Châtel lies at the end of a long and rather beautiful valley. Viewed from above, the village forms a pleasing splatter of chalets surrounded by pasture and forested slopes, rising to the craggy peaks of the Portes du Soleil mountain area. Rubbing shoulders with the Swiss border, Châtel is one of 12 villages, both French and Swiss, which make up this huge area, where winter and summer holiday adventures are made a reality by an extensive network of tracks, trails and lifts.
To make the most of a visit here it’s essential to talk to your hosts or visit the Tourist Information Office for ideas. During our own week-long stay we wanted a get-away-from-it-all walk, and to sample some local produce, so we asked the Tourist Office team what they would recommend. That’s how we found ourselves standing at the head of the glorious Barbossine Valley taking in the breathtaking views. Far below us we could just make out our destination – the Chalet de Barbossine, where we were assured we would find a great lunch made with AOC Abondance cheese.
We’d started the day by taking the Super Châtel lift, then the onward chairlift to Le Morclan at 1970m. If you have a Portes du Soleil Multi Pass (free if you’re staying for two nights or more with a participating accommodation provider) all the lifts are free. From the Morclan top station we found the footpath sign to Barbossine and followed the ridge, while enjoying some amazing views. At the Col de Folière we followed a footpath sign to ‘Chalets de Barbossine’ and found ourselves at the head of a deep valley.
It was pretty obvious that the descent we were about to undertake wasn’t exactly going to be a gentle stroll. A challenging black ski run in the winter, the path zig-zags to ease the downward route through steep mountain pasture. We had company – the herd of Abondance cows, who were clearly much too busy grazing to bother us, and who didn’t seem to mind the slope at all. We, on the other hand, were glad when the terrain finally flattened out a bit, and we could take in more of the scenery. By this time we could clearly make out the individual farm buildings below and were hungrily anticipating our lunch.
The Chalet de Barbossine is only open during the summer (in winter the cows are housed in the valley and the farmers’ summer quarters are closed up). In good weather you can sit outside beneath parasols at picnic tables, although there is indoor seating. The proximity of the cowshed and the handful of fragrant cows occupying it is surprising at first but we soon get over it, it’s not long before we have our food and anyway we’re happy just to be here. As well as running the café, the farmers also make the Abondance cheese, as we see when the farmer goes into the ‘cave’ to replenish the kitchen. You can read more about this tasty regional cheese in our feature Alpine Regional Cheeses on the website.
Appetites satisfied we leave the Chalet and rejoin the path, now a proper farm track, and making a gentle descent through meadows and trees. It’s a pleasant hour’s walk through the forest on a hot summer’s day. We eventually begin to hear traffic and glimpse chalets as we emerge at Super Châtel. We then join a footpath, signed back to Châtel, which as it turned out was quite cut away by a rocky stream and very steep. Our advice would be to avoid this and follow the road – if you’re lucky you could even catch a passing shuttle bus.