Up, up and away – Briançon, Alpes de Haute Provence, France

Starting altitude – 560m, Final altitude – 1260m

I am not going to lie, last night was one of the toughest yet. It was 34 degrees in the van through the afternoon, by 10pm it was still 28 degrees and around 40% humidity. By 1am it was still at 25 degrees. The electric on the site lasted about 20 seconds before tripping and taking our money. We are having to keep an eye on the batteries due to a bit of inconsistency so aircon was sparing. Add to that it was clearly one of the busiest nights of the year in Sisteron. Cars were circling all night looking for spaces. We had tried sitting out on chairs until the sun was overhead in the afternoon. We stuck it out and in retrospect we should have just moved on. The sun has certainly followed us this trip. Other people were complaining of hailstorms yesterday. We appear to be in the hottest area.

However, this enforced bidding from the heat forced a bit of a change of plan. Looking at Gap and then Grenoble we felt a little uninspired by Napoleon’s route as he had obviously for more strategic and military purposes taken the lower valley route and it seemed we had had the best of his navigational guidance. Meanwhile to the east of us promised the high high Alpes, snow topped mountains and twisty mountain roads. I happened to glance a week in the Alpes travel route in our travel guide and just like that Napoleon and his route were gone. It promised a whole 6-8 degrees cooler (10 degrees versus Grenoble last in the week) plus amazing scenery and some welcome rural escape.

The drive here was nothing short of spectacular. Although we have both visited the Alpes skiing we have never visited in it’s beautiful summer exuberance. There were camper vans all along the way either driving or parked up in anyone of hundreds of campsites, aires or just lay-bys, all with stunning views. We stopped off at Lac de Serre-Ponçon for photos. 20km long reservoir which we crossed via the via a bridge. All the way along we kept seeing lovely places to stop off and wished we had months and not weeks left.

Our guidebook started the route at Briançon, the highest “city” in France at 1326m though it only has a population of 11,000 so is not big. It is a fortified city on the hill… sound familiar?! The guidebook promised pastel coloured houses and cobbled streets, impressive fortifications and great views.

We managed to park up at the aire just at the side of the Durance river we had followed from Sisteron. Unfortunately due to roadworks we missed the turn and had a tour of the industrial estate to find it. Never the best introduction to a place. We headed into town for a wander round and some lunch.

We climbed the hill to the Grand Rue heading up to another Vauban fortress. Sadly one of the the iconic double towers of the Notre-Dame and Saint Nicolas cathedral was sheathed in scaffold. However we managed to classic Alpine restaurant complete with Raclettes, Tartiflette and various other local delicacies. The meal was lovely and the local Savoie wine equally so. However, I think we left our hearts in the countryside we just drove through. So tomorrow, plan is to hit Carrefour for LPG and fresh supplies and head into the countryside. We also have a secondary motive to look for some good aires for skiing in the winter.

View from Briançon

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