Combe Laval: A French Road with a View

combe laval
Combe Laval (France)

The road and the circus of Combe Laval are vertiginous places not to be missed in the Vercors Regional Natural Park in France. The “aerial” road of Combe Laval is sinuous and on the side of the mountain. It leads to the cirque of Combe-Laval, a titanic cut of 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) deep which dominates the Royannais country.

Originally built to transport wood, particularly from the beautiful Lente forest, to Royans, today it has become a popular tourist destination

Where is Combe Laval road located?

Combe Laval is a geological indentation in the Vercors limestone plateau, in the territory of Saint-Jean-en-Royans and Saint-Laurent-en-Royans in southern France. The Vercors massif is located between the departments of Isère and Drôme in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region.

You can locate the road on the map bellow:

Enlarge the map

General facts about the road:

The Combe Laval balcony road takes you on a climb from 254 to 1,144 meters (833 to 3,753 feet) over a distance of 12.5 kilometers (8 miles), with the mountain side stretch being 6 kilometers (4 miles) long. It connects Saint-Jean-en-Royans to the Col de la Machine, which links the towns of Saint-Jean-en-Royans and Bouvante.

In fact, it is an emblematic touristic itinerary of the Vercors, which leads to the belvedere of the col de la Machine.

Eleven tunnels and innumerable overhanging passages above the void. That’s why Combe Laval is one of the most daring roads giving access to the Vercors plateau, on the Drôme side. It weaves its way through a grandiose rocky cirque, protected as a classified site. A titanic cut of 4 kilometers (6 miles) deep, dug by a small stream called Cholet, that you can guess below the road. There are 700 meters (2,300 feet) of difference in level between Saint-Laurent-en-Royans and the col de la Machine, the road’s highest point. A magnificent photo spot!

The culminating slope is the Col de la Machine (1,011 meters or 3,316 feet above sea level) is located near the end of the Combe Laval. The slope that takes the D76 and passes by the Col Gaudissart is spectacular with a view on the Combe Laval and bucolic with the crossing of several tunnels cut in the rock.

Admiring the landscape while driving on this road is not really a good idea. Indeed, you will not enjoy it fully. To have the best view of the place, go up, on foot, on the small promontory which faces the hotel-restaurant of the Col de la Machine. The valley is then seen in enfilade, until Saint-Jean-en-Royans and the valley of Isère.

When was Combe Laval built?

The main resource of the Vercors having been wood for a long time. That’s why it was necessary to create roads to “empty” the wood towards the valley, where it was then “floated” on the Isère and the Rhône.

Planned in 1861, it was opened in 1894, the beautiful Combe Laval road is the third road allowing access to the Lente forest from the Royans (the two others pass by the Col du Pionnier and the Col de l’Echarasson). For the ingenious side of its layout and the way it literally clings to the cliff, for the views it provides on the combe that gives it its name. It quickly became one of the most frequented by tourists in the Vercors.

old combe laval
Old view on the Combe Laval

The road was traced by a rather dangerous technique. Indeed, the workers, hanging from a rope equipped with a kind of seat, would start by making holes in the cliff with a crowbar, placing an explosive in them, and, at the moment of the explosion, would simply kick the rock to get away from it by swinging at the end of their rope.

How to get to Combe Laval road ?

The Combe Laval is located on the territory of the communes of Saint-Jean-en-Royans (1,5 kilometers or 1 mile to the west) and Saint-Laurent-en-Royans, in the east of the Drôme department. The road is situated between Grenoble and Valence.

If you are coming from the Grenoble take the A48 and A49 highways to Saint Marcellin. From there follow the direction of Saint-Jean-en-Royans and the D76 road.

If you are coming from west of Valence take the A49 highway and then take exit number 8. Then, follow the direction of Saint-Jean-en-Royans and the D76 road.

You can also situate the itinerary on this map:

Things do to near the road:

You can visit some interesting things in the area:

Saint-Antoine-le-Grand monastery

Saint Antoine le Grand monastery
Saint Antoine le Grand monastery

Located in the Vercors – Combe Laval – a few kilometers from St-Laurent-en-Royans in the Drôme department, it is a dependence of the monastery of Simonos Petra, in Mount Athos (Greece). It was founded in 1978 by the Reverend Father Placide Deseille and his ascetic companion Father Seraphim. In fact, it is a curiosity here in France to have an orthodox monastery built in Byzantine style.

Gorges de la Bourne

The village of Pont-en-Royans is the entry point of the Gorges de la Bourne. The panoramic road of 24 kilometers (15 miles) which skirts them is to be made. Moreover, some belvederes allow you to enjoy the place more quietly. Also, sometimes carved in the cliff, the winding road can be vertiginous.

Pont en Royans

Pont-en-Royans is a village classified among the “Villages of Character” of Isère. Pont-en-Royans is located 20 kilometers from the tourist road of Combe Laval. In fact, it is a village with medieval architecture built at the foot of the foothills of the Vercors massif. You will be surrounded by high cliffs on the Bourne river where colorful houses are hanging.
So, if you are looking for a place to sleep or eat, this village will be the perfect stopover!

Near the city, you can also drive the amazing balcony road of Presles.

A video of the journey:

You can have an overview of the drive-by watching this YouTube video:

Is the road open?

The road is open all year round. However, tight curves, narrow junctions, the risk of the road being blocked by rock falls can make traffic difficult.

The road is also very busy during weekends and vacations. So it is better to avoid these days or come early in the morning.

Therefore, if you come to the Vercors region in France, you will definitely come to drive the Combe Laval road. Vertiginous, the road is a real paradise for thrill-seekers and there are many other things to visit along the way. The most spectacular part of this pass is Combe Laval’s passage with its tunnels and especially its vertiginous peak. This road will indeed give you unforgettable driving sensations!

Picture credit: 1 – By Zoppo59 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, / 2 – Par Scanné par Claude_villetaneuse — Collection personnelle, Domaine public, / 3 -By Maxim Massalitin –, CC BY-SA 2.0,

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