Queyras Regional Natural Park, Hautes Alpes, Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur, France

The Queyras Regional Park is a regional park French, located in the southern Alps on the border between France and Italy, Queyras enjoys an exceptionally sunny climate. This climate has allowed the settling of villages at very high altitude, including the highest commune in France, Saint-Véran. Today, Queyras lives mainly on tourism, but has managed to preserve traditional activities, including pastoralism and wood crafts.

In summer, Queyras is an ideal destination for hiking, in particular along the GR5 and GR58 hiking trails (tour of Queyras). The hike allows you to admire the fauna and particularly the exceptional flora of this massif. In winter, several village resorts are open, allowing the practice of cross-country and downhill skiing, but also cross-country skiing and many other activities such as snowshoeing, climbing ice waterfalls, etc.

The Queyras regional park encompasses the entire Guil watershed. It contains more strongly protected areas, including the Val d’Escreins nature reserve. There is also a project to create a national nature reserve at the bottom of the Guil valley, near Ristolas, as part of the Natura 2000 program. Consists of eleven municipalities of the massive Queyras, the massive Escreins and Cottian Alps, northeast of the department of Hautes-Alpes. With only 2,300 permanent inhabitants, it is the least populated of the French regional natural parks, and the second least densely populated after Guyana.

Queyras is divided into several valleys where the various villages of the massif are distributed. La Valée du Guil, oriented from southwest to northeast, is home to the villages of Château-Queyras and Aiguilles. Arriving in the north of the massif, it then curves towards the south-east, along the villages of Haut Guil, Abriès and Ristolas. In the north-west of the massif, the Val D’Azur, where the river flows, shelters the village of Arvieux. In the South East, the villages of Pierre Grosse, Molines and Saint Véranoccupy the Aigues valley, drained by the white Aigue and the Aigue Agnelle. Further south, the Cristillan and Mélezet valleys form the Ceillaquin, centered on the village of Ceillac. Finally, the southern tip of the park is occupied by the Val d’Escreins, empty of any inhabitants.

The Queyras massif is a massif in the Franco – Italian Alps located straddling the Hautes-Alpes department and the Piedmont region. It hosts part of the Queyras Regional Natural Park. While the Queyras corresponds to the Guil basin, therefore to the two banks on either side of the river, the massif itself is limited to the northern part of this region, that is to say north of Château-Ville -Old, so approximately on the right bank. It is also surrounded by Château-Ville-Vieille, Guillestre and Briançon. By this very fact, it is surrounded by the Escreins massif to the south, the Ecrins massif to the west, the Cerces massif to the north and the Cottian Alps to the east.

The geology of Queyras is extremely complex. This massif is located at the border of different areas of the internal Alps, where the compression of the rocks during the formation of the Alps was very important. The west of Queyras (sometimes called “limestone Queyras”) is made up of sedimentary rocks including limestones, dolomites, but also marls and sandstones. These sedimentary rocks formed in relatively shallow seas on the edges of an ancient ocean that has now disappeared called Tethys. You have to imagine these sedimentary formations as a mille-feuille, each leaf of which is a bank of rock. During the formation of the Alps, these geological layers detached themselves from their substrate and migrated, forming thrust layers. Several layers of this type are superimposed on each other, forming piles of layers of thrusts. If we take the image of the mille-feuille, it’s as if we were cutting this mille-feuille into pieces and then forming a pile with them.

The Geol-Alp site explains this complex structure in more detail, and provides a section of the Guil gorges. The rest of the massif is essentially made up of ” lustrous schists “. These rocks come from clayey sediments formed at great depth, on the surface of the oceanic crust of the Thétys. These clays have become shales following a process of metamorphosis, a “cooking” of the sediments at high temperature and under high pressure, within the earth’s crust. During metamorphization, the boundaries between clay banks have disappeared, or have become barely visible. It is however very probable that these banks are, as in the limestone Queyras, deformed in a very complex way. Conversely, a schistosity plan appeared. The orientation of the schistosity plane is more homogeneous (it generally hangs towards the west in the Queyras). It often determines the asymmetrical shapes of the reliefs in this part of Queyras.

This interior basin facing west formed by the Queyras was sculpted by the waters and glaciers flowing towards the Durance. With the periods of frost, they largely eroded the flaky rocks (schists) of the suspended valleys of the eastern Queyras and deeply notched the compact limestones of the western half. The observation of these more or less parallel rocky outcrops reminds us that their folds and their arrangement result above all from the telescoping between the African continent and Eurasia which has continued for 60 million years.

Among the minerals deposited in the lagoons of the first marine shores: gypsum. The fossil corals of the Rochebrune massif bear witness to a warm shallow sea. The fossil move from Guillestre marble swam in the shallows. Underwater geysers deposit metallic salts (basaltic cushions from the Péas pass, Saint-Véran copper mine). The bottom of the Alpine Ocean is lined with clay or limestone silts. The pressures of telescoping will turn them into shale. These flaky rocks are at the origin of the wide open valleys of upper Queyras (Molines, Abriès, Saint-Véran).

