Col de Vars and Refuge Napoléon

Refuge Napoléon

When Napoleon in 1815 returned from the Island of Elba, he received a particularly warm welcome in Gap (Hautes-Alpes) on his way back to Paris. In his final exile on St Helena, he wanted in his testament to remember Gap and Hautes-Alpes with private refuges carrying his name.

To satisfy his uncle’s wishes, it was Napoleon III who ordered the construction of eight refuges in Hautes-Alpes. At the end, six were built. Of these, four refuges at Col de Vars, Col de l’Izoard, Col du Noyer and Col de Mans still exist or have been rebuilt.

The D902 road over Col de Vars (2108 m) connects the Ubaye and Durance River Valleys. Refuge Napoléon (1987 m) is located about 2 km north of the mountain pass, and the Vars ski resort at Les Claux (1842 m) is further 2 km northwest.

During the summer season, the D902 road is packed with motorcycles, cyclists, camping cars etc. This year (2017), Tour the France will once again go over Col de Vars.

We have had lunch several times at Refuge Napoléon at Col de Vars when heading north. They have a decent plat du jour but service can sometimes be slow. The terrain on both sides of the road seemed to be perfect for walks, and in fact the IGN map shows numerous hiking paths of all grades starting from the Refuge, the Col, or from the ski resort.

After lunch we headed to the summit of Peynier (2273 m), its telecom mast clearly visible. We took the signposted dirt road behind the refuge. Instead of using the road all the way, we opted for a shortcut along the alpine meadows and some larch woods. The scenery was lush and green.

We, however, ended up a bit too much northeast than intended. We turned more sharply northwest and soon sighted the summit of Peynier. We continued towards a ridge slightly east of the summit, crossed the dirt road, and continued ascending a bit steeper in the alpine meadow. After a while we reached the ridge, found a good path and continued the last stretch along the path and the dirt road to the mountain top.

From the summit we had, as expected, a great view down to the Vars Valley, Les Ecrins massif further away in the west, La Mortice and its adjacent peaks in the east.

We took the dirt road back to the Refuge, this time without any shortcuts!

Vertical climb: 270 m
Peynier trail image

Distance: 7.9 km

Duration: about 2h15 (walking time)

Map: IGN 3538 ET


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