If Serenity had an address, it would certainly be the mountains and grounds around one of history’s most remote and storied monasteries: The Grande Chartreuse in France. Nestled in the heart of wild and dramatic mountains, the remoteness of the landscape reflects the extreme solitary vows the monks have taken upon themselves.
We knew it was not possible to access the monastery itself, however researching how to get there and what to expect was a little daunting at first. Even the documentary film made about the place portrays arrival like hiking for hours over jagged terrain.
The fields and forests of the Chartreuse Mountain range are indeed indomitable. Taking the winding mountain road from the nearest town of Grenoble (charming in itself!) is really like stepping into no man’s land, but at the end there is a museum, gift shop, picnic area and a slight 2km walk on a paved road leads to the monastery itself. Anyone with accessibility issues should know the place is quite easy to approach.
The monks are reclusive and only take a public stroll once a month at different times. We were in luck after having a delicious picnic lunch to see a whole group stroll right on by. Signs ask visitors not to engage the monks unless they engage first. Some of them did, but conversations were brief and they had no time for photos.
Once we began the ascent to the monastery it was easy to see why the spot chosen for the construction was known as ‘the desert’. Besides the spiritual significance this term has for erudite living, the monastery complex is built on a relatively flat open field compared to the high angle slopes all around.
It is possible to walk around the perimeter and even ascend a nearby field with a cross for a peek into the courtyards, chapter rooms, chapels and individual villas the monks live in. There’s something simply fascinating pondering what their lives and routines are like especially when they have so little contact with the outside world.
As conditioned hikers, the place was just beginning to lure us in. The monastery is historic, scenic and peaceful and the trails that emanate all around it into the surrounding forests and peaks are a great challenge. We found trails that had destinations five hours away and most of the ascents brought us into contact with incredibly old trees, alpine meadows and panoramic views of wild countryside.