The villages of the Ecrins National Park in France

06.06.2016 La Grave walk to L'Aiguillon (7)
Hameau de Valfroide near La Grave

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 used the Cicerone guide to the area for walks which has ideas for each valley.

We enjoyed all the walking but there are a couple of favourites worth mentioning.  From Venosc we drove to the mountain village of La Berarde, walking 11 km to the Refuge du Chatelleret at 2,232 m and back with 520m of climbing.  The route starts steeply and becomes more gentle along the valley on a pleasant sandy path with juniper and birch trees and plenty of flowers.  Higher up the landscape become more rugged and with waterfalls and fewer shrubs adn the occasional snow field.

From Vallouise we drove to the large car park at Pre de Madame Carle and walked up the stunning and dramatic Glacier Noir path.  More details about our trip are in my MMM article here.

You might enjoy my second post about where to see marmots in the Ecrins.

Where we stayed:

Les Melezes Municipal Camping, La Chapelle-en-Valgaudemar There was no one at reception & only one other camper  so we left money in an envelope.  This grassy site has some trees, the ground fairly hard, facilities clean & water hot.  Small village with some shops but no bakery.  Walks from the site.
Camping Vieille Ferme, Embrun Dutch-run site near to lovely town, trees marked grassy pitches and mostly open and sunny.  Clean facilities, water warm.
Camping La Meije, La Grave Near the beautiful village & by the river, grassy site with trees, clean facilities, flowers & well maintained & good views.  Roomy showers & very hot water, wash up undercover.  An excellent site.
Camping Indigo Vallois, Vallouise This large rambling site has great views.  It is dotted with permanent erected tents & chalets.  The new toilet blocks are good and pleasant reception area.
Le Champ du Moulin Camping, Le Bourg d-Arud near Venosc Marked pitches, good views, friendly welcome, small shop & bread.  Facilities are in basement & clean, warm & showers are hot & roomy.  There is also a drying room.
06.06.2016 La Grave walk to L'Aiguillon (11).JPG
Looking towards La Meije above La Grave

The Ecrins National Park in France

02.06.2016 Mont Dauphin marmots and fort (3)

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.