In peak winter season Le Monal is a favourite destination for backcountry skiers in the Tarentaise area. Skinning up to the Unesco-listed hamlet you get breathtaking views over the glaciers on the Mont Pourri on the other side of the Isere valley. The site is also awash with walkers in the summer months thanks in part to the ease with which it can be accessed; a pleasant hike from the Echaillon parking area in Sainte Foy at 1500m, along a gently sloping path to reach the 1874m settlement. Even senior folk such as Godfather P can undertake it strain free. And the likes of Dr K can be lured aboard with promises of rural baroque chapels – even though most of them are shut or their pretty altars visible only from behind bars.
Now, with the skiers gone and summer visitors still three months away, it’s blissfully peaceful. We only encounter a few climbers and a couple of locals. Rather than going all the way down to Sainte Foy and up again to Bonconseil we turned off at Les Pigettes and drove to Le Chenal, where we parked.
From there it’s an uber-picturesque 6.5km roundtrip walk, keeping left on the path towards the hamlet of La Combaz, right through the meadow and past cliffs as the mountain briefly closes in before opening again as you get to the Monal site. After a short picnic near the pond (late start and breezy day) we walk on up through the hamlet and through the larch forest, traipsing through left-over snow in places before going back down via Le Fenil. Left in the forest would have taken us to le Lac du Clou but it was too late in the day.