By Katy Orell
I am what francophones call a frontalier; I live in France and cross the line often between la vie raffinée of Geneva and veritable life on a French dairy farm. But what my rural side of France lacks in food, shopping, museums and general cultural variety it largely makes up for in sheer geological beauty. And one place in particular recently captured my heart: the Gorges du Fier.
Just a short jaunt from Annecy, or about an hour’s drive from Geneva, the Gorges du Fier is a stunning natural sight. First, you have the crystal blue white water of Le Fier, one of the principal rivers in Haute-Savoie. Second, you have a winding, narrow gorge with insanely high rock falaises carved from centuries of water erosion. And finally, you have a slightly harrowing boardwalked path, which guides you through the cliffs. It’s a trifecta of awesome.
I will preface your visit with a phrase of caution: when I say the pathway is slightly harrowing, what I mean is imagine traversing any cliché footbridge connecting two sides of a bottomless gorge in an Indiana Jones film. Got the image? Okay so you know that the wooden slats your feet are supposed to step on are destined to snap underfoot and you’ve got naught to hold onto.
The pathway through the Gorges du Fier gives this effect, except that you do have something to hold onto that’s more significant than hand-woven jungle vines. But if you are willing to brave the fear of falling 80 feet into the wild waters of the Fier and put your trust in wooden boards that look a little too rotten to hold your trembling body, the views are definitely worth pissing your pants.
As you enter the gorge (after paying your 5.70 euro standard adult entry fee, kids under 7 enter free) the first thing you notice—besides the path you are undoubtedly going to question—is the noise of the rushing Fier. And then you notice its color.
On a sunny summer’s day, the Lac d’Annecy is a stunning opaque blue, and this river—which eventually makes its way to the lake—is no different. The hue is so brilliant that it seems to illuminate the shady interior of the gorge from below. It’s truly mesmerizing.
Not forgetting that this gorge is also a tourist attraction (their ticket booth sits in a little house that looks not unlike the train station greeting you at Disney World), the hour-long hike is meant to weave a tale of dragons, fairies and princesses. And while you try to wrap your head around that, you should also be on the lookout for a cat, some witch-like faces and a monkey, which are said to be hiding in the gorge’s stone walls—but I didn’t have time to spot all of these natural and mysterious wonders, because I was chasing a 2-year-old. However, there are pictures at the walking tour’s halfway point that prove the existence of these things if you speak French or German and have a little imagination.
For a little taste of the extraordinary in the calm of the French countryside, this place is certainly worth the drive. If you really can’t stand the thought of walking along a suspended path, then go check out the very safe Château de Montrottier just up the road, literally one minute away. There you can sit in safety with a nice café au lait as you watch visitors to the Gorges du Fier test their nerves.
For information regarding the Gorges du Fier (seasonal hours of operation, entry fees and directions), check out their website: