Travel notes from the real France. Carnet de Voyage is a weekly personal travel story in France sent in by readers. If you’d like to write a story for Carnet de Voyage, head here for details on how to submit.
As someone who doesn’t enjoy skiing at all, I usually find myself relunctant to go to the mountains in the winter as I feel the entire trip is based around the tight schedule my fellow travelling companions put together to make the most of their time on the slopes. On several occasions, I’ve been left to ‘enjoy the chalet’ meaning I end up cooking for everyone.
At the end of last summer, my new partner, a Frenchman, suggested we go to the mountains for a couple of weeks in the winter but rather than head for the Alps and the busy resorts, he proposed the Vercors, a lower massif in the southern Alps. A destination, he explained, which was more about ‘alternative’ mountain activities than down-hill Alpine skiing. My interest was piqued and we booked a trip to and around Villard-de-Lans.
The Vercors is a stunning area, nestled between the Isère and Drôme départements. Towering peaks give way to serene valleys and, in the winter, it takes on a truly polar atmosphere. I’d been before on a hiking trip in the summer but was eager to embrace the crisp mountain air and pristine landscapes under a coat of sparkling snow.
I was wondering what we could do there for two weeks but I was so pleased to see a wealth of non-downhill-skiing activities! For instance, there is a huge area dedicated solely to sledging which we absolutely loved. I even tried Nordic skiing one day and reluctantly admitted to my partner that it was quite fun as he smiled triumphantly. He did go downhill skiing a couple of times while I headed to a spa for some R&R.
But my true revelation was snowshoeing. I’d never done it before and always wanted to give it a go, so we booked a first ‘walk’ with a guide. As I strapped on the oversized, webbed contraptions to my boots, I couldn’t help but feel a mix of excitement and trepidation. The seasoned instructor assured me that snowshoeing was a walk in the park, quite literally. “It’s like walking on fluffy clouds,” he chuckled, sensing my energy as I giggled nervously (though his delightful French pronunciation of the word ‘fluffy’ might have something to do with my mirth).
With each step, the unfamiliar crunch of snow beneath my feet was oddly satisfying. The Vercors, draped in a fresh blanket of snow, had, it seems, put on a show to show us her best side. The fresh air filled my lungs as we began our ascent into the pristine wilderness, the crunching snow the only sound accompanying our journey.
The first incline tested my newfound snowshoeing skills, but the unique design of the snowshoes prevented me from sinking into the powdery snow. As I trudged uphill, I marvelled at the untouched beauty around me—pine trees heavy with snow, their branches forming delicate arches over the trail. Indeed, with snowshoes, you can access areas that aren’t deformed by man-made slopes, as I pointed out smugly to my partner who replied with a Gallic shrug.
Reaching a clearing, the panorama took my breath away. The Vercors stretched out like a vast, icy canvas, with the sun casting a warm glow on the snow-covered peaks. In that moment, we were all speachless and shared, I think, a profound connection to nature, a sense of serenity that only the mountains could provide. The snow sparkled like a million diamonds, and I couldn’t help but be grateful for the opportunity to witness such splendor.
As we continued our snowshoeing expedition, the trail meandered through dense forest. The hush of the wilderness was interrupted only by the rhythmic swish of our snowshoes and our guide who occasionally delivered interesting titbits about a peak we could see or animal tracks we came across.
The excursion allowed us to take our time, I mean really slow down and enjoy the moment. The beauty of the landscape wasn’t limited to grand vistas; it was also in the intricate details—the delicate snowflakes clinging to pine needles, the elusive tracks of woodland creatures, and the subtle play of light filtering through the branches. As the day unfolded, my initial apprehension transformed into a contagious joy.
Descending as the sun began to set, we marvelled at the changing colours of the landscape and the sky. We arrived back to the resort and as we took our snowshoes off, our guide said “Alors? How did you find it?” to which I simply replied “Are you free tomorrow for another hike?”.
With a heart full of gratitude and a newfound love for snowshoeing, I left the Vercors with memories etched in the snow, promising to return to this magical winter realm, my heart fully reconciled with the mountains in the winter.
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Lead photo credit : Showshoeing in the Vercors © shutterstock
By Emma Marren
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