The Lac de Serre-Ponçon, fed by the Durance and Ubaye rivers, is the largest artificial lake in Europe. This beautiful blue jewel of water sits beneath the mountains of the Hautes Alpes and the northern edge of the Alpes de Haute Provence.
The lake was formed by an earth dam, the Barrage de Serre-Ponçon, that was built across the Durance river, 2 km below where the Ubaye joins from the southeast. The 123m-high dam was started in 1955, built from an alluvial clay soil from the bed of the Durance.
The northern branch of the lake is about 18 km long from the dam up to the end by the town of Embrun.
About two-thirds up the Durance branch of the lake, a long, graceful bridge, Pont de Savines, crosses the lake at the town of Savines-le-Lac. The village of Savines-le-Lac, located on the southern shore beside the bridge, is a reconstruction of the old village of Savines that now lies flooded beneath the lake.
The little Chapelle Saint-Michel, that once stood on the top of a hill, is now a picturesque little island in the lake. This is a 12th-century chapel that was destroyed in 1692 by the troops of the Duc de Savoie, before being rebuilt.
Since the chapel was on a hilltop just above the theoretical level of the future lake, it was carefully preserved when the dam was built in 1961.
The southern branch of Serre-Ponçon Lake is about 8 km long, from the point below Sauze-le-Lac village to where the Ubaye valley narrows to a gorge between the steep hills. This branch is narrower than the Durance part, and much wilder looking.
The best place to view the grandeur of Serre-Ponçon Lake is from the lookout point at the village of Le Sauze-du-Lac. From the village of Savines-le-Lac, beside the bridge across the lake, the D94 winds its way through the hills above the south shore of the Durance part of the lake, climbing from 778 m to an altitude of 1051 m. It's a lovely road through the trees, but you won't have a view until you get to the village at the top.
From Gap, take the N94 east (direction Embrun); it's about 25 km to the Pont de Savines bridge across the lake. From the village of Savines-le-Lac, the D954 follows along the eastern shore, turning east along the inlet from the Ubaye. This road goes through the village of La Sauze overlooking the lake from above, and has some beautiful views. You'll also find the "Demoiselles Coiffées" along this road.
From Gap, you can also go directly to the Barrage (dam) and the southern part of the lake: Take the N4 south from Gap; 2 km from the center turn left onto the D900, which continues south for another 10 km and then turns east to follow the Durance to the Barrage de Serre-Ponçon (about 28 km from Gap).
From Digne-les-Bains, follow the D900 northeast to the lake (65 km), passing La Javie and Seyne along the way.
• GPS: 44.508259, 6.378937
IGN (1/25,000) #3438 ET "Embrun, Les Orres, Lac de Serre-Ponçon"
Didier Richard (1/50,000) #7 "Hautes Alpes"