French Alps

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French Alps

Post by spokey » Mon 14 Apr, 2008 18:08

From Mike Fishwick

How I found it: Exploring

Useful tips:

Where it is: France :D

Estimated distance: varies

The French Alps are always a good place to begin an exploration of mountain passes, for this area is full of fascinating little roads, mostly coloured white by Michelin, which invite exploration. Although a few of these roads may be a little neglected, they are all properly surfaced. The roads around Grenoble are a good starting point, and many lend themselves to form a circular tour. They are well covered by the red Michelin map 721 (16 miles/inch) while the yellow 244 and 245 (3 miles/inch) give even greater detail.

South-west of Grenoble is the Vercours area, the scene of an epic but futile battle by the French Resistance during 1944. This area alone can occupy you for several days, with twisting roads, passes, and monuments. A good campsite and a small hotel can be found in St. Jean-en-Royans. If entering the area from the D93 Gap – Valence road, the torturous climb of the D518 towards the Col de Rousset will certainly impress you, as will the narrow D76 Combe Laval road, cut into the cliffside half way up a sheer drop, with two-way traffic. Even in a fairly narrow car such as the Z3 I would not attempt this road during peak hours!

If heading south from Grenoble, the N85 leads to Gap, and thence to the D900, running along the shore of the Lac du Serre-Ponçon, the largest man-made lake in the Alps. This road leads into Italy via the Col de Larche, passing through Barcelonnette and the village of Jausiers. The road east of Jausiers is worth exploring, being overlooked by several interesting old fortresses, some of which are open to the public.

Those travelling northwards can take the nearby Col de Vars, a typically winding climb to 1,470 metres, leading to Guillestre and the Col d’Izoard, whose 2,360 metres of twisting roads were used as a stage in the 2006 Tour de France. This road leads to Briançon and into Italy via the Col de Montegenevre.

A right turn in Jausiers will bring you into the mountains, and Europe’s highest pass. A few hairpins and a short stretch of what Michelin charmingly refers to as ‘Route difficile ou très dangerous’ will bring you to the Col de Restefond, with its various forts and gun emplacements, which were the southern section of the Maginot Line. At 2,678 metres this is amongst the highest passes, but is simply an access ramp for the Col de la Bonette, another road built for the French Army, which at 2,808 metres (9,266 feet) is the highest pass in Europe. These roads were all used as special stages in the Monte Carlo Rally.

At altitudes such as these the turbocharged diesel is king, a normally aspirated engine losing around a quarter of its sea-level power. A more serious consideration is the effect of the reduced air pressure on the driver – avoid sudden exertion after a relatively sedentary morning’s drive, as dizziness and ‘greying out’ will otherwise result.

From the Bonnette, the road twists its way downwards to the Col des Fourches, then through Isola and the start of another fascinating road, the Cime des Crosillias, leading to the winter sports centre of Isola 2000. This road does not simply offer hairpin bends, but successions of them, winding one way, and then immediately the other, as it climbs up the mountain, and is perhaps the most torturous climb I have ever experienced.

From Isola 2000 the 2,350 metre Col de Lombarde crosses the mountains into Italy, the short road to the summit being of single-track width with passing places. Once into Italy the road widens, descending to the main S21 road and back to Jausiers via the Col de Larche.

Alternatively, another road from Isola leads southwards to St. Sauveur, the beginning of several miles of alternating bends which – eventually – leads one back to Barcelonette. This route is quite something, with a never-ending succession of small villages, tight bends, and staggering views.

If travelling east from Grenoble towards Briançon the N91 winds its way between the mountains, climbing steeply into the ski country beyond le Bourg d’Oisans. Care is required when approaching the short tunnels on this road, for many of the locals do not use their headlamps, with the result that as one’s eyes try to compensate for the abrupt change from bright sun to darkness, an unlit car will be past before one is aware of its approach.

Look out for a short tunnel controlled by traffic lights, and turn right immediately after the exit, where a car park on the left affords a good view of the Lac de Chambon, another massive man-made lake built to harness the abundant waters of the area for hydro-electricity. A small hotel and bar is opposite the car park.

The N91 continues to climb towards the Col du Lauteret, which at 2,058 metres is the highest point on the road. As one reaches the summit, turn immediately left onto the D902. This is a quieter road, winding through many hairpin bends to the Col du Galibier, the fifth highest pass in Europe, at 2,646 metres.

