The merger of several hamlets created Val d’Isère, which used to be called Val de Tignes, around 1920. For a long time the people living here endured harsh winters because of the weather and lack of resources. The rural exodus to Tarentaise Valley threatened to empty the village of all its inhabitants, but the first chairlift came to the rescue in 1932, the tourist office in 1934 and the cable-car in 1937.
Val d’Isère was a venue for the 1992 Albertville Winter Olympics and will offer its facilities for the 2008-2009 downhill skiing world championships.
The resort has many “off-trail” descents for the best skiers.
Val d’Isère is the resort of Jean-Claude Killy and Ingrid Jacquemaud.
Iseran, one of cycling’s most legendary passes, is as famous as Galibier and Tourmalet.
The first time the Tour climbed Iseran Pass was in 1938 (Vervaecke reached the top first). In 1996 the stage was cancelled due to snow. In 1959, the French team did not even participate, preferring to let Spaniard Federico Bahamontes beat Frenchman Henri Anglade to the top. Anquetil let Gismondi and Christian do the climbing. Bringing up the rear, a suffering Louison Bobet definitively withdrew from the Tour under the eye of Gino Bartali. Arriving in Aoste, Baldini defeated Charly Gaul, Anglade, Gismondi and Christian just 47 seconds ahead of Anquetil and Bahamontes, who had just saved his yellow jersey. Pierre Chany called Iseran “a huge flop” and, arriving at the Parc des Princes, Anquetil was booed (“sifflé”) so badly that he named his motorboat Sifflet 59.
Lanslebourg-Montcenis, which is in the middle of Vanoise National Parc, stands on the Route Napoléon and has 25 shelters.
On his way back from Egypt, Napoleon Bonaparte said that he wanted to have a pyramid built on this site. His wish was fulfilled in 1968 – by EDF, France’s state-owned electric company! The Mont-Cenis pyramid museum hosts a permanent exhibition on “The Thousand-Year-Old Gateway to the Alps–.
Modane, which stands on the banks of the Arc, grew up with the railroad, especially after the train tunnel was completed in 1871 after 14 years of work.
The old Rizerie des Alpes, built on columns like a Greek temple, has just been rehabilitated and serves as an exhibition centre of the Lyon-Turin rail link.
Other sites include a Basque building, the leaning house: the remains of a Second World War bunker.
Saint-Michel de Maurienne has megalithic dolmens and an 18th-century church with a tower surmounted by a steeple.
Metallurgy and foundries were the town’s economic mainstays.
Saint-Michel de Maurienne is the birthplace of General Gustave Férrié (1888-1932), a railroad engineer. In 1899, he attended a talk on wireless telegraphy by Marconi and came away so impressed that he promised the minister of war, Frecynet, that he would study and apply this revolutionary technology to the French army. Ferrié developed state-of-the-art equipment and invented the electrolytic detector. In 1907, he built a wireless antenna on the Eiffel Tower and in 1926 measured the globe’s new dimensions.
Ferrié, who was admitted to the Academy of Science, died in 1932. Let us pay tribute to this scientist by recalling that thanks to his work on the Eiffel Tower, he saved the planet’s most visited landmark, which was slated for demolition after the world’s fair.
The artists Pierre and Gabriel Dufour, who were also born in Saint-Michel de Maurienne, pursued their careers at the court of Portugal, where they painted some 200 pictures, including a Last Supper, Crucifixion and Holy Shroud.
The Tour climbed Telegraph Pass for the first time in 1911, when Frenchman Emile Georget won the race to the top.
Located between the Arnan–Villard and Cerces massifs, Telegraph is just a “footstool” on the way to gigantic Galibier Pass.
Huddling around its church at the foot of the Telegraph and Galibier Passes, Valloire is the point of passage from Briançonnais to Maurienne, between Vanoise and Ecrins National Parks. Some historians say its inhabitants descended from a Roman settlement dating back to the time when Nero was persecuting the Christians. Valloire was part of Mont-Blanc department in 1793. Its 333 voters opted for France in 1860. This small mountain town has successfully made the transition from farming to winter sports since the 6th Alpine Hunters Battalion taught the local population how to ski in 1930. It has grown at a steady pace, becoming Maurienne’s leading tourism centre. Valloire’s hotels have several gourmet restaurants that are a credit to its reputation. Franck Picard won the World Cup here in 1991.
