Located at an altitude of 1,326 metres, at the confluence of five valleys, Briançon is the highest town in France. This City of Art of History, fortified by French military architect Vauban in the 18th century, is today a UNESCO World Heritage Site precisely because of its remarkable group of fortifications built between the 18th and 20th centuries in order to improve the town's defence system.
A tour of Briançon takes in the upper town, or Vauban citadel – the very heart of the town and overlooked by the fortified castle – and the surrounding forts, Salettes, Trois Têtes and Randouillet.
Once through the Pignerol gate, the incredibly picturesque old town offers visitors many examples of its past. There's plenty to explore for architecture fans, including the 18th-century collegiate church of Notre-Dame, 14th-century Cordeliers church, old houses lining the steep, narrow streets, the charming Place d'Armes square which is surrounded by pretty, colourful Provence-style facades, fountains and sundials.
In winter, Briançon turns into a favourite destination for ski lovers as its ski area is part of the famous Serre Chevalier ski resort.
Briançon is a town in the Hautes-Alpes in Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur, located about fifteen kilometers from the Italian border, equidistant from Grenoble and Turin (about 110 km).
It is known as the highest city of the European Union (1326 m).
It is in the Middle Ages that Briançon develops, belonging to the province of Dauphiné but enjoying a certain autonomy. With the installation of the popes in Avignon, the city became a commercial crossroads.
Later, a few industrial units were established (coal mines, dairies).
But over the centuries, its frontier situation has made it a military stronghold. Its fortifications rethought by Vauban are expanded by the construction of numerous forts from the eighteenth to the twentieth, and Briançon also becomes a garrison town, bastion of the famous "alpine hunters" until a recent period.
In the heart of the Durance valley, which opens to the north the gates of Italy and to the south those of Provence, with a population of about 12,700, Briançon is now also a center for tourism in the Alps, linked to The station of Serre Chevalier by a gondola, and rich of a historical and natural heritage of first order.
Enjoying a sunny climate, this is an appreciable and appreciated stage.
Labeled City of Art and History, Briançon is rich of its fortifications inscribed on UNESCO's World Heritage List under the "network of sites Vauban". A visit is necessary! Built on 1300 m of unevenness, these fortifications testify to the evolution of the military architecture of Vauban... in Maginot, in 1930.
Surrounded as it should by a fortified enclosure, the upper town (also called Cité Vauban or "La Gargouille") is surrounded by beautiful doors (of Pignerol, Dauphine and Embrun). The houses are high, colorful, often with remarkable facades and pediments.
One can make a detour by the collegiate church and its twin towers (XVIIIth), the church of the Cordeliers and its frescoes (14th) or the Francis I fountain (XVIth).
It will also be noted that two open pipes cross the city from top to bottom, arranged in the Middle Ages to better fight against fires. Named the Great and Little Gargoyle, they concentrate on their length the main businesses.
As for the forts, one can visit the fort of Salettes, built from 1709 to 1712, which had to protect the road to Italy. Transformed into an artillery fort in the 19th century, with a ditch, it was restored.
The Asfeld bridge over the Durance (eighteenth) is spectacular and vertiginous: it assured the link with Fort Dauphin now in ruins. This is not the case on the other hand with the fort of the heads built since 1721 which overlooks the city. It could accommodate 1250 soldiers and 70 pieces of artillery. Visits are organized during the summer. This fort was itself protected by the Fort du Randouillet, composed of a high part (nicknamed the keep) and a lower part (the barracks).
For guided tours of the city and its heritage, please call +33 4 92 20 29 49.
Open every afternoon in July and August, by reservation the rest of the year, the Mine Museum will interest geologists, fossils and better understand the history of "peasant" mines. Contact the +33 6 81 59 96 86.
Open daily except Monday, the Center d'art contemporain offers 300 m² of exhibition space in a place where contemporary metal structures and old stones coexist. Information on +33 4 92 20 33 14.
But once the city is explored, it is also worth taking advantage of its remarkable environment.
Hiking on foot or mountain biking in summer make it possible to apprehend flora and fauna of the Alps, not to mention the roads that have made Briançon a capital of the little queen (the Tour de France regularly stages there). To do this, we will gladly take the gondola that connects the city to Serre-Chevalier (runs in July and August, free for children under 6, from 7 euros for adults).
In addition to hiking in summer, horseback riding, paragliding, canoeing and rafting are among the many activities offered to sports enthusiasts. All information is available at +33 4 92 24 98 98.
In winter, to obtain all information related to the ski area surrounding the city, please call +33 4 92 25 55 00.
Over two weeks, at the end of January and beginning of February, Briançon hosts the Altitude Jazz Festival, which offers concerts in different parts of the city and its surroundings. Mini-concerts are also scheduled in the bars and restaurants, at lunchtime or in the evening. Information on +33 7 60 84 22 01.
In early July, over two days, a medieval festival plunges the city into a colorful and joyful atmosphere. Numerous animations (dances, combats, musical shows, artisan exhibitions).
Finally, every year, the Offenbachiades offer a dozen classical concerts divided into three themes: piano and chamber music, lyrical art and young talents. Several emblematic places of the city and Serre Chevalier welcome these concerts. Information on +33 4 92 24 54 31.
In a completely different way, to discover the local terroir, two markets take place each week: Wednesday morning on the Place de la Schappe and Sunday morning on Lautaret Avenue.