The impressive peaks, valleys and undulating hills of the French Alps is truly impressive. Nestled between the regions of Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes and Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur, most first-timers may have heard of Chamonix, and Grenoble as gateways to the region but there’s the undiscovered French Alps of Champsaur Valley that we think you should know about.
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Undiscovered French Alps of Champsaur Valley
Walking up a steep, rocky zig zagging path with the sound of cow bells decorating the clean fresh air, you arrive, slightly out of breath, at a small rustic hamlet. A cat covered in straw dust rolls on the ground in front of a warped, wooden door of a stone outhouse. The sound of trickling water overwhelms the cow bells and your eyes are drawn to a stone trough with a fountain trickling into it. ‘Eau non-potable’ is hand written on the stone, but it looks clean enough to you and you quench your thirst.
As you look around you notice the stone houses with wooden haylofts and steep rooves. The streets are wonky and disorganised with a tall, intimidating and very pointy church dominating the scene – you could be in a time warp from the 18th century! Then two children wizz round the corner on top of the range mountain bikes and you remember where you are!
This architecture tells the story of the generations of alpine people and their survival of the long harsh winters in the mountains.
Alpine people lived off the land raising livestock for milk, cheese (of course) and meat, using the rich alpine pastures in the summer months and bringing the animals back to their houses in the winter. The animals would live on the bottom floor of the house and effectively create the heating for the living floor above them. The loft filled with hay served as insulation.
Traditionally these villages would have been the hub of activity in the mountains. With tourism and modernization, large towns and ski resorts have developed all over the Alps and the ease of modern life has drawn locals away from many of the smaller villages and hamlets. The ones that have survived have reinvented themselves with tourist services, hotels and refuges.
But if you know where to look you can still get a taste of traditional alpine life.
Finding the Undiscovered Alps
You just need to head into the Champsaur valley in the Southern French Alps. The main village at the opening of the valley is St Bonnet, a medieval market town. Traditional alpine farming is still very much in evidence as you drive through the scattering of small hamlets and villages along the valley. At the very end of the valley is the village of Prapic, described in the first two paragraphs! It is still inhabited by just a handful of families all year round.
Tourism is in the Champsaur on a sustainable scale and co-exists with agriculture, celebrating the traditional farming festivals such as the ‘transhumance’ the moving of livestock up and down the mountains at the beginning and end of summer, the goat eating fest in the autumn where weak animals were traditionally sacrificed before having to face the winter and village fetes and festivals throughout the year.
The numerous outdoor activities, such as mountaineering, rock climbing, canyoning, via ferrata, paragliding, walking and mountain biking marry perfectly with the rustic feel of this undiscovered alpine valley making it the perfect destination for an active and cultural holiday in the Alps.
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