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Latest update: 1 May 2024

What kind of crazy person goes to a winter sports area in the fall? Well, me. I’m going to Serre Chevalier in France at the end of October, right out of season, because I want to see the autumn colors and the larch trees just before they lose their needles. And, of course, I want to explore the area. There is plenty to do in Serre Chevalier, even in autumn.

Serre Chevalier & Briançon

The mountains. The cows with cowbells. The wooden chalets. The smell of melted cheese. Welcome to the Alps! Actually, it is mainly the French who appreciate the Serre Chevalier valley in the Hautes-Alpes. 80% of the visitors are French. The other tourists are British and Italian (Italy is only 15 kilometers from Briançon), followed by Belgians and Dutch. I like that I don’t hear Dutch that much around me, but I still can get by with English everywhere.

Briançon is the only city in Serre Chevalier, a small, pleasant one. There are also three villages: Villeneuve, Chantemerle, and Le Monêtier-les-Bains. I stay in the latter, the town known as the more affluent of the bunch. You can drive by car from Briançon to Le Monêtier-les-Bains, the furthest village, in about fifteen minutes.

Autumn highlights in the Hautes-Alpes

One day, I drink a Globe Trotteur wine (I have never heard of it, but as a travel blogger, I cannot NOT order wine with that name) from the Haute-Alpes on a sunny terrace, and the next day, I curl up by the fireplace with a hot chocolate. The fall season gives a glimpse of both summer and winter in Serre Chevalier.

In winter, the area turns into a winter sports destination with more than 250 kilometers of slopes and guaranteed snow. In the summer, hikers and cyclists mainly come to enjoy the mountains. There are more than enough outdoor activities in Serre Chevalier for every season.

But in the fall, the Halloween decorations are taken out, and hearty dishes with lamb and pumpkin appear on the menus. The smell of melted cheese from the raclette and fondue makes me hungry, and the heating is turned up a notch (or two) everywhere. I unzip my jacket during a brisk autumn walk because it is still quite warm. When I get a few hundred meters higher in the mountains, snowflakes suddenly flutter around me.

In terms of weather, you don’t know what to expect in the fall, but that is precisely why it is easy to get that free, timeless holiday feeling. Making plans, yes, but I quickly change them and adapt to the weather. Strenuous hike on the program, but is it raining? Then I’ll visit a local distillery. Reading a book in the hotel, but the sun starts to shine? Hop onto the terrace or walk along the river and look at a herd of cows.

What can you do in Serre Chevalier in the low season?

You can come to Serre Chevalier in the low season if you are not made of sugar. Of course, sometimes it rains. But in the valley, there is plenty to do indoors and outdoors. So, as long as you’re flexible with your schedule, you’ll be fine!

Take a short walk to the Chapelle Sainte Anne

In Le Monêtier-les-Bains, you can easily start the hike from the center to a chapel on the mountain. This is the Chapelle Sainte Anne. The chapel itself is not very impressive, but the view is. High snow-covered mountain peaks, the trees with autumn colors: wow! I also see the currently empty tracks between the trees, which will soon be the ski slopes.

You start your walk in the village (here). The hike to the chapel takes about 45 minutes. First, follow the road up, and when you come across a sign with Chapelle Sainte Anne or Puy Chevalier, you know you are in the right place. The street becomes a path with stones, and then you reach a junction with a larger wooden sign. Not long afterward, you will have to cross a small river. It’s a little steeper here, but you’re almost there. So take your time and remember to look around you.

When the path ends, cross the grass to the Chapelle Sainte Anne (here). Enjoy the view, and then continue your route behind the chapel. A narrow path takes you back down. This part is much more fun than the climb up!

Discover the Serre Chevalier valley by mountain bike

Fancy a bit of cycling? Grab a mountain bike – preferably an electric one, because cycling through the mountains is tough. I join Serre Che VTT on a tour and we cycle for almost three hours through the Serre Chevalier valley. We were supposed to go for two hours, but the surroundings are simply too good to end the tour just yet.

We cycle along the river, and the guide adapts the route to our level. We are good cyclists, but we are not used to mountain bikes. We can do off-roading as long as it is not too slippery and steep.

There are narrow paths everywhere that we share with walkers and dogs. The raging water in the river is ice blue, and the trees have every possible autumn color. The pride of Serre Chevalier is the mélèze (often called larch). It is one of the few conifers that loses its needles in winter. You will also find the mélèze on various menus and in local products (drinks, honey, soap).

