D13, a balcony road in France

D13 is a short mountain road with a length of 22,7km, located in the Pyrénées-Orientales department in southern France. It’s one of the French balcony roads.

This curvy mountainous road which rarely permits speeds over 30km/h, is extremely narrow, full of hairpins, and links the communes of Maureillas-las-Illas and Llauro. Maureillas-las-Illas (Morellàs i les Illes) is a rural commune in the Vallespir, Pyrénées-Orientales in the south of France and Llauro (Llauró) is a commune in the Pyrénées-Orientales department in southern France.
This road is one of the most famous balcony roads in the country. 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. 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.

The D13 is a beautiful roundtrip through a valley. The road deserves the name “balcony road” especially at the beginning and at the end. Be careful when driving it because there are a lot of chalets (houses just used at the weekend by French owners) and this street is the only way to reach them. Traffic is rare but you have to drive slowly because the road is extremely winding and the next car contrary to you can come surprisingly after the next bend. Generally: There is nowhere on this road a distance of more than 200m without a bend. You will be driving through a cork oak forest which is obviously used and partly harvested.

The road slowly ascends and descends. You will cross 3 passes:

-Coll de Miralles
-Coll de la Brossa
-Col den Llemosi

None of this passes are remarkable despite the fact that there are labels to mark them. During the typical “balcony road” sections, there is mostly a (also typical) stone wall to protect you from falling down. But be careful: When driving with a car an accident this will of course damage your car. When driving with a motorbike there is a relevant chance that your bike stays on the road and you go on riding alone – for some seconds because the stone wall is rather low. Motorbikes can easily pass by cars on nearly every place on this road.  If 2 cars meet especially on the “balcony road” section, one of them has to go into reverse until they can pass by. Don’t forget your camera – on a sunny day you will find a lot of postcard motives. Because of the dense wood you are not always able to have a look at the small river at the bottom of the gorges. Take some food with you, park your vehicle on a secure place and have a picnic you will never forget. The road is bumpy with some potholes but always paved.
The road starts and ends in a village named Ceret, where you can see an ancient bridge which is fully restored and used by pedestrians. Be careful on working days when taking a picture of this ancient bridge: The best place to take a photo is on the bridge opened for the normal traffic which is only 20 meters away. The local post office uses electric cars and you can easily miss to hear them – as I did. I do not speak French but I guess I learned some new awful damns.
The D13 is the start of some dead end roads which also have the number D13 – together with a letter e.g. D13C. When the D13 ends you will suddenly find yourself on the D13F which is no dead end and leads you back to Ceret.
Like everywhere in French mountains: Take care that you have enough fuel with you. Sometimes fuel stations are hard to find and on the D13 there is none.
Road suggested by: Michael Spannlang
Pics: Toni Hernandez


NOTICE: Due to the spread of COVID-19, many points of interest and roads are closed and travel is not recommended. Please follow all local health authority directives before venturing off, and stay safe.