We do not think of our home as a vacation spot. We look elsewhere for what is sometimes in front of us. This was my case! That’s how I went to discover the Valserine valley, to the rhythm of a donkey’s hooves.

Let me tell you the story of this enchanted interlude in the heart of the Valserine. A week of half-board hiking with a donkey as a travel companion. With him, we went to discover the wonders of our territory. During this adventure, the notion of time and space no longer exists. Abandon everything, the digital, the technology, the hubbub of daily life and the time that escapes you. There is only you, the donkey and nature.

June 2019, in the Jura …

Already 3 days of hiking and 40 km covered, starting from La Pesse and passing by Les Moussières and Bellecombe; 3 days to walk in the Jura landscapes, the one of the high plateaus, to discover the local gastronomy and the kindness of the hosts; 3 days to live, to pamper and to get acquainted with the donkey Harlequin.

From the Platières (Bellecombe-Jura), the Petit Montrond seems immediately accessible with a hilly landscape of forests, plateaus and meadows. There is no sign of a long narrow valley where a wild river, the Valserine, flows, a natural barrier between the Ain and the Jura. It is however towards it that you descend inexorably, 600 meters of descent through the forest.

Arlequin, notre compagnon de route

At the gates of the Valserine

A stopover is necessary before tackling the wild Valserine. The guest house La Pomme de Pin (since closed), in Lélex, welcomes hikers, cyclists, bikers and donkeys. Out of season, the hosts offer half board, the delicious dinner is taken in the living/dining room dedicated to the guests. There is even a fridge to store the food bought at the Sherpa that will be used for the next day’s picnic. As for Harlequin, he is grazing quietly in his pen and his evening treat is a carrot.

In the heart of the Valserine, 14 km between Lélex and Chézery-Forens

Leaving the heart of Lélex, the path leads to the river, at first invisible but very evident to the ears. The river rumbles in this beginning of summer. Only the forest, the river and Harlequin remain. Despite the coolness of the morning, a few impromptu hot spots warm up the atmosphere like a tree lying in the middle of the path or a ground covered with dead leaves, our steps and our hooves sink in but in how much 1, 10, 20 cm then imagine yourself in descent. But it’s worth the detour, the forest is splendid, some bridges span the river like the Roufy bridge or the stone devil’s bridge, a magical place where the rock and the river cohabit in a limited space.

After a morning, alone in this forest, we came back to reality: on one side, workers at work and on the other side, the inhabitants taking advantage of the open spaces to picnic in the coolness of the river because the sun is burning in this hot month of June or simply to enjoy being together, to laugh and to make memories.

La Valserine, première rivière sauvage de France

The hike ends in Chézery-Forens overlooking the river. Today’s stop is at the hotel restaurant Le relais des moines, an old building full of history that has always welcomed pilgrims and travelers. While taking Harlequin to his evening pasture, another building calls out “Gare du Tram“, fortunately a sign is there to explain everything. But it’s up to you to discover it. Just know that it is a small village which had a dense activity.

Warning to the gourmets

For the next day’s picnic, there are several stores: the small grocery store in the village, the bakery a few steps away from the accommodation and even further away but not enough to discourage gourmets: the Abbey’s cheese factory. The only drawback is that when you hike, you can’t raid the store. Sigh!!! So let’s go to the essential : smoked sausage and tome cheese. In short, the ideal picnic with cold cuts and cheese but with quality local products. Ready to tackle the 5th day of walking.

Dernier regard sur la Valserine, 14 km, 1000 m de dénivelé positif entre Chézery-Forens et Giron 

Progressant dans cette vallée de la  Valserine jusqu’au Pont du Dragon, le nom est intrigant, le lieu encore plus. Pont mystérieux qui enjambe la Valserine tour à tour sauvage et impétueuse ou calme et silencieuse. Pont en pierre situé dans un cadre exceptionnel avec falaises et site d’escalade, gorges, ancienne usine hydroélectrique avec sa passe à poissons ou encore vestiges d’une guérite des douaniers. 

Vue de Chézery-Forens

Looking at the pace of Harlequin, one could think that the path is flat but on the contrary it climbs up to the road. Then view on Champfromier, the path leading to it is on a balcony and allows to see a widening of the Valserine valley. Crossing the village with stops at each fountain to refresh yourself.

Last effort before the Jura

Before the last big climb of the day that will bring us back to the Jura highlands, we had a picnic break. Harlequin has also the right to his own break, in addition to having removed his saddlebags, the pole was taken off. He is free to move around and he has a great time. Sometimes, he rolls on the ground with all four legs in the air and then rests for a few moments to start again. We will have to brush him well before putting back his pack and the saddlebags for the afternoon. But in the meantime, let’s enjoy these moments of joy that become beautiful memories.

We don’t have the choice in a trekking tour, we have to reach the evening stage whether it’s raining, windy or hot as it is at the moment. In the shade of the few trees of the route, we take the time to take the last glances at the valley of the Valserine, with this very significant change of vegetation and of trees. After the pass “le pas du boeuf”, back to the Jura highlands. A few more kilometers to reach the stage “La grange de l’errance” in Giron.

Soon a return to the hectic life

Only 2 days left, about 30 km, where I will be able to enjoy Harlequin and his company; where I will go through great landscapes like the Roche Fauconnière, the Roches d’Orvaz or the Croix des couloirs; and especially 2 days where I will make a lot of memories. The mind and the body are present during the hike but the heart is full of emotions!

Many memories to describe in so few words. So live the adventure during the day or while roaming! Whether on foot, by bike or with a donkey, enjoy the Valserine and the neighboring Jura.

Organization: Jura rando
Donkey rental: Vu d’en haut

Other hosts: Les Loges du Coinchet and le Gîte les Adrets