Less than an hour's drive from AlpBase you will come to the Queyras Regional Park. It is part of the Hautes Alpes, lying to the south-east of the Ecrins National Park. The Queyras is a nature reserve that is quite unique in the Alps. The Park is magnificent for hiking; the air is clear, the mountains and valleys are magnificent and the views breathtaking. Plus throughout the park’s 650 sq.km there are many mountain trails across wild, colourful countryside full of both traditional flowers of Provence as well as those from the Arctic and the Caucasus.
The Queyras is also remote; it is one of the oldest mountain ranges of the Alps, and it was one of the last ones to be opened up to mountain tourism towards the end of the 20th century. As a result it is still, to this day, relatively untouched by environmental destruction.
The Queyras is one of the most beautiful mountain ranges in the French Alps. Despite its comparatively high altitude (typically between 1,500m. and 2,500m.) it has the pleasant charm of pastoral mountains, with its Mélèze forests, fresh white water torrents, and classic alpine meadows. The mountains and valleys are magnificent, with gorgeous views and clear skies. These include first-rate views of the neighbouring summits of the Écrins Massif and the Piedmont Alps in Italy. The highest, most imposing and well-known mountain in the whole area is Monte Viso (3841m/12,592ft), its summit lying just over the border in Italy.
The main geographical feature of the Queyras is the Guil valley. The River Guil rises high up in the mountains on the border with Italy in the Monte Viso region. It flows first to the northwest, passing La Monta and Abriès before turning to the southwest, passing Aiguilles to reach Château-Queyras. From here the river continues below the hamlet of Bramousse to enter the deep Combe du Queyras, before flowing into the River Durance near the fortified town of Mont Dauphin.
The major town of the Queyras is Guillestre, on the south-western outskirts of the district. Several large villages or small towns in the region – such as Abriès, Saint-Véran and Ceillac – have expanded over the last few decades to accommodate the growing skiing and tourist industry. The nearest large town to the Queyras is Briançon, 34km north of Guillestre on the N94 along the Durance valley.
The classic road approach to the Queyras is via the famous Col d’lzoard (2361m/7740ft) on the D902 from Briançon and Cervières. This is one of the most impressive road passes in the Alps, providing spectacular views, but usually made impassable by snow from October to May. But if you are staying with us in the Vallouise Valley you would normally approach via Guillestre 20 minutes south of us. Then through the Combe du Queyras on the D902 to Château-Queyras, and on up the Guil Valley to Abriès.
The mountains effectively prevent a southern approach to the region, and the peaks and high cols forming the Franco–Italian border isolate the district from Italy. There is one route through the heart of the Queyras and over into Italy. It runs from Château-Queyras to Ville-Vieille and on past the Demoiselle Coiffée (a natural feature that consists of a vertical earth tower capped by a large flat boulder), continuing up to the Col Agnel on the border and down to Chianale in Italy and so on to Turin. The route is an ancient one, and many believe it to be the line taken by Hannibal and his elephants in the legendary crossing of the Alps.
The Queyras, like most other regions of the Alps, has experienced depopulation over the last 150 years, caused by the hardships of rural mountain life, lack of local employment and the effects of two world wars. Being so close to Italy, the Queyras suffered considerably in the last war, and was the scene of much mountain warfare. The population of the Queyras stood at around 8000 in the mid-19th century, but today the resident population is much lower than this. However, skiing and tourism have now helped to stabilise the situation.
In the Queyras the typical architecture is houses built of half stone and half wood, with high haylofts or Greniers. Many of these were built in the 17th and 18th centuries. There are good examples to be seen in La Rua near Molines-en-Queyras and in Saint-Véran and Aiguilles.
The Catholic religion has always been strong in the Queyras, and there is ample evidence of this in the form of numerous shrines, chapels, ornate churches and ‘carpenter’s crosses’. There was considerable religious intolerance here in earlier centuries, leading to the emigration of many Protestants to the more tolerant German states in the north.
The Queyras is famous for its honey it is now a minor tourist industry. Woodcarving is another speciality of the region. There are plenty of examples of local handicrafts in the shops in the villages and hamlets throughout the Queyras.
For more information talk to us or visit the tourist offices in Guillestre, Ceillac, Saint-Véran, Molines-en-Queyras, Abriès, Aiguilles, Château-Queyras and Arvieux.