©Jeff Graphy
Astro 3000

Château-Renard Observatory

Paul Felenbok

Before going to bed every night, do you go out and look at the sky? Does contemplating the milky way give you vertigo? Have you always wanted to know everything about constellations? Do you make a wish each time you see a shooting star? Then we’ve got something for you. Quite a thing in fact: spend a night at almost 3,000 meters high, face-to-face with galaxies and nebulae, your eye glued to the telescope like a real astronomer.

Closer to the stars

perched high above of St Véran

You will get to see one of the clearest skies in the world. We are not inventing anything, science did, thanks to a purity index known as “seeing”. The absence of light pollution thanks the distance from urban centers, an elevation of 3,000 meters(less atmosphere between your eye and the stars), dry air and a sky rarely cluttered with clouds, mean that the annual number of clear nights is 150. That’s why the Saint-Véran astronomical observatory is one of the world’s top five spots for admiring the universe. Fully renovated with dormitories, a kitchen and a dining room, it’s run by nebula pros. You’ll be welcomed for a night in the depths of space.

Château-Renard observatory - Paul Felenbok

A cosy cocoon

Once you’re up there, prepare yourself for another dimension. Visit the large dome and its 62 cm telescope, which discovered the “St-Véran” asteroid. Then learn how to operate an automatic telescope in a second dome. This will take you to celestial wonders such as Saturn’s rings, Jupiter’s eyes, the Andromeda galaxy and the Eagle nebula – renowned stars. At dawn, we will meet at the summit of the Peak, wrapped in a comfy blanket. The Mount Viso, king of the mountains, greets you as the sun chases away the darkness, contributing to an overall experience which you will think back on with stars in your eyes.

What should I know before booking?

  • Coming during winter

    During winter, your reflex should always be to consult the BRA (avalanche risk bulletin). If you’re not trained in map reading, you’ll need to look for a mountain guide. If you’ve never tried snowshoeing or ski touring before, summer is always nice here too.

  • Is the observatory accessible to children?

    Yes, the Saint-Véran Observatory is accessible to children. In summer, from age 8. In winter, from age 14.

  • What should I bring for a good night sleep?
    • Warm clothes even in August. Yes, at 3000m high, it’s freezing and snow can be expected any time.
    • Good food and drinks for the evening. A fully equipped kitchen is available. Breakfast is included.
    • A travel-sheet to spend the night. Duvets and blankets are provided, and the building is heated.
  • What's on the agenda?

    It was supposed to be a secret… but for impatient ones, we’ll reveal a few elements of our program.

    • At 3 p.m.: here you are, up high, breathe, admire and take place in the celestial boat.
    • Late afternoon: solar observation and site visit
    • Socializing over lunch (which you’ll have prepared in the observatory kitchen using your own ingredients)
    • Evening and night: discover the sky with the naked eye, then through telescopes
    • Morning: sunrise at Pic de Château Renard, then breakfast before the descent
  • What's the best arrival time ?

    Winter: at 3 p.m. Summer: between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m., to allow the celestial lighthouse keeper to rest and stay fresh all night. The descent is around 10 a.m. the following day.

  • Who will welcome us ?

    Sébastien is the site manager. He is responsible for the safety of the building and its visitors, the instrumentation (telescope, computer, dome, solar panels, etc.), and for the enthusiastic scientific staff, who are also photographers, astrophysicists, biology teachers, climbers, mountain lovers and, of course, star gazers.

On the way up and once you're therehydrate

Water! Drink, drink and drink it again…Indeed, with the hike, the altitude and dry air, you can be dehydrated. So to avoid a headache and enjoy the site and its stars all night long: drink, drink and drink again!

Good to know

Many of these photos’page were taken by Jeff Graphy. A nocturnal landscapes photographer who highlights his surroundings under the stars. His photographs are on display in his studio and for sale online.


How do I get there?

How to get to the Observatory

Gaston Rebuffat, the great French mountaineer, once said: “Beautiful horizons are earned”. They may have put the parking lot as high as possible(St-Véran, at 2,040 m), but you still have 900 meters more to hike up. But don’t worry, we’ll give you a few tips to make this climb a treat rather than a punishment. DuringWinter (here and at almost 3000 meters high, April is a winter month): Snowshoe ascent: 4 to 5 hours, depending on your level of fitness, on an unmarked route. Backcountry skiing: you can ski from the top of the Saint-Véran ski area, start at the top of the Grand-Serre ski lift, then a 45-minute traverse on an unmarked, unsecured itinerary. June to October: Hike: 4H00 from the village of Saint-Véran or from the Lariane bridge: itinerary here. Local tip: electric bike ascent: 1H00 if the path is completely cleared of snow. If there are still snowfalls, you’ll have to climb on foot, equipped with crampons and poles.

More emotions...

And sensations!