Down Vallon du Clou to Le Monal

Vallon du Clou and its abandoned hamlet
Vallon du Clou and its abandoned hamlet

Le Monal is a magical site in the spring. On a sunny winter’s day, it’s an almost unreal wonderland. Last week I walked to the UNESCO-listed site from Sainte Foy following the last-minute cancellation of a planned ski tour to the hamlet.

Today I am back on skis with local guide Nicolas Borrel who took a small group of us to Le Monal via the upper part of the vallon du Clou – the stream that flows down from the small lake of the same name, through Le Monal and eventually into the river Isère 1,000m below.

Le Monal, with the Mont Pourri in the background, from the upper part of gallon du Clou
Le Monal, with the Mont Pourri in the background, from the upper part of vallon du Clou

France’s national electricity supplied EDF bought up the area around the lake in the early 1980s with a view to building a hydroelectric dam. It would have been similar in scale to dam in Tignes and the project would have flooded the whole of the high altitude meadows.

The owners of the handful of high altitude summer chalets – chalets d’alpage – were evicted but EDF’s plans were shelved in 1984 and the chalets have been left to fall into disrepair. Nicolas had family who lived there. He points to one of the chalets, and the room where he remembers sleeping. Now, all that’s left of EDF’s project is a small dam at the point where the Clou starts dropping through the cliffs towards le Monal.

In 2011, the Sainte Foy local authority applied for permission to extend its ski area on the Clou side, a move to which a number of environmental protection organisations objected. It led, ultimately, to the listing of the area in 2013, preventing any future development. Le Monal itself was listed in 1987.

The sun may have been out on the day of our little excursion but the snow was far from perfect. A few stretches of spring-like snow were followed but slush and, further down, icy patches in the shade.

We get to Le Monal shortly after midday. Nicolas heads for a table at the back of one of the farms and starts unpacking his rucksack. Local ham, cheese, bread, and a few bottles of Apremont. The ski back to base via the forest afterwards could only be magic.

Down from Foglietta, above the lac du Clou
Down from Foglietta, above the lac du Clou
Heading down to vallon du Clou
Heading down to vallon du Clou
On the other side of the Clou, down from the old dam
On the other side of the Clou, down from the old dam
Down through the forest to Le Monal
Down through the forest to Le Monal
About to drop into le Monal bowl
About to drop into le Monal bowl
Leaving Le Monal
Leaving Le Monal

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