Having always fancied snowshoeing I was glad when the opportunity presented itself recently. It was sunny, but rather windy, in the Serre Chevalier valley with snow blowing visibly from the top of the Prorel so my friend Pat and I decided to get the snowshoes out and head for the more sheltered Vallée de la Clarée (turn left off the road from Briançon to Montgenèvre).
Although I’ve walked in the Vallée de la Clarée many times in the summer I must confess that I have never really explored it in the winter. There are a good number of ski de fond or cross country skiing tracks, as well as walking routes for people using snowshoes or raquettes, as they are known in France. If you don’t want to buy your own most ski hire shops will have some to rent.
We started at Le Rosier, where there is ample car parking and walked up the valley in the Névache direction, keeping fairly close to the glittering Clarée river. The advantage of snowshoes, which you strap over fairly sturdy snow boots, is that they make a bigger surface area on the snow, thus spreading the wearer’s weight and making it easier to walk on deep snow without turning an ankle. You soon get used to walking with your legs a little further apart than normal! Plus the snowshoes have spikes underneath to help you grip on icy or sloping surfaces.
The scenery was fabulous as there had been a recent snowfall and all the pine trees were dusted with sparkly white powder. The villages are pretty and rustic, each with its own church and clock tower. After about an hour, by which time we’d got as far as the bridge at Le Draye, we simply turned round and came back much the same way, enjoying full sunshine on our faces and a great view of the mountains.
We stopped for a delicious lunch at La Vieille Ecurie, in La Vachette, which has recently been taken over by Katie and Richard Fiander. Richard is well known for his excellent interpretations of modern and traditional dishes, whether they are English, European, or Far Eastern. After a refreshing half of lager, we had a lovely bowl of creamy Leek and Potato Soup, with croutons and fresh-baked bread. During the winter lunch and drinks are served in the front bar area and evening meals are served in the charming vaulted dining room. Katie and Richard’s Sunday roasts and curry nights are proving very popular.
La Vieille Ecurie, La Vachette (Vallée de la Clarée), 05100 Briançon
+33 (0) 4 92 46 93 13 or +33 (0) 6 52 29 00 37