A strategic passage on one of the rare roads that crosses the Alps…
At an altitude of 2058 m, the Col du Lautaret is France’s highest mountain pass open to traffic year-round. It is also THE passing point between Oisans and the Briançonnais, in addition to being one of the lowest points of the separation between the Northern and Southern Alps, as well as between the Ecrins and Arves mountain ranges.
The Col du Galibier, at an altitude of 2642 m, straddles Savoie to the north and the Hautes-Alpes to the South. It links La Grave via the Col du Lautaret and Saint-Michel-de-Maurienne, via the Col du Télégraphe, to Briançon. It is the 5th highest mountain pass in the French Alps and is closed to traffic in the winter.
The Col du Lautaret offers wonderful views over the Meije mountain chain the south-east, the Grand Galibier to the north and over several summits of the Massif des Ecrins.
The Col du Galibier offers unrestricted views over La Meije (3982m), the Guisane Valley and high summits, including the Barre des Ecrins (4102 m), Le Pelvoux (3946 m) and even Mont Blanc (4810 m) on a clear day.
The Col du Lautaret has been a much-frequented passage through the Alps since Roman times. Indeed, there was a Roman road linking Grenoble to Briançon. Throughout the following centuries, this was a particularly important mountain pass for crossing the French Alps – a royal hospice was even founded to accommodate travellers. At the beginning of the 20th century, only two families lived year-round in this hamlet, namely those of the innkeepers! The end of the 19th century marked the beginning of tourism in the region with the development of facilities and public transport to the mountain pass. A Compagnie des chemins de fer chalet hotel was built there in 1914.
The Galibier road was started in 1880 and completed by the blasting of a tunnel through to the summit in 1891. Since then, the road has undergone a number of construction projects. In 1938, the route was changed, with the road coming out on the
Col du Lautaret. The tunnel, which had been the only route through to the summit at an altitude of 2556 m, was closed in 1976 due to its deteriorating condition. Since 2002, the renovated tunnel has been reopened to road traffic (with the 370 m long and 4 m wide tunnel only allowing for single-way traffic, controlled by traffic lights).
One of the most beautiful high-altitude gardens in Europe, the Alpine botanic gardens at the Col du Lautaret.
This is an important altitude garden with no fewer than 2000 plants, a stream running through the middle and a lovely path winding its way through this enchanting location at the foot of the glaciers and high peaks. This is botany at its best. Created in 1899, the Jardin Botanique Alpin du Lautaret bears witness to the century-old passion of the University of Grenoble for Alpine plant life. This is an unmissable feast for both the eyes and the senses.
The Chapelle des Fusillés at the Col du Lautaret. In the summer of 1944, to revenge an attack by the French Forces of the Interior, the Germans shot 17 local resistance fighters dead, pillaged the various facilities at the mountain pass and took the entire male population of Villar d’Arene hostage. Six of them and a German soldier were killed by the explosion of mine in the Tunnel du Chambon, near La Grave. The chapel was built on the spot the executions took place.
The Henri Desgrange monument.
This is where the former and new routes of the Galibier Road join together. Henri Desgrange was the brain behind the Tour de France stage from 1903 onwards. The Henri Desgrange Memorial prize is awarded each year to the Tour de France cyclist in the lead at the Col du Galibier, or else the highest mountain pass of the race if the Col du Galibier does not feature that year.
Cycling: 2 unmissable mountain passes
These two cols are icons for all cycling enthusiasts! The Col du Galibier is a cycling Mecca in France, having been climbed on 59 occasions by the Tour de France, making it the most-climbed Alpine pass in the history of the race. The Col du Lautaret has been tackled on a total of 12 occasions by the Tour de France, not including Lautaret-Galibier combinations (climbing up from Grenoble or Briançon) or Galibier-Lautaret combinations (downhill).