Dauphine Attractions


The French Alps, the most westerly and also the highest part of the great arc of the Alps, lie mainly within the regions of Savoy and the Dauphiné, extending also into Provence in the south. The historical province of the Dauphiné borders Savoy on the south. With an area of some 20,000 sq. km/7,700 sq. mi, it corresponds broadly to the present-day départements of Isère (chief town Grenoble), Hautes-Alpes (Gap) and Drôme (Valence). Its capital is Grenoble.

Briancon, France

Briançon (pop. 11,287), chief town of the Briançonnais, is Europe's highest town, picturesquely situated at an altitude of 1,200-1,326 m/3,940-4,350ft above the junction of the Durance and the Guisane. It was fortified by Vauban in the 17th century as a stronghold guarding the frontier with Italy on the Col de Montgenèvre. In 1815 it withstood a siege by Austrian forces 20 times superior in numbers, and in 1940 held out against Italian attacks.
Near Briançon are the winter sports resorts of Serre-Chevalier and Montgenèvre.

Briançon Old Town

In Briançon, to the northeast of the newer district of Ste-Catherine, built on the slopes above the valley, is the old town or Ville Haute with its triple circuit of walls. The church of Notre-Dame (1718) was also designed by Vauban.

Pont d'Asfeld

In Briançon, the Pont d'Asfeld, built in 1734, spans the Durance in a single arch 40m/ 130ft across and 56m/185ft high.

Station Alpine du Lautaret

With a fine collection of high altitude plants, this garden - Station Alpine du Lautaret is one of the highest gardens in Europe. It is of particular interest to those interested in examining a variety of plants grown mainly for a high altitude environment.
Address: Col du Lautaret, F-05220 Monetier-Les-Bains, France

Massif de Chamrousse

In the Massif de Chamrousse, to the east of Grenoble, are Chamrousse itself (alt. 1,650-1,750m/5,410-5,740ft), with its excellent facilities for winter sports, and Uriage-les-Bains, at the foot of the Belledonne range. The dominant feature of the landscape is the Croix de Chamrousse (2,255 m/8,383ft; cableway), from which there are extensive panoramic views.

Embrun, France

Embrun (pop. 6,703) lies at an altitude of 870m/2,855ft on a crag 70m/230ft above the Durance. Once the residence of a Prince-Bishop, it is now a popular summer and winter resort. The Romanesque church of Notre-Dame, considered the most beautiful in the Dauphiné, dates from the end of the 12th century and contains fine examples of Lombard sculpture, 15th century stained glass, one of the oldest organs in France and a valuable church treasury.

Col du Galibier

The Col du Galibier, in the northern Dauphiné, reaches a height (in the tunnel) of 2,556 m/8,386ft and ranks with the Col de l'Iseran, 200 m/650ft higher, as one of the highest passes in France, offering magnificent views on both the ascent and the descent. It may, however, be impassable on account of snow from October until the end of May. It is possible to climb, or take the chair-lift, to a height of 2,704 m/8,872ft, the panoramic view from which is one of the most impressive in the French Alps. At the south entrance to the tunnel is a monument to Henri Desgranges, who initiated the Tour de France cycle race in 1903.

Gap, France

The busy Département town of Gap is an important traffic junction on the Route Napoléon; it lies on the River Luye in the north of Provence and in about the same latitude as Montélimar. Gap has a charming situation, with a backdrop of the Alps to the north of the town. Its pleasant climate has led to its becoming a popular health resort and it has a good reputation as a base for winter sports.
The place was already populated when the Romans penetrated into this region. Almost every trace of the Roman settlement of Vapincum disappeared during the succeeding centuries, especially as the place lay on the crossing of important north-south and east-west routes and was always much sought after and consequently fought over. In the 558 the Lombards sacked the town; in 1650 plague removed two-thirds of the population, and in 1692 Savoy troops burned down almost all the houses. In March 1815 Napoleon arrived on his way back from Elba and passed through Gap on his march to Paris.

Gap Cathedral

The Cathedral in the town center of Gap has a tower 77m/253ft high; occupying the site of several previous buildings, it was constructed between 1866 and 1898 according to Romanesque and Gothic models. The decoration is in Byzantine style and is noteworthy for the use of local black, red and gray stone.

