In the mountainous Ecrins the houses in the villages huddle together for warmth and companionship around a winding road, joined by steep narrow cobbled lanes and steps. The houses are built from rough stone with steep roofs and small windows. Typically, the windows have shutters and the traditional stone houses have a sort of wooden balcony for storing logs.
Above the village of La Grave the villages cling to the hillside, looking as if they could slide down at any time. Around the villages the pattern of the old farmed terraces can still be seen in the meadows. Each village has a church in a similar style and there are also stone wayside shrines on the roads between the villages, you might also find the communal oven and you will always find a water tap of fresh mountain water. As you climb higher the houses in these villages are less likely to be occupied all year round. In Le Grave we stayed at the wonderful Camping de la Meije just a few minutes from the village.
In Vallouise and Venosc we admired the sundials, including the beautiful 19th century Zarbula sundial on a magnificent villa in Vallouise. You can follow the Sundial trail through the region to find more.
We toured around the Ecrins National Park in an anti-clockwise direction over a couple of weeks and camped in five different valleys, each one having its own personality and each offering spectacular mountain walking.
We are back from our annual fix of European culture, weather and food. As well as enjoying excellent and unbeatable mountain walking in the Ecrins National Park in south-east France [don’t worry no one seems to know where this is – find Grenoble and go slightly to the south and east], we found some adorable wildlife.
The Alpine marmots were abundant in the Ecrins and we saw at least one or two every time we were out walking. Sometimes we firstly heard a marmot, calling out a warning high-pitched whistle and searching the rocky landscape we would spot the look-out marmot on a rock, sitting up on its hind legs apparently warning the other marmots of our presence but really drawing attention to the presence of marmots. At other times we would spot them scampering low across a meadow or moving easily down steep craggy hillsides, twitching their stubby tails as they move and then disappearing down a handy burrow. At Pré de Madame Carle the marmots were pottering around the car park and finding shade under the cars.
If you don’t want to climb the steep paths of the Ecrins to see marmots, there are a group that are easy to find at Mont-Dauphin, south of Briançon. Since we last visited here in 2009 [Mr BOTRA had lots of fun making the video embedded in the blog post at the time] the humans have been managed so that the marmots can now run in and out of their burrows freely and avoid the humans if they wish to. Marmots hibernate for more months than they are out and about so you need to be around in summer to see them.