Briançon: An elegant fortress town in the French Alps

Visiting the highest city in France, Briançon has mountains, old forts, ski slopes and beautiful mountain trails all around.
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The town of Briançon is known as a gateway to the ski resort of Serre Chevalier, but it has more than just skiing for visitors. It has been an important city in the Alps since the days of the Roman empire, being located just across the border from what is today the French-Italian border.

Briançon (pronouced “bree-ain-sson“) was built at an altitude of 1,326 meters and is famous for being the highest town in France. With so much history behind it, the town has been designated UNESCO world heritage site for its charm and beauty, as well as its wonderful hiking trails in the area.

Briançon and Serre Chevalier are officially part of Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region, not the Rhône Alps region like the other famous Alps ski stations.

☞ READ MORE: France in Winter: Visiting when it is cold (Brr)

The high vantage point of the town made it an important defensive location, overlooking the valley below and the route through the mountains. The defensive location was also important to protect nearby Monêtier-les-Bains (another village in Serre Chevalier) and its natural thermal baths.

The newer part of the city is located in the lower valley, with the Serre Chevalier ski slopes on the other side, directly across from Cité Vauban. The town is one of 4 villages of Serre Chevalier, each one having its own charm. A navette shuttle runs between the villages for easy access.

Things to do in Briançon

1. The Fortifications

Briançon Cité Vauban fortifications
Forteresse Vauban

The old town was heavily fortified under Sun King Louis XIV (of Versailles fame) in the 17th century to keep out Austrian invaders. This area called Forteresse Vauban and was named after his engineer, Vauban, who constructed several fortifications all along the French border.

There are several other smaller forts all around Fort Vauban, that you can hike up to. The biggest ones are Fort du Château, Fort des Têtes, and Fort des Salettes.

2. Cité Vauban

Located inside the walls of Forteresse Vauban, is the citadel with an exquisitely maintained Old Town. The area is pedestrianized, so you have to leave your car outside the city walls to walk into town. There are several narrow streets with colorful buildings, opening up into large squares.

Streets of Cité Vauban

Inside Cité Vauban, the Cathedral of Briançon which you can visit inside. It is right next to the Maison du Templiers, which today houses the town’s tourist office.

3. The Countryside

Briançon is part of the ski resort Serre Chevalier, so if skiing is your thing, have at it! There is good skiing for beginners (I would know, I’m not a great skier!) as well as expert red and black runs across the resort. You can access the ski slopes of Serre Chevalier is by the Prorel cable car, and return on skis.

Countryside around Briançon

If you are there in the summer months, there is plenty of hiking in the area. In addition to hiking up to each of the forts, you can also walk over to Vauban’s famous bridge, the Pont d’Asfeld as you walk to the Fort des Têtes.

In addition, there are several hiking trails that you can follow nearby, such as the Via Ferrata Croix De Toulouse, Montagnes de Légendes, and Montagne des Choses. If hiking is not for you but you would like some fresh air, there is a beautiful large park nearby called “Grimp in Forest”.

4. Local Specialties

There are a ton of delicacies from the Alps that you can try, such as cheeses, like Tomme de Savoie and the Beaufort. You can also try local wines such as the Altesse or Aligoté

Cheese from the Alpes

Order a traditional French winter meal like a cheese fondue with your wine and finish it off with the local digestif Genepi. And remember to make room somewhere for the sausages! You can read more about Alpine foods and drinks here.

☞ READ MORE: French Comfort Food: 9 Hearty Recipes you will love

How to get to Briançon?

Briançon is only accessible by car. The closest high-speed TGV train station is at Bardonecchia from where it takes approximately 50 minutes to get to the town by car.

How many days should you spend here?

The number of days you decide to spend will really depend on all the activities you feel like doing. If you are planning to hike or ski, you should plan at least 3-4 days for your visit.

Where should you stay?

Depending on how much skiing you wish to do, you can either stay at one of the Serre Chevalier ski resorts and travel down to Briançon, or stay in town and take the cable car up to the ski slopes:

In Briançon (outside the citadel):

Near the ski slopes:


So are you ready to go on a little hike in Briançon? If you enjoyed that article, you may want to read more about traveling around the Alps. A bientôt!

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