Sunday, 10 September 2017

Our Very Own Tour de France - Day 17 - 19

The top of La Plagne to Lac du Mont Cenis

Thursday 7th September 2017

Well, I think we can safely say that today's drive was the most spectacular so far this tour!  However, before we set off from  the lofty Aire that had been home for the last 2 days we spent some time giving T4rdis2 a bit of an overdue wash and brush up both inside and out!

Our Parking Spot on an Aire at  La Plagne
So it was about 11am before we left La Plagne which sits above the Tarentaise Valley - and then we had the task of descending back down the 21 hairpins first onto the D221 and then the D220 through Bellentre.  Eventually we found ourselves back on the N90 and retracing our steps through Bourg-Saint-Maurice, and it was here that we discovered that we'd got much better miles to the gallon coming down - on the way up it had only been 22.5 mpg but today, for the first part of our downhill journey it rocketed to 99.4 πŸ˜‚

We emerged from Bourg-Saint-Maurice (which for bike riders is the true start of The Col d'Iseran) first on the D1090 and then the D902 which initially followed another valley floor with the rushing waters of the River Isere at our side.  However, it wasn't long before we started to traverse slowly uphill again, and in so doing we passed along more forested mountain roads that literally clung to the cliff sides.

And then the road took us past the huge dam that holds back the waters of Lac du Chevril, and as we passed by the Lake's side we had to nip through 8 long dark craggy burrows through the earth - of in other words - tunnels!

As we emerged from the tunnels a beautiful lake side parking spot presented itself - just in good time for our lunch stop.  Here we found the Lady of the Lake which may have been something to do with the village that was submerged when the valley was flooded, and we also found an orientation plinth that identified that we were at 1850 metres but some of the snow capped peaks we could see in the distance were over 3500 metres above sea level!  Once we'd enjoyed our lunch (homemade burgers in bagel buns) we continued on through the ski town of Val d'Isere (which appeared more or less closed for the summer), and onwards up the magnificent slopes of the Col d'Iseran who's summit lies at 2764 metres.

From Val d'Isere there is a height gain of 960 metres to the top, and as we started our climb we appeared to be surrounded by a huge circle of mountains rearing up in front of us.  From here we soon left the tree line behind and the huge scree slopes provided evidence that we were now entering high altitude territory - apparently there are only a handful of roads in Europe that would take us higher than the top of this Col!

As we climbed the crash barriers at the side of the road disappeared and I did wonder if we would need to deploy our oxygen masks - but if we needed them I dread to think how the poor cyclists who were braving the slopes felt!

Looking back towards Lake Chevril
The wilderness we were passing through is part of the Vanoise - The first National Park ever created in France, and much of the scree that was tumbling down the cliffs right to the road side is what has been left behind by two huge glaciers that run down from the top of The Signal d'Iseran which stands at 3237 metres.

The higher we went the bleaker the terrain became, but it was breath-taking - as was my fear of the long drops at the side of the road!  At one point John commented 'look down there at that view' but really I think I would have done better if I could just have worn blinkers - my knuckles were very white on this trip!

Unfortunately, as often happens at the top of Cols there was no room to park our big bus, so immediately we started the 13 kilometre decent down the other side, and this brought more hairpins, scree slopes, waterfalls and beauty to admire - it really was an amazing journey!

But that wasn't the end of today's trip!  Once we reached the valley floor at the town of Bonneval Sur Arc we still had about 25 miles to go to our planned stopping place.  We continued on our way along the Maurienne Valley (D902) which passed through Bessons and then up a short rise over the Col de la Madeleine before our descent into Lanselbourg.  Here we turned onto the D1006 which once again required us to climb - this time up the zig zagging Col du Mont Cenis which provided views of more towering mountain peaks - the biggest being Pointe de Ronce (3610 metres) and Mont Lamet (3478 metres).

Eventually the road straightened and the lovely Lac du Mont Cenis came into view and this is where we were stopping for the next couple of nights.  We ended up parked in a sensational lake side spot - the only problem might be the bell ringers who have walked right by our van door several times already this evening!

πŸ””She was just about 4 feet from our door - and lots more were following!πŸ””

Friday 8th September 2017

😁😁😁 - Well, the bell ringers didn't really cause us any issues overnight - they did their final pass by at about 7pm clanging loudly as they went, but then we didn't hear any more from them until 7.45 this morning when they were on their way for milking!

