Discovering the french alps with wine and without a bicycle
I’m actually working my way backward through our trip to the area of the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence that we did a few weeks ago before the Summer holidays finished and things got crazy again. If you click on the link above, you can see exactly where it is in France: it’s a mountainous area a little north of the famous Cote d’Azur, and a little East of the Italian border. You may have read my post last week on crossing the Col de la Bonette (no, not on a bicycle……I’m not quite that athletic. You can’t hold a glass of wine while riding a bike, after all…..priorities, priorities!). That’s actually what we did last on the way home, but it was so stupendous, I had to tell you about it first. So, to rewind a little, BEFORE we crossed the mountain pass, we stayed for a few days in the beautiful Valley of Allos. Allos is a paradise for skiers in the Winter, and a haven of marmots and peace in the Summer.
Dress for the occasion and don’t miss eating the tartiflette
We stayed in a very brown apartment that hasn’t changed since the Seventies, that made me feel as though I should have been wearing huge flares and and giant sunglasses just to walk across the threshold. Luckily, if you ignored the inner view, the outside view made it all worth it, as you can see in the photo above. We were set in the middle of bucolic fields, only two minutes walk from the charming village of Allos. In the evening we were able to wander along the pedestrian street and eat tartiflette, a very hearty mountain dish that will be coming to you here next week (so stay tuned!). Tartiflette is a mixture of potatoes, onions, bacon, covered in melted cheese: definitely not one for the diet-conscious, or for anyone who wants to walk in a straight, energetic line after eating dinner, but oh, it’s SO good to eat!
How to visit Allos Lake: the largest mountain lake in Europe
To work off the tartiflette, we decided to hike up to Allos Lake the next day. That’s the lake you can see at the top of the page. It’s the highest natural mountain lake in Europe and is in the Mercantour National Park. You may remember that I visited the South side of the Park a few months ago. Well, this is one of the most Northern parts (The Mercantour is enormous!). Just a hint if you ever decide to go. Get up EARLY! The lake is a 45 minute hike from the highest (kind of small) parking lot. If you get there before 8:30 in the morning, it’s free and there are probably still spaces. If you get there later, and have to park in the next parking lot down, the hike becomes a 2 -3 hour hike one way. Oh, and another great reason for getting up early is that the wildlife are still out and about. You may also remember my fruitless searching for marmots in the Southern part of the Mercantour Park. Well, here, around Allos Lake, they were EVERYWHERE!
How to get to the “Valley of the Marmots”
We got to the lake early (yes, we got a parking place in the highest car-park!), so decided to hike up some absurdly steep mountain just behind the lake to get a view from higher up. When we panting-ly arrived at the valley about that I have christened “The Valley of the Marmots”, my eldest son and I threw in the towel and let my younger son and husband who were still oozing energy, climb even further up some crumbly scree slope while we relaxed and did some marmot watching. They were squeaking and rushing around all over the rocks; shooting in and out of holes like Whack-a-Moles.
Where to relax after a day of hiking
After the hike, we returned to the village of Allos and relaxed at the Plan d’Eau in Allos. Quite a few of the mountain villages around this area seem to have these parks. You pay an entry fee to get in, and then have free access to the lake, waterslide, and all sorts of activities like mini-golf, tennis, volleyball, pedal-cars, kayaking etc. The kids braved the slide and the very cold water while we wiser adults lounged on the grass with a cocktail in hand.
Next day we climbed (in the car this time) over the Col de Allos down to the pretty town of Barcelonette nestled in the Ubaye Valley which leads to the Col de la Bonette. The road over the Allos pass was actually much scarier than the one over the Bonette pass, as on the Ubaye Valley side it’s about one and a half cars wide. If you meet a car, generally someone has to back up somewhere, and if you meet a camper-van……good luck! I honestly don’t believe people actually drive over that road in camper-vans! We met one that was luckily in a part of the road that was wide enough to squeeze past; though when I looked out my passenger window, I couldn’t see anything but air below us. If you’re the cycling kind of person, you may be interested to know that the pass is closed to car traffic on Friday mornings so that the cyclists can go without fear of being knocked into the valley below.
A summit with a view
Just to reassure you, the photo above is NOT of the road that cars take to go over the Col d’Allos. It’s a hiking trail at the top of the pass. It’s worth parking at the top and walking a little way up this track to get a fabulous view. We got a wonderful view of a guy trying to get his dog to come back (you can see them in the middle of the photo below). He unthinkingly let his dog off the leash and it immediately thundered off down the mountain to chase marmots. It was very entertaining to watch the man chasing his dog all over the side of the mountain (probably not so entertaining for him).
Next week, you can find out how to make tartiflette, that wonderful, addictivly good mountain dish I mentioned earlier. Until then, try to have a relaxing week and start planning your next holiday!
By Lisa Watson