Portions of the oceanic crust (called Ophiolites) are visible in the Queyras within the lustrous schists. These are dark rocks, such as basalt or gabbro, often metamorphosed, and of a greenish color. Harder, they often form summits like Mont Viso, Bric Bouchet or Grande Aiguillette.

Queyras valley
The Queyras (in Occitan Cairàs) is a valley in the Hautes-Alpes department, but also a regional natural park, where skiing in winter and hiking in summer are practiced. It is notably crossed by the GR 58 which allows you to go around it or the GR 5. The valley is crossed by the Guil and has eight municipalities today grouped together within a community of municipalities: Arvieux, Abriès, Aiguilles, Ceillac, Château-Ville-Vieille, Molines-en-Queyras, Ristolas and Saint-Véran. Ceillac was not part of the historic Queyras: it belonged to the bishopric of Embrun (and not Briançon) and did not enter the Queyras escarton.

The park is bounded to the north and east by the border with Italy, from the summit of Grand Glaiza to Tête des Toillies via Col Agnel. Then it follows the ridge delimiting the watershed of the Ubaye up to Mortice and climbs north-west to Guillestre, in the lower valley of Guil, which is the main natural gateway to Queyras. From Guillestre, the limit follows the north-facing ridge separating the Arvieux valley from the Durance and passing through the peak of Béal Traversier then takes a north-east direction to the Col d’Izoard, legendary passage of the cycling tour de Franceand ends with the ridge line separating the Fonts valley to the north and passing through the Pic de Rochebrune, up to the Italian border. We can also consider that Queyras corresponds to the watershed of Guil. The highest point in Queyras is the Pic de la Font Sancte and not Mount Viso, the summit of which is in Piedmont, but whose turn goes through Queyras.

The Izoard pass, at an altitude of 2,361 m, is, from Briançonnais, the gateway to Queyras. The crossing of the Casse Déserte announces a desert. The contrast downstream is all the more striking. Below this lunar circus bristling with fairy chimneys (vestiges of strong erosion) follow one another steppes, forests, floral carpets. It is the country of haughty villages with common ovens and fountains surrounded by wood, where electric wires are buried. They are like the highest village in France, Saint-Véran (2,042 m).

The valley is not very urbanized, therefore poorly lit, light pollution is almost zero; Combined with its climate leaving many clear nights, this makes it a very popular place for amateur astronomers.

It is the Queyrassins who, through their work, have shaped nature and given the landscapes the aspect which is theirs, although the summits, the screes, the abrupt ravines have remained out of their reach.

In fact, these landscapes are also historic and, over the centuries, they have changed. The valley of the Guil, between Chateau-Queyras and Ville-old was described as the end of the xix th century: “From the fields where flax, barley, oats and rye come to a very great height; meadows through which meanders the Guil, and extending to under vast forests of larches, which crown the mountains; on these immense pastures and a multitude of rare plants; hamlets, most of which are only inhabited during the summer months, canals which, on scaffolding supported by sections of rock above the Guil, carry fertility from one side of the valley to the other: such is the aspect of the country ”. Today, the aspect of this valley is quite different and the agricultural landscape has disappeared. In fact, there are no more cultivated fields, no more raised canals. The summer pastures are often in ruins, the meadows less and less often mowed.

Two centuries ago, Queyras was less wooded than it is today. During the long period of prosperity and population growth of the xvi th to the xviii th century, the area occupied by the forest fell, despite the measures taken to prevent massive deforestation, which has resulted in up the price of wood of work, rarer. In the 1860s, a forest law encouraged the municipalities to preserve forests and, thanks to tax advantages, to replant land left fallow into forests.

This is the case with hay meadows. The example of Pré Michel, located near the Viso belvedere, in the town of Ristolas, is illuminating. As the authors of a brochure published by the Queyras Regional Natural Park show, the forest is gradually gaining ground on the meadow here and elsewhere throughout Queyras since 1920 or 1940, because all meadow, from the moment when it ceases to be mown, is strewn over a few decades with aspens, then becomes forest again. Photos of Pasquier, hamlet in the municipality of Arvieux, taken in the 1930s, show a landscape of well-defined and well-maintained high meadows, as if the grass had been combed there. Sixty years later, these slopes, which are no longer mowed, are gradually taken over by the shrubs.

Ultimately, landscapes, made up of terraces and hay meadows which, for centuries, were typically Queyrassins, risk disappearing in the near future and being returned to the forest. In Saint-Véran, in July and August, opposite the village, on the left bank of the Aigue Blanche, the alluvial cones of a few torrents, cleared of any stone, no doubt irrigated and perhaps smoked in spring or in the fall, are still mown. We admire the centuries-old work of the men who traced clearly delimited plots in the middle of these shapeless scree, maintained them with care, and whose short-cut grass varies from soft green to dark green.

