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Latest update: 1 May 2024

Between the raindrops, it is easy to see that Briançon, France, is a lovely city. The colored facades, the views of the Serre Chevalier valley, and the impressive fortifications do not lose their appeal in any weather condition. But hopefully, you will get a bit of sun during your visit to the highest city in France!

The (unknown) charm of Briançon

Briançon is located at an altitude of 1326 meters, making it the highest city in France. So breathe in deeply and enjoy the fresh mountain air. The city is near the Serre Chevalier ski area – known for its snow certainty, challenging slopes, and sustainability.

At this height, you can imagine that the views over the valley are crazy beautiful. I’m there in the fall when all the shades of autumn colors are clearly visible. But this view should also be gorgeous with a layer of white snow or when the young leaves sprout in the spring.

The city of Briançon consists of an old and new part. The old, walled part is the most beautiful to see. It’s home to the Vauban fortifications, which are one reason why Briançon was included on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

Where is Briançon in France?

Briançon is in the Hautes-Alpes department, in the Serre Chevalier valley. This valley is also a well-known ski resort and consists of the town of Briançon, the three villages of Villeneuve, Chantemerle, and Le Monêtier-les-Bains, and a few smaller villages (perhaps hamlets is a better word) in between. If you look at the map, you will see that Briançon is in the very southern part of the French Alps. It’s next to Savoy and Isère, and Italy is only fifteen kilometers away.

Map Briançon France: where is Briançon

Strangely enough, many people don’t link Serre Chevalier and Briançon together. If you know Serre Chevalier, you probably know it as a winter sports area, and the existence of Briançon somewhat passes you by. Not anymore after this blog!

The best time to visit Briançon

When is the best time to visit Briancon? Always! Briançon is not a city to go on a city trip to, but one you can easily combine with other activities.

Are you coming to Serre Chevalier for the snow? Then a visit to Briançon is fun if you want something different from the slopes. There is even a ski lift in Briançon (Télécabine du Prorel, Google Maps location).

Are you coming to the French Alps in the summer? Then Briançon is a pleasant city full of fun cafes with outdoor seats. So make sure you include Briançon in your French road trip itinerary.

Are you in the region in spring or autumn to do a lot of walking or cycling in the mountains? Then Briançon is a welcome change for a bit more of a city feel.

Until recently, the tourism office always advertised’ 300 sunny days’ per year. You can still read that here and there, but with climate change, that claim is a bit more difficult to substantiate. And, of course, I’m in Briançon when it rains.

What to do in Briancon

Briançon is best suited for wandering through the streets, having a snack here, a drink there, perhaps visiting some shops, and, of course, visiting the city’s main attractions. There are only a handful, so you can see it all pretty quickly. Please note that many shops close during lunchtime (usually between 12 and 2.30 pm).

Visit the Pignerol city gate

Walk into the old center of Briançon through the imposing city gate La Porte de Pignerol. This gate is in the highest part of the city. Around it, you see thick fortress walls: welcome to the Cité Vauban!

Once you pass through the city gate, you enter the car-free city center. Here, you walk down towards the Grande Rue.

Google Maps location

Shops and facades overlook Grande Rue

If you walk through the city gate into Briançon’s main street, Grande Rue, you’ll be treated to a beautiful view of the street. All facades are different colors, making it a very attractive sight. Grande Rue has mainly boutique shops and more luxurious souvenir shops, with few or no chain stores. In between, you will find some nice cafes and restaurants. But be sure to take a side street occasionally to explore more!

You may notice the gutter in the middle of the street. This was intended to have sufficient water nearby during a fire. But… in the winter, that water just froze. In the 17th century, Briançon suffered greatly from two major fires.

Google Maps location

Fortifications of Vauban

There are twelve places in France where master builder Sébastien Vauban built history. He built and improved the fortifications on behalf of King Louis XIV to properly defend France in various areas. This is also the case in Briançon, which owes a city wall, four forts, a tower, and a bridge to Vauban. Briançon is therefore a Cité Vauban (a Vauban city).

Briançon Cité Vauban: city wall

In the end, Briançon was never really attacked. So, apparently, the defenses and strategic placement of the church were good deterrents.

The Trois Têtes, Randouillet, Dauphin forts, and the Communication Y bridge are outside the city. In the city center, you can easily visit Le Pont d’Asfeld and the city walls. From here, you can also climb up to the Salettes fortress in 25 minutes. If you want to enter, you have to buy a ticket at the tourism office (Google Maps location). This also applies to other tours and visits to Vauban fortifications. Please check the tourism office’s website.

The most beautiful view in the city: Le Pont d’Asfeld

The bridge of Asfeld was also Vauban’s idea. He wanted to connect the Trois Têtes fortress with the city, but it only became a reality after his death. His successor, Marquis d’Asfeld, ensured that the bridge was built. A lot of rock was blown up to give the bridge a solid foundation. The arch is 56 meters high and spans 40 meters from one side of the Durance River to the other.

You can admire Le Pont d’Asfeld from the viewing platform near the old town. Or if you fancy a walk, you can also see it up close.

