In the summer I travelled to the French Alps on a family holiday of downhill mountain biking, hiking and plant hunting. From wildflowers to wildlife, fresh mountain air to fungi the Tarentaise valley was teeming with diverse natural treasures.
Staying in the beautiful ski resort Sainte Foy which is, in the summer, a quiet, tranquil hide away.
For years we have gazed across the valley and daydreamed about hiking up the switchbacks to see how far up we could get, with our twelve year old son, towards the famed Mount Pourri 3779m. Well this year was the year and we set off on our carefully planned adventure through the Vanoise National Park.
We started our hike at the beautiful old alpine village of Le Planay around 1270m situated just above Villaroger and in the growing heat of the morn commenced our ascent passed alpine allotments defying belief perched on precarious slopes but bursting with thriving produce.
Armed with my 'Field Guide to Flowers of the French Alps' the trip began with identifying and photographing vast numbers of wildflowers en route but as we gained altitude and the terrain turned from wildflower meadow to woodland and out popped the fungi.
It was like stumbling upon a fairytale land. I have never seen so many different varieties of fungi on one hike. As the altitude changed so did the fungi.
We were presented with the most beautiful display of Suillus grevillei, Larch Bolete; a great alpine fungi find. These mushrooms pop up around the base of Larch and are mycorrhizal which means the fungi and the tree roots exchange nutrients which are mutually beneficial to both and together they thrive.
Extremely important to note: never eat wild mushrooms unless you are 100% confident you have identified them correctly or are with a fungi expert who can confirm species. Many poisonous mushrooms look remarkably like edible varieties. If in any doubt DO NOT EAT!
Around 1650m we found Lycoperdon perlatum, Common Puffballs, these spiky little saprotrophic fungi feed off of decaying organic material.
A little further up the mountain we found what I believe is Boletus pinophilus – Pine Bolete similar to its relative Boletus edulis, Porcini also know as the Penny Bun! Exquisite mycorrhizal fungi which has a mutualistic relationship with the root systems of nearby trees. Wonderful to see this naturally occurring. Most of us are familiar with applying mycorrhizal fungi in powder form when we plant shrubs but here nature is just 'getting on with it' without any branded packaging.