By Kevin Byrne
Walking in the Briançonnais by Andrew McCluggage
For those contemplating a walking, or climbing, holiday in the Ecrins/Dauphiné area of France, this is a welcome publication. Briancon is the administrative capital of the region. As the hub of five distinct valleys (as explained in the guide) it is very well placed to facilitate exploration of the region. Your reviewer has had the privilege of spending a lot to time in the area, winter and summer, especially in recent years and one thing that can be said is that the scope for mountain as well as other outdoor activities in the area is simply second to none.
There are many guidebooks of one kind or another already available locally but these are invariably in French and not easily accessible for planning ahead. As well as the individual walks listed, all of which are excellent and cater for a variety of desires and abilities, as well as exploring all the valleys, you can be assured that whatever style, duration or level of difficulty you prefer, there will always be more of what you fancy available close by. The area has scope for a lifetime of hillwalking.
Lovers of long distance walks will be familiar with the Grande Randonnée routes of France and it is worth mentioning here (as noted in the guide) that there are several to be had in the area – the GR54 (Tour of the Ecrins), the GR58 (the Queyras) and of course the trans-European / Alpine GR5 which passes through the area on its way through the Alps from Geneva to Nice. Guides to those popular GR routes are also available in English and will provide details of additional routes that could be explored in conjunction with the Briancon guide….if you really feel the need for more.
I haven’t studied individual walks to comment on times, or other aspects of the descriptions, but I am familiar with many of them and can attest to their individual quality. That’s what matters most. Experienced walkers don’t need detailed commentary and the guidebook author (from Northern Ireland) would not want that style of review either.
If the walking routes are not enough on their own to tempt you, it is worth mentioning the wealth of additional options in the form of alpine climbing, sport climbing, via ferrata, trail running, mountain biking, kayaking etc etc. that the area has to offer. The nearly alpine base of Ailefroide will no doubt be familiar to many due to MI and IMC meets over the years. Being relatively close to Briancon, Ailefroide would be worth a visit to walk, climb, boulder or simply gaze at the magnificent granite walls of the valley.
A summer visit to the Brianconnais (that is the name of the area surrounding the town of Briancon) might also whet your appetite for a winter visit for snow shoeing (becoming increasingly popular), ice-climbing or skiing in its various disciplines. Chamonix may be the jewel in the crown of alpine climbing but if the glitter and expense of Chamonix (not to mention the weather) no longer attract then the Dauphiné / Ecrins area has as much to offer – possibly more for those not in the top echelons of alpine endeavour.
In summary, this is an excellent and welcome publication. Oh, and if you do come along keep an eye out for wolves and avoid the Tour de France if it happens to be passing through as it regularly does….unless you have a large wallet and book early.