On the way back, we cycle through the villages and pass a sheep herder with a herd. We stop for a moment every now and then so that our guide can point out or explain something. I think the mountain bike tour is a wonderful way to be sporty and enjoy nature.

Tasting time at Distillerie des 4 Frères

In a distillery in La Salle Les Alpes, four brothers make liqueurs, eau de vie, and gins with local ingredients. One of the brothers once bought an old distilling machine from 1921 with friends and learned everything about distilling alcohol from the previous owner. The friends have left the business, the brothers have joined, and the device has survived a major fire. That is why one of the gins is called Phoenix – risen from the ashes. The other gin, Le 100, owes its name to the French words for hundred and blood, which are similar. A nod to the brothers’ blood ties.

You can visit Distillerie des 4 Frères for free. You will then get an explanation of the process: how sugar in fruit is converted into ethanol by bacteria and how steaming and cooling are used to perfect the product. And many more insights and fun facts, but you’ll have to find that out for yourself.

The brothers now have more than fifteen different products. And you might think you get to taste maybe three or four of those. No, they pour them all. I find the liqueurs with raspberry, mint, and, of course, the mélèze tasty. But when we get to the eau de vie, I start to give up. So. Much. Alcohol. Do people actually like this?

If you are also curious about the brothers’ drinks, you can visit them by appointment. The tour and tasting are free, so you will have some money left to take a bottle home as a souvenir. Sante!

Google Maps location

Hiking to Lac de la Douche

A popular hike is to the Lac de la Douche. A beautiful mountain lake at an altitude of 1900 meters. The starting point is five minutes by car from the center of Le Monêtier-les-Bains, near a small mill museum. Here, you first follow the sign with a green circle and the number five; further along the route are yellow signs with the lake’s name.

The Lac de la Douche is in the Parc National des Écrins. This is a large national park with mountains of almost 4000 meters. I’ll save that for another time. The Lac de la Douche is now my endpoint.

It is not a challenging hike, but you climb quite a bit. You start at 1500 meters and, therefore, ascend approximately 400 meters. The climb is easy for the first part, but it becomes more intense towards the end. At this altitude, I notice my breathing getting heavier and my heart rate getting quicker. Some people bring walking sticks, but that is certainly optional. During the walk to Lac de la Douche, we also encounter families with children. It takes us an hour to reach the lake, and because the way back is mainly downhill, it goes a little faster.

The trail is beautiful. I walk along the river and through the forest, and all around me are high mountains with white snow-capped peaks. The water of Lac de la Douche is so blue that it looks as if someone has photoshopped it. You have the best lake view if you cross the water and walk up a bit. When we arrive at the lake, snow is actually falling. What a gift!

Google Maps location starting point
From here, you can start more walking routes, including multi-day ones.

Spa with a view: Les Grands Bains du Monêtier

A spa couldn’t be much nicer. The Les Grands Bains du Monêtier bathing complex is at the foot of the mountains, so you have fantastic views from both the indoor and outdoor baths. This must be so beautiful when it snows!

Les Grands Bains du Monêtier

The water of Les Grands Bains du Monêtier comes from a thermal hot spring. At the source, the water is no less than 44°C. It is slightly lower in the baths to make the beneficial healing powers accessible. But even if you don’t believe in those healing qualities, visiting Les Grands Bains du Monêtier is an excellent idea. The baths are very popular, so I recommend making a reservation. Reserve online or ask at the counter. You can also book additional spa treatments.

There are hammam areas, indoor and outdoor jacuzzis, saunas, baths at different temperatures, and a music cave. In that one, you lie on your back with your ears underwater, listening to soothing music. The bathing complex has two floors, the top one being the quietest. You have to pay a little extra if you want access to this area.

If you have forgotten your swimsuit or speedo (mandatory for men), there is a swimsuit/speedo machine! You can rent a towel for 5 euros at Les Grands Bains du Monêtier, but you only need it to dry yourself at the end of your visit. Bringing a quick-drying microfiber towel from Decathlon is sufficient, if you ask me. Good to know: the changing rooms have hairdryers and mirrors, and there is a fast dryer for your swimwear.

Google Maps location

Restaurant tips in Serre Chevalier

In Briançon I would like to recommend restaurant L’Alpin and 15/9. You can read more about this in my blog about Briançon. And because I stayed in Le Monêtier-les-Bains, I also have three excellent restaurants for you there. The first is Le Montagn’Art (Google Maps location), but I didn’t manage to eat here. Without a reservation, there was no room for us during lunch. So, if you like Le Montagn’Art, make a reservation!

