High adventure and changing ways in the Chartreuse

21st and 22nd June: Our last two days of the trip have been based in the Chartreuse Regional Park, close to Grenoble. We had a jam packed 48 hours – a day of hiking and visiting popular visitor spots and a day visiting local tourism  businesses.

And we did some actual work (!) We all left our mark on the mountain of Charmant Som where we painted some bright yellow waymarkers (11cm x 2cm precisely!)

Overall impressions

The impacts of climate change and related changing weather conditions were mentioned by everyone we met and the urgency of offering a range of activities wider than the ski-ing offer was key.

The ‘special qualities’ of the Park hit us in the face at every turn – the huge range of species and habitats was very obvious and the Park is home to an important Natura 2000 site.

With easy access to Grenoble the popularity of the Chartreuse was plain to see – on weekdays in June it was the busiest Park that we’ve seen and managing visitor numbers is a big issue.

The Park does all it can to support the offer of a wide range of visitor activities, is very open to promoting new visitor opportunities and supportive of local businesses.

The Alpine flowers were amazing even at very high altitudes and the variety was, again impressive – we wished we’d had a botanist in our back pocket!

Local timber is an important product and has been classified as having a high quality for construction – just one example of the importance of adding value to a wide range of local produce. (The park is 60% forested).

We were all intrigued by the Chartreuse monastery and it’s worldwide reputation, which attracts huge numbers of visitors and produces a globally renowned potent liquor.

Work discussion issues

Richard loves his path management! and noted that the popular route up Charmant Som would have been much more heavily managed to take into account the heavy footfall. But with only one seasonal ranger working on rights of way this would have been difficult to achieve.

The importance of local parish involvement in looking after their own rights of way. Across all the Parks we visited the partnership between the Park and the local community  was key to getting things done. Much more than we’re used to.

This was the only Park we visited where overcrowding on the roads was a massive issue and the Park were working hard to look for solutions, including the trialling of a road closure on a busy weekend in September this year.

The Parks current priorities are focused on supporting the offer for families and children and making the work of the Park more visible. We all had a go on the rubber ring down hill water slide -and wondered if this would have been seen as appropriate in our own Parks. (It was great fun by the way!)

User issues and conflict were again a common theme and reminded us of home!  The relationship between paragliders and landowners was mentioned as well as tensions between hunters and walkers (this year wild boar shooting will start on 1st July – just as the busiest time of year for visitors gets underway).

Our host Catherine was a total star – thanks so much for your hard work and great company Catherine, you were brilliant! And Mario – we hope to see you in the next Winter Olympics! 

 

 

 

 

 

Vertigo and variety on a grand scale in the Vercors

Dizzy heights, vertiginous drops and stunning 360 degree views. All on a scale which made us feel like our own National Parks are miniature model versions by comparison (but still lovely of course!) The Vercors Regional Park was established in 1970 and we were wowed by its landscape at every turn. After two days we’re all in agreement that we’d love to come back.

Overall impressions

Deep gorges, with hair raising winding roads that cut through the rock above an abundance of cool dark caves.

Steep (sometimes cloud topped) limestone grey mountains and crags.

Stunning panoramic views set against a vibrant colour scheme of verdant green forests and clear blue skies.

Fascinating history that we hardly scraped the surface of – with this area being at the heart of the French resistance movement in the second World War.

Delicious local produce, especially the local blue cheese – Bleu du Vercors-Sassenage.

A professional, focused and passionate group of people, working with immense pride to look after and promote the Park.

Work discussion notes

Very limited legal powers and the importance of collaboration, persuasion and patience to find solutions that get things done for the benefit of the Park.

Facilitating discussion to tackle conflicts between different users – climbers and farmers, walkers and landowners using dogs to guard sheep, hunters and visitors (to name a few examples).

Managing visitors at busy sites – installing fire pits and adding ‘countryside code’ type signage as well as working on parking.

A desire to constantly look forward, try new ways of working and push boundaries to. At the moment this includes working on promoting driving routes through the Park.

