Gateway way to the heart of the Écrins National Park, you will easily imagine life in the pastures of this wild valley and its countless wonders.
Freissinières’ reputation is already well-established. Each year, those who love varied, untouched nature or Vaudois history and diversified culture, and are looking for open spaces, can be found wandering in the Freissinières Valley.
Made up of 13 hamlets following the course of the River Biaysse, the village spans an altitude of between 1,180 m and 1,780 m. Bordered by larch, spruce and pine forests to the south, it stretches to the north as a rocky, barren slope.
History and heritage in Freissinières
Freissinières reputation is already well-established. Each year, those who love varied, untouched nature or Vaudois history and diversified culture, who are looking for open spaces, can be found wandering in the Freissinières Valley.
Made up of 13 hamlets following the course of the River Biaysse, the village varies spans an altitude between 1,180 m and 1,780 m Bordered by larch, spruce and pine forests to the south, it stretches to the north as a rocky, barren slope.
The name Dormillouse will certainly bring back a memory, an image, a thought. Only accessible on foot, it is the only hamlet in the heart of the Écrins National Park to be inhabited throughout the year and comprises a few traditional houses surrounded by vast untamed wilderness with exceptional, protected fauna and flora. The beauty of Dormillouse is breathtaking for anyone who is seeking authenticity, serenity and an incredible view. In 1825, this small village was also home to an ‘École Normale’ in the famous vicar Félix Neff’s home.
You can visit the wonders of the valley all year round (the Palluel and Faravel altitude lakes, the Lauzes Lake, the summer pastures, the Fangeas Lake), the varied activities (mountain biking, via ferrata, climbing, hiking, trail running, Nordic skiing, snowshoeing, etc.) and all its fantastic delights.
The Freissinières Valley, a haven close to nature with a rich and tumultuous history.
"... The setting sun, the worrying shade from the Gramusat cliffs gradually engulfs the Byaisse Valley. Laden with secrets and a tormented history, from the Durance Valley, there is nothing to suggest that there, behind an austere wall studded with Spanish juniper, communities are holding on to the hidden lands where they were born …”
Indeed, for a modern-day traveller following the Hautes-Alpes’ main road axis alongside the Durance, Freissinières is non-existent. How could they imagine that just 7 km away, there is such a world!
The Freissinières municipality, which occupies most of the hanging valley of the Biaysse, spreads from the peripheral zone to the central zone of the Écrins National Park.
Freissinières is one of the longest hanging valleys in the Alpine arc (20 km).
Located at an altitude of 1200 m on the right bank of the Durance, the Freissinières Valley is surrounded by a ring of rocky ridges culminating at 3200 m.
Magnificent waterfalls flow together to form the Biaysse that runs along the entire valley, leaves it by the glacial cross cliff before plunging into the Gouffre de Gourfouran to join the Durance 200 m further below.
During the course down the valley, it crosses three types of landscape:
- The threshold of Dormillouse towards the Chichin Dale, culminating at 2700 m at the Freissinières pass, which links Freissinières to the Champsaur.
- A narrower section, known as La Combe, is quite inhospitable and sparsely populated.
- The plain, what remains of a former alluvial lake, and the climb to the Col d’Anon where most of the clinging hamlets can be found.
Dwellings and history in Freissinières
The valley is home to a succession of 13 hamlets from Pallon at the start of the valley to Dormillouse at an altitude of close to 1,800 m.
- Pallon: at the start of the valley with its traditional houses, temple and cemetery.
- Le Plan: 1 communal oven.
- Les Ribes: the passageway to reach the end of the valley, with its mill for walnut oil and grains.
- Ville: location of the village hall, school and church.
- Les Meyries: 1 communal oven built of stones rather than bricks.
- Les Houdouls.
- Maison neuve: with its beautiful farm.
- Les Roberts: 2 communal ovens.
- Les Fazis.
- Les Aujards: magnificent view of the plain.
- Les Viollins: This is the most recent hamlet of the valley with a temple and traditional houses.
- Les Mensals.
- Dormillouse: perched like an Eagle’s nest, without electricity and can only be reached after a 45-minute climb. The temple, Félix Neff’s house as it is known, housed France’s first teacher training school in 1825.
While in 1850 there were almost 1000 inhabitants in Freissinières, the population has decreased over the 20th century to just 180 inhabitants today.
The history of Freissinières is mainly associated with its geographical location, as a safe haven. Traces of human life date back to the Bronze Age (several documents from the era were found and can be viewed at the museum in Gap).
The Lombards in the 6th century and Saracens in the 8th century left traces of their passage.
However, the history of Freissinières is linked more particularly to the Vaudois movement that took refuge here at the end of the 13th century. This religious movement, which established itself in several Alpine valleys, was long-lasting in Freissinières and, in the 16th century, joined the Protestant reform.
Troubles associated with the Wars of Religion were particularly intense and we are told of the prosecution, imprisonment and execution of the Vaudois and later of the Reformists (exhibition on this topic at the mill in Les Ribes).
Thanks to the French Revolution and the Empire, the Protestant community was able to live in peace and, following the Concordat, turned the Dormillouse church they had acquired into a temple.
History also indicates the arrival of Félix Neff in Dormillouse. He was a vicar from Geneva, who spread the faith across the Alpine valleys and created a teacher training school in Dormillouse, in the building next to the temple (Information on Félix Neff is part of the exhibition at the mill in Les Ribes).
Emigration, at the end of the 19th century essentially to Algeria, where the people of Freissinières created several villages, and World War I at the start of the 20th century led to a decline in the population.
Throughout history, the valley was mainly agro-pastoral. Nonetheless, as in all mountainous regions, many activities were carried out; weaving, ironmongery, wood working, etc.
Today, there are still a few farmers who work mostly in the plain but also to a lesser degree in the fields towards the Col d’Anon.
But, if the population has been maintained, it is mainly thanks to the industrial activity along the Durance, in L’Argentière and La Roche de Rame.
Over the last fifteen years, since the Péchiney factory closed, the village has turned to tourism thanks to the quality of the scenery and the peace and calm that the timeless valley has to offer.
See also: The hamlet of Dormillouse, in the heart of the Écrins National Park
The Chichin waterfall
The Oules waterfall
Faravel and Palluel altitude lakes
Dormillouse via the Papillons footpath
The Col de Freissinières
Contact the Freissinières town hall: firstname.lastname@example.org