Wild camping in the French Alps

“Don’t expect to get much sleep,” says our guide Herve. These are not the words I want to hear. But as I look at our thin hammocks hanging between the trees, I think that he might have a point.

We’re in the middle of the forest, two thirds of the way up a mountain in the French Alps. We had met Herve in a small parking bay on the road leading to Avoiraz in the Portes du Soleil region in the late afternoon. From there, we walked for close to an hour along hiking trails until we came to a clearing alongside a small wooded area.

This was going to our home for the night; we were going to be wild camping in the French Alps.

Disclosure I was a guest of Avoriaz-Morzine Tourism for the purpose of this review. All opinions are entirely my own. This post may contain affiliate links. I have been or could be if you click on a link in this post compensated via a cash payment, gift or something else of value for writing this post. See our full disclosure policy for more details.

Wild camping in the French Alps
Sleeping between the trees

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Les Portes du Soleil

Wild camping in the French Alps
Testing out the hammocks

We often spend the summer in Morzine, a French Alpine village that also sits in the Portes du Soleil region. Morzine, along with neighbouring Les Gets and Avoriaz, are known as winter playgrounds popular for the excellent and extensive skiing. They are also increasingly popular with families during summer months.

Summer in the mountains brings so many opportunities for adventure. From hiking and mountain biking to swimming or stand up paddle boarding in the Lac de Montriond and paragliding, the choices are never-ending. This summer, however, we were trying a new experience, sleeping overnight in the forest.

Herve le Sobre has been a mountain guide for well over a decade, leading visitors hiking and mountain biking during the summer and snowshoeing and sledding during the winter. He also leads overnight bivouacking adventures. Up until our visit, these overnight stays had been for adult groups only but I was going to try it with my two oldest children aged 12- and 10-years-old.

Wild camping

Wild camping in the French Alps
Alfie building the fire

After arriving at the clearing the forest, Herve unpacks the hammocks (the ‘parachute silk’ kind rather than the beach bar in Mexico kind) and strings them up between the tall pine trees. He’s also brought insulated sleeping mats to “keep us warm”. We’ve packed sleeping bags and multiple layers; although the days are warm and gloriously sunny, the temperature drops dramatically in the mountains at night.

Herve then tasks the kids to collect wood and starts a fire so we can cook sausages. For my very urban children, building a fire and roasting sausages outdoors is an adventure in itself. Sara, from the Morzine-Avoriaz Tourist Office has joined us for the night, and she has brought along a selection of delicious cheeses including Abondance and Tomme de Savoie.

By now the light is fading and we’ve swapped the sausages for marshmallows and are roasting them over the fire. Not long after and the light has gone completely, we turn on our head torches and get ready for bed.

I should point out, that I don’t like sleeping in complete darkness. Nor do my two kids. At home a hallway light is always left in case anyone wakes up in the night. Similarly, we are not a family of campers preferring a hotel or holiday home bed over sleeping under canvas. So it’s not without some trepidation that we settle down into our hammocks.

As it turns out, however, we all fall asleep quickly, lulled by the gentle swinging of the hammock. I don’t sleep very deeply – turning over within the confines of a hammock tends to wake you up – but I sleep much better than I ever thought I would. Dawn breaks around 5am which, coupled with distant cow bells and bird song, plus the gentle snoring of our mountain guide, wakes us up. Well, it wakes most of us up, my 10-year-old daughter sleeps until almost 7 o’clock.

Herve boils waters on a small camping stove and we sit and enjoy a cup of tea and some breakfast biscuits while watching the day unfold. It’s a truly wonderful experience.

“In French we call this kind of experience ‘insolite‘,” says Herve “meaning ‘one of a kind’.” As we pack up our bags and walk back towards the road and our car, I can’t help but think that Herve is right. It was a unique and wonderful way to experience the mountains. I can’t wait to do it again.

If you’re interested in booking this bivouacking experience in the mountains then you can find Herve’s details here.

Wild camping in France

Wild camping in the French Alps
Herve cooking the sausages for dinner

Wild camping in French is known as “le camping sauvage” and involves setting up your tent or parking your camper van away from an official campsite. Legally, it’s a bit of a grey area but it’s good to have an idea of what’s not allowed before you string up your hammock.

When it comes to wild or free camping, is a bit of a grey area in French Law. In theory it is permitted anywhere in France providing that you have the permission of the landowner. The main restrictions are that you can not camp on the coast, in protected natural sites or near classified historic monuments. You can check the basic rules here. It’s also worth checking local rules; local authorities may have their own regulations on camping in national parks for example.

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