Beautiful Briancon on the way to the Ecrins National Park

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Sunday 10 August 2014

Beautiful Briancon on the way to the Ecrins National Park

Our intravalley moves amongst the French Alps seem to be settling into a bit of a routine, taking us around 3 days to move ourselves between different mountain locations. The first day tends to be a move to a town or city, stopping en route to restock the fridge and get any other little jobs done (like reattaching our front number plate which fell off, honestly!). On the second day we can have a wander around the town and rest our legs so that on the third day we are ready to head back up a new valley in search of the high mountains once more. And so it has been this time as well.

After setting off from Barcelonette on Saturday, having laden our van with lots of fresh fruit and veg' from the morning market and picking up a new digital camera to replace our sadly broken one, we drove west out of the Ubaye Valley, before turning north in the direction of either one of the Ecrins or Queryas National Parks which sit on the west and east of Briancon respectively. The scenery was stunning as we went up and over, getting extensive views of Lac de Serre-Poncon (a very large crystal blue reservoir), and along different valleys getting our first views of the peaks of the Ercins. We had no fixed plans on how far we would travel that day, or where we would end up, but after a few failed attempts to find an aire in some villages en route we settled on heading towards the more major destination of Briancon itself right next to the Italian/French border.

Waking in Briancon on Sunday, having spent the night in the car park of the ice rink along with a hundred other motorhomes, we did a little exercise in the morning sunshine before taking a stroll up the hill into town. According to one of our guide books Briancon's old town, which peaks at 1326m altitude, claims to be Europe's highest town although I suppose that depends on your definition of 'town'. Either way it is beautifully situated, nestled between the 2 national parks on either side and the Massif des Cerces to the north ensuring that whichever way you look you see towering 3000-4000m peaks capped with snow. We soon stumbled on yet another bustling market full of fresh produce and picked up some fresh figs for breakfast, a new favourite of ours!

Heading further up the hill we came to the imposing citadelle which rises above the new town below. Picking up a map from the tourist information we took an amble in the afternoon sunshine up the steep alleys and streets of this ancient, fortified town built to defend the inhabitants against attacks from the nearby Dukes of Savoy (and others) who wanted control of this strategic site. With buildings ranging from 14th - 19th century there was plenty to visit and we stopped by the impressive Collegiale church, the less impressive (but free) Mining Museum and took the circular path around the edge of the fortifications. Stopping at a viewpoint over La Durance river threading through a steep sided gorge we were even treated to the site of a bungee jump from a high bridge over the water (we had to wait a while before he plucked up the courage to leap).

That evening we considered our options. With so much to do right on our doorstep, such as cycling climbs of the famous Col d'Izoard or Col du Galibier from Briancon, or some more hikes in one of the National Parks it was a tough choice. However, having done so much cycling the previous week, we decided to head into the hills to get our boots on. So, this lunchtime we took a drive up into the Ecrins National Park, finding our way to the little village of Pelvoux where we are based this evening. Looking around us we can see why the beauty of this area is so renowned in all of our hiking guides. Everywhere we look are sharp, jagged peaks topped with packed snow, giving a rugged, wild feeling to the mountains which is quite imposing but also exciting for the days of hiking we hope are ahead of us. We are so excited to get out into this wilderness, we have already enjoyed a shortish after dinner walk, along the river and up towards the next village of Ailefroide, about 5 km away, which we will head to tomorrow morning on the way to our next big hike.

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