The terraces constitute (or were when they were still maintained and visible) one of the essential elements of the Queyrassin landscape. These are dry stone walls or earth embankments covered with grass which serve to retain the arable land and allow steep plots to be cultivated and irrigated by gravity, the water being brought into canals dug very high in the slope. The slopes of deroit, above or around the villages, are organized in this way. A century ago, when the mountain was a working beehive, it appeared as a sloping garden. Today, the maintenance of the terraces is practically no longer assured; the meadows are mowed less and less often. The commons, which the animals once grazed in the spring,

The Queyras receives very weak Atlantic disturbances. The greater part of the territory of the valley is marked by a drought which makes the sky limpid and increases to the extreme the temperature contrasts linked to the altitude. These aspects mean that animal or plant species, with very diverse climatic affinities, can meet there. The area of Mount Viso receives from the east the humidity of the nebbia, a sort of “monsoon” which favors the existence of plants and animals requiring water.

The Nebbia is the abundant water vapor released by the Po Basin, which rises with the heat, condenses in altitude and finally forms thick clouds in rolls ”which wet the rocks and the alpine lawns up to the Queyrassin slope where dry air dissipates them. This phenomenon linked to sunshine occurs in summer on average 1 day out of 3: the sea of clouds appears around 10 a.m. and disappears at sunset.

Located near the 45th parallel, halfway between the pole and the equator, the Queyras with its very contrasting dry climate has become a privileged refuge, which concentrates species of various origins. This massive balcony on Piedmont is home to species unique in the world such as the Lanza salamander, insects and plants that may have evolved here in isolation, as on an island.

The very eastern position of Queyras may explain why the foxtail astragalus, native to the Caucasus, or the Fatio vole, from the southern Italian Alps, may have settled there thanks to great east-west exchanges in front of the front of the vast glaciers descended from the north. The southern location of the valley allows the cultivation of cereals above 1,800 m altitude. Thuriferous juniper, native to Africa, Ethiopian sage and typically Mediterranean lavender reached Queyras during the last great post-glacial warming.

Fauna and flora
It is the low temperature of the torrential mountain waters (5 °C to 15 ° C for the Guil) which allows them to be saturated with oxygen during the mixing in the falls. They then welcome animals that consume large amounts of dissolved oxygen, such as trout and the larvae of a host of insects. In times of flooding, the torrent abandons materials that it carries. These form banks of gravel, sand and silt which are then colonized by plants. The vegetation of these banks consumes part of the organic pollution of the water and protects the banks.

Clean with fresh, lively and well-oxygenated waters, the Brown Trout is linked here to torrents and to the upper reaches of rivers. The fario is distinguished by its many red spots. Marsh population: present up to the subalpine level, this plant also lives on the edge of calm waters. Completely linked to torrents, the Dipper is a waterbird capable of walking on the very bottom of the stream to feed on aquatic insects. Excellent “bio-indicator”, the Pearl is an insect which reveals by its presence the good quality of the aquatic environment in which it lives.

Above an altitude of 2,400 m, winter conditions are maintained for more than nine months a year. The mild periods favorable to the development of plants are therefore so short that many species rarely manage to produce their seeds. The woolly appearance of Edelweiss comes from the large number of hairs that cover this plant to protect it from the cold.

The larch forest is also suitable for them. A hunting plan fixes the number of animals to be shot in the fall in each municipality. 800 (chamois, ibex, mouflons) ungulates are concentrated in the only commune of Ristolas, where management has been very rigorous for fifty years. Prey of the Golden Eagle, the large local population of Marmot des Alpes explains the high density of this raptor in Queyras. After its hibernation, from the end of March, it comes out of its burrow and is distinguished then mainly by its whistling.

Swiss pine forests is emblematic of Upper Queyras. It reaches a record altitude of 2,500 m, where the vegetation has little more than three months to develop. The Cembro pine closely associated with the larch, this pine – also called arole – is one of the floristic emblems of Queyras. Its light wood is used for local cabinetmaking. The European Larch is the only conifer to lose its needles in the fall.

Once more widespread in the mountains, the Lyre Grouse has suffered from the combined effects of the pressure of hunting and the development of ski resorts: tracks and ski lifts have fragmented and disturbed the environment of the large forest areas that this gallinaceous species loves.

The forest of hooked pines extends, in altitude, that of Scots pines and constitutes the highest forest cover of the sunny slopes. Very resistant, this pine can withstand being partially chopped by avalanches, and thrives on unstable grounds such as gypsum gullies. All this explains why the flora of its undergrowth is not very exuberant.

The Tengmalm’s Owl’s main breeding ground is the boreal forest. But it finds in Queyras, because of its altitude, very similar ecological conditions. The Hook Pine is particularly hardy and adapts to the poorest soils. It supports harsh climate and grows up to 2400 m. It also helps in fixing the ground. The black tit abounds in coniferous forest, and performs in autumn altitudinal migrations towards the valleys. Linked to mountain moors, the dwarf juniper appreciates the clear undergrowth. Its prostrate shape is characteristic.

The cliffs were carved by ice and torrential waters from the upper Guil valley to reach the Durance. The slow erosion ended up unhooking the blocks and the rubble which accumulate at the foot of the walls in large cones of scree. The gorges of Guil and Cristillan form narrow ecological corridors which connect the high mountain environment and the almost Mediterranean one of the Durance valley. Juniper Thurifère, present in Spain and Morocco, grows on hot and sunny slopes. The Sylvester pine grows readily on siliceous soil, it is found especially in the Guil gorges, where it adapts well to difficult conditions. It helps to fix unstable soils. It is home to few animal species, but some are rare and endangered (isabelle butterfly).

