Responsible tourism: Walking vacations in the French Alps
We respect and support local conservation / erosion projects by following guidelines issued by the Ecrins National Park and ensuring our clients are made aware of any specific guidelines that may affect them. E.g. carrying rubbish down from refuges / high mountain walks.
All accommodation suppliers are vetted according to their professionalism and their approach to responsible tourism (using local produce, respect for the environment and promoting the culture of the region). Several of the gites have strong environmental criteria with regard to recycling and reducing their environmental impact.
All our guides are fully trained in environmental sustainability as a part of their diplomas and they educate our clients about the mountain habitat during the activities. We don’t print brochures and keep paper use to a minimum in the office preferring electronic distribution as our main means of communication with clients. We provide detailed information on how to behave within the park such as carrying out all litter, no free camping and adhering to the rules of the park.
The mountain refuges on this trip are a mix of club alpine francais (CAF) refuges and private refuges. The CAF refuges are maintained by the CAF but it is the guardians who keep the refuges clean, look after you and prepare all your food! They live in the refuges for the summer and make their living out of the food and drinks they sell to tourists.
It is a hard life and is done out of a passion for the mountains rather than a desire to make any money. It is getting harder and harder for the guardians to make ends meet and to justify their summers in the mountains, especially in the refuges a little off the beaten track.
The tour du Vieux Chaillol takes in some of the lesser known refuges to help maintain them and support the guardians who make their living there. The private refuges are old shepherd’s huts or farms that have been taken on and renovated by an individual who then makes his living like from tourists eating and staying in the refuges.
On our guided trip of the self guided trip we take in one of my favourite private refuges, the Refuge Tourond to try and help support the guardian Stephan.
Refuge Tourond, was an old shepherd’s hut in ruins and Stephan the guardian has spent the last twenty years gradually refurbishing it by hand. This was a huge commitment and no mean task as there is no road access so all the materials were brought in by donkeys or occasional helicopter drops. Stephan is a well traveled and passionate mountaineer and environmentalist and his refuge is greatly influenced by his trips to Nepal and South America with prayer flags and a very calm and tranquil ambiance. He recognized the need for a refuge in the remote Champoleon valley to provide a shelter for mountaineers wishing to explore the mountains in and around the valley – otherwise too far and too inaccessible to do in one day. He is an ambassador of nature and takes all ecological measures possible to protect the environment in and around the refuge whilst at the same time making it a welcome and comfortable refuge for tourists.
There is a natural outside shower with solar powered hot water as well as a hot shower inside for colder evenings, a septic tank for sewage and a good recycling system for waste. Stephan will show you where the wildlife is hiding out and has sign posted short walks around the refuge to explore the area. You will eat well and taste local specialities that utilize the mountain herbs, berries and flowers as well as produce from the surrounding valleys, thus supporting local farmers. The refuge is a perfect example of a well run, ecologically friendly and informative mountain refuge.
For our guided trip we use local guides and pay them the proper rate rather than importing ‘part time guides’ from abroad who have alternative means of income and do guiding for fun and not much money. These types of guides are able to reduce their rates significantly making it difficult for full time guides who have dedicated their lives to the mountains to be competitive and it is becoming a problem in the Alps.