Galibier Pass, whose 2,645-metre summit marks the boundary between the Savoie and Hautes-Alpes departments, connects the Arvan Villard and Cerces massifs. The first time the Tour de France scaled this legendary pass was on 10 July 1911 (Emile Georget came in first place). Galibier is the third-highest obstacle in Tour de France history, after Restefond and Iseran. In 1979 the Alpine giant “grew” 89 metres when a new road, which skirted around the famous tunnel, was built near the summit.
Lauteret Pass, which the Romans already frequently used, connects the Durance (Briançon), Isère and Romanche (Le Bourg d’Oisans, Grenoble) Valleys. The present road was built during the First Empire, in 1804. A chapel at the top commemorates the memory of 17 French soldiers that the Germans shot here in August 1944. Near the pass, an Alpine garden grows 3,000 species of wild mountain plants and botanists study the flora at a University of Grenoble laboratory.
Hautes-Alpes, which lies in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region, has just 132,000 inhabitants, making it one of France’s most sparsely populated departments. It is bordered by Isère, Savoie, Drôme and Alpes de Haute Provence and includes two districts: Gap, the highest one in France (elevation ranges between 625 and 2,360 m), and Briançon, Europe’s highest city and sub-prefecture (1,326 m), as well as Europe’s highest village, Saint-Véran (2,042 m).
Several valleys – Briançonnais, Embrun, Guillestre, Laragne, Queyras, Champsaur and Valgaudemar – make Hautes-Alpes one of France’s most popular tourist destinations.
Monêtier-les-Bains is the capital of a canton that includes the ski resort villages of Villeneuve-la-Salle, Monetier, Saint-Chaffrey and Serre-Chevalier. Its resort is called Serre-Chevalier 1500.
In Roman times Monetier was called Stabatio. The town did not take the name it has today until 1893. It is a hot springs resort whose waters are recommended for people suffering from gastric, rheumatic and skin ailments.
Saint-Chaffrey, the neighbouring resort, is the stronghold of Luc Alphand, ski champion and winner of the Dakar rally in 2006.
“Egg Rock”, “Piss Falls” and a drawbridge are the points of interest in Saint Chaffrey.
In 1996 the village was the starting point of a Tour stage to Sestrières. Denmark’s Bjarn Riis won the stage but has since admitted to having used EPO.
Tall mountains, often over 3,000 metres high, surround Briançon, a city perching atop a glacial spur that it now overflows on all sides. Since Antiquity, it has occupied a strategic location at the crossroads of five valleys radiating out from it like the spokes of a wheel, including the valleys of Durance towards Provence, Guisane towards Dauphiné and Cervières towards Queyras. In the Middle Ages, Briançon was already an important town, living mostly on commerce, but in 1692 a fire burnt it down during fighting between France and Savoy. Louis XIV decided to rebuild the town and asked Vauban to carry out the task.
Aware of how hard that would be, the Sun King’s famous minister planned to build a bastioned wall around the town, but he died before seeing his project through to completion. The work started in 1700 and lasted a century, but in the end Briançon was an incomparable fortified complex (three walls, seven forts and several redoubts).
Briançon has played an important military role from the dawn of time to the religious wars, Reformation, Italian wars, Napoleonic era and the Second World War. After Waterloo, an Austro-Sardinian force of several thousand men attacked General Eberlé, who was at the head of 70 gunners and 500 infantrymen, in Briançon. Despite their overwhelming numerical strength, the allies failed to take the city. Briançon again lived up to its motto, “Small but famous”.
Briançon is made up of two parts in sharp contrast with one another: the old, or upper, town, with a citadel and rustic-looking main street that has a stream (gargouille) flowing through the middle of it, and the modern quarter around the train station. After the First World War, Briançon, a garrison town that was connected to the railway network in 1884, grew by leaps and bounds with the development of tourism, building of health resorts and opening of an army hospital and a sanatorium. Then the city benefited from the increasing vogue for winter sports.
The Tour has regularly visited Briançon, Europe’s highest city, since 1922, when Philippe Thys was first across the finish line. The last time was in 2000, when Santiago Botero won the stage. The city where Henri Pélissier, Bartali, Coppi, Bobet, Bahamontès, Merckx, Thévenet and Van Impe triumphed has now been in the Tour’s history books for 85 years.