Built between 1844 and 1851, Les Grands-goulets Road is a superb route that links the Royans area to the Vercors Central (France). The road was closed to vehicles and pedestrian in 2005. It’s one of the French balcony roads.
The surface of the road is asphalted. This small valley narrows 20 km further above the Vernaison River that turns into a 200 m high waterfall. The road becomes magnificient with the rock just over your head.
After la Plaine du Royans and the Petits Goulets, there is a succession of impressive tunnels that give access to the green hilly area of Echevis, stuck between the white cliffs of the Arps and the Allier. In the early 19th century, without any passable roads for horse-drawn vehicles, the 5,000 strong residents living in Vercors were feeling increasingly isolated from the rest of the world. The decision was made to build a road that would connect Vercors with the South, a mind-boggling investment of man-power, time and money. Without the technology we have today, the construction of such a road seems inconceivable, with perilous methods used to build the road, involving hanging down the side of the mountain on a rope ladder and throwing dynamite into the rock, swinging out of the way just in time to avoid being blown up. Ten years after construction began, the road was finally ready; a breathtaking but daredevil journey with sharps turns and blind curves.
The space between mountains is really tiny and on the opposite side of the road, the mountain is called "Rochers d'Echevis"... The road gradually climbs up from the pretty village of Pont-en-Royans, until the valley closes in and road takes you under cliffs, through rock arches and eventually through a section where only a little bit of light can make it through. It runs as a single track road along the mountainside for some distance with nowhere to pass another vehicle. Here one says a prayer that nobody is coming towards you until the road widens some kilometres further.
This road is one of the most famous balcony roads in France. A balcony road is a hair-raising lane cut into the sides of sheer cliffs. It’s a kind of road not for those who fear heights. There is little room for error on these roads. It’s normal for your palms to sweat looking at those photos, imagine what it must have been like before the barriers. The space between two mountains is unnerving at points and the road is often so narrow that squeezing past an oncoming car was a dangerous and time consuming ordeal. Often very steep and high up in the gorge, the road had no guardrails.
To reach the road, at Pont en Royans, take direction La Chapelle en Vercors via Sainte Eulalie en Royans. It finishes in a village called "Les Barraques en Vercors"... The road was cut in the cliff, and the sun never penetrates into the narrow pass, mossy and wet. You get the feeling to enter a cave... The Vernaison falls down in waterfalls and the road stays hung along the cliff. You could stop in several places to contemplate the Vernaison quite below... After several tunnels, the road drive down in twists towards the valley of Echevis, then again tunnels and cliff road to cross the narrowing of the Petit Goulet.
The road was built between 1844 and 1851. It was a huge human and financial investment. After 156 years of leading travellers through the mountains by its winding and narrow road, the French government was forced to permanently close the historic road in 2005 after a series of fatal accidents. This scenic road now is bypassed by a tunnel. Today the old road sits abandoned and untravelled. Not even cyclists or hikers are allowed to venture its long and winding route. While there are rumours that it might re-open for such purposes, the tourism office maintains that les Grands Goulets and its spectacular sights are closed forever and closed to all.