In those confined times it is so good to look at places my wife and I cherish. Valgaudemar was our winter and summer holiday destination when our children were quite young. A few years ago we had a sort of pilgrimage holiday. We were not as fit as we had been 20 years before, so we decided on a program of easy and more strenuous hikes while we were staying there.
Valgaudemar has been nicknamed the French Himalayan valley. It is a secluded valley on the eastern side of Le Parc National des Ecrins. It consists of two villages and a dozen small hamlets that dot the 20-kilometre valley that runs parallel to the main river, La Severaisse. You will find just a few shops, a few bars, restaurants and hotels.
The nearest supermarket and gas-station are some 20 miles from the valley. No ski-resort, apart from the 20 km of cross-country tracks. The valley’s name comes from the combination of Val (which is the abbreviation of the French for valley) and Godemar, a sixth-century Burgundian king who, historians say, retired to the valley.
Lubac or L’Ubac (the north face of the mountain)
The hamlet of L’Ubac boasts one of the very few small family run hotels. The hamlet is ideally situated at the start of many walks — some easy hikes and some more strenuous ones. From the hamlet you may also enjoy beautiful views on l’Olan, a 3,654-metre-high iconic peak
Le torrent de Prentiq and its hamlet
To my eyes, this is one of the most beautiful highland rivers I know. It is not a huge rolling river with spectacular waterfalls and gorges, simply a small mountain river that bounces on rocks from further up. The river is also used to irrigate the fields of the two nearby farms, thanks to a small network of hand-dug tiny canals.
A steep path that can be really steep at times follows much of the river almost to its source. The path climbs in a larch and linden wood. It also offers many opportunities for slow-speed water photography using an ND filter. They are welcome breaks during the one-hour ascent. This is one of the rare features I liked in the Sony camera as you don’t have to bother with adjusting speed up to 30 seconds.
At the end of the path, you reach the hamlet of Prentiq which is no longer inhabited, although a couple of shepherd huts are still standing. Some heaps of stones under brambles and nettles hint that the hamlet was of some importance in the 19th century.
The two remaining huts can be used in the summer by farmers who send their sheep grazing up in the mountain. Flocks of sheep are sometimes victims of attacks by the wolves that have started to settle on this side of the mountain.
The village is also the starting point for some strenuous walks to high-altitude lakes and passes.
La Chapelle en Valgaudemar and Les Oulles du Diable
Driving for six miles from l’Ubac, you will pass through a few hamlets along the river Severaisse before reaching La Chapelle en Valgaudemar, the biggest village at the end of the valley. However, La Chapelle can be reached by means of a pleasant path that follows the river through shaded groves.
At the right time of the year, the path brims with wild strawberries and raspberries. The village of La Chapelle boasts just one small shop and a butcher. You’ll also find the high-mountain guide office and one of the national park houses which host many exhibitions and films in the summertime.
La Chapelle is also the starting point for the trek to the l’Olan mountain hut — but a couple of tombstones of dead alpinists at the start of the path look rather ominous. On the other side, another path leads to the Hamlet of Les Portes and Les Oulles du Diable (a river gorge with whirlpools). From the hamlet, many paths are an invitation to explore the surrounding valley further up.
This is the end of the road some six miles up at the valley. It’s a huge glacial cirque with a hotel that was built during WW2. Many paths lead to three mountain huts that are at the start of several summits. Le Pigeonnier mountain hut is probably the one that offers the best views of the entire glacial circus. It’s a long and steep ascent but really worth the effort. The panorama mode of the A7 with stitch-in panorama inside the camera enabled me to capture wide vistas.
Click panorama images to enlarge
This is another reason Le Valgaudemar’s fame because it is possible to make images of waterfalls almost from the car with no or very little effort. These last three images were taken with the Ricoh GRD 3.
The sony A7 and Zeiss lens.
Some of you may wonder why I did not keep the Sony A7. I did not like the imaging which looked to my eyes on the arctic side. Even if images are detailed enough, they seem hollow and flimsy to my eyes. Compared with my Ricohs and Leica X2, I always felt that I could walk right through the images which definitely lacked substance and body.
I didn’t gel with the Sony menu system — I found it quite confusing — and this was an added frustration, although I freely admit that this is a personal observation and others will disagree. Battery life was also poor and the shutter noise, although not a problem for landscape, was loud. I would never have taken images of people with that camera.
If you are interested in the valley and have a nice break after the COVID-19 episode, here’s the link to the local tourist guide. I’m sorry but it’s only in French but I’m sure an internet translator will be pleased to step in and help.