From the summit the road follows the river into the ski village of Valloire, where the Hotel de la Poste makes a good value overnight stop. Their restaurant is excellent, with Canard au Myrtelles being one of our favourites.

As with all such minor roads in this area, one must consider the time of year before planning the route, for most are officially closed until June, and in many cases this means the end of June. Even when classed as ouvert, the temperature can easily fall below freezing point, and snow is to be expected.

During one visit to Valloire by Z3 in mid-June, Heather and I found ourselves driving between walls of snow over ten feet high, following the snow plough as it finished the day’s work! With the roof down and heater fully on, we remained comfortable even when the temperature fell to minus 4 degrees Centigrade.

From Valloire the road climbs again, to the Col du Télégraphique – take care at this point, for the main road cuts across the apex of a hairpin bend, a potential site for problems. From 1,566 metres the road falls through a series of hairpins to St. Michel-de-Maurienne. After crossing the A43 autoroute and the river, a right turn will follow the N6 towards Lanslebourg and the Mont Cenis area.

Those heading for Italy should follow the N6 to the right, just past Lanslebourg, from where the road winds its way over the Col du Mont Cenis (2,010 Metres). After a break at the summit to admire the intensely green waters of the Lac du Mont Cenis and its dam, the road passes into Italy, where the S25 leads towards Susa.

Francophiles will instead follow the D902 again, which leads to Lanslevillard, a pleasantly modern ski resort with an excellent campsite on the left as one enters the village. This is a good base, with many hotels, restaurants and shops. Most local dishes include generous helpings of cheese, but are appetising in the extreme.

From here the D902 winds its way through some of the best scenery in the French Alps, climbing steeply from Bonneval-sur-Arc towards the Col de l’Isèran, with a steep drop from the unfenced road. During one visit to Vallois in mid-June, we met fellow Z3 owner Paul Brown, who had made the journey across the Isèran – with appropriate adventures – just after breakfast. Even at this time of year the pass can be quite treacherous until the afternoon sun and the snowplough have done their work, when it is passable with care.

At 2,764 metres the Isèran is the second-highest pass in Europe. During the ‘sixties the Chamoix motorcycle rally was held on the Isèran, when it was a real challenge to ride the gravel road of what was then Europe’s highest pass.

The summit gives wonderful views across the Vanoise mountains, and features the inevitable small restaurant, after which the road descends to Val d’Isère. The brash ugliness of this the nineteen-sixties ski town soon gives way to more breath-taking scenery as the road skirts the Lac du Chevril, passing through a series of concrete avalanche shelters until it meets the D87 at a dam.

From the dam an improved section of the D902 takes you to the village of Seez, in the outskirts of Bourg-St. Maurice. If you need any petrol, buy it there! After a sharp right hand turn the serpentine bends lead high above the trees to La Rosière, which at 1,850 metres is the last French village before the Col du Petit St. Bernard.

The first exit at the first roundabout will take you to the Hotel le Solaret, a good coffee stop, or a base for exploring the area. This will, of course, provide an excuse to make the winding journey up and down the road to Seez, which is always a good way to start or end the day’s driving!

There are many other good roads in the area, one of the favourites being the Cormet de Roseland, which provides an interesting alternative to the main road route between Bourg-St. Maurice and Albertville. Another good excursion is to spend a day in Italy, and ascend Mont Blanc by means of the cable car from Entrèves, north of Courmayer. After three successive cable car rides the view across the mountains from 3,842 metres (12,600 feet) is well worth the journey.

The Col du Petit St-Bernard offers a good route into Italy, by following the pointing finger of the Saint’s bronze statue. The road leads to Aosta, and then into Switzerland via the St. Bernard Tunnel or the Pass. Southern Switzerland has many attractions for those who enjoy twisting roads, and this road leads to some of the best, which we will examine later.
jackal on PH wrote:i love your profile... an endless pornographic paroxysm of the letters BMW

do you actually like driving at all or are cars to you just a manifestation of some sort of pathological mother complex ?

Joined: Sat 21 May, 2011 11:57
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Post by Bill- » Tue 24 May, 2011 20:13

Spokey you are bonkers

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