Above Briancon and its mighty fortresses, there is one of the wildest areas in the Western Alps. This area in the French Alps is known alternatively as the Massif of the Oisans from the old name of the region, Massif of Pelvoux or Massif of the Ecrins from the major mountain ranges within its borders. Massif des Ecrins is the name that finally asserted itself. The area is protected zone since 1913 and is a park since the seventies. It is a wide oasis of ice and rocks, enclosed by the valleys of Romanche, Drac , Guisane and Durance, with more than 10000 hectares of glaciers and 150 mountains above 3000m. The steep valleys, which can still testify with their U shape the recent glacial history or the region, are a typical feature of the landscape of this part of the Alps, so much that during wintertime some villages are totally shaded form the sun by the surrounding mountains.
I visited the Vallée des Merveilles, or “Valley of the Marvels”, to see its rich heritage of petroglyphs before the winter snows will cover them until late spring. Being an archaeologist myself, I was fascinated by the idea of having both open country scenery (my favorite along with cloud forests) and history.
About two hours form the French town of Nice and 3-4 hours from the Italian town of Torino, it is one of the richest sites in the Alps for rock art: it hosts between 40000 and 100000 rock engravings, dating to the III millennium B.C. Besides, the area features stunning scenery, with barren rocky peaks, several lakes and abundant wildlife: chamois, ibex or marmots are easily encountered in the high elevations. A wonderful place indeed!