Hautes-Alpes (05600) Population: 2,000 Altitude: 1050 m
Guillestre is a very picturesque little town, set in a deep valley at the mouth of the narrow Gorges du Guil that leads into the Queyras mountains to the east.
Driving the D902 road up along the Guil Gorges is beautiful - - and exciting. The road is very narrow in spots, and has some tunnels through the rock. Meeting an occasional truck or bus might take some maneuvering, but it's completely safe, and we've only met polite drivers on our many trips here over the years.
Place Salva at the NE edge of the old town has a tall obelisk fountain in the center and terrace café-restaurants around the periphery, along with the very active Office de Tourisme. This is a collection point for cyclers, hikers and tourists of all types. The Place Joseph Salva is beside the interestingly-named Rue des Champs Elysées.
The historic old-town center of Guillestre has large squares, narrow streets and many shops. There are neat pastel-colored houses set in amongst the rough wood and mortar buildings in the narrow old streets, and some nice fountains here and there throughout the town.
The largest square in the old town is Place Albert, with its own tall, obelisk fountain in the center. There are shops along the sides, an early 18th-century sundial at the north end, and the 16th-century Eglise Notre-Dame d'Aquilon at the south end.
Part of the town's charm is that it's "authentic" looking, although that could be translated to not restored or even partially run-down. Guillestre has had this rough-around-the-edges look since we first stayed for a week here in 1998, and on the occasional passing-through visit over the intervening years.
In Sept 2015, though, there was some major renovation going on, as you can see with the torn-up surface of Place Albert in our photo.
Street Names. "Rue Casse Cul" is a very narrow step-street up between ancient buildings. Near the top, it joins with "Rue Joli Coeur" and "Premiere Grand Rue", a little street that's under 2 m wide at its widest. Above the village, the "Chemin du Silence" leads to the cemetery.
Of the few sundials we found in Guillestre, this one on the rue de la Frairie is the nicest.
During Christmas Eve mass in 2013, part of the church ceiling fell, injuring the priest badly enough he was taken to the hospital. The church was closed until repairs were made, and has since reopened.
Notre-Dame-d'Aquilon of Guillestre is "inspired" closely by the cathedral in Embrun, although this church is smaller.
The pillared porch of the church is a very close copy of the cathedral Réal of, even to the pair of lions supporting the columns [photo]. Apart from Embrun and Guillestre, there are similar stone lions supporting the church porch pillares in Les Orres and St Véran.
The tall pointed bell tower, with its multi-layered bays is also a distinctive design from the Embrun cathedral. The same bell tower design is used on churches in La Salle-les-Alpes, Le Monêtier-les-Bains, and the smaller Hautes-Alpes villages of St-Sauveur, Eygliers, St-André, St-Antoine, Les Vigneaux and Réallon. It can also be found in the Alpes-Maritimes town of St Etienne-de-Tinée.
There's a very large market here every Monday morning. This is the market town for the Queyras, and people come in from all around.
On the tower of the 16th-century Notre-Dame d'Aquilon church is an ancient double-faced sundial: a pair of sundials on two adjacent sides of the tower.
History of Guillestre
Prehistoric: Bronze age habitation.
Celto-Ligurian: This was the site of important Gaulish habitation. The Gaulish cemetery at Peyre-Haute (2 km southeast) had bones and jewelry.
• GPS: 44.659849, 6.649459
IGN (1/25,000) #3637 OT "Mont Viso, St-Veran, Aiguilles"
Didier Richard (1/50,000) #10 "Queyras Pays du Viso"
Guillestre is located at the edge of the Queyras mountains and the Parc Regional du Queyras. There are numerous loop hikes north, east, south and west of the town.
The mountains to the north has several Petite Randonnée (PR) trails as well as the GR541 Grande Randonnée, with peaks up to 2645 m.
There are shorter PR trails in the heavily forested mountains to the east, with peaks to 2734 m.
South of Guillestre is a bit less wild, with several small villages. Most of the mountains here are under 2000 m, until the Pic du Clocher (2473 m) 8 km to the southeast.
Hiking to the west is on the right bank of the Durance, where the GR50 runs north-south on the slopes above the river.