100 years ago, Besse was already a typical Oisans village, with its squat stone houses, huddled together for protection from the cold and separated by steep, narrow lanes, paved with calades, the local stone. Nowadays, in both summer and winter, visitors interested in sport or simply gazing at the view, can ramble over the Emparis plateau, with its outstanding panoramic views over the Aiguilles d’Arves, the Meije, the Pic du Mas de la Grave and the Crêtes de la Salse.
- Village listed in the Bâtiments de France inventory
- Typical architecture and outstanding heritage
- Maison Départementale des Alpages
- Emparis plateau (Natura 2000 natural site)
- Themed discovery trails
Besse is the starting point for numerous trails, some leading into the Savoie and Hautes Alpes departments. The village is also on the GR54 long-distance path. The Emparis plateau is considered exceptional hiking country, both for its unspoiled nature (a listed site) and the wonderful views on offer, as well as being well-known for its mountain huts, horse riding and paragliding. The immediate surroundings of Besse can also be explored on thematic heritage discovery trails. A visit to the Maison des Alpages Pasture Museum and a simple stroll through the village are not to be missed!
History and Heritage
This important Alpine community used to be known as “Saint André in the middle of the forest”, and, as legend has it, only some birch trees remain the forest that burned down in 1540. Indeed, the name “Besse” comes from “Bes”, the word for birch in local patois. The inhabitants of yesteryear, comprising pedlars, artisans and simple mountain farmers, left their mark on the village. The Emparis plateau (2900 ha at an altitude of 2200 m) is one of the most extensive pastures in Europe, home to numerous flocks and herds that keep the countryside “open” and perpetuate the ancestral custom of high-altitude pastoralism.
The Virgin Mary is said to have appeared before an inhabitant of Besse in the hamlet of Cuchet on 11 September 1886 and 11 September 1887. An oratory was built at this place and healing water is said to flow from the spring located 300 m from the village.
There are many buildings (chapels and oratories) and crosses dotted throughout the area, bearing witness to the importance of religion and superstition in the nineteenth century; “A Saint for each and every thing”.
Take time to fall under the charm of this village, remembering the old local saying, “If you haven’t seen Besse and Emparis, you haven’t seen anything… “.