This is a little short of my proposed weekly updates but we thought the Alps deserved a write up of their own. They really do require a bit more attention then our normal banter being that they are so massive, hard to ride, beautiful, and that some passes are closed until June! Something we didn’t find out until almost to late! Be warned that if you want to cross the French Alps in the spring you might have to take the long way round. We did!
Riding in France only got enjoyable for me towards the end and in some of the more physically difficult areas to cycle. Where the mountains go up, up, up and the roads get twisty. It’s hard work climbing but then you are well rewarded with spectacular views, fresh water springs, and cautious drivers. That last part being my favorite, Brian told me I never complain about the road conditions until there is heavy traffic. Then that’s all I can do, complain!
Starting in Moustiers Sainte Marie, is where things really got nice. It’s where we spent 2 glorious rest days, knowing that afterwards we would be cycling up pretty much non stop until Italy. It was a cute little town perched on the mountainside (of course), with just enough things to see to keep you entertained for awhile and all the amenities we would need. Worth a visit if you want to see French Provençal village life and like to shop. France really must be the most touristed country in the world. Because where ever you go, there always seems to be loads of those little shops that sell stuff no one really needs.
From Moustiers we took the route that followed through Gorges Du Verdon and passed the aquamarine waters of Lake of Sainte Croix. The waters of the lake and adjoining river are such a awesome blue green and the the years of geological change to the limestone walls of the gorge make you feel like you are entering an entirely different space. Everything around you is so strikingly massive and colors so brilliant it almost feels other worldly. That day we ended up cycling 90 km even with all the stops to take photos and gaze into the gorges. As we would later learn, this isn’t prime tourist season, so most of the hotels, restaurants, camping sites on that route and many of the mountain passes are closed for the in between season. This being the time after skiing and before the summer tourist season begins. Making for great cycling conditions but bad for finding the food and supplies you need. Be sure to stock up when you have the chance! Brian being the gentleman he is carries most of the heavy food items when we travel into the mountains. He is after all the stronger rider.
It was in Castellane where we learned that most of the passes/cols to cross towards Italy where closed. For some reason while planning our trip over the Alps all the websites Brian had researched neglected to mention that the roads would be closed over some of the higher passes until June. This little snafu or unplanned detour cost us about 50 km of riding and we ended up cycling some roads with much greater grades then we originally intended. It wasn’t a bad ride; 9% grades on your touring bike make you feel pretty amazing when you finally reach the top. So instead of going over two large mountains we ended up climbing over several small ones to make our way around to where we could actually start going up to The Col de Larche or as the Italians call it Colle Della Maddalena. (I’m not sure the actual count but it was up in the area of 6 small mountain passes we ended up going over)
It ended up taking us a full day to cycle from Seyne, France (our last full day in France and not far from Barcelonnette) to where we camped for the night right outside of a closed little mountain town called Larche. The last real stop before Italy. It was only less then 80 km from Seyne to the top of the pass but we ran out of daylight before we ran out of energy and decided to wild camp for the night behind an old unused stable with a natural spring nearby. A mere 6 km from the top but an ideal setting. Though we did get a bit spooked a few times in that area; first by an avalanche that happened shortly after we picked our camping spot. Luckily it occurred across the valley from us and our spot didn’t have much snow above us. Whew! The second time was as we were packing up to leave in the morning and we heard a sound unlike no other. I wasn’t quite sure what it was, Brian was convinced it was a wolf (recently reintroduced into the Alps) and was later on vindicated by the local forestry authorities that came by our camp with binoculars looking to catch a glimpse for themselves. That night we slept at 1600 meters and were pleasantly surprised at how warm it was during the night. 8 degrees C or 46 degrees F, warm really!
It took us a full hour to cycle that 6 km. Leaving the campsite at 9 am and taking our time in the morning expecting it to be a long while before the sun came over the top of the mountain range to warm us up. There was no real hurry to move on. Once we got moving our normal head wind came to greet us that morning for those last few kms, I’ve learned to expect no different. Even so we made it to the top by 10 am to another empty border crossing with only ourselves there to congratulate each other. This time there weren’t even horses there for border guards, just us and the snow drifts. That didn’t make it any less satisfying. We took a few pictures then spent the next half an hour putting on or warm weather gear for the long descent down. We were in Italy heading to Cuneo ready for pizza, pasta, gelato, espresso, and all those other wonderful food like stuffs. We both love Italian food!
*Not pictured is the way down to Cuneo, where it was fast, scary at times, and way to much fun to stop and bother ourselves with photos. (plus hairpin turns, lack of rest areas, or shoulder room) The down is what you earn by going up and we spent the last 3 and 1/2 days pushing our granny gears. It was totally worth it! And would do it all again.
I asked Brian what he remembers about riding through the Alps, all he said was “They are up.”