We thought this chap was coming too - but after the first
half mile he changed his mind!
Today dawned bright and sunny but with a definite Alpine cool nip in the air - a perfect day for hiking in this magnificent setting.  Therefore we donned our walking gear and set off about 11am with a vague plan to circumnavigate the lake (about 12 miles), but as the hills ramped up we decided this would be open to negotiation depending on how the ongoing terrain treated us.  It certainly wasn't as steep as steep as Wednesday's walk, but for the first hour we were steadily marching up hill, and when we'd eventually huffed and puffed our way to the top John checked on his app to see how much further we'd got to go - and it turned our to be further than we thought - so at that point we realised that going all the way round would be biting off more than we could chew and would make our outing more of an endurance test than a pleasure.  Therefore, a shorter trek was quickly selected!

Having said all that the the views of the lake and surrounding mountains were fantastic, and once again, we had the company of a babbling Alpine stream which later in our trek turned into quite a magnificent waterfall

At the top of the hill we were greeted by an old round fort - Le Fort de Ronce (named after the mountain who's shadow it stands in), and it was freely open for visitors to explore.  Unfortunately all the info boards were only in French and Italian (we're very near the border) so other than the fact that it was built by Italians in 1861 we really couldn't decipher much of it's history, but it provided an interesting place that we explored just prior to our coffee break

The Court Yard and the Kitchen

From there we traversed for several miles along a path that clung to the cliff side and provided views of Lake Cenis and the barrage that holds back it's waters, and from our vantage point we could see a perfect place right on the waters edge to stop for lunch.

We also spotted a couple of motorhomes pretending to be mountain goats and going where no normal road vehicle should dare to roam - down rough dirt tracks that were really the province of 4 wheel drive trucks only! One of them got well and truly stuck, and even when he got going again it looked as if the camber of the track might tip him right over!

As planned we had lunch on the lake side, but at this point instead of crossing the Barrage we turned back towards home and enjoyed more lake views, but this time, from a lower level.  At this time of year, with the sun shining the colour of the water is a magnificent blue, but in the winter the lake freezes completely and it often doesn't thaw until May.

Our new route also took us right past Napoleon's Pyramid!  Apparently the great man himself passed through this way on some campaign or other, and he thought it would be a splendid idea to build a pyramid at the top of the hill to commemorate his Egyptian forages.  He didn't quite manage it but in 1968 the Emperor's wish was granted when Electricite de France built it for him and it's use now is as a museum.

As you can see from the pic, by now dark clouds were scuttling up the valley behind us threatening us with a drenching if we didn't hurry but we did pause once more to see the falling water of the stream we'd admired at the start of our walk.  Here it tumbled down the cliff face to the Lake in a rushing plunging torrent that was once more lovely to see.

Saturday 9th September 2017

We'd originally planned to move on again today but the prediction of heavy rain for most of the afternoon resulted in us deciding to take a day off from our travels and to sit the bad weather out in this lovely free spot.

So as I haven't got much more to say about where we are I thought I might just mention how France is treating us so far πŸ˜€.

The Weather - It's been mostly good - we've been over here for nearly 3 weeks now and  think we've only had 4 rainy days including today!  And on every other day we've mostly had the sun for company for a good part of it.

Camping -  We've not stayed on any proper campsites yet!  It's all been Aires or wild spots, and some of them would have to be up there in our 'Top Spots' since we started touring several years ago!

The Driving - Mostly the roads have been in good condition and suitable for a big bus like ours.  It's also been very exhilarating, sometimes scary and  always very testing for the chauffeur, but I think it's fair to say we've both thoroughly enjoyed it!

The Van - Other than the incident with the leaky kitchen window (which seems to be fixed now) the van has performed very well on these mountainous roads.   And for saying we've only had electricity for 3 night since setting off we've never been short of power even when we've charged the batteries for our bikes.

WiFi and Telephones - Our phone reception has been a bit patchy and in the hills we've often only got a weak signal, but at least our WiFi has mostly been adequate - with the exception of here were it is non existent!

The Scenery - I'll leave it at stupendous - I think I've already said how much we're enjoying that!

The Cost - Not much! In the 20 days since we left our home town of Ripley we've spent :-

  • Food - £206 - Mostly in Lidl - Just over a tenner a day and we've eaten very well!
  • Fuel - £197 at about £1.04 per litre  - we've done about 1700 miles so far
  • Camping - £47 - all on paid Aires - 14 nights free 6 paid for.
  • Anything else - about £30 
That,s a grand total of about £480 - Hey Paul - You'd love it hereπŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚!  There's not many places you can live on under £25 per day!

Anyway, as today's my day off I've got to get on with relaxing, so that's all for now. 😘

Click here to see our French camping spots