Dormillouse, at the heart of the Parc National des Ecrins
Nestled in the Freissinières valley is the little hamlet of Dormillouse. The only village inhabited all year round in the heart of the Parc, Dormillouse is only accessible by a small path about an hour’s walk away. There are several impressive waterfalls on the way. Isolated but rich in history thanks to its religious past and the relics of its well-known Vaudois occupation (a temple and former school, Felix Neff’s house …), Dormillouse is composed of several little wood and stone houses. It has a rare and unique animal and plant life, so you might be privileged to see the Alpine Scabious, edelweiss, marmots, sheep (pastoralism centre) …From Dormillouse, you can choose amongst several walks available, and explore the sumptuous scenery of the Faravel and Palluel lakes.
Dormillouse is a hamlet of Fressinières valley found in the bottom of the valley, perched on a glacial rocky bar at an altitude of about 1800 m.
Beyond Dormillouse, the Biaysse valley continues up to the Col d’Orcières. It is surrounded by mountains: the Dormillouse peaks to the north and Les Mourinas to the south, of altitudes over 3000 m.
Characteristics of Dormillouse:
there is no vehicle access
it’s the highest hamlet in the valley
it’s the only constructed zone in the Parc National des Écrins
it’s the only place inhabited year round in the central zone of the Parc National des Écrins.
Dormillouse was considered a village because it had a school, a church (all its habitants were Protestants) and its own civil register.
Altitude is this place’s first defining factor (1700 m to 1850 m). Its position on the sunny side means that it has a minimum of 4 hours’ sunshine in winter and 11 hours in summer. The village is built below the mountain’s ridge and more precisely, below the edge of a plateau called Les Clots (500 m higher) which protects it from avalanches. This location has, over the course of time, assured its inhabitants a natural protection.
The village’s buildings
The temple: built in 1758. Originally it was a church to be used by Catholics. A priest, named Jauffrey, was muted to this parish. He stayed 30 years and said two masses each day. None of Dormillouse’s inhabitants ever went to his masses. When he left, he made this speech: “You pig-headed people of Dormillouse, listen well. When I am at the gates of hell with my crucifix in my hand, I will say to you: come, come my damned souls of Freissinières, there’s plenty of space for you.” The temple was then given to the Protestants.
The school: located next to the temple (now a gîte d’étape), was originally the priest’s house. This building became Dormillouse’s village school.
Félix Neff’s house: situated at the far east of Les Romans, it was an “école normale d’instituteurs” (a school where teachers could also be trained) created in 1826 and was the first protestant school in France.
Bread ovens: there were 3 ovens at Dormillouse: at Les Enflous, Pra-Barnéou and Les Romans. Bread was cooked once a year because wood was a rare commodity.
The water-mill: situated at Les Enflous, it was used to mill rye and was restored in 1980. A hydroelectric turbine, situated near the mill, assured public and private lighting needs for 20 years.
The cemetery has existed since the beginning of the 20th century.
The houses previously had the same exterior aspect as today. No cellar nor vaulted stable. Slate roof. One entered by a corridor which gave onto the stable and living area, comprising the kitchen and two bedrooms. On the upper level there was a grange where hay was stored. There was never a fire in the village. The land register showed 80 dwellings in 1834 and only 18 in 1958.
Most of the pathways in the village were paved.
Around Dormillouse hamlet, you will find some huts that have been restored and are now used by shepherds during the transhumance, natural shelters (holes in the rocks), regularly maintained wooden bridges, an arched bridge to the west of Romans which was built following the line of the gorge.
Several canals were built: one underground which served the people of Romans, an irrigation channel follows the same course. Other canals irrigated the Baridons and Henrics meadows. Another canal was built in about 1830 by Félix Neff to serve the meadows at Faravel, named after a nearby lake.
There are a few relics from the mining activities near the Fangeas lake, at the bottom of Faravel meadow, near the Col d’Orcières.
Crédit photos : Jan Novak Photography