If you look closely, you soon realise that this river of bubbling cascades, isn’t actually a river at all! Far from it in fact, because this is Les Sources des Gillardes, and it’s absolutely fascinating!
Yes, Les Sources des Gillardes is a natural spring, emerging under pressure from its underground hiding place! It then flows through the mountains where it forms the Souloise River, before reaching the reservoir of Lac Du Sautet.
Above all, in this picturesque corner of South East France, Les Sources des Gillardes is only one of two of its kind in France.
We’re here on a 3 month tour of Eastern France, spending most of our time in the Alps. Last night we arrived from the direction of Gap, and now we’re heading North towards Grenoble.
Parking at Les Sources des Gillardes is easy and we manage to find a scenic overnight spot at the dedicated parking area. The location, situated in the Haute Alps sits within the department of Isére and we can’t wait to explore further.
Deep within these forested hillsides are a labyrinth of walking trails. Not only only that, but many walks begin directly from the parking area and are well sign-posted. We feel as if it’s a rather remote area, less visited than many hot spots, but absolutely beautiful at the same time.
After a hearty breakfast we set about checking out the signs and information board in the parking area. Then do a quick cross-reference to a walking route from a book we brought with us – Back Roads France .
Choosing the return walk of Les Gillardes, should take us from the “Source” on a trail of discovery through this scenic forest.
First, we cross the road from the parking area to join the easy path through the trees. It’s not long before we arrive at the incredible sight of “Les Sources des Gillardes” as it bubbles up from nowhere. To be honest, at first, we thought it was actually the river. Then on closer inspection, we realised there was no river at all beyond the bubbling cascades.
Yes, they are a wide mass of water, tumbling over rocks – gurgling and bubbling, as this underground spring makes it way through the forest.
The sun is bright and the sky clear. Undoubtedly, it’s the most beautiful September morning for a walk in these idyllic surroundings. On top of that, there’s picnic areas and places to chill. Above all, we’re sure in the height of Summer, it would be a place full of families, enjoying the clear water and magical ambience.
We reluctantly, walk on, leaving “Les Sources des Gillardes” behind for a moment. Now we’re heading up hill, towards the rocky canyon of the Gorges de L’Infernet. Soon, bridges crossing the gorge take us in a criss-cross pattern from one side of the narrow hollowed out rock to the other. All the while, the water whirls and swirls through its narrow chasms.
The water is bright blue and the rock face of the gorge look perfectly smooth, rubbed down by the passage of time.
Our route now leads us through a mix of more forest and open fields, all up hill. Before long, the river is left behind, as we near an extended section of trail towards the village of Pellafol.
By the time we arrive in this mountain hamlet, we’re tired from the sun and the steep sections of path. Nothing much is going on here, except for strangely enough, a rather apt selection of overland campervans! Yes, here in the middle of nowhere, we stumble across someone converting old vehicles into overland trucks – what a small world!
We take a moment to cool off, by splashing our faces with some welcome spring water from the local fountain. Oh, how we love these mountain regions of Europe, where water flows in abundance for all to enjoy.
The return route takes us back the way we’d come. Except for an alternative detour when we arrived back at the gorge. This lead us on a path on the opposite side of the river to the way we’d come. As we neared the finish, we spotted a few campervans parked in an idyllic location beside the river. Oh, why hadn’t we spotted that last night!
After about 4 hours walking, we were back at the start of the trek, opposite “Les Sources des Gillardes”. We couldn’t’ resist another quick glance over at the bubbling water. Just one last section before arriving back at the van – a gorgeous glen, where a wooden footbridge crossed a pond-like stream. This was like something out of a fee-paying gardens!
Next, after a coffee and snack back at the van, we drove on towards the hamlet of Pellafol-Par-La-Souloise. Now, we weren’t going to stop here, but we realised, there are supposed to be some fascinating rock formations here.
Not only that, but we’d also seen a sign for a ruined village. So, both things put together, just seemed too good to resist.
Unfortunately, the 1.4km return walk wasn’t really worth the effort! Maybe, it’s because we’d been walking all morning, but whatever the reason, a long steep hill didn’t help! Then, we have to admit that the rock formations weren’t the best either – especially as we’d just seen the incredible Les Pénitents les Mées a couple of days ago!
Finally, we couldn’t find any sign of a ruined village! Despite the signs, obviously this ruined village had been well and truly ruined!! Perhaps it’s worth mentioning why. Apparently, it was destroyed due to the construction of the nearby dam of Lac du Sautet – well they certainly did a good job of it!
Now, we’re on the move again, this time heading towards the reservoir and recreation lake of Lac du Sautet. This is one of those dramatic moments where we soon find ourselves driving across the dam wall and it’s Wow!
We sort of expected there to be an Aire here somewhere on the lake, but we failed to find one. Having said that, there’s a good campsite right on the waters edge. We park beside a nautical centre, overlooking the water. Incredibly, on this September day, it’s deserted here.
It’s a reminder of the short season in these French regions, but we imagine it in the height of Summer, when these still waters would be a hive of activity.
Driving back the way we came, soon we find ourselves at the barrage and it’s a dramatic encounter. There’s a parking area here, so we take advantage and take a look out across the dam wall. Heck – there’s the most scary looking Via Ferrata too, including a cable wire which crosses the ravine itself.
Today it’s all closed up, probably too late in the season to attract any adventure thrill seekers. Now that’s one activity that we’ll leave for those a little more daring!
Finally, we’re back on the road, heading towards the town of Savel and the start for one of the most incredible walks – The Himalayan Bridges!
Well, I hope that wets your appetite, because that’s where we’ll be taking you next time – see you there!