The French Alps have been renowned as a skiing destination for decades but the destination is equally desirable outside of the winter season. I visited Serre Chevalier Vallée Briançon recently for a digital detox and discover the healthy benefits of visiting this region. What often confuses people is there isn’t an actual town of Serre Chevalier, the area is made up of Briançon and a series of connecting towns. I stayed at the commune of Le Monêtier-Les-Bains noted for its dramatic alpine skyline, visible glaciers and unspoilt greenery.
For a tiny village, there is surprisingly plenty of activities to enjoy. The region has been renowned for the healing powers of its hot springs since the 4th century AD. You can soothe those aching muscles too at the stupendous Grands Bains du Monêtier. Their outdoor pool has panoramic views of Serre Chevalier Vallée. The water is naturally hot and comes out of the source at 44°C. They have jacuzzis, hammams, aqua beds and every -iums imaginable like a frigidarium. If you want a more exclusive experience, make sure you book for the Romano-Irish baths. And for the gentleman, make sure you bring swimming speedos as swimming shorts are not allowed.
Nearby is the starting point for a whitewater rafting experience with Jour de raft. This is the kind of thrilling, adrenaline-pumping experience that is suitable whether you are 8 or 80. The key is having qualified guides who can help you navigate the trickier parts of the wild and unspoilt rivers. It is the best way to admire the scenic surroundings, breathe in the alpine air and feel the crystal clear water melting from the glaciers.
Another way to appreciate the great outdoors is a fauna and flora, yoga and meditation excursion with Rando Zen. Rachel is a knowledgeable local who knows every nook and cranny of this ecosystem. She can explain to you which plants and fruits are edible and beneficial and which ones to avoid whilst taking you to remote destinations to achieve some “me time”. There is no better place to practise meditation and yoga than in the natural surroundings of Serre Chevalier.
There are also plenty of activities that are cost-free such as a picturesque hike to the likes of Lac de l’Oule. You might be thousands of metres above sea level, but they have hikes for all abilities even if you have acrophobia as they also offer gentler trails. The area was also famously featured recently in Stage 12 of the Tour de France, which is unsurprising given how popular cycling is in the region.
With countless calorie-sapping adventures, you might be wondering where can you find some hearty sustenance. You’ll be surprised at how many hearty options there are in the little village of Le Monêtier-Les-Bains. Fine dining lovers should make a beeline for restaurant le 16âme. The word bistronomy perfectly encapsulates what they offer: haute cuisine offered in a relaxed bistro-style environment. Think foie gras with rhubarb confit and strawberry in a Scandi-style minimalist restaurant. Chef Julien Momon trained with the likes of 3-Michelin starred Christophe Bacquié so you are getting refined dining without the exorbitant prices. Everything is sourced ultra-locally, so their duck is from Ferme des Guibertes in Monêtier Les Bain. Free-range eggs are from his father’s farm in La Salle Les Alpes.
If you are looking for quirkier options, then Le Stabatio at Le Monêtier hôtel is the place to be. It’s one of the few places that doesn’t focus solely on classic French cuisine, so you get the likes of deconstructed tuna and wakame sushi and veal gyros with chickpeas, white sauce and harissa. You might be high up in the Alps, but it doesn’t mean you can’t sample top-quality seafood. At the restaurant La Table du Cairn, they adore their seafood dishes. Salmon gravadlax is as fresh as you would expect from a seafood restaurant on the coastline and you can try a more unusual offering in the shape of tuna ravioli.
Finally, no trip to this region is complete without visiting the old town of Briançon, a charming UNESCO World Heritage city fortified by Vauban. The picturesque old town with multi-coloured facades is a well and truly hidden gem in France. The charming, narrow cobbled streets, the quaint Place d’Armes square along with the fountains and sundials and the scenic backdrop gives the town that ethereal quality like it belongs to another era.