The rock swallow is strictly subservient to rock environments, while the more eclectic window swallow finds a more natural environment there than the villages where it nests. The Grand Duke of Europe owl sounds the low houhou that betrays His presence at the end of winter.. This super-predator can even attack the peregrine falcon, going so far as to eliminate it from the cliff.

Human activities

The Quariates, a Gallic tribe of the Cottian Alps, are mountain people. Romans and Carthaginians will dread crossing these territories. There is no seem that this high valley was occupied and development permanently before the 11th and 12th centuries.

The first inhabitants groups is probably recent, around the 5th or 4th millennium. Remains found in Saint-Véran could be dated dated to 1500 BC. JC. and others, from the necropolis of Peyre-Haute, above Guillestre bear witness to a sedentary settlement before the Roman conquest. It is to this population, called the Quariates, that some attribute the origin of the name Queyras. Thanks to an inscription from the Escoyères (reused as the lintel of the chapel), we know that this village was, in Roman times, the central place of human settlements. Recent excavations have highlighted the activity of the Saint-Véran copper mine.

Like any alpine valley, Queyras also claims to have been the route taken in 218 BC. JC. by Hannibal, with his troops and elephants, from the site of Mont-Dauphin, by the Chemin des Escoyères to the Col de la Traversette. Around the 5th century AD, Queyras did not escape the invasions which put an end to the Roman Empire.

In this peasant society emerge a few better-off peasants and modest nobles who agree to limit the power of the Dauphin. Those of Château-Queyras reserve more powers for themselves. In the middle of the 13th century, the population was approximately 5,000 people. The most populated villages were then Arvieux, Molines and Château-Queyras. The 13th century appears to be a century of prosperity for the whole of Briançonnais. Queyras benefits from the activity of trade flows.

Thanks to the profits of trade, the communities can buy back in 1343 from Humbert Il, indebted suzerain, the privileges and the rights to constitute the Escarton on the bases of the solid administration set up by the Dauphin.

The great depression at the end of the Middle Ages undermined the prosperity of the 13th century. If Queyras remains relatively isolated from the fighting of the Hundred Years War, the population suffers the devastating effects of the great black plague. In 1474, there were only 580 homes. Even if the Queyras is less marked than other valleys in the Hautes-Alpes, the passage of the Vaudois will leave lasting influences. From 1450, a more favorable context allowed a demographic recovery and trade.

By the Charter signed in 1343 with Humbert II, the Escarton du Queyras, made up of seven municipalities (Arvieux, Abriès, Aiguilles, Château-Ville-Vieille, Molines, Ristolas and Saint-Véran), is freed from land and most of the taxes, and obtains significant municipal deductibles. The communities, which can meet without authorization for their common affairs and elect their officers and consuls, then enjoy great freedom. They share this management autonomy with the communities of the other four escartons. Together, they form the Grand Escarton du Briançonnais. However, this was split in 1713 with the cession of the Piedmontese escartons to the Duchy of Savoy.

If the Vaudois never had a very large workforce in Queyras, they do have a real influence. From the 1560s, the Calvinist doctrine was preached in all the valleys, leading to many conversions. For nearly twenty years, the struggles between the communities were severe. The proclamation of the Edict of Nantes in 1598 brought back calm and coexistence between the communities. The churches are rebuilt and temples are established, in particular in Arvieux, Abriès and Molines, where the Reformed are the most numerous. From the revocation of the Edict of Nantes (1685), departures are massive. Others abjure to stay and practice their worship in secret.

In 1713, the Treaty of Utrecht, put an end to the War of the Spanish Succession and the conflict with the Duke of Savoy. It allows the return of peace, but it ratifies the end of the Grand Escarton. In the following century, Queyras remained relatively isolated from the troubles of the Revolution and the Empire. Despite the administrative reorganization, the tradition of the escartons continues in the way the village community is managed.

Since 1830, the date of the last population peak, the population has declined steadily, dropping from around 8,000 to 4,400 in 1901.

In 1856, the Queyras was linked to Guillestre and, in 1884, the train arrived for the first time in Mont-Dauphin, serving the stronghold and the surrounding valleys. In 1893, the opening of the Col de l’Izoard road led to Briançon. The layout of new traffic routes facilitated the arrival of tourists at the end of the century. The construction of two hotels in Aiguilles and Abriès reflects the enthusiasm for a country that former migrants seek to develop and promote. The villages of Queyras are among the first wave in Europe to be equipped with electricity.

Queyras suffered the effects of excess mortality from the war of 14-18. It takes place in an already critical demographic situation, due to the final departures of young people from the villages. During the Second World War, Queyras, because of its border position, was a threatened area. During the spring of 1940, most of the families were evacuated. But the country is also a refuge area where families settled in Marseille will find protection and food. On the other hand, the Italian and German occupations resulted in skirmishes with the resistance fighters and especially, in 1944, by the bombardment which largely destroyed the village of Abriès and more radically still that of Ristolas.

