Alps’ Epicentre: Saint Veran

Fantastically shabby chic Saint Veran deserves to be ranked alongside Andermatt, Bormio, Saint Moritz, Cortina and Briancon as an ‘Alps’ Epicentre’, one of those places with super high mountain passes in every direction.

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Saint Veran: sprinkled on a (deceptively) steep mountain side.

France’s highest ‘commune’ at 2040m, in the Queyras National Park, right up against the Italian border, Saint Veran is a tiny, isolated village sprinkled over a very steep mountain side.

The Queyras is one of the last French Alp valleys to be opened up to tourism so is very lightly developed.

Conservation is extremely important in Saint Veran. You can’t drive in the village unless you are staying there. Many of the buildings are constructed from ancient-looking logs with spindly, worn and weather-beaten verandas hanging precariously outside.

Some are even patched up with rusty corrugated iron sheeting, presumably in preference to unsightly modern materials.

Aside from all the literal rusticity, the main attraction for drivers is the location, 20km south of Col d’Izoard (2360m) and just 5km north of Col Agnel (2744m).

That makes it the perfect place to stop off for the night or, on longer stays, a great base to explore the other mountain roads in the region.

In the day we drove Col d’Agnel we also took in Col de Lombarde (2350m), Col de la Bonette (2802m) and Vars (2108m) though that could easily also have included Cayolle (2326m), or Col de Champs (2080m) and Col d’Allos (2250m). All are within a few miles.

Being as Saint Veran is so tiny, places to stay are limited. Apart from a couple of guest houses, the L’Alta Peyra hotel is it.

It ain’t cheap but it is extremely comfortable, comprised of newly built chalet buildings tucked away at the top of the village, all linked together by winding corridors.

We could have done without the dyed, pygmy goat skins scattered around and the room wasn’t massive, but the restaurants are top notch – all three of them – while the view from the balcony (and the bed) is fabulous.

Most persuasive were the parking arrangements. Our embarrassing car was slung in the covered spaces, but we noticed that when Porsche Club Deutschland rolled up they were ushered into a nifty lift to the underground secure basement.

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Saint Veran: the shabbiest chic imaginable but underneath it all very well cared for, and authentic.

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The Hotel L’Alta Peyra is particularly strong on rooms (and beds) with a view.

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Looking down on Saint Veran from one of the thirty trails around the village. Fabulous walking country but be warned, everywhere is very, very steep.

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Blooming marmots everywhere. Our dog did his best to deal with them but there were just too many.

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Looking down on neighbouring Molines-en-Queyras and the first stretch of Col Agnel.

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The top of Col Agnel (2744m, 9002ft) marks the border between France and Italy. The twisting ascent from the north along a shallow valley turns briefly to steep, barrierless curves but the reward is a stunning, panoramic view into Italy from the top.

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Col d’Izoard’s credentials as a driver’s road are unimpeachable (it’s where BMW partly developed its new M4 GTS and M2). Everyone else will be amazed by the unique Casse Deserte (Broken Desert) landscape – fine scree slopes punctuated by jagged rock chimneys.

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Scrubby grass heathland – almost – on the southern stretch, and traditional endless curves and switchbacks in the north, are punctuated by an extraordinary pile of flaking dark grey granite, Cime la Bonette (2802m, 9192ft), the summit of Col de la Bonette. It proves that height really is might when it comes to mountain roads. Find all these mountain roads and more at PassFinder.

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