At the end of August, some of the EuroKClub members, are planning to ride down from the UK to spend some time riding round some of the finest roads France and Switzerland has to offer. Having lived here for the past 10 years, it was no hardship for me to offer to lead these rides, so I spent a couple of days pre-riding a route I had planned, which was to incorporate the Route Napoleon, and the highest rideable mountain pass in Europe, the Col de la Bonette, at 2802m.
With temperatures set to be 30 degrees C, my wife Sue and I had the GT loaded and ready for an earlyish start at 08.30am. The first 1 ½ hours was motorway to Grenoble, where even the service stations have a good view.
The Route Napoleon starts at Grenoble, but the first part to Gap is not that great, so we took the alternative parallel route and revelled in the open roads and amazing scenery, before branching off at Veynes and joining the route proper at Gap. From Gap it’s South to Sisteron where the fortress dominates the entry to the town.
South with deep gorges to your left, then East to Digne, and then South towards Castellane. Below Barreme the fun starts and the main A roads turn into smaller winding twisties, where after some real fun climbing the Col des Leques we stopped for a break. This was one of those times and places where everything is just so “right”. The bistro we stopped at had some really mellow tunes playing, the sun was blazing, the roads had been great, the pause was perfectly timed, the drinks and ice cream sated the thirst, time stood still, a really magic hour where there was nothing conceivably better to do than be at that spot at that particular time.
Here’s the scenery we headed for next
The Route Napoleon ends at Nice, but frankly it’s disappointing once you’ve arrived at Grasse, after this point traffic builds up and runs along circuitous roads with 50kph limits, and you get no-where quickly in boiling hot temperatures. Taking the autoroute to bypass Nice we joined the main route North heading out of Nice, and started to look for hotels. Not being enamoured by those we saw, we kept going. I keyed in hotels in the Zumo, but one wasn’t there, another was on a busy junction, so we just kept going. Finally with time racing towards 19.00pm, I plumped for an hotel showing at Valderblore. Turning off the main road we immediately started climbing.
Heres the view looking back
In front of us a German VW camper van raced along the twisty roads, cutting corners, and holding us back, until we eventually found a spot to overtake. Arriving some 15 minutes later at the town of Valdeblore, I saw a sign for a different hotel offering 10% discount for bikers, and rolled up at the Hotel de Valderblore, where the patron, a Triumph 1050rider made us really welcome.
Apologising for the local restaurant being closed, his wife invited us to join their BBQ that evening, and after a shower and a drink at the local bar, we enjoyed our meal of melon and ham, BBQ’d meat, and apple tart, before turning in around 10.30pm, tired after a long but fantastic day.
This is what the Zumo told us had been the stats for the day, but the times don’t tally. Kms travelled is correct, but if we left at 08.30, and stopped at 19.15, thats an 10 1/4 hour day, not the 9.00 the Zumo shows. Bit of a mystery!
Next morning at breakfast, we reacquainted ourselves with a great character we had met the previous evening. A Geordie from the UK, but having lived in Australia most of his life, this 73 year old was cycling round France!!!!! He had a predetermined route of 4800kms riding many major climbs, and was going to complete it in 38 days!!!!!!! I’ve ridden a great many of the passes he’d cycled by motorbike, on a cycle and at his age, absolutely incredible. An amazing character, he told us he was often sleeping outdoors, or in bus shelters or gardens. He showed us a card he got stamped to prove he had been to all points on the route, and left before us, cheerily waving goodbye and wishing us well!
Our first aim this morning, was this.
The Col de la Bonette, as the sign shows, is the highest rideable pass in Europe. Sue and I had ridden it before years ago, and even in late summer there had still been snow up there. Apparently the pass had only just opened 3 days earlier, so we were riding it very early in the season.
On the way up you have these incredible views, and these buildings are all derelict!
When we got to the top we found that snow was still blocking the final 100 metres or so to the summit, so we had to contend ourselves with ONLY being able to ride up to 2723m. The temperature had been dropping all the way up, and was some 9 degrees C cooler at the top!
You can see in this picture that you can approach the summit by a circular road which circumnavigates the top, unfortunately it was blocked on both sides!
The route back down was equally spectacular, this is heading down in the direction of Jausiers
At around 10.30, and a couple of hours after we had set off, we stopped in the pretty little town of Jausiers.
This had been a great start to the day, and the rest was equally as spectacular, but I’ll write that up in another report.