Gap Musée Départmental

In the Avenue du Maréchal Foch, a little to the east of the town center of Gap, can be found the Musée Départmental which houses Gallo-Roman antiquities, ceramics from Moustiers, furnishings from the Queyrasa and exhibits illustrating the history of the town and its surroundings. Its principal attraction is the mausoleum of François de Bonne, Duke of Lesdiguières, constructed from black marble from Campsaur with an alabaster statue by Jacob Richier (1585-1640).

Serre-Ponçon Driving Tour

By driving east from Gap for about 20km/12mi on road N94 or on D900 B in a south-easterly direction we come to the Lac de Serre-Ponçon with its 120m/394ft high barrage, built in 1955-1961, which dams the River Durance and creates a large lake covering some 2,700ha/6,672 acres.
The best excursion is a circular drive: from Gap take the above road as far as Chorges then turn right on to the D3 which winds its way south, with beautiful viewpoints, to the dam; the best general view of the dam is from the Belvédère a little way north on the road. The D3 continues to the junction of the D900 B. Take this road, cross the Durance and then, at varying distances from the water, follow the southern bank of the reservoir. In about 20km/12mi turn west on the the D954.
A little way]from the road can be seen the Demoiselles Coiffées (ladies with head-dresses) a group of earth pyramids. Still following the bank of the lake we reach the N94 near Savines-le-Lac and once again cross the lake and return to Gap via Chorges.

Barrage de Serre-Ponçon

20km/12mi east of Gap is the Barrage de Serre- Ponçon, a 120m/395ft high dam on the Durance, built in 1955-1961, which forms a lake with an area of some 3,000 hectares/7,500 acres.

La Grave, France

La Grave, situated at an altitude of 1,526 m/5,005ft in the upper valley of the Romanche, is a good center for mountain walks and climbs, particularly in the Meije group, with its mighty glaciers, which rear above the village.


In the little town of Hauterives, north of Romans on N538, is the "Palais Idéal du Facteur Cheval", a fantasy building erected in the late 19th C by the local postman, Ferdinand Cheval (b. 1836): an extraordinary structure 10 m/33ft high, up to 26m/85ft long and 15m/50 feet across, built with his own hands and inscribed with a variety of mottoes.

Dauphiné Route Napoléon

The four lakes of Laffrey, on the Route Napoléon, are the main features on the barren plateau of Matésine. Here, on March 7, 1815, Napoleon won over a battalion which had been sent to prevent him from advancing any farther.


On the Route Napoléon, between Gap and Grenoble, is the little township of Corps (pop. 1,000). From here a side trip can be made to the pilgrimage church of Notre-Dame de la Salette, situated at an altitude of 1,170m/3,840ft amid grand Alpine scenery. The church was built after an apparition of the Virgin to two children on September 19, 1851. Every summer something like 100,000 pilgrims make their way to Notre-Dame de la Salette.

Pelvoux Massif

The Pelvoux massif is perhaps the most impressive group of mountains in the French Alps after Mont Blancentury. It is now designated as a National Park, with glaciers, mountain valleys and breathtaking panoramic views. The highest peaks are the Ecrins (4,102m/13,459ft), the Meije (3,983m/13,068ft), the Ailefroide (3,953m/12,970ft) and Mont Pelvoux itself (3,946m/12,947ft).

Dauphiné Queyras

The Queyras area, in the eastern Dauphiné near the Italian frontier, takes in some 45km/28mi of the valley of the Guil, a tributary of the Durance. The valley, dominated by the 3,841m/12,602ft high Italian peak of Monte Viso, is one of the most unspoiled parts of the Dauphiné and has a number of resorts (Abriès, Aiguilles, Guillestre, etc) which attract visitors in both summer and winter.

Vallouise, France

Vallouise, so named in the 15th C in honor of Louis XI, lies in a side valley of the Durance, to the west of Briançon. In this expanse of lush green pastureland under a southern sky is the holiday resort of Ailefroide (alt. 1,510 m/4,955ft), a good center for walkers and climbers. The Cézanne Hut above the village is at the near end of the Pelvoux National Park (area 13,000 hectares/32,000 acres).

Château Queyras

Château Queyras, above the village of the same name, was built in the 13th century and restored by Vauban. The original keep has been preserved.

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