With the first ski lifts, set up in the 1930s in Abriès, Saint-Véran and Aiguilles, winter tourism is developing. The first climbers are followed by the first ethnologists who want to discover a country which has preserved its landscapes and a traditional way of life. Since 1977, a regional natural park has continued to develop the idea of a preserved country around its village resorts. The best translation of the region’s vitality lies in the demographic recovery but also in the maintenance or development of local activities. Wood craftsmanship has taken over and plays a large part in the region’s economic activity.

Agriculture plays an essential role for the balance of Queyras but it is more and more fragile. Breeding (cattle and sheep) is the traditional activity of mountain agriculture because it adapts to strong environmental constraints (high altitude, winter harshness, small cultivable area, etc.). It is in this way that it has contributed to fostering the diversity of mountain ecosystems and it has deeply structured traditional landscapes with strong heritage and economic value.

The agricultural environment is the subject of profound changes: the development of certain sectors (beekeeping, market gardening, etc.) and the decline of others (breeding in general, dairy production, etc.). This territory has many assets. It constitutes a high mountain area with a unique identity and landscapes. It has significant agricultural and pastoral resources, balanced and typical landscapes and a potential for very high quality products.

On the strength of their biogeographical peculiarity, the forests of Queyras are made up mainly of conifers and, among them, species very poorly represented in France: Larch, Swiss pine and hooked pine. The landscapes they offer are unique nationally. The research work carried out in recent years has confirmed the exceptional character of the Queyrassin forest. It has a very high level of naturalness. This can be explained by the absence of silvicultural management for decades, even centuries, due to a very great difficulty of access linked to the relief and the local geological context. Consequently, these so-called subnatural “shreds” of forest constitute the basis for the development of an original and important forest biodiversity which colonizes, as much as possible, forests managed in a more traditional way.

The economic role of the forest in this territory is particularly important and wood craftsmanship is very present there. The logo of the Queyras Regional Natural Park is the most perfect illustration of this: a rose window carved from a local species, the Swiss pine. Its social role is also essential since most of the Queyras forests are made up of larch, whose fine foliage and seasonal colors constitute an undeniable tourist attraction.

Architectural heritage
Each Queyras valley offers a particular architecture adapted to the way of life of the villagers. The mountain law recognizes the heritage value of summer pasture buildings. The architectural of Queyras highlights the traditional habitat and identifies the specificities of each valley.

Ristolas is the smallest town in Queyras in terms of its population, around 95 inhabitants, but the largest in terms of area, 8,217 Ha. Located on the borders of Hautes-Alpes and Piedmont. The town is located at the bottom of the Haut-Guil valley in the Queyras massif, backing onto Mont-Viso (3841 m) and on the Italian border. Three villages make up the town and are located along the Guil between 1600 and 1700 m above sea level. The reconstruction of Ristolas, at the end of the Second World War, made it the most important village in the municipality while the other villages also almost entirely destroyed by the war (La Monta) or severely affected due to natural disasters (avalanche of L’Echalp of March 1946) were not rebuilt.

Haut Guil
The architecture of Haut Guil is very strongly influenced by the architecture of the end of the 19th century because of its greater ease of access. These street villages are home to shops, administrations, bourgeois houses and rural buildings. In general, the buildings are terraced as in an urban environment and consist of a ground floor, two floors and attic. The organization of the roofs is determined by the route of the road with the ridges parallel to it. The wood is very little present in this architecture, sometimes one finds bases in cut stone, and a coated masonry with a search for color of facade more important than in the villages of the high valleys and with a more careful execution.

Aigues valley
Both in its architectural design and in its interior organization, the habitat of this valley is undoubtedly the most original of Queyras, remarkable in particular by the preponderance of a construction material: wood. These houses are made up of three contiguous and distinct main bodies: the “caset” -which brings together, on several levels, the kitchen, the bedrooms, the storerooms and an attic-, at the same time the stable-dwelling, where men used to mix. and animals, and finally the log, located in the upper part of the building. The latter, formed of larch trunks and open to the sunny facade by galleries and superimposed balconies, houses the barn.

Val d’Azur
The farms of the Val d’Arvieux testify by their architectural style to the richness and importance of the agricultural land and local breeders. Rectangular (U-shaped plan), of a large volume, longer than wide, they open towards the south by a series of loggias and semicircular arches on two or three levels, in an original artistic style. The ground floor, articulated around a covered “court”, houses the stable and the lodge, while the upper parts are used for storing crops, agricultural equipment and fodder. In this architecture dominated by stone, wood is only used in roofs (shingles), frames and balconies.

Ceillac Valley
The architecture of this valley is of a compact and austere character, with squat buildings, little open on the street. Ceillaquin housing, most often built according to an “L” plan, has masonry blocking the elements coarsely coated in the lower and intermediate parts. The wood (mainly larch) is used in the upper parts of the frame, barn gable, roof. The ground floor, vaulted and semi-underground, houses the stable, the sheepfold and the lodge. The first floor is organized into rooms and various reserves, while the large barn on the upper level is mainly used for the storage of crops and fodder.

