Swiss Passes

Col de Champex


Leaving the E21 at Orsières, climb up to Champex Lac is on a narrow single carriageway with hairpin bends on some steep sections. Suitable for smaller cars and motorcycles, it adds about an hour to the tour if you are stopping at the lake.

The village lies at 1,470 metres, on the shores of Lac de Champex, and is the starting point for many hikes and a small ski resort in winter. It is a picturesque village surrounded by forest and mountains, and a busy stop on the Tour du Mont Blanc and the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc in the summer.

The main attraction is the lake, but Champex also has an alpine botanical garden and was an outpost for the Swiss military defence strategy. Now decommissioned, the Artillery Fort is built entirely underground with 600 metres of tunnels housing a hospital, rest areas and a kitchen, and was designed for up to 300 soldiers to live in. Built in 1940 and adapted for nuclear conflict during the Cold War period, the defences were in use until 1998 and can now be toured for a fee, although not in September, it seems, as it’s closed when we get there.

The descent from Champex to Martigny is a single track consisting of numerous very tight hairpin bends with cambers that may test the bodywork on sportier vehicles. On the way down we pass the Gorges of Durnand, a series of footbridges and wooden staircases overlooking 14 torrent cascades. After the Gorges, chalets become small villages and the hairpin bends around them seem endless. Eventually, you arrive at Valettes and pick up the E21 again and it’s a short descent to Martigny.

Col de Champex features in Super Alpine magazine Tour International.

Arriving at Champex
46°04’08.8”N, 6°56’18.0”E
Orsières > Valettes
Distance (km) 21.7
Altitude (m) 1490
Start Altitude (m) 987
End Altitude (m) 613
Minimum Altitude (m) 609
Maximum Altitude (m) 1490
Ascent (m) 609
Descent (m) 895

Read more in SWISS PASSES Issue 4 of the Super Alpine magazine - coming in 2022

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