Our parking place for the night came at an excellent Aire in the village of Vassieux en Vercors. This beautiful region of The Vercors National Park, was in fact home to the most brutal massacre during World War ll. Now, the Vassieux en Vercors War Site memorial, is a tragic reminder of the horrors of the war under Nazi occupation.
Our journey had begun a couple of months earlier, as we set off on a campervan tour of The Alps and South Eastern France. First of all, I’ll begin where I left off in my last post, when we left the fabulous Himalayan Bridges behind, before arriving at the gorgeous village of Châtillon-en-Diois.
This region of France, seems to have one extremely useful advantage – bilingual tourist signs! Not only that, but they make a walking tour of the old streets all a bit more educational.
We’d set off on foot from the spacious Aire fairly early in the morning. It’s a good job, because the sun is still strong in mid September, so walking is easier during the early or later parts of the day.
This historic village reminds us of ancient villages of Italy. It’s simply full of charm with enough character and nooks and crannies in every corner. There are also cobbled alleyways adorned with plants, all of which are labelled! It’s a nice idea, so any botanical enthusiasts or curious types, can see exactly what they’re looking at.
There’s a few small cafe’s open, but not much else here. Yet the place is perfect as it is.
The old parts are like another world – compact in every way, yet rustic. Above all, each comforting speck of detail brings an added cosy feel and intimate atmosphere.
This area is surrounded by vineyards, mountains and a sort of unspoilt feel. Châtillon-en-Diois is actually famed for having over 300 species of plants! How is that for a botanical influence?
We have such a pleasant surprise at this medieval village, walking in the shadow of the 2041m high Glandasse cliffs, dominating the landscape. Next, we move on to another historic village a short drive away – Die.
Unfortunately, this doesn’t quite live up to expectations. However, there’s a good opportunity to empty and fill at the motorhome dump area – always a bonus! There’s a good Aire here, but it is fee paying with a barrier entry. Don’t quote me, because I forgot to make a note of the price, but if my memory serves me right, I think it was about 9 Euro.
We manage to find a place to park just outside the Aire, fitting into a normal parking space in the 5.93 long Sprinter is easy enough. After a quick coffee, we set out to take a look around.
First of all, ok- this village is still pretty and with Roman origins, there’s plenty of history too. For us, it lacked the intimacy and Wow factor of other villages. Finally, although it’s renowned for its pastel tones, we found them a little dull, perhaps more average than outstanding.
We decide to move on from Die, now heading in the campervan towards the mountain pass of The Col de Rousset.
It’s not long before the road turns to hairpin bends, now so familiar to us on these mountainous journeys across South Eastern France. This one connects the Northern Alps to Provence further South, passing fields of Lavender and lush vineyards. These vines are famed for the sparkling regional wine of Clairette de Die and the mesmerising Mediterranean influences add a dramatic feel to these mountain ranges.
By the time we reach the 1254m high summit, there are ski towns appearing before us. This mix of Mediterranean meats snow territory brings a strange feel to the surroundings. However, this is another beautiful route and one we’re grateful to be experiencing.
The views are expanding out around us as we step out the van at a viewing area. There’s a slight haze in the air, yet it’s beautiful all the same. Right behind us is the entrance to the 769m long tunnel where we will now drive to reach the Vercors Plateau beyond.
Another pass, joined by motorcycles and cyclists which leads us onwards to our next destination – Vassieux-en-Vercors War Site.
So, we arrive at Vassieux en Vercors and find a really good Aire just beside the village centre. There’s a good dump area too and plenty of walking routes direct from the parking area.
We find a free space, although it’s busy with motorhomes of all sizes. Then, before the threat of rain looms too close, we head out on foot for the short walk into the village. Soon, we find the grim past that lies under our feet – a tragic reminder of all that is so heartbreaking about war.
It was here on July 21st 1944 that the Nazi’s destroyed the entire village, killing 71 inhabitants in the process. This area was home to the French Resistance, and this was retaliation for their cause.
We walk on towards a museum dedicated to the memory of The Resistance movement. Here we come across a display of German gliders, still vividly remaining amongst the re-built streets. Unfortunately, the museum is closing for the day, so we don’t get to go inside.
The following morning, we decide to follow a walking route from the Aire, in the direction of The Memorial Museum. It’s located on top of the mountain above the village, it’s a steep hike up a dirt track to the top – probably we’d have been better driving!
Once again, we arrive at the Memorial Museum just in time for closing! Typically, we’d overlooked the fact that everything here closes for a good couple of hours over lunch. Never mind, we’d had some exercise and good views in the process.
There’s reminders all around us of the events that unfolded here back in 1944. Invaded by road and air Gliders, the brutal assault must have been terrifying in magnitude.
As well as the destruction of the entire village and its inhabitants, there was also the slaughter of 91 members of The Resistance. It’s a solemn yet dignified place.
On our return walk to the Aire, our route passes through another memorial and cemetery. Here, the graves of those lost are marked in neat rows, each having a brief inscription of the life lost.
We pause for reflection under the September sun, no matter how many war memorial sites we visit, each brings its own grim reminder of the perils of the war. Above all, we feel blessed to be able to live freely today, thankful for those that fought for future generations.
Join us next time, where we take on one of the best Balcony Roads yet and a true mountain drive to remember.