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Gorges du Nan

A short section of the D22 road, through the Gorges du Nan, with a length of 5.5 miles only, links the towns of Malleval-en-Vercors and Cognin-les-Gorges. This road is located in Vercors national park (Rhone-Alpes), south of Grenoble (France). It’s one of the French balcony roads.

There are some narrow sections -scarcely wide enough for two cars- where if two vehicles have to pass each other, one might have to reverse for some kilometres of winding narrow road to get to a place wide enough to pass. It shouldn’t be attempted by those who don't know how to reverse.  The road is difficult and it’s a nightmare in the wet or dark (or both). Looking over the railing makes you realize the depth below you – with only a small stone next to you – and how insane this road truly is. The road goes through several gorges, with a 3 miles steep hill downwards, and this road crosses a 2.2m limited widht point. The road is cut in the rocks, with some tunnels. Additionally, there are hairpins, bends, and blind curves. The Vercors was a stronghold for the French Resistance during the second world war, and memorials can be seen alongside many of the roads. The location of the old village of Cognin shows the old links that inhabitants had with the entrance to these gorges. At the time, the only way to go up to Malleval was by the track along the torrent. The road was built above all to secure the access. No major works here, instead the two villages decided to join forces in 1880 to trace this secondary, but unique road, with its succession of tunnels cut directly into the rock.

The surface of the road is asphalted. There are sheer drops virtually along the entire route and enough hairpins to make a whirling dervish dizzy. A quick glance at the map at its sheer drops and serpentine twists and turns, confirms that this is no hype. It’s incredibly disorienting to look over the edge, or even just to see the valleys a couple thousand feet below you. It’s a mind numbing vertical drop of hundreds of meters so you might want to give it a miss on a windy day. From Cognin-les-Gorges, it is particularly after the first tunnel that the road becomes exceptional. There are no stopping points so it is better to continue directly to Malleval-en-Vercors where you will appreciate the break. Looking over the railing makes you realize the depth below you – with only a small stone Leitplank next to you – but only the drone footage shows how insane this road truly is.

This road has humbled many egos. It’s not for the sissies and shouldn’t be attempted by novice drivers. The road is in dreadful condition and requires strong nerves to negotiate it. It’s certainly breathtaking and it has a fearsome reputation. It still remains an adrenaline-pumping journey and is definitely not for the faint of lungs, heart, or legs. 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. 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.

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