|From St-Nizier the road winds up through a steep wooded gorge before coming out into a wide valley full of hay meadows towards Lans-en-Vercors and VILLARD-DE-LANS, 18km southwest of Grenoble, which makes a very good base for exploring the Vercors further. There's a tourist office (daily 9am12.30pm & 27pm; tel 04.76.95.10.38, www.ot-villard-de-lans.fr) with information about walks and skiing. Accommodation in town includes the welcoming Villa Primerose, 147 av des Bains (tel 04.76.95.13.17, closed Nov; €3040), with self-catering facilities available in a communal kitchen; the inexpensive Hôtel le Centre, rue Gambetta (tel 04.76.95.14.12; €4055; closed part June, Oct & Nov); and the smart Hôtel Le Pré Fleuri, 509 rue Albert Piétri (tel 04.76.95.10.96, fax 04.76.95.56.23; €5570; closed May & OctNov). For food, Le Matafan, 64 rue de la République, serves regional specialities and pizzas.|
Moving on from Villard, turn right onto the Pont-en-Royans road into the Gorges de la Bourne. The gorge becomes rapidly deeper and narrower with the road cut right in under the rocks, the river running far below, and tree-hung cliffs almost shutting out the sky above. Take a left fork here and climb up to a lovely green valley before descending to St-Martin and LA CHAPELLE, where there's the reasonably priced Hôtel des Sports (tel 04.75.48.20.39, fax 04.75.48.10.52; €3040), a friendly place where you can pick up tips on local cycling routes. From La Chapelle the road climbs again to the wide dry plateau of Vassieux, bordered to the east by a rocky ridge rising from thick pine forest and to the west by low hills covered with scrubby vegetation. Underground is interesting too: stay on the road to Pont-en-Royans and you come to the Grottes de Choranche, renowned for the beauty of its gigantic stalactites. Part of the complex, the Grotte de Coufin, can be visited by guided tour (July & Aug every 20min, 9.30am-6.30pm; May, June & Sept every 30min, 9.30am-noon & 1.30-6pm; April & Oct every 30min, 10am-noon & 1.30-6pm; Nov-March hourly 10.30am-4.30pm; €7.20).