It's a rare pleasure to retreat to a hilltop citadel after a day of epic hiking or skiing. Briançon, surrounded by mountains and capped with a fairy-tale fortress, manages equal doses of culture and outdoor pursuits. Technically France's highest city, it flies under the mass tourism radar because of its inconvenient road access compared to other Alpine resorts – despite being only 15 zigzagging kilometres from Italy.
Briançon is the northwestern gateway town to Parc National des Écrins' 676km of hiking trails. Even closer is the Serre Chevalier ski area, less than 2km from its crowning Cité Vauban, a star-shaped old town girded by high walls.