When arriving in the village, it takes us a while to realise what a lovely place we’ve come to. There’s an old petrol station by the road. No snowy-top mountains are to be seen. There’s nothing really dazzling.
If you’re looking for something “not as well-known” in the Alps, the National Park of La Vanoise and the village of Pralognan (1208 m) in France are well worth a visit.
We look for our accommodation at the edge of the small village. We bump into a cow shed and some hay bales, and there’s a smell of manure in the air. The mountains arise behind the yellow hay fields. The atmosphere is earthy and stands still.
The village is a haven of peace and beauty, a hiker’s paradise.
In the local dialect of Savoie, Pralognan means “A land far away”. It speaks of times when the road to the village was long and in rough terrain.
Nowadays, Pralognan is only about 100 kilometres or a couple of hours away from the world-famous Chamonix. The glamorous ski resorts of Courchevel and Meribel are nearby. In spite of all that, Pralognan has retained a spirit of a place at the edge of the world.
Even though Pralognan is an old travel destination and well-known, the village of 700 people is still a sort of a secret of the French. We hardly hear any other languages than French and have to manage with French menus in restaurants.
In the evening, we sit on the patio of our room on the outskirts of the village. Here, we are safe in the middle of the mountains. Cowbells clack, and a sheep lets out a bleat. There are no world-famous mountains in sight, no tourist buses, five star hotels, or gourmet restaurants.
It’s noticeably cheaper here than in more well-known alpine resorts. The room in the B & B Chalet Rum Doodle is just 68 euros a night in July 2017. That’s the most affordable accommodation we’ve come across in the Alps. In general, France and Austria are significantly cheaper than Switzerland.
Our room is beautiful and cosy. The wooden floor and wooden furniture create a warm, authentic atmosphere. Our ground floor room has a nice patio. The mountain view is partly covered by buildings but all in all, it’s hard to find better accommodation in the Alps for this price.
We have breakfast together with the French-English family who owns the B & B. The simple breakfast is served in beautifully colourful dishes. It includes yogurt and jams made by the family itself, and freshly squeezed orange juice.
We get our regular packed lunch in the supermarket: fresh baguette, a block of cheese, and a couple of slices of air-dried beef. We carry a camping stove with us to cook meals by clear mountain streams.
This time, we find a nice stream in the Chavière Valley, about five kilometres from the village of Pralognan. The valley is breathtakingly beautiful with the Doron river running through it. It’s refreshing to plunge in the foaming ice-cold water after a hot hike.
If you start your hike in the Chavière Valley, the alpine hut of Refuge de la Roche is a good base. From there, you can take longer or shorter hikes in spacious alpine scenery. You will definitely meet some cows, at least, because the area is popular grazing ground for the Pralognan cattle in the summer.
The next morning, we set out for the most popular hike in Pralognan, a day-long trail to the mountain pass of Col de la Vanoise (2517 m). The cable car climbs from the centre of the village to the mountain Mont Bochor (2023 m) with a fairytale-like view down to the village and the valley.
The trail of Col de la Vanoise is easy all the way to the Refuge des Barmettes hut. From there, the trail first follows an old trade route, a mule path flanked by stone walls, and then gets steeper and tougher in the hot weather.
Lake Lac des Vaches will offer no relief since it’s nearly completely dry in a hot summer. There’s a flagstone trail across it. Lac Long further up is suitable for swimming. It’s not common for alpine hikers to swim in the mountain lakes but it can still be recommended, especially to those who are used to winter swimming.
Before we head back down, we have some goulash soup that is the favourite treat of hikers in the Col de la Vanoise Lodge.
We visited the National Park of La Vanoise for the first time in the summer of 2015. We stayed in the village of Champagny following the recommendation of the Michelin French Alps travel guide. However, you shouldn’t trust the reviews of travel guides too much.
When we got there, we noticed that the recommendations in the Michelin Guide for the village of Champagny were quite exaggerated. We prefer Pralognan, our favourite. It’s livelier and cosier than Champagny with a nicer view and better hiking trails.
When in Champagny, it’s worth taking a day hike to Col du Palet (2658 m). You can start the trail in the village of Laissonay. It’s a real experience to have lunch in the restaurant Chalet Refuge de Bois. The interior of the restaurant serving traditional Savoie cuisine is stylish with old alpine artefacts.
Translated into English by Katja Juutistenaho. Original Finnish text by Tuomas Hyytinen and Mila Hyytinen.