Subject: French Travelogue 4
Day 7: Briancon - Jausiers Left Briancon at about 8.30am, fairly cool and some mist hanging over the mountains. Took some photographs of small villages along the way, using the alps as a backdrop and with the mist hanging almost like smoke, it created a most eerie picture. We drove along narrow twisty roads, with spectacular scenery either side of the road, and eventually reached the summit. (Col d'Izoard). We were at a height of some 2400 meters and the it was still reasonably early in the morning. It was a windless clear cool day, ideally suited for taking photographs. I wanted a photo of the road that we had just travelled up on, and so I scrambled up a steep hill at a reasonable clip. Due to the altitude and the % of oxygen in the air, my lungs started to protest in a big way. For a few moments I was forced to sit down and get my breathing back to normal. I did get my photo however. I can now see the funny side of this situation, but I tell you that it was not so humorous at the time. There are no trees and virtually no vegetation of any kind, as far as the eye could see. I read somewhere that this area has moonscape scenery. I thought that was aptly named. A man started to set up trays of sweets, jellies etc - a strange place to sell these sort of wares I thought, but if he is making a buck, good luck to him. A large group of motorcyclists arrived just before we left, I spoke to them and I believe they were German. You see a large number of motor bikes travelling the smaller roads. We left and headed for Fort Queyras (Pronounced Key-ra). This would be the most complete fort, not chateau, that we have come across in our travels in France. We hiked up a steep unformed road to have a look at the interior of the fort. Included with our entrance fee was a map of the interior and a written history of the buildings. Unfortunately it was in French, but I plan to have it translated later. Each room had a plaque on the wall explaining what it was used for and the furniture that would have been used in that particular room. Again the explanations were in French, but I video taped each one and will have them translated. Anyone that is interested in medieval architecture will find this structure fascinating. We certainly did. From Fort Queyras we set off for the beautiful village of St. Veran. Before we got there, however, we came across a rock formation which I had seen on the net but I did not think we would be seeing on this trip. They are called Demoiselles Coiffees. A rough translation is: (Young ladies with fancy hair or nice hat) They are a narrowly tapered rock formation, topped with a large rock balanced neatly on the tip. I believe that these rock formations are unique to France. We carried on and soon came to the village St. Veran. It is said that St. Veran, at 2040m is the highest village in Europe. This is not to be confused with Briancon, which is billed as the highest town in Europe. The picturesque houses are predominately made of timber with either corrugated metal or stone slate roofs. Most of the houses seemed to have large complex wooden attics where I assume they store their fuel for the winter. This village is well known for the wood sculptors who work on their creations in small shops. We watched and photographed one at work for a while. We asked of course first, and he was quite happy for us to do so. Although this a very popular tourist destination, the village appears to stay natural and authentic and has not been spoilt. After eating a small lunch we set off for Jausiers, our stopover. Before we arrived there however, and just as we came out of a tunnel, we joined a long queue of stationery cars. We waited for about thirty minutes and finally I walked to the head of the queue to see what the hold up was. There was a gang of workmen doing something to the entrance of the next tunnel. As I approached one of the workmen, he spotted me and started to yell at me in French. I could not understand, of course, so I just stood there. He finally came over and soon realised that I could not understand what he was trying to tell me. In near perfect English he explained to me that it was not safe for me to be there and it was also a hard hat area. I thanked him and went back to the car. We were soon on our way. We arrived at Jausiers at about five o'clock and booked ourselves into the San Souci hotel. There were a few small towns where we did not prebook our accommodation It gave us a bit more flexibility and we could have carried on driving if we so wished. There was no good reason why we chose this town to to stop over but it turned out to be a good choice. The San Souci was a one star establishment which had recently been refurbished. Although the room was fairly small it was neat and clean and only cost 266ff for the night. The only problem was the lack of a power point in the room. We decided to go for a walk and see what this small town had to offer. Jausiers is certainly not a tourist town but we did come across an amazing and stunningly beautiful chateau. I don't know if that is the correct way to describe a chateau, but it turned out to be one of the best that we saw while in France. Bear in mind we did not tour the Loire Valley. Also I imagine, it is no where near as big as most of the chateaus in the Loire Valley. It is a six storied building with a single tower on the right hand corner. All the windows have decorative stone work around them. The black stone tile roof is set off beautifully against the white stone. I have been told that the present owners are trying to sell the chateau for 300,000US. Unfortunately the entire place is all locked up, including the grounds, so we could only take pictures of the exterior. It was getting rather dull so we headed back to the hotel. We decided to have dinner at the hotel even though it was a set menu. It started off with vegetable soup which was thick and so much of it, that it was a meal in itself. The main course was a rice salad and a lovely tender lamb dish. For dessert we had creme brulee, followed by a cheese board. Although there was nothing fancy about this meal it rated as one tastiest meals that we had in France. We finished with cafe au lait. The cost of the meal - 84ff each. There were three other couples, at the dining table and the gentleman immediately opposite me turned out to be a retired Cambridge professor, who could converse fluently in French. He and his wife came to France every year and always came and stayed in this hotel. We had a very pleasant evening chatting with the professor, his wife and the cook, who was also the owner of the hotel. The owner could not speak a word of English, but the professor did the translating. We finally retired about 11.00pm.

More later....... Richard (New Zealand)