La Bérarde is a hamlet belonging to Saint-Christophe-en-Oisans, located at an altitude of 1720 m the end of the Vénéon Valley. It is the last inhabited place before the mountain huts and high mountain peaks…
The heart of the Ecrins and Oisans, where the great names of mountaineering still echo in the spirit of the surrounding landscape. An area of freedom and encounters for all mountain lovers.
“The soul of this place is mainly made up of space. It needs a great deal of air and sky to breathe.”
The joining together of the Etançons and Vénéon mountain streams shaped the end of the valley, making it suitable for establishing a village.
Surrounded by high summits (3000 to 4000m) that remained unconquered for many years, La Bérarde is the starting point for some of the finest climbs in the Massif des Ecrins, such as the Meije or Les Bans. This is why this little village, which has never really moved on from a previous era, is considered to be a Mountaineering Mecca.
Despite being cut off in winter (the road is closed after Champhorent), it was inhabited year-round until 2009. In the 1900s, life was organised throughout the year between mountaineering and agriculture in the summer and schoolwork in the winter.
These days, it is only woken in winter by ski mountaineers or the most courageous inhabitants who come here on foot, snow shoes or skis. But from spring to autumn, many Bérardins live in the village.
The early days of mountaineering
In the 19th century, Oisans opened up to visitors seeking to explore its untamed valleys and unclimbed summits.
Local men accompanied these adventurers up the mountain. It was the start of the great generations of guides, including the Turc, Rodier and Paquet families.
One of these guides was Pierre Gaspard, who became legendary on 16 August 1877 with his client Emmanuel Boileau de Castelnau by being the first person to climb the southern face of the Meije from La Bérarde.
The “Mémoires d’Alpinismes” Museum of Mountaineering Memories depicts the epic story of these men and their passion.
Rural life continued side-by-side with this new activity and the real upheaval occurred with the building of the road in 1921. Tourists could now reach the village by car instead of on the back of a mule!
Life gradually changed. The thatched roofs, which were difficult to maintain, were replaced by sheet metal and agriculture disappeared for good in the second half of the 20th century. The old wooden bridge was replaced by a stone bridge when the road was built and the old inns that opened at the end of the 19th century to accommodate mountaineers were either converted or demolished, to be replaced by ordinary, functional constructions around the main square.
With the arrival of the first tourists, the Société des Touristes du Dauphiné asked the Auberge Rodier if it could borrow a part of its barn and some hay to shelter mountaineers during the night. The STD eventually opened its own chalet (with around 30 beds), which was purchased 20 years later by its manager, Mr. Tairraz, and became the “Grand Hôtel Tairraz”. It was considered a luxury hotel at the time, since it had electricity!
A bus service operated until the 1960s, with two or three buses a day. La Bérarde was then a major tourist centre for the period.
Hiking and the National Park
Having conquered all the summits surrounding La Bérarde and, above all, the famous Queen Meije that held out for so long, mountaineers gradually set off for new challenges. Although mountaineering is still a leading activity, the site has diversified and, above all, opened up to everyone.
When the first French National Park – Les Ecrins – opened in 1973, La Bérarde was given a new lease of life, with the creation of the Park confirming that the village had an outstanding natural heritage. Each side valley is different and offers incredible panoramic views over iconic peaks including the Meije, the Ecrins and the Dibona. The commune of La Bérarde covers the entire upper part of the Vénéon Valley and therefore the heart of the Massif des Écrins and the National Park. It occupies nearly one fifth of the Park.
Hiking has become one of the activities that attracts both mountain lovers and tourists, although the area is also famous for mountaineering, rock climbing and ski mountaineering. It is the starting point for a good many summits. Mountain huts have been modernized and new huts built, thereby creating the site as we know it today.