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  • Writer's pictureDebi Holland

Extreme Gardening Le Monal

Extreme gardening - allotment at altitude

We can all think our growing conditions are sometimes challenging but alpine gardening really does put UK allotment life in perspective.

Whilst on holiday in the French Alps last August; we hiked up to the ancient alpine farming hamlet of Le Monal nestled in a bowl at the mouth of the Clou valley at Sainte Foy Tarentaise.

Stone huts of Le Monal

Le Monal's stone buildings date back to the 18th and 19th century and face the glaciers of Mont Pourri massif. The hamlet is enveloped by larch forest. A scene which is truly breathtaking. Three groups of chalets are arranged around the St Clair chapel, several mountain streams and ponds.

Larch forest at Le Monal

The listed site is deemed a perfect example of a Haute-Tarentaise village. Some stone buildings straddle the stream and did act as a refrigerator to store milk. Very resourceful!

Life at 1874 metres needs thought and planning to survive the harsh weather. Hot summers precede snow covered winter landscapes. Although there is a track to the village it can be cut off to civilisation by vehicle in the winter but can be fully enjoyed via the off-piste ski terrain.

Goat farming produces the delicious 'Persillé' blue goats cheese which is unique to the region of Sainte Foy and only made in two places; one being Le Monal. It is farmed and sold in summer at the village.

Mountain cheese “Persillé” (goats cheese)

Dotted around the hamlet I stumbled across a number of neat allotment plots. Perfect examples of kitchen gardens growing at altitude. It is miles to the nearest shop so land needs to be fully utilised. Even if you were to buy your supplies it is surprising how expensive fresh fruit and vegetables are. I feel it would be difficult to remain healthy without supplementing your diet by growing your own unless you had a large bank account.

Alpine life - grow your own

There were also a lot of bee hives situated around the village which was good to see.

The overwhelming feature I found was the profuse amount of wildlife. Butterflies, bees and grasshoppers populated the area en mass. The incredible biodiversity of wildflower meadows left as nature intended has had an evident effect on the local wildlife. I shall elaborate on this in a separate post.

The absence of chemicals has meant everything you come across during your alpine travels was a true reflection on natural eco systems where everything is just left to its own devices. It really was a delight to be surrounded by pollinators busily going about their day.

In the short summer season a multitude of vegetables grow in the mountains: chard, lettuce, herbs and leaks were in abundance, all looking incredibly green and healthy. Alongside flowers and a generous helping of weeds.

It really does prove that working with your natural environment and adhering to the seasons can produce a fabulous harvest, even in the harshest of mountain regions.

Make the most of what you have and get growing!

All photos taken by Debi Holland ©

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