I'm back. Late last saturday I returned from a two week holiday in the French Alps. Just like previous years I went on holiday with Auke, a good friend. We have this agreement that as long we're both single we go together on holiday if possible. Last year for various reasons we both didn't go on holiday, but this year we were to go again. For the first time I took a digital camera so I can write a small diary with links to some of the photos, there's also a full album.
Drove from Groningen to Weesp to pick up my stuff. From Weesp to Utrecht, Eindhoven, Maastricht, Liege, Bastogne, Arlon, Luxemburg, Thionville, Metz, Nancy, Epinal to Luxieul les Bains. There's a camping municipal around the local athletics stadium which we really like. It's simple, cheap and just within reach of a days drive from Groningen.
The Belgians were busy working on the roads from Liege to Bastogne. Two very long stretches of road where the lowered the maximum speed from 120km/h to 70km/h. Sloooooow. After that we ended up in the afternoon rush hour in Luxemburg, which went on to Metz, where there'd been an accident. Very frustrating drive in all, we just made it to Luxieul to set up the tent and get a pizza a emporter before the gate to the camping closed. From Maastricht to Luxieul a lot of rain. Not a good day to start the holiday.
Drove from Luxieul les Bains to Bourg d'Oisans via Vesoul, Besancon, Lons le Saunier, Borg en Bresse, Voiron, Grenoble and Vizille. This is the old non-peage route south and the way to really get into a holiday mood. The rain stopped just north of Grenoble; when you're looking for good wheather, there's a good chance you'll find it south of Annecy...
Started the morning really easy. After lunch tried to climb l'Alpe d'Huez. No good, didn't even get to the first hairpin. Must be because we were not yet adjusted to the height. Instead drove around trying to find a nice route to cycle. Found a VTT route by accident and followed it back to Bourg d'Oisans. Found some more routes and in the end did a complete tour around Bourg d'Oisans using routes 17, 18 and 19. There's lots more to do around here.
First climbed Alpe d'Huez using the car; we counted around 80 campers already on the Tour de France stage which Lance Armstrong won a week later. I was there with my parents in 1991 (or something) and at the time I knew we were lucky finding a place a day before; over a week early is slightly silly.
Left Alpe d'Huez through the back entrance of Col de Sarennes. This is a very nice, small road which is very steep in places. From here via Briancon to the Boscodon abbey. Auke bought a backpack at the Intersport in Briancon.
I was at the abbey years ago when they were still restoring it. The church is nice enough now that it's finished, but there's this strange atmosphere around the abbey. There is this religuous community now and I don't handle that very well. Bought a nice book to show how the restaration went in the 30 years it took. From the abbey we drove back to Guillestre and found a spot on the local camping municipal. We were here a couple of years ago and it's very nice.
Started the day easy, Auke picked up a booklet with VTT routes which I bought a coupke of years ago, but forgot to take with me. In the afternoon did the route around Mont Dauphin. This is a fortress designed by the famous engineer Vauban to protect France from invading Italians entering the country from the direction of Guillestre. The first part was a very steep climb to the fortress. The road was closed, but we took our chances, since to go around the problem would involve a couple of kilometers cycling along the main Briancon Embrun road which is not all too pleasant. Fortunately the problem was just a couple of falling stones and a missing piece of wood in a bridge. From Mont Dauphin the route descended back to the Guillestre valley.
In the evening it started to rain pretty heavy, just as we were buying groceries. I had to cook some pasta in the rain which ended up more a pasta soup than normal macaroni. Auke thought it was edible, just to show you how low your standards get when sleeping in a tent. Just before we were going to sleep the weather cleared up.
After a good nights sleep we chose another VTT route from the booklet. Since we fancy ourselves to be quite competent mountain bike riders (we don't even wear helmets) we chose a "red" route, a difficult one. After riding almost the whole bypass around Guillestre (always climbing), we got to a steep climb into the forest. For the next hour or so we did nothing else but climbing up a forest track. Fortunately we'd brought enough water to last a couple of hours. Unfortunately the maintainers of the route had decided to change all the markings for some reason, without also providing a new booklet. After the climb ended, we lost our original route completely and the new markings pointed to the wrong direction. So we had to find the way back ourselves. After going back and forth on the highest point of the day we blindly rode into a slightly overgrown path which closed in rapidly and also descended quite fast. So fast in fact, we had to get of the bike.
After a couple of hundred meters the route started to follow the side of the mountain, instead of going straight down. So we got back on the bike, but the track remained very narrow. There were some places where the track was so narrow, there was not much room for even the tires. I think that might be why the markings had been removed. At some point the markings for the original route started to appear so it became pretty easy to follow it. The final part of the route was the old road from Quyeras to Guillestre. This part of the descent was the most fun, a wide gravel road winding along the side of the mountain.
The way down the bypass was fun, but because of the strong headwind our topspeed was never above 60km/h. Slightly disappointing ;-)
Taday we did one of my big plans for this holiday, tosee if the Col du Parpaillon is still reachable by a gravel road and if the tunnel over there (according to Michelin maps "Passage incertain" or "Passage interdit", depending on what map you use) was open. The last time I was there around 1990 the tunnel was full of water, ice and huge potholes. At the time on the way down we encountered a boulder that was located in such a way our camper couldn't move forwards or backwards. We were stuck until some people who were coming up the mountain helped us move the boulder. Unfortunately there are no pictures because my parents were slightly stressed out after being stuck in the middle of nowhere. Anyway, ever since I started to go on holiday on my own I wanted to go there. So this year I finally remembered to ask my parents where it was.
So on a beutiful morning we drove towards the infamous Col, on the quiet side of the Durance valley in the direction of Embrun. Via some minor roads, we finally made it to the road up the Col, which in this side of the mountain starts as a very nice gravel track wide enough for one car; gradually the road will become more interesting. The road is around 10 kilometers long and can only be driven in first gear for normal cars. On this side of the mountain you can encounter old people in their cars on a daytrip. You don't see them on the other side of the mountain. Once at the top there's a very nice view on the northern Alps. The main feature at the top is the tunnel. The last time I was here, the tunnel itself was in a bad condition, nowadays it is very good to drive.
After something to drink we followed some motorriders accompanied by a 4WD into the tunnel. Apart from some big holes filled with water at the end of the tunnel the car had no problems with it. I think the water was up to the doors. The road down the east side is much more 4WD territory, but not impossible for a normal road car. This side is the place where a boulder brought so much troubles many years ago, but no problems this time. When we were finally in the Ubaye valley, we'd driven around 25 kilometers, most of it in 1st gear.
From the Ubaye valley we drove to the Col de Vars and back to Guillestre.
I had appropriated (as in borrowed from my dad) some shoes for the Via Ferrata course, but never wore them. So, we decided to find a nice valley and find a nice short trail. In Ceillac, just east of Guillestre, we found a nice trail to walk. Up the mountain on a very steep, small trail. At the end of the trail there's this small lake. Anyway, there's this really photogenic waterfall, and a hellish route back down. Picture a gravel road, only suitable for snowmobiles. Not fun. We thought this was the sensible way to do it. Not.
Before we started our hike (hah!) we also stopped to watch some people learning how to parapente (browse the following couple of photos as well).
[More to follow over the next few days]