Queyras has given rise to numerous scholarly works, life stories and articles in journals, very numerous in relation to its apparent isolation from large urban centers and its small population. They were released to North America, both by folklorists of the xix th century, tied to local customs, traditions, oral tales, legends, and specialists attitudes and popular arts, who traveled Queyras in all directions at the beginning of xx th centuryand have been entrusted with thousands of objects, often carved with a knife, from everyday life (wooden rakes, cases, shuttles, whetstone cases, irrigation tench, araires, mule masts, crockery, etc.) and furniture (carved chests, closed beds, stools, chairs, carved cupboards, etc.). They are exhibited at the Dauphinois Museum or at the Departmental Museum of Gap. Geographers, including Raoul Blanchard, have also published scholarly works in which they strive to understand why and how men were able to settle permanently at more than 2,000 meters above sea level and cultivate rye there or the potatoes.

This is also the case of geologists, fascinated by the geological diversity of the lustrous schists, the cargneules, the limestones of Queyras. Just like the travelers avid for the picturesque and the botanists, who have studied in the Queyras a very large variety of plants and flowers and admired the layering of the vegetation according to the altitude, as well on behalf of the historians and local scholars as historians of Christianity (Protestants, Vaudois, Catholics), both ethnologists and anthropologists, including many North American anthropologists, in particular Harriet Rosenberg.

The most important fact to understand what the culture has been in Queyras, that Queyras shares with Briançonnais, is the early and massive education of the population. In the xix th century, the population living north of a line between Saint-Malo to Geneva is mostly literate, even women; those living south of this line is largely illiterate, except in two high valleys of Briançon and Queyras, where literacy began in the late xv th century(the community of Abriès paid a regent from 1456) and where it reached a level equal to or even higher than that of the large cities of northern France. In the xviii th century, 90% of people are able to sign their names. The school, with one class, was done in the bad season in a stable, and the instruction was given by an inhabitant of the village or the hamlet, peasant breeder, whose specialty was in winter.

M Myriel the Bishop of Digne, character of the novel by Victor Hugo, Les Misérables, presents the inhabitants of Queyras to the faithful of his diocese as a model to imitate, because they teach all children to read, write and count, even to those who live in isolated hamlets. In 1801, the Prefect of Hautes-Alpes at the time, Citizen Bonnaire, as he called himself, wrote in Memoirs on the statistics of the Hautes-Alpes department that, to find a real passion for education in his department, it is necessary to go towards the high mountains of the border, towards Briançon and Queyras, where many itinerant schoolmasters are trained who, in autumn and until the beginning of spring, will hire themselves as “regents” in the towns of Provence,- 1840 and gradually ceased, when Minister Guizot demanded that schoolteachers have obtained a certificate of competence.

The results of this massive literacy are innumerable: numerous written documents gathered in departmental archives; the “transitons” or records of roads and pathways on which were also collected news items from the late xv th century and beginning of the xx th century; reason books; notebooks kept by prosecutors (those who, for a year, managed the affairs of a hamlet or parish); watering (or irrigation) books filled with great care; and many Queyrassins writers, priests (Abbots Gondret and Berge), teachers (Jean Tivollier) or peasant breeders telling the story of the life of yesteryear (Messrs. Bourcier, Arnaud, Borel, MMessimilly). In short, it is a high mountain valley whose culture is based on the written word and is said in French and which is located in a vast region with oral cultural traditions and expressed in Occitan.

However, in spite of this vast knowledge accumulated for more than two centuries, first by educated priests, then by teachers, finally by academics, there is a field which remains still unknown and of which many scientists have not. perceived importance: these are works of art, altarpieces, paintings, tabernacles, statues, sculptures, stained glass windows, votive offerings, etc. These works of art are, for the most part, religious or cult-related, which is perhaps why they have not been studied or are not even mentioned in the guides or the general public works. However, they are very closely linked to the history of Queyras and the culture of the Queyrassins.

This amazing profusion of works of art, dating, mostly, from the XVII th, XVIII th and XIX th centuries, reveals what is or what was long Queyras. It also forces us to revise a lot of received ideas without examination.

The Queyras was not poor, contrary to what is often written. Paintings, architectural altarpieces, statues, sculptures, painted and decorated vaults, all this is expensive today, and was very expensive in the past. However, it is families, often large, of sheep farmers, for the most part, exploiting 5 to 6 hectares, or traders, who financed all this and were able to subtract from their income enough to pay the artists / artisans and their supplies, in addition to what they have withdrawn to their children, and that as of the end of the xv th century.

The Queyras may be surrounded by high mountains, many of which exceed 3000 meters in altitude, it does not form a closed valley, isolated, folded in on itself. Not only Queyrassins, especially the residents of Needles, established during the xix th century prosperous trading houses all over the world, especially in South America and Central America (Chile, Mexico, Brazil, Venezuela), which proves that they participated in international exchanges.

