Briançon, the highest town in Europe* is a great fortress town, walled and fortified by Vauban, and it's really something to see. The town has two parts: the lower town is at the junction of the Durance and Guisane rivers, where the N84 highway passes through from Embrun/Guillestre towards Grenoble; the upper town is the walled area at the top, fortified by Vauban and including the Fort du Chateau fortress at the peak. In photo-1 you can see the lower town in the foreground, with Ave de la République at the left leading to the upper town at the Porte d'Embrun.
* (The highest commune in Europe is St Véran.)
Cycling Tour de France 2011 |
L' Alpe-d'Huez 80 km |
Le Bourg-d'Oisans 66 km |
Clarée Valley 5 km |
Les Deux-Alpes 64 km |
Embrun 50 km |
Gap 85 km |
La Grave 39 km |
Grenoble 108 km |
Guillestre 36 km |
Lautaret Pass 28 km |
Monêtier-les-Bains 14 km |
Mont-Dauphin 31 km |
Montgenèvre 12 km |
Salle-les-Alpes 7 km |
Vallouise 25 km |
Villeneuve-la-Salle 7 km |
Hotels near Briançon: |
7 km Salle-les-Alpes |
12 km Montgenevre |
14 km Monetier-les-Bains |
36 km Guillestre |
39 km Grave |
50 km Embrun |
If you park at the top of the Briançon, you can enter the fortified town through one of two drawbridged entrances [photo-3] and explore the town from the top down.
There are many sights to see in the town, with fountains, squares, sundials, gargouille streets, etc. But it is a tourist town. On the nicest part of the nicest gargouille street, the cobblestone steps near the top were being half covered over while we where there (July 1998) by a restaurant's ugly wooden terrace -- the unfortunate cycle of beauty attracting tourists, and commerce destroying the beauty to take advantage of those tourists.
Gargouille. A gargouille is a small canal that runs down the center of the street. The only two towns in France with gargouilles are St Martin-Vésubie in the Alpes-Maritimes and Briançon. Briançon has two gargouilles running down through the fortified upper town. One runs down the central Rue Grande, also called Grande Gargouille. The second runs down Rue Mercerie, also called Petite Gargouille [photo-4].
The lower town is an active commercial center, with shops, cafés and restuarants, some along Rue Centrale leading to the Rond Point du Quyeras (where you may see kayakers going down the Durance through the town). The town market is here, in front of the ancient (but still active) fire station, at the bottom end of the Parc de la Schappe.
Fortress. Above the town part you can visit the Vauban fortifications of Fort du Chateau. You can explore much of the citadel for free, but the top part, including underground passages, cost 20F.
Sitting at a junction of four stratgegic valleys (Durance, Guisane, Cerveyrette and Clarée) and only 15 km from the Col de Montgenère on the Italian frontier, Briançon is one of the most fortified areas of France. In 1690, Savoy joined a coalition against Louis XIV, bringing a threat of invasion. In 1713, the Utrecht treaty ceded eastern Dauphiné to the Piemont, making Briançon a frontier town.
Today the remains of the forts can still be seen in the mountains to the east withing 5 km of Vauban fortress, including the forts of Anjou, Randouillet, Trois Têtes, Dauphin, Infernet, Gondran, Croix de Bretagne, Selettes and some with no name (on our map).
Briançon was a medieval fortress before Vauban arrived in 1692 to prepare it for the days of canon warfare. He also ordered the building of Fort des Selettes on a hill to the north, a location from which Briançon could be bombarded. That fort was built in 1709 by Marshal Berwick (who has another small fort named after him north of Jausiers). Berwick also opened a road to the east in 1709-1710, protecting it with the Fort des Trois Têtes and Fort de Randouillet.
Photo-9 shows Briançon's Vauban citadelle and three other forts just behind, to the east. Photo-10 is a closer view of the forts.
Intersport International Briancon
centre cial Grand Boucle
Tel: 0492 211 000; Fax: 04 92 20 58 41
Les Clapières *
NOTE: We were notified by a reader that this site might be Closed (Aug 2005).
Language: French, English
Open: all year except October
Tel: 0492 211 583; Fax: 0492 21 15 83
Contact: Philippe Lemaire
This was the Roman town of Brigantium, mentioned in the 8th century.
