Visiting Vallouise and the Ecrins National Park in Autumn

Vallouise is a French commune located in the department of Hautes-Alpes, in the region Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur and has also been our base for the past few days as we have combined some amazing hiking with some much needed rest and recuperation among the autumnal valleys and mountains on the fringe of the Ecrins National Park. Located in the heart of the Massif des Ecrins, Vallouise is at the confluence of the rivers Gyr and Onde, which merge to form the Gyronde river that continues downwards to the valley below. From the village, one can reach the highest summits of the massif: the Barre des Ecrins, the Ailefroide, Pelvoux and the Bans but, as we have discovered, in autumn when the village is empty of most tourists it is also an ideal place to relax and enjoy some peace and quiet as well.

We first arrived here last year on our way to Pre Madame Carle and at that time, in early August, found ourselves in a teeming tourist hotspot with full car parks and bustling streets that saw us heading further up the valley to overnight in nearby Pelvoux. However, this year the large car park alongside the river was almost empty and offered us the perfect overnight base following our hike to Lac de l'Eychauda.

That first night we took a twilight stroll through the ancient, traditional streets and past the picturesque church whose spire dominates the village skyline and discovered a series of beautiful and peaceful streets that evoked images of years and ways of life now long gone. A special treat was to discover an open exhibition of images from 1850 of the surrounding area showing just how much had changed in terms of the village life and also the retreat of the glaciers that draw so many visitors to this area today. The history of Vallouise is actually very interesting with it's fair share of blood and massacres back in the middle ages. The earliest census in the 18th century revealed a village of several thousand inhabitants but this declined steadily to just a few hundred in the 1960s, with a slow recovery to just 761 inhabitants in 2012 - which explains why it is so quiet and peaceful at this inter-season time of year.

The following morning we were even surprised to find that the bakeries did not even open in October and most of the inviting restaurants and stores were also closed until December. Not that visitors were without options since one restaurant was still open and doing a good trade and the local store provided the essentials, in addition to the local market which was still well stocked on Thursday mornings. However, the stark contrast between high and low seasons was very evident as we enjoyed the quiet streets.

Not that the village would stay quiet for long though as the winter season approached with preparations underway in the surrounding ski resorts of Pelvoux and Puy Saint Vincent where Nordic skiing, snowshoeing, ice climbing, off-piste skiing and ski hiking would soon be possible. In fact the town is the second mountaineering center in France. The nearby hamlet of Ailefroide at the foot of Pelvoux, is the essential base for numerous climbs on the glaciers, the Barre des Écrins is the last summit of 4000 meters to the south in the Alps. The mountain guide profession is particularly well represented. In 1909, the mountain guides of the valley have founded an association called "Fraternal guides and porters Pelvoux". Today this institution still exists and maintains the tradition to take in high mountain climbers, but also hiking or under milder activities. It is now called "Mountain Guides Office Ecrins". Vallouise is also the starting point for many hiking, climbing, via ferrata, and other outdoor pursuits in summer.

But for us, mixing a couple of stunning hikes and a cycle ride to Station du Puy St Vincent, this quiet and peaceful time of year was just what we needed. Adding a quiet stroll along the river, throwing sticks at walnut trees in seach of extra food for our supplies and collecting apples from the open orchards of the town we were very happy to sit and look up at the increasingly snowy, distant peaks looking ever more 'alpine' and inhospitable as the days have passed.



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Adventures In Life, Love, Health & Travel: Visiting Vallouise and the Ecrins National Park in Autumn
Visiting Vallouise and the Ecrins National Park in Autumn
Adventures In Life, Love, Health & Travel
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