Briancon, Hautes-Alpes: tourism & sightseeing

Photo of Briancon in Alps ski resorts (Provence region)

Visit Briancon (Provence, France)

Briancon is is a fortified mountain town at 1,350 metres above sea level in the Hautes-Alpes department of Provence, close to the French border with Italy and surrounded by alpine mountains, including the spectacular mountain scenery of the Parc National des Ecrins and the Vallée de la Clarée which is one of the 'Grand Sites of France'.

The highest city in Europe, Briancon falls at the end of several important valleys through the mountains - hence its historical importance for both defence and trade. Although the fortifications that now dominate Briancon were added in the 17th-18th centuries to protect the important routes between France, Italy and Austria the town has had an important defensive role to play in the region dating back to roman times.

Exploring Briancon

It is the old town, known as the Ville Haute, of Briancon which is of most interest to visitors (and the reason why Briancon is now a protected French Historic Town and is listed as an official Town of Art and History in France) and much of this remains unchanged since it was redesigned and rebuilt by Vauban in the 18th century following the destruction of much of the original town in 1692 by the duc de Savoie.

Grand Rue, BrianconThere are some notable monuments to discover (as well as the ever present military defences). Enter the town through the large stone gateway called the Porte de Pignerol and the main street of the town, Grande Rue, runs steeply down the hillside from here and is lined with attractive old buildings .

The street is also known as the 'grande gargouille' after the drain that runs down the middle of the street to prevent flooding. The 'drain' was in fact originally designed by Vauban to ensure a constant source of water (the water runs from the hills above) to fight any fires as much of the 17th century destruction of the town was due to fire.

The Grand Rue and the streets around are also full of bars, cafés and restaurants allowing you to find everything you need for an enjoyable visit to this charming mountain town.

Briancon churchThe old town is dominated by the 'twin towered' Abbey Church of Notre Dame and Saint Nicholas (also added by Vauban). It has beautiful stone bell towers decorated with ochre coloured render and a painted sun-dial.

There are several other small chapels, fountains such as the 18th century Fountain of Sighs (Fountaine des Soupirs) on Grande Rue, other sundials (eg, on the palace of justice in the Place des Armes) and picturesque squares that you will come across as you explore.

You can escape from the tourist masses in the old (upper) town by heading down the hill along the Avenue de la Rupublique to the lower town, with its many shops, cafes and commerces.

Or head upwards towards the fort from where you can get some excellent views of Briancon and its fortification and the surrounding mountains.

Vauban fortifications in Briancon

There are several important examples of these fortifications around the city strategically placed to protect historically important locations on the route between France and Italy, including the moat, ramparts and gateways into the main city, the forts called Salettes (just above the town), the Three Heads ('des trois têtes'), the Randouillet fort (above the Fort des Trois Tetes) and the Asfeld Bridge (crosses a picturesque gorge of the Durance river between Briancon and the Fort des Trois Tetes).

These, and several other associated local forts and defensive works, were mostly added to reinforce Briancon town defences against possible attack from Italy in the early 18th century and are now form part of the UNESCO listed heritage site that includes many Vauban fortifications in various areas of France.

Other information

The town is also a base with winter sports enthusiasts, with the Serre-Chevalier group of ski resorts in the mountains around Briancon.

Explore the beautiful Vallée de la Clarée, one of the 'grand sites of France'.

You can find more local travel ideas in the Hautes-Alpes guide and the Provence guide.

See also:

Map of Briancon and places nearby

Visit near Briancon with France This Way reviews

... or see ALL recommended places to visit in Hautes-Alpes

Tourist classifications for Briancon

Briancon has received the following tourist classifications: historical protected town centre' (secteur sauvegardé); listed town of Art and History

Address: Briançon, Provence, 5100, France || GPS: latitude 44.9, longitude 6.64

Plan your visit to Briancon, Hautes-Alpes

Sightseeing & tourist attractions to visit nearby

  • Briancon fortifications (Vauban fortifications): heritage site
  • Vallee de la Claree: grand site of france (8 km)
  • L'Argentiere-la-Bessee: recommended detour (13 km)
  • Queyras: regional natural parc (25 km)
  • Mont-Dauphin place forte (Vauban fortifications): heritage site (26 km)
  • Place Forte de Mont-Dauphin: national monument (26 km)
  • La Meije: site of natural beauty (29 km)
  • Jardin alpin du Lautaret: remarkable garden (29 km)
  • La Grave: most beautiful village (31 km)
  • Aiguilles d'Arves: site of natural beauty (35 km)

Market days in Briancon, France

A seasonal market is held in Briancon on Sunday.

Regular market(s) are held in Briancon each Wednesday. (Markets are held in the morning unless stated.)

The French version of this page is at Briancon (Francais)