In the 18th century, roads were built through the Alps to communicate with the various fortifications. But they also served many remote communities. And the construction work was a source of income for local people.
At the end of the 19th century, the Touring Club de France, whose original remit was to promote tourism by bicycle, opened its doors to motorists. It campaigned for improvements to roads and signposting, and for the provision of facilities in wayside inns. It laid out numerous tourist itineraries, with viewpoint indicators, including, in 1911, the Route of the Alps, which was soon being used by PLM’s charabancs and coaches, though it was completed only in 1937, when President Albert Lebrun cut the ribbon on the road across the Iseran pass.
Automobile tourism was initially reserved for a privileged few. But in the ’30s, as demand rose, the car makers began producing smaller vehicles at lower prices. And tourism took off after WW2, with the appearance of the first truly mass-produced vehicles: the 2CV, the 4CV, the Dauphine, the Beetle, etc.
Key dates :
1909 : the Touring Club de France starts work on Route des Grandes Alpes.
1913 : PLM (Paris-Lyon-Méditerranée) begins operating along Route des Grandes Alpes, in 5 stages.
1914/18 : WW1 puts a stop to the work.
1930 : the journey from Nice to Chamonix now takes just 1½ days.
1937 : the President of the Republic, Albert Lebrun, opens the road over the Iseran pass – the highest in Europe.
1970 : the road over the Cormet de Roselend pass is completed.
1995 : Route des Grandes Alpes links up Thonon and Menton for the pleasure of travellers !