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Les Ecouges Road

Built in 1833, this windy wild road of Les Ecouges zigzags up to the village of Rencurel, in the Isère department in south-eastern France, before crossing mountain pastures until the Col de Romeyère. This is not a road for people that fear heights. Of all the routes into Le Vercors, ‘Les Ecouges’ is the most vertiginous and the most stunning. It’s one of the French balcony roads.

The road, known as Route des Ecouges, carries on via the lonely valley des Ecouges, then go through an impressive tunnel dug in the rock at Pont Chabert. The tunnel leads to a road hanging above a waterfall before going down vertignously to the Isere Valley. The road's architecture is unique, with the slope copying that of the limestone layers. The builders naturally sculpted the existing lines. The road's roof is like a smooth slab with a right angle giving a geometrical effect. The tunnel left in its natural state offers similar slabs on the ceiling.

To arrive to this road at Balme de Rencurel, take the D 35, direction St Gervais by the Col de Romeyère. This road was not made to go quickly. It is there to visit the massif of Ecouges by meandering in side of mountain then on the Vercors. If you appreciate the small snaky roads which climb, the small roads sometimes covered by trees, sometimes encircled with meadows where graze gentle horned animals, then, this road is for you. The opening of the road was bound to economic motives, to facilitate the wooden descent of Coulmes towards the valley to a foundry of cannon which was situated in St Gervais. The road was discussed throughout the 19th century to supply wood to the cannon foundry in St Gervais. But it was finally the inhabitants of Rencurel and St Gervais that built it to promote trade with the markets in the plain. It was finished in 1883 by J Serratrice, a Rencurel entrepreneur. The road is in dreadful condition and required strong nerves to negotiate it. Any barriers along the edge afford little more than token protection; large stretches should be taken at a snail's pace. The Vercors Massif is filled will great natural rock bridges and fabulous galleries cut into cliffs, but the Tunnel des Ecouges (below Col de Romeyère) was a terrifying spider hole. 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. Les Ecouges road is one of the most challenging and dramatic roads in France. It is usually closed in winters. The road is open to all kinds of vehicles except for the biggest ones like lorries and trucks. The authorities project to repair the road besides the tunnel which is nowadays closed. It is to become a two ways road (in a more or less near future). So, as for today, the tunnel is open but the old road that bypasses is closed.
Road suggested by: Benjamin Hué (info updated July 2018)

 

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