Briançon was the capital of the Principality of Briançon, that
Office de Tourisme
Tel : 04 92 21 08 50; Fax: 04 92 20 56 45
Bus Marseille - Gap - Briancon
The Marseille - Gap - Briancon bus route is: Marseille, Aix-en-Provence, Meyrargues, Peyrolles, Mirabeau, Corbières, Sainte Tulle, Manosque, Volx, Villeneuve, La Brillanne, Lurs, Peyruis, Saint Auban, Chateau-Arnoux, Volonne, Peipin, Les Bons Enfants, Sisteron, Le Poet, Rourebeau, Le Beynon, Valenty, Monetier-Allemont, Le Vivas, La Saulce, Tallard, Chateauvieux, La Tourronde, Gap; La Batie Neuve, Chorges, Savines, Embrun, Chateauroux, Guillestre, Mont-Dauphin, L'Argentière, Briançon.
Trip time Marseille - Gap is 3h15 (Marseille - Manosque 1h20; Manosque - Sisteron 0h50; Sisteron - Gap 1hr). The separate bus between Gap and Briançon is just under 2 hours.
The route and schedule is available on the SCAL-Autocars website (link just below).
Train Marseille - Gap - Briançon
The Marseille - Gap - Briançon train runs three times a day.
Train Paris - Gap - Briançon
There's a night train for Paris - Gap - Briançon. Information and schedule on the SNCF website.
Briançon has the following train service:
Driving from Briançon to Grenoble is 108 km along the N91 road. The eastern part curves along the northern edge of the Ecrins National Park, crossing the Col du Lautaret to Le Bourg-d'Oisans, between Les Deux-Alpes and l'Alpe-d'Huez ski stations (66km). From there it's another 42 km to Grenoble, with the first part of the journey through the deep Gorges de la Romanche.
The N91 is a very good road, but this is a popular area for winter sports and summer vacations, so driving times can be long. Briançon-Grenoble is probably about 2 hours.
The drive from Briancon to Alpe-d'Huez would be about 1h30 to 2h, assuming summer traffic, and the twisty mountain road at the end. If you want faster daily access to Alpe-Huez or les Duex-Alpes, Grenoble would be closer. But that's a big city. Fir touring that general area, Briancon would be my choice as a base.
Swimming pool - Olympic size
Patinage - Ice skating.
IGN (1/25,000) #3536 OT "Briançon, Serre-Chevalier, Montgenèvre"
Didier Richard (1/50,000) #10 "Queyras Pays du Viso"; #6 (Ecrins Haut-Dauphiné)
We ate (and stayed) here on a couple of trips; the last before 2000.
We tried the hotel dining room, and the only problem with the raclette is that we ate too much, and the cheese-potato-hams meal is not exactly "regime". It was good though, and there's plenty of hiking to work off the calories (or so we rationalize).
Second night's meal at the L'Airelles was Tartiflette. We tried one with fromage de chevre and one classic with reblochon. The chevre wasn't great (doesn't melt correctly) but the reblochon was. Each dish was enough for two fairly hungry people. The principle for mountain cooking is that people eat lightly at mid-day while working or hiking and developing a hearty apetite for dinner.
Le Péché Gourmand
• In the Michelin Bib Gourmand Guide 2010
La Fabrique - 2, route de Gap
Closed: dimanche soir et lundi
Tel: 0492 213 321
In a converted mill; rustique and charming.
We ate here on a trip pre-2000.
on the steep Rue Mercerie, with a [gargoullie] running down the center.
They have a child's menu and a vegetarian menu with several choices.
Our menu of Truite Fraiche en papillote au Champagne et sa Sauce Rose was a whole trout, steam broiled; a bit of skill or patience is need to prepair it for eating.
Our "Tartiflette" menu was the regional specialty. The tartiflette is a sort of deep-dish scalloped potatoes with onion, bacon chunks, and reblochon cheese.
With the menus we had starters of Terrine maison aux asperges et aux carottes - very good, and dessert of fromage blanc au miel.
Lodging - Hotels
There are many hotels in and around the center of Briançon. If you're driving, we highly recommend you try one of the many hotels out in the Clarée Valley, about 10-20 minutes north of Briançon, in the villages and hamlets of La Vachette, Le Rosier, Val-des-Prés, Plampinet and Névache.
Les Castors (not a hotel)
We thought this "hotel" a few minutes drive from the center, just past the hospital, would be nice and quiet on the night of France's semi-final game in the football world's cup. It was quite, but it was only partially converted from its origin of a large private out-patient clinic. It looked and smelled like a hospital. Even "big nurse" who checked us out the next morning, and who insisted they were a hotel, was wearing a green striped medical smock.
L'Airelles, Le Rosier
This small, family hotel in Le Rosier, 10 minutes drive (8 km) from Briançon in the Vallée de la Clarée, is excellent. Fairly rustic, but the room was big and the service friendly. The only problem with the view was the full moon was too bright when it rose over the mountains outside our window. And the only problem with noise was leaving the window open for the cold mountain air meant the rooster was a bit loud in the morning.