They were also influenced in their sensitivity by Italian baroque art, by Sulpician art (end ofxix th century), the functionalism in architecture (the farms of reconstruction in 1945), by plant forms and circumvented the Art Nouveau (the beginning of the xx th century) by the simplified forms of religious art 1930s or that they were aware of facts that had a national or even European impact: devotion to Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours, pilgrimages to Fátima, Lisieux, Lourdes, the canonization of Joan of Arc, the beatification of Emilie de Vialar, etc. The subject of the paintings or the sculpted facades of altars or the Latin inscriptions or the fragments of psalms painted in the churches attest that, by their vast and deep religious culture, they were open to the world.

A more precise analysis of these works shows the importance that had in the Queyras major religious events of xvii th and xix th centuries. During the wars of religion, churches, chapels, paintings and sculptures were destroyed, so that the communes of Queyras, unlike Ceillac, which remained Catholic and which was spared by the war, do not have in their heritage, except two or three specimens in poor condition, of works of art (frescoes or paintings or statues) prior to the mid- 17th century century.

Protestants being attached to texts and mistrusting images, it was from the moment when they were weakened, then removed from public life, that churches began to adorn themselves with paintings – most of the time paintings of crucifixion: the crucified Christ surrounded by two saints or mother and Peter, etc. These paintings express in images the doctrine of the Council of Trent (1545 – 1563): the mass conceived as a real sacrifice (hence the altarpiece paintings representing the crucifixion) and not as a commemoration; the presence of the body and blood of Christ in the Eucharist; the communion of all the saints (hence the presence in the same picture of saints who lived at different times and in places very distant from each other). Queyras remained strongly impregnated for nearly three centuries, until the years 1950 – 1960, this Tridentine Catholicism, especially the villages of the Guil valley, from which all Protestant presence has almost disappeared.

On the other hand, the works of art, whose churches and chapels were adorned in the 19th century century, deal with subjects of holy history, having a real positivity (attested facts, historical figures), at a time when Christianity is shaken in its truth by the development of the sciences and by critical rationalism: these are the tables of the path of cross, recounting the Passion of Christ, those which represent the circumcision of Jesus, the visit of Saint Anthony of the desert to Saint Paul the hermit, the martyr of Saint Lawrence, the adoration of the Magi or the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist. This is also the xix th century that many young Queyrassins enter the service of the Church as priests or nuns and those who exercise theirpriesthood in the Queyras disseminate a militant doctrine there, that of popular, mass, community Catholicism, multiplying processions and religious festivals and expressed by two priest writers, Father Gondret and Father Berge.

Dairy products taking up the ancestral tradition of making products derived from milk: cheese factories were created in Arvieux in 1981 and Montbardon in 1982, then in Roux d’Abriès and Ceillac. Made from raw milk, blues and tommes, to name only the most classic, are matured and sold on site. Tarts and Croquettes, decorated with hazelnuts, walnuts and jam, are handcrafted. Honey and its derived products are of high quality due to the absence of insecticides or pollution that can be deposited on the flowers. Berries, raspberries and blueberries as well as rosehip and barberry berries make delicious jams.

Religious art
The discreet religious heritage of Queyras testifies to its historical and cultural memory, that of a country which bears the scars of the Wars of Religion, always followed by pastoral recaptures. From chapels to parish churches, identity is rooted thanks to an original language in which, from Roman times to the Middle Ages, exchanges of know-how circulate, between stone and chiseled wood, which ignore chronological and spatial borders.. It is a religious art that invites you to explore an artistic space in the heart of a geographical space: an open-air conservatory. Calvaries, crosses of missions and of the Passion (decorated with instruments such as roosters, hammer, chalice, sword, whip, lantern, hand, reed, crossed spears, ladder, Holy Face or “INRI” inscription) are all landmarks for the village community during processions and blessings.

The written tradition
In a southern France with little literacy, the Hautes-Alpes, and more particularly Briançonnais and Queyras, have long appeared to be islands of written culture. Surveys on the level of literacy carried out under the aegis of Rector Maggiolo at the end of the 19th century show that practically all men and women know how to sign, from the end of the 18th century. This level is confirmed by other sources or objects, which testify not only to this skill but also to a real taste for writing. The existence of peddlers in writing has been documented since the 15th century. Each year, the villagers recruited a regent from among them for the winter season. In a contract, the community agreed to house him, feed him, and pay him compensation. This form of education disappeared from 1840.

The Queyras sundials constitute an original facet of popular art, the origin of which dates back to the 17th century, and which disappeared around the time when the use of watches became more democratic, at the end of the 19th century. The Queyrassin’s interest in these solar clocks can be explained by the privileged relations he maintained with neighboring Piedmont. He was decisively influenced by the Italian painting schools specializing in the realization of religious interior decorations, but also that of the “master cadranyers” who passed the passes to offer their services. Natural pigments are often extracted from the ocher sands of the Luberon.

Summer pastures
Queyras has always had a pastoral vocation and Queyrassin has always been a pastor. In summer, part of the population took the animals to the mountain pastures. Pastoral life in these summer pastures then focused entirely on the production and processing of milk. Until the 19th century, Queyras also practiced winter transhumance: the herds left at the end of autumn towards the valleys of Vaud and the cassines of the plains in Italy and returned in spring. The cheese and pastoral tradition disappeared at the end of the 19th century, and the Queyrassins then entrusted their cattle to Provençal shepherds.

