Located 100km east of Grenoble along the N91, Briançon is the capital of the Écrins and one of Europe’s highest towns at 1350m above sea level. The town is essentially split between the steep, narrow streets of the ville haute (also known as the Cité Vauban), which sits high above the urban spread of the modern and charmless lower town (ville basse), itself of little interest save for the Télécabine de Prorel, which shoots up from avenue René-Froger, linking Briançon with the Serre Chevalier ski resort. It also provides a head start to mountain walkers.
The ville haute looms on the cusp of a rocky outcrop high above the Durance and Guisane valleys. Fortified originally by the Romans to guard the road from Milan to Vienne, it’s encircled by lofty ramparts and sheer walls constructed by the French architect and soldier Sébastien Le Preste de Vauban in the seventeenth century. The highest point of the fortifications is the citadelle, which looks over the strategic intersection of five valleys and guards the start of the climb to the desolate and windswept Col de Montgenèvre, one of the oldest and most important passes into Italy.