The highlights of the Queyras Region are the Queyras National Park (Parc Naturel Régional de Queyras) and the UNESCO world heritage site of Mont Dauphin, the impressive Vauban fortress near Guillestre.
The Queyras National Park, southeast of Briançon and bordering on Italy, is one of the most stunning of the French National Parks. It is less developed than other Alpine regions and enchants visitors with its largely unspoilt villages and hamlets, which have retained their authentic charm. The region is extremely beautiful and provides for outstanding ski touring in winter and alpine walking and hiking in the summer.
The most convenient way to enter the National Park is via the town of Guillestre. The small town (pop.2.250) is located on a plateau on the left bank of the river Guil, which flows into the Durance a few kilometres downstream, near the Mont Dauphin Fort. Guillestre offers good infrastructure with its shops, cafés and restaurants. Its appearance is quite charming with old stone house typical for this region, the two pretty main squares, Notre Dame d'Aquilon church (1507-1532) with its remarkable porch. The Tour d'Eygliers is the only remnant of medieval fortifications which once surrounded the town.
Leaving Guillestre in an easterly direction on Route D902 one drives through some spectacular gorges of the river Guil. Careful with a number of narrow tunnels!
After 19km, the village Château Ville Vieille (literally "Castle Old Village") comes into sight. It was formed by combining various villages and the Château Queyras into one administrative entity with a total population of roughly 320 people. The origins of the Château Queyras, which towers over the village, goes back to 1265 when it was built to defend the eastern border of what was then the Dauphiné, an independent state ruled by the counts of Vienne. In the 14th century the Dauphiné became part of France. Vauban had the château's defenses strengthened as it was part of the defense line against neighboring Savoy (whose rulers became Kings of Italy in the 19th century).
From Château Ville Vieille take the road to Saint Véran through the Aigue Agnelle valley. You will pass through some lovely alpine scenery with green pastures, rugged mountains and a number of small hamlets which form the village of Molines de Queyras. The rural character has been entirely preserved here. Houses are built out of stone in the first floor and wood in the upper floor. This so called "Fustes" style is typical of the Hautes Alpes. The historic Saint Romain de Molines church (1628-1637) with its characteristic clock tower is quite a sight with snow-capped Mont Viso (3.841m/12.601ft) as a backdrop.
Saint Véran lies at an altitude of 2.040m (6.693ft) in the valley of the Aigue Blanche. For a long time it claimed the title of being the highest permanently inhabited village in Europe. Nowadays there are higher "permanently inhabited" villages in Europe, but Saint Véran can certainly claim to be the prettiest of the high altitude villages despite the ever increasing tourist developments. The historic part of the village has a fine selection of Fustes style houses, numerous sun dials, old fountains made entirely of wood and a stone church with a notable baroque altar and retables. The local museum, the Musée du Soum, is located in a one of the best preserved Fustes style houses dating from 1641.
From Saint Véran you can cross into Italy via the Col Agnel, a steep mountain pass reaching an altitude of 2.744m (9.002ft), one of the highest roads in Europe. The road is closed during winter time.
Back in Château Ville Vieille you might want to explore the Haut Guil Valley further east. Aiguilles (pop. 440) is proud of its Saint Jean Baptiste church (1433 but totally reconstructed in the 17th century), the Hotel de Ville (town hall) as well as numerous fountains and sun dials. A curiosity is the Maison Eiffel (locals call it the Château de Fer), a house built entirely from cast iron. It was designed by Gustave Eiffel and a prototype was first shown at the 1895 exhibition in Bordeaux. The iron house in Aiguilles was erected for a certain Mr.Meiffre at the beginning of the 20th century. Rumor has it that in summer it is a furnace, in winter a freezer!
From Aiguilles continue east on Route D947 to Abriès and then southeast to Ristolas. The valley with its small hamlets, many hiking paths and a number of ski lifts, nowadays still a relatively quiet corners in the Alps, is developing rapidly.
Back in Guillestre don't miss to visit the UNESCO world heritage site of the Mont Dauphin Fortress (next page).