Briançon’s Cité Vauban and why it’s so special

Briançon’s historic Cité Vauban

Briançon’s Cité Vauban is also known as the ‘old town’ and ‘historic town’ of Briançon. Designed by the military architect and engineer Vauban (1633-1707) the majestic walled town was engineered for the 18th century and occupied a strategic position at the intersection of five different valleys including the Guisane, Durance and Clarée. If looking at today’s map of Serre Chevalier Vallée, you’ll find Briançon Cité Vauban at the bottom left.

A monument of defence

Built upon a mass of rock and sitting at 1326m altitude, the Cité Vauban was difficult to conquer. Huge walls and outposts for every viewpoint, tunnels, drawbridges, cleverly structured terrain surrounding the walls… Vauban thought of everything. He even instructed the build of the incredible Collégiale at the entrance to the town – who would dare destroy it?

Surrounding the town, Vauban ensured that defence forts were built, perched high above the town to protect, watch and supply. The fort du Randouillet, the fort des Trois-Têtes, the fort Dauphin, and the redoute des Salettes. And there is even more. The swift and safe movement of military personnel was essential for King Louis XIV’s maréchel of France, and so Communication Y and the enormous Pont d’Asfeld were constructed.

A truly memorable place to stay

In July 2008, the old town was listed as one of 12 ‘Vauban’ sites to be recognised as UNESCO World Heritage sites. Today, the town attracts visitor’s from around the world and year round and at its quietest in May and November each year. Magical in winter, with snow filling the streets and falling off roof tops, and ridiculously picturesque in summer and autumn. The sky is often blue with no cloud to be seen, making an incredible backdrop against the Provençal-coloured town houses that local residents are proud of.

Many of the town houses have been redeveloped into characterful properties some with independent apartments that can be rented for just three nights as a minimum but see guests stay as long as two weeks or a month for working-holidays! The location is incredible, with all the amenities on the doorstep so to speak, as well as local parking and free high speed internet.

Cobbled streets and views aplenty

The town is made up of just a handful of main streets each leading to or from the outer walls of the town (the remparts). The ‘Gargouille’ or ‘Grande Rue’ is the main cobbled route from the top end of the town to the lower end, and is adorned with some of Briançon’s best restaurants, clothes and souvenir shops, bars, cafés including the fabulous Italian-run Café Turin, museums, gift shops, sweet and toy shops, haberdashery, utility shop, bakeries and so much more.

Cité Vauban - the old town of Briançon © Ceryl Rowlands
Cité Vauban – the old town of Briançon © Ceryl Rowlands

If you would like to read more about the old town and indeed the whole valley of Serre Chevalier, we recommend local artist and author Susan Lomas’ book The History of Serre Chevalier & Briançon.

Visit our Serre Chevalier section to see all our articles about Serre Chevalier and the activities and services available. Take a look by clicking here. If we have missed anything you’d like to know, please give us a shout!