Wood crafts
Woodworking is the work of the entire Queyrassine society of the 18th and 19th centuries. While some complex furniture is made by professionals, many everyday objects and pieces of furniture are made, and above all decorated, by the inhabitants themselves. The Queyrassin spirit is thus engraved on the most humble or the most adorned of these functional objects, thanks to the various decorative motifs, inscribed dates or even sentences, which sometimes testify to Protestant culture and above all to a remarkable degree of education. The house is at the heart of life in the Queyras valley, because the long and harsh winter forces the inhabitants to live there for several months locked up. Wood being the raw material, it is found throughout the house, it is used for architecture, furniture, as well as for most tools and utensils. Such use of wood reveals the adaptation of a society to its environment.

The Soum museum, the educational space of the Park in Saint Véran, is a witness to this Queyrassine life and its traditions. Since 1641, the walls of this building have sheltered the men, women, and animals of this altitude village. Crossing the wooden threshold at the top of this house is to travel back in time and dive into the heart of a sensitive history between men and the mountains.

Outdoor activities
Outdoor activities is part of an ecotourism development strategy consisting in preserving and enhancing the cultural and natural heritage, improving the reception and strengthening the attractiveness of the territory by diversifying activities. On foot, on horseback, by mountain bike, on the climbing cliffs or on the Guil… the Queyras offers a multitude of routes and activities for all tastes and all levels.

The Queyras can be discovered by car and on foot. Many local hiking trails will be indicated to you by the tourist offices in each village. Note that in Saint-Véran in the summer season, traffic is prohibited, except residents, and parking is compulsory at the entrance to the village. A contribution of € 2 will be requested, to allow the village to develop and expand its car parks.

Cross Queyras on the GR5, which connects Briançon to Nice, passing Les Toys du Queyras (SCOP l’Alpin Chez Lui) at La Chalp d’Arvieux before joining the famous Lac de Roux or Lac de la Motte Tremblante, formerly known as the 8th wonder of Dauphiné. If the first glimpse of the park enchants you, you can join the GR58, also called “tour du Queyras” to travel through the various valleys and their villages. The GR58 also passes in front of Les JOuets du Queyras L’Alpin Chez Lui before going up to the Furfande mountain pasture and its popular refuge. Also, many local paths have been developed by the municipalities, do not hesitate to inquire. Queyras is however a region which, by virtue of its isolation, has benefited from exceptional conservation of its natural environment.

Cross-country skiing
Queyras is famous for its Nordic area: 100 km of cross-country ski trails, 100 km of Nordic hiking trails. Under the sun and dry air, the snow stays dry and soft. nothing to do with the other humid massifs of the Alps. Take the opportunity to come and see “Les Toys du Queyras” in Arvieux en Queyras at the foot of the Col d’Izoard.

Downhill skiing
The Queyras is a wonderful alpine ski area. It is open all winter to the delight of 15,000 holidaymakers. Particularities: Four geographic centers for four areas: Haut-Guil Valley: Abriès en Queyras, Izoard Valley: Arvieux en Queyras and its famous “Queyras Toys since 1920”, Aigues Valley: Môlines en Queyras and Saint-Véran (2,040 m, highest village in Europe), Cristillan Valley: Ceillac en Queyras. 35 ski lifts, 120 km of slopes for all levels.

Queyras is also a free flight paradise: Ceillac is a very accessible free flight site that is appreciated whatever its level of practice. Neighboring sites around the Col Izoard and the Col Agnel allow you to take off above 2700m for very aerial flights, where on unfavorable days such as at the end of the season, the other massifs remain below the inversion layer and therefore impractical.

Ceillac allows certain flights in relative protection of the breezes of valleys. In all cases it is advisable to fly in Queyras with very little meteorological wind, and preferably from a direction different from the global orientation of the valleys (generally in a South to West extension).

Speleology, canyoning
A dozen cavities have been listed on the limestone massif, including the Aven de la Mortice, located at 2,950 m, above the lake of 9 colors, with an opening of 8 X 12 and a vertical of 110 m arriving on a permanent snowfield. To do after July due to the risk of snow on the starting lips. Also pretty canyons for the summer on the Briançonnais side

Ski touring
Queyras is a ski touring paradise, why? Sun, dry snow, average slope (therefore accessible to all), larch forests then alpine pastures, serenity of landscapes not oppressive, four valleys or dozens of all different outings. But still ? The hamlets at the bottom of the valley, the network of stopover or hotel lodges, furnished accommodation with locals.

Hiking, of course, also sightseeing: The artisanal cooperative in Château-Queyras, sculpted furniture, cheese factories, the famous wooden toys of Queyras (the Alpin Chez Lui in Arvieux, since 1920, all the small heritage (listed churches, ovens, fountains etc…).

Without forgetting the highest village in Europe: Saint-Véran, with its barrels in the sun.

Ice climbing
Many waterfalls are distributed in the Queyras massif, Ceillac a high place of ice climbing.