Restaurant Stabatio

Even if you are not a hotel guest, I highly recommend the Le Monêtier Hotel restaurant Stabatio. It has a nice atmosphere and the food is good. At Stabatio restaurant you can have dinner every day of the week and lunch from Wednesday to Sunday. You can order a (vegetarian) burger or go for a local dish. The carré d’agneau is a local specialty: a rack of lamb with, among other things, mélèze herbs (from the larch tree).

Google Maps location

Restaurant Le Gout du Temps

At the restaurant Le Gout du Temps, you have two choices for all courses. I love it: it makes deciding much easier. Although it’s still a little difficult because everything sounds good. All ingredients come from the region, so on an autumn day, I eat porcini mushrooms and a delicious piece of duck. The portions are the perfect size, as I have just enough room for dessert! A suitable wine has been selected for each dish. It was fun to try out.

When I’m there, the restaurant is quite quiet but not uncomfortable. Because it is a kind of basement with different corners, you don’t feel like you have to talk at museum level. There is also a nice separate room for private dining, so if you are with a group and want something special, that might be a good option for you.

Google Maps location

Wonderful hotel in Le Monêtier-les-Bains: Le Monêtier Hotel

The Le Monêtier Hotel is at the bottom of the valley in the village of Le Monêtier-les-Bains. From my hotel room, I have a first-class view of the mountains and what will be the slopes in winter. It is a beautiful room with dark colors that give it a chic look. The ceiling is made of wood. There is some subdued art and a nice mountain region map on the wall.

I can make coffee or tea in the room and drink it on the spacious balcony. Enough cupboard space, a separate toilet, and a good shower jet. I have nothing to complain about in the room! Actually, I have nothing to complain about at all – no complaints on breakfast, dinner, nor the rest. Everything is perfectly taken care of, and the girls behind the reception immediately make my friend and I feel welcome. We arrive early in the morning by night train, and although we are not allowed to enter the room yet, we may enjoy breakfast already. I did not expect that. The restaurant space is undoubtedly very inviting, even if you simply want to read a book on the couch without ordering a drink.

So yes! If you stay in Serre Chevalier, this is a really nice hotel. You can view the hotel details here.

How to get to Serre Chevalier?

It’s quite a drive from Amsterdam to Serre Chevalier: 1,100 kilometers! If you go a little longer, you could consider driving. Otherwise you can fly to Grenoble or Turin, but you will still need a rental car. Compare ticket prices with Skyscanner.

You can arrange rental cars at Sunny Cars or EasyTerra.

But the best option is actually the night train from Paris. It will take you to the station in Briançon in less than 12 hours. You fall asleep in Paris and wake up in Briançon. I will tell you all about it in this article about the French night train. For tickets, you can visit the SNCF site or find them on Omio. To get to Paris, book a train with NS International from the Netherlands, or take the Flixbus from almost anywhere in Europe.

More inspiration for travel in France?

  • Accommodation. All-time favorites: Booking.com and Campspace for unique camping spots. Rather stay in a hostel? Check out Hostelworld.
  • Activities. You book the best tours and activities with GetYourGuide and Viator. You can find other good options at WithLocals. Check out Freetour and GuruWalk for ‘free’ walking tours, and for bike tours, try Baja Bikes. If you’re into wine: check out all the wine-related activities at Rue des Vignerons.
  • Attractions and museums. Book museum and attraction tickets with Tiqets and get a 5% discount with this code: KIMOPREIS22.
  • Car rental. Want to compare prices? Check out Discover Cars and Rental Cars.
  • Flights. Definitely compare prices! Try Skyscanner and Kiwi.
  • Money. Your debit and credit cards may not be accepted everywhere. When you travel, you could opt for a Revolut card as an additional card. 
  • Package deals. Rather go on a catered trip? Maybe Expedia or CheapOair has a good option.
  • SIM card. Beware of unexpectedly high calling and internet costs. Buy a local SIM card when you arrive, or arrange one online via Airalo.
  • Train and bus. Travel by train to France with NS International, or plan your trip via Trainline. Or find deals on trains and busses in France via Busbud, Omio, or 12Go.
  • Travel guides. I love the practical travel guides from Lonely Planet, buy them at Amazon.
  • Yoga retreat. And what about a yoga retreat in France?

Some of the links on this site are affiliate links. If you buy something through these links, I might receive a small commission.

I was invited by Serre Chevalier. I have been given complete editorial freedom.

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