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The Hautes-Alpes (department number 05) is located in the region of Provence - Alpes Cote d’Azur and has an estimated population of 121,419 (census in 1999). Situated in south-east France, the Durance, Drac, Guisane and Luye rivers run through it. The Durance has been dammed to create the largest artificial lake in Europe, the Lac de Serre-Ponçon.
The capital of the department is the city of Gap. Other towns include Briançon, Embrun, Serres, La Grave, and Guillestre.
Why you should visit Hautes-Alpes for your next holiday in France
The Haute-Alpes has an extremely mountainous terrain resulting in the area being sparsely populated. The average elevation is over 1000m, with the and the highest being over 4000m.
The area is great to visit all year round. In winter with more than 30 different ski resorts every type of skiing is available, even parachute skiing. Authentic chalets, snowy pastures and sleigh rides add to the winter ambience of the area.
During the summer the area is a walkers and naturalists paradise. There are numerous choices for being outdoors. Hiking, horseback riding, mountain biking, and mountain climbing or even hang gliding. Sailing, kayaking, river rafting and canyoning are all possible in the various rivers.
The 100,000 hectare national park of Ecrin has 1000km of marked footpaths and is home to chamois, ibex, marmots and grouse.
What to see in Hautes-Alpes
Gap is known as an alpine crossroads and sits at the intersection of the D994 and the N85. It is 733m above sea level and sits on the right bank of the river Luye close to where it joins the river Durance.
At 1350m above sea level, Briançon is the second highest city in Europe after Davos. It is built on a plateau at the point where the Durance and Guisane rivers meet and is close to the Parc National des Ecrins.
The town is very picturesque with steep and narrow streets. The parish church, with its two towers, occupies a visual position. The Pont d'Asfeld, east of the town, forms an arch of 131ft. span, at a height of 184ft. across the Durance.
Embrun is located between Gap and Briançon at the eastern end of the Lac de Serre-Ponçon.
The town is on a cliff-top plateau known as the ‘Roc’ and it overlooks the Durance river just before it flows into the Lac de Serre-Ponçon.
A pleasant town with a market, the town is old and has ancient buildings, many of which have been restored. There are many old narrow streets and at the Place E. Barthelon, in the center of the old town, has a large fountain. The Cathedral Notre-Dame-du-Réal is impressive.
Serres is a picturesque village on a rocky hillside on the Buech river. The old part has narrow streets and small passages with some of the houses dating back to the 15th and 16th centuries.
The N72 passes through the village, crossing the river Buech and going through the centre, so it can be a busy place. It is an active village with outdoor cafes.
La Grave is a well know destination for extreme, no-limits skiing. The telepheriques transport you from the village to nearly 10,500ft in 40 minutes. As there are no groomed runs and trail maps, the skiing is all off-piste. Most skiers and snowboarders only venture onto the mountain with a guide.
Guillestre is a picturesque little town in a valley surrounded by mountains and forest. The river Guil river flows through the wild ‘Gorges de Guil’ past Guillestre and into the river Durance. The town takes its name from the river and there are numerous river activities.
How to get to Hautes-Alpes
Holiday accommodation in the Haute Alpes is best reached by road and if you want to explore, a car is advisable.
There are no flights directly to the Hautes-Alpes department. You would need to fly to Marseille, Toulon, Nice, Valence or Grenoble and then hire a car or take the train. Some of these destinations may require a change in Paris.
The Haute Alpes are served by the E712/N75 and the N85 and D944.
The French rail system serves Marseille, Grenoble and Valence well where you can change to take a train to your destination in the Hautes-Alpes.