Leaving the A40 motorway you would be forgiven for thinking that unspoilt nature was just a dream. The town of Cluses is the gateway for the massive frontier-busting Portes du Soleil ski area and the albeit smaller, Grand Massif ski area.
We leave cosmopolitan Cluses behind and head down the Giffre Valley - which The Financial Times called 'France's hidden valley' in 2013. It doesn't seem that hidden today. We are staying on the D907 to its end, passing through ever-expanding villages until Samoens. Things quiet down after the village, especially out of season. Sixt-Fer-à-Cheval is the last village on the Giffre River and in Autumn we only have a couple of road cyclists to fight for the last croissant in the patisserie. Thankfully they are easily diverted into more calorific produce. The final piece of the D907 is a single track that crisscrosses the river, the asphalt becomes less interesting for the local maintenance crews before disappearing altogether at a rough and ready parking area.
The horseshoe appears on the drive up and you can Google Street View your way right up to it. Disappointing really. On arrival, you are almost surrounded by limestone cliffs forming a natural amphitheatre that allows for nearly 360-degree views. The second-largest amphitheatre horseshoe in France, this nature reserve has over 30 waterfalls descending its 700m escarpments and is looked down upon by peaks rising to 3000m.
It doesn't look particularly wild as the dry Autumn has turned the taps off many of the waterfalls. It doesn't seem to have tamed the visitors though as the nature reserve's chalet has plenty of takers. Busy through the summer season, the chalet stages exhibitions on the local flora and fauna and its adaptation to these high altitudes.
The waterfalls are a major attraction during the summer months when the snow melts and runs untamed as a torrent. Heading down the valley on foot it becomes quiet, with only the odd hiker for company. Among the natural landscape, farming is still undertaken with sheep and goats often found on its slopes. It's an out-and-back trail to the end taking around 1.5 hours, so any diversion off the main trail is welcomed. It's an easy hike contained on both sides by the walls of the valley with the river a constant companion. At the far end of the reserve Pic de Tenneverge stands tall looking back down the valley, and beyond that, the reserve touches Switzerland.
The horseshoe also backs onto the Chamonix Valley and is visible from the top of Brevent or Aiguille du Midi on a good day. In its way, the horseshoe is a little like Yellowstone. A tiny, tiny version that's mostly untouched by nature, spoilt only by the people who come to see it.