Exploring the animals and plants of Savoie
Turn your hike in the Alps into a real encounter with nature! Here are just some of the famous animals in our mountains and the most precious flowers you might come across during your holiday in Savoie.
A symbol of the Vanoise region, the Alpine ibex can be recognised by its long horns curving behind its head and its stocky and solid silhouette that set it apart from the chamois. You'll also notice how agile it is on the rocks and cliffs. In summer, it seeks out the cooler temperatures on the high-altitude plateaux. In winter, it goes up to the mountain crests that the wind keeps clear of snow. The Alpine ibex are not particularly timid, so you can get quite close to them. Did you know? After almost disappearing from France due to hunting, the Alpine ibex was reintroduced into the Vanoise National Park in the 1960s. Today, there are well over 2,000 of them living here.
Among the animals associated with our mountains, the Alpine chamois might almost go unnoticed. And for good reason, since it is smaller and much more timid than its cousin the Alpine ibex, which makes it more difficult to spot it in its natural habitat. It lives in herds, generally at altitudes between 300 and 3000 metres. Its coat changes with the seasons. In winter, the chamois takes on a dark brown or black colour, whereas in summer its coat is beige or light brown. In Savoie, it has been included in obligatory hunting quotas since 1990.
Listen carefully and you will hear a strange kind of whistling in the midst of the mountains. You've guessed it, it's... a marmot, the little "cuddly toy" star of the Savoie mountains ! At the end of March, the first marmots emerge from their burrows and make for the meadows in bloom. The Vanoise region is one of their favourite spots. These cute little creatures are especially numerous alongside the Col de l'Iseran road (on the Maurienne side) and in the Orgère valley, above Modane. Marmots live in small colonies with about 15 other family members. Sometimes, the most inquisitive marmots will let you come within two yards of them!
In Savoie, it is not unusual to glimpse a golden eagle, especially above the mountain crests in the Vanoise National Park, between the Maurienne and the Tarentaise valleys. The golden eagle has a wingspan of two metres, making it Europe's biggest bird of prey. It is always a unique sight to see it take off and swirl around in the sky before diving down to catch its prey. Other raptors can also be seen in the region, including the Eurasian eagle-owl, the bearded vulture and the rock ptarmigan. Bird-watchers and photographers take note!
The mythical Edelweiss and other mountain flowers
Alpine plantlife is fascinating and includes a wide range of species. They are able to survive at high altitude, despite wide temperatures differences and a rough mountain climate. The Edelweiss is the emblem of the Alps, the rarest and most precious of them all. It has been called "the eternal flower", because once picked, it will keep its shape and colour for centuries. The Edelweiss grows on the rich Alpine meadows, rich in limestone, at an altitude between 1,300 and 3,000 metres. It blooms each year from July to September. Please note that although you can take a photo of them, it is forbidden to pick them!
Other equally rare and protected plants have colonised the mountain pastures and meadows, such as the glacier buttercup, the Alpine rock-jasmine, the Linnaea borealis, the Lady's-slipper (orchid), wormwood and rock clover. Did you know? Mountain flowers have flamboyant colours to attract insects in spring, but also to protect themselves against the sun's rays in summer.