek up to a small summit at the edge of the Massif des Cerces. Guglia Rossa (Red Spire) is located above the village of Névache near the Italian border. I enjoyed this area as it felt similar to the mountain ranges of the West back here in America. The majority of the hike took me through quiet pine forest topping out just below the summit. A sandy trail to the top provided incredible 360 degree views of the surrounding peaks and valleys. The air was still and quiet with only the sound being the bells of a sheep herd in the valley below. A fitting way to end my time in this wonderful part of the world.

Guglia Rossa once I emerged from the pine forest.
At the summit looking towards the Italian border.
Dramatic views from the summit.
Looking down valley towards Briançon.

If you enjoyed this post, stay tuned for Part II when I venture into the Italian Alps. Also, be sure to subscribe below to stay up to date on my latest blog posts.

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