Widening the offer of activities to visitors – strongly tied in with promoting the Park’s brand and getting people to work together.  For example the Park invests in organising an annual visit to the huge ‘salon de Agriculture’ in Paris with a delegation of 50 people from the local farming and tourism sectors.

Massive thanks to Mathieu, Jacques, Olivier, Thibault and Nicolas who took their time to give us an inspiring and informative introduction to the Vercors Regional Park.

Whistle stop touring in the Haut-Jura

Day 2: Monday June 18th

What came first – Jurassic? or the Jura? The Jura of course! We had a superb day on Monday having a whistle stop tour near Lijoux, home of the HQ of the Haut-Jura Regional Park.

The ‘whistle’ was helped along by some fantastic electric bikes,  the ‘stop’ was helped along by Peter showing off his mountain biking skills and getting a puncture.

Overall impressions

A gentle and relaxed alpine feel, and quiet in the gap between Ski season and Summer holidays.

Well cared for villages and buildings boasting some great neatly stacked log piles!

Geology on an impressive scale – calcareous rocks – synclines, stratas and champignon shapes (sorry – our geology GCSE knowledge was gained in the Triassic period!)

The rolling meadows – we can’t get enough of them and the variety of flowers – lots we recognise, and some (ok, lots) that we don’t. (Ragged Robin, clovers, oxeye daisy, purple spotted orchids,  gentian…)

Pride in local produce and the  importance of the local Comte cheese. (We ate some at breakfast, lunch and dinner. Really!

Work discussion points

The way that Regional Parks work – persuasion, facilitation and coordination are at the heart of what they do and their legislative powers are limited.

Mountain biking crossings using ‘mini’ cattle grids – we were divided over what we thought to them

More to talk about on the interesting and simple system of signage with colour coded stripes for different types of route

Local communities taking responsibility for rights of way maintenance and helping with signage in their area

‘GTJ’ or ‘The grand travers of Jura’ – six different trails that cross the Park using different modes of transport – Nordic skiing, walking, horse riding, trail running, snowshoe walking, mountain biking, cycling

‘Protection zones’ for wildlife – should they have attention drawn to them? Or be kept low key? We heard more about this locally and work going on with the Capercailie.

A huge thanks to our hosts who guided us through a brilliant day with charm and obvious pride in their regional park – Clair, Axel, Giles and Benjamin – Merci beaucoup!

 

 

 

 

Thanks for joining us!

Over the next week Dave, Jo, Peter, Rachel and Richard are taking part in a week long Erasmus funded Europarc study tour in the French Alps. We’re writing this blog to record our impressions and what we’re learning especially in relation to Access and Visitors

Day 1. Sunday the 17th June – Parc naturel régional du Haut-Jura.

First Impressions

It’s steep, and wooded and if you dropped a pack of hairpins and looked down at them – that would represent a map of the roads.

Our first impressions are of an ‘out of season’ feel – much like we experience in our own National Parks and AONB’s in the Winter. There are a few people around hiking and biking but it’s quiet – and beautiful……

High agricultural plateaux with grass meadows and a profusion of wildflowers break up the steep limestone gorges.

The sky above the meadows shifts as butterflies and dragonflies hover and flutter about.

Small herds of sturdy cows graze and provide the background music with their melodic bells.

We’re all rather taken with it!

Work notes

We made a note of things that we want to ask when we meet our hosts on Monday:

  • What’s the take on interpretation in other languages?
  • How does the Park encourage visitors out of season?
  • Who’s responsible for signage?
  • Are the red and yellow colour coded markers that we’ve seen widely used?
  • Are there problems with antisocial behaviour in the Park?

We stayed at: Col de la Faucille a small ski resort 40 minutes west of Geneva in the Haute Jura Regional Park

We visited: Mijoux – at the bottom of the ravine below the resort (1 km as the crow flies, 10km by road) and Les Rousses, a small town with Lake 20km – north of where we’re staying.