Google Maps location Le Pont d’Asfeld
Google Maps location viewpoint

Church visit: Notre Dame of Briançon

The church in the old center of Briançon is much too big for its location. The square is small compared to the Notre Dame. The church is built on the remains of a medieval church. The two lions standing at the entrance are remnants from that time. The current church was built in the 18th century and has two orange-colored towers.

Google Maps location

Notre Dame Briançon: candles burning in the church

Typical Alpine food at Restaurant L’Alpin

On a crisp autumn day, I am pleasantly welcomed at L’Alpin restaurant by a friendly man and the smell of raclette. The welcome is like a warm blanket—literally and figuratively—because it is very hot in the busy restaurant. Reservations are advisable because even at lunchtime, it’s packed.

At L’Alpin, you can enjoy fondue, stone grilling, and raclette, but you can also simply order à la carte. But with a name like that, I think you should stick to the house specialties: hearty food from the mountains. I go for the ‘Croûte Briançonnaise’. It’s a sandwich soaked in white wine, ham, raclette, and egg and then au gratin in the oven. Mighty (and) tasty. My dining companion orders the Tartiflette: a local casserole with potatoes, reblochon cheese, bacon and onions.

Google Maps location

Tapas with a French twist at 15/9

Restaurant 15/9, or restaurant Le Quinze Neuf, is in the newer part of Briançon. I come there for the tapas, but the restaurant is also famous for its good steak, cooked in the Josper charcoal oven. The restaurant is owned by the same owners as L’Alpin.

The tapas menu includes typical Spanish dishes such as pan con tomate and Iberian charcuterie. This is supplemented with French blinis, haricot verts, and more. You can have lunch and dinner at Le Quinze Neuf.

Google Maps location

Parking in Briançon

Because the old center of Briançon is car-free, you must find a place for your car outside the city walls. Paid parking is available at Parking du Champs de Mars (Google Maps location). Or, try your luck for a free spot at Parking La Schappe (Google Maps location).

You can also park along the road in many places, but pay attention to whether it is paid parking. On Chem. de Barry (Google Maps location), I think it is free, and also on Av. dus 159E Ria (Google Maps location) I find a free parking spot.

If you are still looking for a rental car, you can compare your options with Sunny Cars and EasyTerra. I think they are reliable rental companies. If you want to compare even more options, you can do that at Discover Cars.

How to get to Briançon?

It is more than 1100 kilometers away from Amsterdam, so Briançon is not exactly around the corner for me. But if you go a little longer, you can, of course, enjoy the car journey.

Otherwise, you can fly to, for example, Grenoble (158 km from Briançon) or Turin (158 km from Briançon). But that’s still a little far from Briançon, so from Amsterdam, the night train is your best option because Briançon has a train station.

A night train from the French railway company SNCF runs daily from Paris to Briançon. It takes about 12 hours. Somewhere around nine o’clock in the evening, you take the train to wake up the following day with a view of the mountains. You can buy tickets on the SNCF website. Or, if you’re having trouble with the French-focused website, Omio is also a helpful site.

Of course, you also need to get to Paris. Book your train ticket at NS International if you’re traveling from the Netherlands like me, or take the Flixbus.

If you are curious about the train option, read my blog about the night train in France.

Hotels in Briançon

I don’t sleep in Briançon but in Le Monêtier-les-Bains, at the Le Monêtier hotel. From there, I can easily do all kinds of outdoor activities. If that sounds like something you’d enjoy, you can get all the hotel details at Booking.

Le Monêtier-les-Bains Le Monêtier hotel room

If you prefer to stay in Briançon, perhaps just for the first or last night, you can take a look at these hotels and apartments:

More inspiration for travel in France?

  • Accommodation. All-time favorites: Booking.com and Campspace for unique camping spots. Rather stay in a hostel? Check out Hostelworld.
  • Activities. You book the best tours and activities with GetYourGuide and Viator. You can find other good options at WithLocals. Check out Freetour and GuruWalk for ‘free’ walking tours, and for bike tours, try Baja Bikes. If you’re into wine: check out all the wine-related activities at Rue des Vignerons.
  • Attractions and museums. Book museum and attraction tickets with Tiqets and get a 5% discount with this code: KIMOPREIS22.
  • Car rental. Want to compare prices? Check out Discover Cars and Rental Cars.
  • Flights. Definitely compare prices! Try Skyscanner and Kiwi.
  • Money. Your debit and credit cards may not be accepted everywhere. When you travel, you could opt for a Revolut card as an additional card. 
  • Package deals. Rather go on a catered trip? Maybe Expedia or CheapOair has a good option.
  • SIM card. Beware of unexpectedly high calling and internet costs. Buy a local SIM card when you arrive, or arrange one online via Airalo.
  • Train and bus. Travel by train to France with NS International, or plan your trip via Trainline. Or find deals on trains and busses in France via Busbud, Omio, or 12Go.
  • Travel guides. I love the practical travel guides from Lonely Planet, buy them at Amazon.
  • Yoga retreat. And what about a yoga retreat in France?

Some of the links on this site are affiliate links. If you buy something through these links, I might receive a small commission.

I was invited by Serre Chevalier. I have been given complete editorial freedom.

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