Vars Pass – Col de Vars

The Col de Vars reaches 2,108 meters in altitude. It is located in the Southern Alps, on the border between the Hautes Alpes department and the Alpes de Haute Provence department in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region. It connects the Ubaye valley with Queyras and Embrunais, between the Parpaillon and Escreins massifs.

The pass is open to traffic all year round, except during heavy snowfalls in winter. It is accessible from both the northern and southern slopes, which both have different profiles. Starting from the north side you can admire green mountain pastures and to the south a more rocky panorama.

In winter, the ski resort of Vars, which is next to the high mountains, is very popular. In summer, the col de Vars offers a multitude of activities: hiking, cycling…

Le col de Vars by bike

The Col de Vars is a mythical place for cycling. It has been one of the stages of the Tour de France 35 times since 1922. The Belgian Philippe Thys, the Frenchman René Vietto, the Italian Imerio Massignan and the Spanish Eduardo Chozas are among the riders who have crossed the pass.

The ascent of the pass by Guillestre, represents more than 19 kilometers. The route requires crossing 1,111 meters of height difference with an average slope of 5.73%, with a maximum of 8.7%, to reach the Col de Vars, at 2,108 meters above sea level.

If you decide to go there from Les Gleizolles, count more than 14 kilometers, a difference in altitude of 798 meters with an average slope of 5.66%, with a maximum of 10.6%.

The Col de Vars presents difficult passages for cyclists and a gentler slope after the station and the crossing of villages. Along the way, they can enjoy the views of the surrounding hills and valleys.

Located at the crossroads of the most famous passes of the Alps : Bonette, Cayolle, Allos, Izoard, Agnel and Galibier, the col de Vars is a must-do attraction that attracts many visitors every year. Many itineraries pass through the Col de Vars. You can, for example, make a loop from Embrun to Barcelonnette through the Col de Vars. From the village of Les Claux, you can reach the pass on foot. Once at the top, other hiking trails will lead you to the Tête de Paneyron, the Pointe de l’Eyssina, the lake of Lalatcha or the col de Serenne.


The road leading to the Vars pass was built by the army under the authority of General Berge in 1893. For strategic reasons, in order to protect the road, the Parpaillon tunnel was built further west.

The Col de Vars is located on the route of the magnificent Route des Grandes Alpes, the most beautiful mountain route. Cyclists, motorcyclists and motorists travel through this unique and natural territory. The Route des Grandes Alpes starts at the Galibier pass. It follows Serre Chevalier to Briançon, passes through the Col d’Izoard towards Queyras, finally reaches Guillestre and leaves the department via the Col de Vars.

It belongs administratively to the commune of Saint Paul sur Ubaye. A tributary of the Guil, the torrent of Chagne takes its source below the pass. The latter has been classified as a heritage site in the Hautes Alpes since 1946. Going down from the pass, on the side of the Hautes Alpes department, you can discover the Napoleon refuge, and on the other side, towards Ubaye, the Sainte Marie Madeleine chapel.

The Napoleon refuge was once used to welcome travellers surprised by the storm. Napoleon III used the funds bequeathed by Napoleon I to build 8 refuges on the main passes of the department. In the end, only 6 were built. Today, only 4 of them remain, located on the passes of Vars, Le Noyer, Manse and Izoard. The Napoleon refuge of the col de Vars still welcomes visitors for the night and the meal.

Touristic qualities

During the event “Cols réservés“, organized in summer, the Col de Vars is forbidden to cars during one morning and therefore reserved for cyclists. At the summit, refreshments are offered by the Queyras Tourist Office. The atmosphere is friendly and the ascent is free and not timed. The “Reserved Passes” days have been organized since 1997 by the Hautes Alpes Departmental Tourism Committee and have become over the years a must for enthusiasts.

The pass has also acquired its reputation thanks to the cinema. Indeed, the final scene of the film Les Fugitifs, with Gérard Depardieu and Pierre Richard, was shot there.

Sélection de cols en Région Sud

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