The French Alps! What mental pictures does that phase conjure up? Feet upon feet of snow, majestic mountain peaks reaching for the sky. The world renowned ski resorts of Méribel, Courchevel, or Val D’Isere come to mind. But why do the images only involve snow? There are surprising summer travel opportunities here in the French side of the Alps, in Pralognan in the heart of the Vanoise National Park.
Our base is at the end of the road into the mountains. Pralognan is an excellent location for hillwalking and climbing in the Alps. It is a unique starting point for exploring the Vanoise park, as 70% of the village is included in the “Heart of the Park” zone. Here, activities are restricted to preserve the fragile ecological system of these high mountain meadows. The result is an unparalleled, close to nature experience.
There are over 150 miles of walking paths surrounding the village. Multi-day hiking itineraries on the famous “Grande Route 55” arc over the area’s heights. Just outside of town, for the mountaineers is a “via ferrata” through the Cascade de la Fraiche. Via ferratas are planned routes found throughout the Alps with all the climbing hardware in place. From hand lines, to monkey bridges, to carabiners set in the rock, it is all there awaiting the experienced climbers with the requisite equipment. The Cascade de la Fraiche is rated as “difficult”, the mid-grade of five on the difficulty scale all vias are labeled. For the less technical climber, there are zip lines in a nearby valley.
While these options are available, most visitors take a more placid route, opting for day trips into the heart of the Vanoise park, returning home in the evening. Climb into the gondola in the center of town, and ten minutes later you are standing 2000’ higher at Mont Bochor. There, the marked Mont Bochor discovery trail awaits. While the nine marked stations are informative, they simply cannot compete with the scenery for your attention. Atop Bochor, one has a clear view of the highest mountain in the Vanoise, Grande Casse. At 4,200’ above sea level, its steeply rugged north face is extremely foreboding to those atop Bochor. For those wanting to accept the challenge of climbing it, the path from the south is less daunting.
On a clear day, nothing approaches the beauty of Mount Bochor. The mountains surrounding you compete with the beauty covering the rocky floor. Faced with a limited growing season, it appears that all the flowers here are determined to live their short lives riotously. Colors compete for your attention against the constant presence of the clear blue sky. This isn’t something you want cram into one day of your Pralognan trip. Pack a wine, cheese, sausage and bread lunch before you depart, and while away the day consuming it in the most colorful dining room you can imagine.
Pralognan hosted the curling competition for the 1992 Winter Olympics. The former venue’s ice rink and curling sheet have been joined by an indoor pool, bowling alley and gym – all available to visitors. There are also regularly scheduled special events throughout the summer. Consult the city’s tourism website for details.
Pralognan is a destination. It literally is at the end of the road. There is no practical way to reach here except by car. Dining options are sufficient, but not abundant. Retail is limited, past the adequate grocer, as well as a public market on Tuesdays and Fridays. Most of the accommodations are self-catering apartments targeting the skiers in the winter. The good news is, the summer is the off season, and real bargains are to be had. Both standard booking agencies – HomeAway and AirBnB have Pralognan listings.
So shed those preconceived notions that the French Alps are only for winter visits. There is an amazing range of activities awaiting you during a summer visit to Pralognan-la-Vanoise.