Painting autumn and winter at the Palette d Isenau

At the end of October, clocks turn back, bringing shorter days and early nights. I hiked to Palette d'Isenau the first Sunday when the clocks changed, so I was not used to early sunsets yet - and all the more pleasantly surprised by the soft light that struck mid-afternoon, as we returned to Lac Retaud for the last leg of our hike down the valley. Most of the hikers were gone by then - painting a very different atmosphere to the one five hours before, when we reached Lac Retaud at the outset of our hike. 

But let's start at the beginning. Although Lac Retaud can be reached by car, we were relying on public transport and hiked up from the base station of the Glacier 3000 cable car. A short 20-minute walk through the woods brings you to this small emerald lake, which was buzzing with hikers and families in the morning. The hike towards Palette d'Isenau continued on a gravel road, soon opening up to breathtaking views.

The highest point of the hike is the summit Palette d'Isenau, parts of which were completely covered in frozen snow, and rises up directly opposite the Glacier 3000, providing a view of the whole massif and the sparkling Arnensee below. Having hiked there in October, just as autumn slowly turns into winter, the mountains looked like a palette of bright yellow larches, hazy green and brown pastures, and bright white snowy slopes. 

The return walk is circular and passes by a mountain hut (where I'm sure you could get some delicious cheese in the summer - but it was closed in October), a small lake (more of a pond), and ends up back at Lac Retaud, which serves food and drinks with a lovely view of the lake. Having been to Les Diablerets region before to visit the Glacier 3000 (only to discover it's more or less of a tourist trap), I was pleasantly surprised by this hike, and would definitely go again to explore other paths (to lake Arnensee for example). 


  • Time of the year: I hiked at the end of October.  
  • How to get to the starting point: From Geneva, take the train to Les Diablerets, where you hop on a bus to Col du Pillon (Glacier 3000). The starting point of the hike is at the base station for the cable car for Glacier 3000 (although you don't take the cable car). 
  • Hike time: Around 3,5 hours. 
  • Hike length & ascent: Around 8km, 600m ascent 
  • Hiking gear needed: The usual hiking gear (boots, poles).
  • Difficulty: Easy. 
  • Hike directions: Walk behind the Glacier 3000 cable car base station (basically you take the path between the restaurant and the cable car station), turning left into the woods. Follow the signposts for Lac Retaud, which you'll reach after 20 min of hiking or so. There'll be time to stop at this beautiful lake on the way back - for now, turn left at the lake and follow the gravel road straight ahead for a few 100 meters (there'll be a crossroads with blank yellow signposts on the way that might confuse you - just continue straight on the gravel path). You'll soon reach the pastures, opening up to a beautiful view of the mountain ranges around you. Continue towards Chalet Isenau and turn right towards the Palette. Once you reach the summit, take the path down, but turn right to take the circular route (towards Chalet Vieux and Arnensee), although make sure you follow the signpost for Lac Retaud once you reach the hut. Take the rocky path down for another 30 minutes or so to reach the lake and reward yourself with a beer. Then take the same 20-min path back down to your starting point in Col du Pillon, at the Glacier 3000 base station. If you're relying on public transport, make sure to check the bus times in advance, as they are not very frequent in autumn and you might find yourself waiting in the valley for an hour or two if you don't plan well. 


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