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Alpes French South: 10 reasons to explore this winter

It is often said that the men and women of the Southern Alps have sunshine in their hearts. And that’s probably an apt way to describe the character of the region’s mountain inhabitants, who lend true meaning to the words passion, welcome, sharing and hospitality.

Discover 10 reasons to explore this unique territory in winter.

Published on 25 October 2021

1. More sunshine

The sun shines 300 days a year in the Southern Alps, clocking up a total of 2,600 hours of sunshine. That’s as much as the Mediterranean coast! The slogan of Serre-Chevalier – “Always blue skies, fresh snow and Provencal sunshine” – sums up the stats to perfection. What’s more, traditional sundial making is still part of Queyras valley’s rich craft heritage.

2. Zero pollution peaks

You won’t find any major groups or polluting activities here – the pristine Southern Alps boasts zero pollution peaks, for the greatest pleasure of visitors. To ensure this beautiful site is preserved to the full, its ski resorts are among the most innovative in Europe in terms of renewable energy production and mindful consumption, and are committed to a resolutely eco-friendly travel offering.

3. An endearing and authentic welcome

The visitor satisfaction surveys are unanimous: people come back happier from their stay in the Southern Alps! To sum up the atmosphere in just a couple of words, the mountains are both peaceful and rejuvenating. You’ll find plenty of activities on offer too, including meeting local producers, introductions to arts & crafts, discovering new activities, or simply savouring a meal at a friendly auberge… Authentic human relationships are an essential part of everyday life in the Southern Alps.

4. Dazzling panoramic views

The Southern Alps is the perfect place to lap up sweeping vistas over the Ecrins and Mercantour peaks and even admire the scintillating Mediterranean Sea on the horizon… In addition to the many activities on offer, don’t miss this season’s two must-dos: the Grand-Puy solarium in Vallée de la Blanche and high-altitude Pic Vert restaurant, just at the top of Les Orres ski lift.

5. Affordable ski resorts

You’ll find lots of very attractive rates in the Southern Alps, e.g. at the Roubion ski domain, just 1 hour from Nice, priced at €18 per day for adults and €14 for children. Accommodation and food are also cheaper than in the Northern Alps. For example, you can enjoy a night at Les Balcons du Grand-Puy, in the stunning setting of the Blanche mountain chain, for €50 from January 3rd to February 5th, 2022. Last but not least, visitors also benefit from friendly-priced ski passes thanks to the Colmiane Carte Privilège card (€25) and Passp’Orres, offering 3-day access to the toboggan on rails, skating rink, cinema and pedestrian ski lifts.

6. Larch, the king of wood

The Southern Alps’ huge larch forests turn flaming red and orange in autumn, setting the mounts ablaze. Larix decidua, or larchwood, was used to manufacture the very first skis in the Briançon area and is still used to cover the roofs and envelop the cosy interiors of the region’s typical chalets. Yet another fabulous treat for visitors! Its needles have medicinal properties, while its resinous scent makes it a sensation in Alpine cuisine. It is used to perfume syrups, desserts and sweets, as well as liqueurs such as the elixirs served at the Mountain Spirit Fabrik distillery in Briançon. Larch naturally thrives on impoverished soils, which it helps to enrich.

7. Starry skies

Nights in the Southern Alps are just as beautiful as the days. The “Alpes Azur Mercantour” area has been an official “International Dark Sky Reserve” since 2019. This distinction, awarded by the International Dark Sky Association, underlines the exceptional quality of the area’s night skies and actions undertaken to reduce light pollution. Several resorts, including Valberg and Les Orres, bear the “Starry Towns and Villages” label, rewarding municipalities using 34% less artificial light than average.

8. Mountaineering villages

Since December 2019, mountaineering has been classified as a UNESCO intangible heritage. The Ecrins mountain range in the Southern Alps is the second-largest mountaineering area in France after Mont-Blanc. Five villages in Ecrins National Park are currently candidates for the “Mountaineering Villages” (Villages d’Alpinisme) label; these peaceful localities devoted to gentle tourism cherish the mountain environment and boast a diverse and respectful mountain sports offering. Among those we find : Vallouise-Pelvoux, La Grave, La Chapelle-en-Valgaudemar, Saint-Christophe-en-Oisans et Valjouffrey.

9. A festive atmosphere

Christmas is festive in the Southern Alps! And no effort is required: simply have fun and whizz down the slopes to your heart’s content…

Every year, the resort of Vars is the venue for a music festival headlining renowned artists – a great way to kick off the season. This year, the singer Mika will be doing the honours. Held throughout winter, “Les Piolets d’Or” in Briançon is a fitting reminder of the region’s status as a cradle of mountaineering. Don’t miss “Ice Climbing Ecrins” in L’Argentière-la-Bessée too.

Meanwhile, Orcières-Merlette 1850 will be welcoming the “Alpine Skiing Europa Cup” women’s speed events, while Queyras is the venue for the renowned “Grand Béal” ski mountaineering competition and Vars is hosting the “Speed ​​Ski World Cup”. Last but not least, Isola 2000 and Serre Chevalier are the venues for the “E-Trophée Andros” 100%-electric rallycross races on ice.

10. Unique experiences

The Southern Alps’ unique palette of experiences includes Skijoring (horse-drawn skiing) through 17 km of forest trails and hot-air ballooning in Champsaur over a bocage of hedgerows and canals unique in Europe. Moonlit hikes in the Nordic domain of Ubaye are also on the menu, along with cross-country skiing on the Waouland trail in the footsteps of champion Alizée Baron. Next, it’s time to climb abord the 1,870-metre SpeedLine, reaching speeds of up to 140 km/h… Thrills guaranteed! Also on the programme: freeriding with champions Maël Ollivier and Tonin Lecomte, and a snow cave-gallery exhibiting no less than 30 snow and ice sculptures on the caribou theme.

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