Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Vacances in the Vercors

When you think about the Alps, what images come into your mind?

Perhaps it is the chocolate-box Switzerland picture, of flowering meadows, cows with cowbells and impossibly turquoise skies.

Perhaps it is the endless chain of craggy peaks, poking through the clouds as you watch from the window of an aeroplane.

Or maybe it's the spraying powder and the swish of your skis as you glide down a run in the Three Valleys resort.

All of these are sights that exist and can be experienced, but as I learn more about Europe's greatest mountain range, I find out to just what extent ever corner is different, and how much variety there is to be explored.

Last weekend, with one extra day off work turning two public holidays into a long weekend, I set off with Understanding Frenchman and a group of friends to discover the Vercors. Unlike the pointed summits of the more eastern mountains, the Vercors, which lies south-west of Grenoble, is a limestone plateau surrounded by a ring of rugged ridges which drop in vertiginous cliffs to the surrounding valleys. Its chalky geology means that fantastic shapes have been carved by nature in the eroded rock, and it's also a paradise for cavers. (Even the thought of that sort of thing makes me feel claustrophobic, but I was fascinated to discover that the Gouffre de Berger, once thought, at over 1km deep, to be the world's deepest cave, was just a couple of kilometres from our gite.

We stayed in the village of Autrans, in one of the most comfortable and best-equipped holiday houses I've ever seen (www.autrans-gite.com, if you're interested in booking it for yourself!). We spent the first couple of days hiking around the ridges on the eastern and northern sides, enjoying the wild flowers and the views of the other Alpine massifs as they emerged through the ever-billowing clouds.

The biggest annoyance of the trip was that many of the hiking trails double as ski runs, and where they had been blasted with snow cannons, they were still completely covered, making for some tiring walking. So on day three, we decided to make for the opposite side of the plateau from the ski stations and found ourselves almost by accident in the Gorges de la Bourne, where we passed through the Porte du Diable and found ourselves admiring a waterfall which cascaded about 600 vertical metres over a sheer cliff face.

I left with almost a hundred photographs and a new set of even more wonderful memories of yet another beautiful part of France.


  1. I must admit the first thing that came to my mind was "chocolate!" :-)

    Glad to see you are taking advantage of les ponts to explore. You know France better than I do!

  2. Like Zhu, my first thoughts were of food. Specifically, Saint-Félicien cheese and La Chartreuse liqueur.

    My husband comes from a small town a few kilometres from Autrans. I really enjoy visiting the region since it is so different from Bordeaux (absolutely no mountains vs. mountains everywhere). I love the sound of the alpine water rushing by in my husband's town.

  3. Ha ha, don't even get me started on what we ate last weekend! Chocolate and cheese both played a significant role :-)

    Den Nation, I'm jealous of you and your husband!