The Clarée Valley is nestled amongst the mountains of the Hautes-Alpes region. It takes its name from the river Clarée, a tributary of the river Durance, which runs through it. It home to the highest city in the E.U. Briancon at 1,326m and Nevache, a beautiful 15th century hamlet. In summer the valley is a hive of activity with tourists flocking from all over the continent to picnic on the river banks, cycle hidden pathways and climb the mountain trails. In winter however, it is an entirely different story.
What would seem a prime location, rubbing shoulders with the likes of: Les Deux Alpes, Serre Chevalier, Montgenevre, even close Italian neighbours SauzeDoulx; some of the biggest names in ski resorts, is actually one of the greatest hindrances for the Clarée Valley. The majority of its tiny towns cannot hope to keep up with the big wigs; they have neither the money nor the pistes to draw in the tourists. But what many people don’t realise, is that a Vialattea ski pass actually gives access to all of the aforementioned areas, so (provided you had a vehicle) accommodation in the Clarée Valley actually offers access to one of the largest selections of pistes in the Hautes Alpes.
That’s not all, whilst the atmosphere in the larger ski resorts is great (if you love a lively Aprés Ski I suggest that’s where you stay) the quaint towns of the Clarée are traditional and full of character, there are any number of Pizzerias, traditional French restaurants, Salons du Té (Tea rooms) or Creperies (pancake houses) and even bars with home brewed ales, all without the ‘big resort’ price tag. In terms of accommodation, of course there are hotels, but, as they say “when in Rome…” When in the Clarée there is a beautiful selection of bed and breakfasts or gites (cottages) to choose from, which make you feel really immersed in the rural French way of life.
The Clarée is also famed for its Ski du Fonds (tele-skiing or cross country skiing). Around the holidays and weekends locals flock to the valley with their families for a day of tele-skiing, tele-marking (walking with those tennis racket contraptions on your feet) or even just sledging. The atmosphere is wonderful; not a laptop or smart phone in sight, you will feel like you have gone back in time. Later on pull up a stool in front of a burning log fire and have yourself a steaming glass of locally sourced vin chaud.
I am not suggesting that everyone flock immediately from the higher altitude and larger resorts into the Clarée, they have their own je ne sais quoi and that would ruin its charm entirely, but if these small local businesses fail to draw in more tourists, they will be forced to close and this enchanting valley will become nothing more than a relic. I think it’s time the secret of the Clarée is shared. It would be a shame to see such a beautiful place go unseen by those who would really appreciate it.