The Hautes-Alpes department in the Alpine mountains of northern Provence is a year round destination for the outdoor enthusiast, with the dramatic mountain scenery ideal for hiking, canoeing, cycling, skiing and other sporting activities. There are also numerous small towns and villages to explore across the department.
The Hautes-Alpes department of France is the most northern department in Provence, with Italy to the east and the Rhone-Alps region to the north.
The department is in the southern Alps and contains a great deal of spectacular mountain scenery. It is an all year round destination, and although best known for the winter skiing opportunities, in particular at Serre-Chevalier, it also attracts many visitors for summer hiking, cycling and sightseeing.
The department is also well known for containing some of the most famous cols (mountain passes) from the Tour de France.
Below is a selection of places we have visited in Hautes-Alpes. For all places and information see places to visit in Hautes-Alpes
While it is true that the Hautes-Alpes department doesn't have as many historic villages, towns and castles as some parts of France there are still lots of places of interest to explore and to distract you from all the scenic spendour.
For the purposes of a visit the department can be seen as dividing naturally into three separate regions: the east including the Natural Regional Park de Queyras; the north-west with the Ecrins National Park; and the south-west around Veynes and Serres.
The largest town in the department, and the highest altitude town in France, is Briancon. This is a fascinating town dominated by a huge fort designed by the famous French military engineer Vauban and now a UNESCO listed heritage site.
South of Briancon you can also visit Mont-Dauphin, also listed as a UNESCO world heritage site as one of the Vauban fortifications to be found across France. Close to Mont-Dauphin the town of Guillestre is also a very traditional Alpine town that is pleasant to explore.
Also to the south of Briancon in the Gorges du Fournel you can visit the unusual silver mines of L'Argentiere-la-Bessee
To the east of Briancon you will want to explore the isolated Regional Park de Queyras, with its impressive mountain landscapes.
A particular scenic highlight in this region is the Col d'Izoard south-east of Briancon, a mountain pass with an arid almost lunar rocky landscape and a famous mountain climb from the Tour de France.
A village of particular interest to visitors is Saint-Veran, in a valley in the heart of the park south-west of Chateau-Ville-Vieille which at 2000 metres above sea-level is one of the highest villages in Europe, and is also listed as one of the 'most beautiful villages in France'.
While in the region of Chateau-Ville-Vieille you can also see the dramatic setting of Fort Queyras, a medieval castle on a rocky outcrop near the town.
During the winter it is the large ski region in the east of the Hautes-Alpes at Serre Chevalier around Briancon that attracts the most interest.
Serre Chevalier offers very impressive surroundings for winter skiing along with 250 kilometres of ski slopes, about one third of which benefit from snow cannons when necessary, and more consistent sunshine than the resorts further north in the Alps.
There are also a myriad of medium-sized and small resorts and villages offering skiing in the Hautes-Alpes on a smaller scale such as Montgenevre, Les Orres, Vars, Risoul, Orcieres-Morlette, Puy-Saint-Vincent, la Joue du Loup and Super-Devoluy that also attract a substantial number of visitors.
Le Monetier-les-Bains is a popular spa town in the Serre Chevalier ski area.
As you would expect from an Alpine National Park there are ample opportunities to enjoy the outdoors and every possible outdoor sport is available, from gentle hiking to paragliding and climbing.
Among the impressive cols (high mountain passes) that will be familiar to cyclists from the Tour de France but are also very popular by car (!) are the Col du Galibier and the Col du Lauteret to the north-west of Le Monetier-les-Bains.
One of the many outstanding sites of natural beauty here is the Valley of Valgaudemar.
We also recommend you visit the village of La Grave, listed as one of the 'most beautiful villages in France' and from where you can take the stunning cable car route to reach the glacier of Meije, a dramatic mountain reaching almost 4000 metres altitude.
Another highlight is the very attractive Clarée valley, one of France's 33 'Grand Sites de France' and centred around Nevache to the north of Briancon.
It is true that the southern half of the Hautes-Alpes attracts less visitors and has less mountains and famous sights when compared to the north of the department, but the scenery is still very attractive and there is a great deal to enjoy.
The most important town in the region is Gap, a pleasant town from where you can access both in the mountains to the north and across the southern half of the department.
South of Gap you can visit the curious natural rock formations called Les Demoiselles Coiffees de Theus, with numerous stone pillars created by millions of years of erosion.
The large lake at Serre-Poncon is a popular centre for water based leisure activities south-east of Gap. South-east of the lake the 12th century Boscodon Abbey is one of the most impressive religious monuments in the Hautes-Alpes, and to the north the town of Embrun has an attractive historical centre.
Among the highlights further south-west in the Hautes-Alpes are the fortified village of Serres, in an attractive location below a cliff, and in the village of Orpierre you can see some ruins from the medieval fortifications.
Orpierre is also a popular base for hiking and rock-climbing and during the summer the Gorges de la Méouge, a short distance to the south-east and popular with families because children can play in the water.
Another natural highlight that we enjoyed visiting in the south-west Hautes-Alpes are the rock formations along the Gorges de la Meouge near Laragne-Monteglin and Chateauneuf-de-Chabre.
Among the other attractive small towns and villages in the south-west of the Hautes-Alpes are Lagrand, Ventavon and Saint-Andre-de-Rosans.
See more places, tourist attractions and local markets at visiting Haut-Rhin
See an index of all Hautes-Alpes communes
French version: Hautes-Alpes (Francais)