Sunday, 10 July 2011

St Point and Burgundy

Chateau Bertzel
Heading north, we made for the camp-site by the Lac near Saint Point, just inside Burgundy.  We’d been there a couple of years before, and it’s a good stopping off point on the long journey home.  We spent a couple of days exploring the hills around the little town of Tramayes, long, gradual hills rather than the steep climbs we’ve been doing.

Today we set off up the biggest hill around, La Mere Boitier, at 760m.  A good climb and then downhill most of the way to Macon, past vineyards of Saint Veran, Beaujolais, Pouilly Fuisse and Macon-Pierreclos.  Vineyards everywhere.  Macon is a busy commercial town, but we didn’t explore, just had something to eat and then off on the Voie Vert/Green Route most of the way back to Saint Point.  The voie vert are great cycle paths much like our railway trails, but better surfaced, and there’s a network of them all over France- really taking off- must find out more!

Tomorrow we set off north and will decide on the next stopover depending on weather

As it turned out-

Weather poor.  Ian desperately in need of wifi, tv for Tour de France, English voices, no more flies, his own bed etc etc  So once we were on the road north, we went for it and ended up 4 miles away from Calais, and an earlier ferry- but then it has been 4 weeks since we left those fair shores.  Ah well, at least we can contact loved ones, and see little faces over Skype!

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Back in Beaufort

Mont Blanc in background at Tetes des Fours

After a few hours’ drive, we were back in Beaufort at my favourite site, Camping des Sources- beautiful, tranquil setting, with waterfall tumbling the cliffs behind, beautiful, loved gardens and facilities. The site was quieter than we’ve ever known it, but that seems to be the case wherever we’ve been.   The couple remembered that we’d been a couple of times before.  3 or 4 nights here to explore the cycling and walking, order the local beaufortain bread (with lardons and nuts), trying and get wifi to finally post some blogs, and enjoy some peace and quiet, after the busy Bourg d’Oisan.  One of the worst thing about staying at the hotel, was the terrible night’s sleep we had- local drunks shouting until the wee small hours, then the cleaning lorry street cleaning, then the road repairing lorries coming through!!

The next few days we spent cycling up the tranquil and stunningly beautiful Cormet de Roselend(1.46), up the Col de Pre, a steep climb out of Beaufort, the Col de Saisies(1.42), with its surprisingly clear view of Mont Blanc, as we cycled around the hairpins..  The cycle up the Col de Joly would have to wait for another year.

We did a cracking walk up past the Refuge de la Croix de Bonhomme and on to Tete de Fours, with its orientation table, but we didn’t need it to find Mont Blanc, white and clear in the distance.  From the Tete, it looked so close, still covered in snow.  It was an amazing day, with totally clear blue sky, and no wind, but very chilly towards the top at 2800m  Being a Sunday, and an impeccable day, there were lots of people trying to get a closer look of the mountains, all 360deg of them, right over to the border with Italy and the pretty Mont Pourri.  Five and a half hours later we were back at the van, then off to the edge of the Lac du Roselend, which is really a reservoir, for a wild camping night.  Lovely spot to watch the sun go down on a grand day out.  Chilly night, but 3000’ up!

Sad to be leaving this area, and will miss the peace and quiet, the cool, crisp air, the smell of all the hundreds of wild and alpine flowers, the sound of the tinkling of the cow bells, the beautiful brown faces of the cows (but wow they make expensive cheese averaging about 13euros for a chunk of cheese!)

My Marmotte!

After spending the afternoon and night up at Col de Lauteret, with magnificent mountain top views, we drove over Col de Galibier and off down the valley into Valloire.  I was trying to commit the gradients to memory, as we’d be cycling the exact same route back up Galibier tomorrow.

Last night at Lauteret was a bit fraught, with hundreds of flies besieging the van.  There are flocks of sheep (and angry shepherdesses, sick of campervanners distracting her pyrennean mountain dogs (pastou) from doing their jobs), and the whole area is very fertile and pastoral, and fly-ridden.  We had a great walk over to gaze up at the “Meige” mountain, and promised ourselves to come back and do a longer walk next time, down into a lovely valley. There were thousands of different wild flowers, and a large yellow one, called Gentiane, from which a local sweet liqueur is made.

Just before the hard bit!
We based the van at a camp-site in Valloire and set off up Galibier at about 9.30am.  It was already steaming hot and set to be the hottest day of the summer so far, at about 36deg.  The climb up to Galibier was a hard 10miles to 2600m, but wasn’t as bad as I’d expected.  Unfortunately they were tarmacking the road at the summit so we had to do a detour up to the top and then back down to go through the tunnel.  There were far too many tunnels to go through back down to Bourg d’Oisan, and some were very poorly lit.  Ian had a little flashing torch clipped to the back of his rucksack, so that we could be better seen by cars and occasional lorries in the tunnels.  Very nervous and glad to be out the other end of them!  There was just one extra climb up the Ferrand valley, with views down the steep gorge sides, before we free-wheeled and then cycled into the wind on our way down to B d’ Oisan.  A total of 42miles, we were glad to relax at the end.  We hadn’t needed to carry much extra clothing with us, because it was so very hot.  At least the afternoon breezes had helped to stop it being unbearable, but we dived for the shower, once we’d signed ourselves in at the Hotel Milan.  Not a great place, to say the least.  Health and Safety would have had a field day- an air of decay and dilapidation and not even clean!  The bed-linen was clean, the room was cool and the shower worked, and that was about it!  None of the loos worked in the hotel, so there were some very embarrassed faces at check-out!

We knew it was going to be another hot, long day, so we set off by 8am. Up to the ski village of Allemont, a nice gentle 10mile start, and then the climb up past the Vaugany turn-off,  with the Belledonne mountain range off to our left.  Steeply up to the village of le Rivier d’Allemont, with its memorial to those who fought in the Resistance, and then all that height lost as we plunged steeply downhill across the river, and then very steeply uphill to the Barrage and reservoir of the Grand’Maison.  I was absolutely spent but just about had enough energy for the final ascent up to Col de la Croix de Fer.  A couple of fizzy drinks at a bar, just before the last climb.  The views all the way up had been fantastic, but the last section is particularly stunning scenery- big, sweeping green mountain sides, two huge eagles gliding over the scene.  Wonderful, but very, very hard.  Col de Galibier had been less exhausting than I’d expected, but we were both shocked at how hard we’d found this climb.  Unfortunately Ian had had to wait for me for quite a while!
Climbing to Col de la Croix de Fer
The descent down into St jean de Maurienne was awesome, vertiginous drops into steep gorges, but the road surface was aweful, with deep ruts and chunks missing!  Apparently the Marmotte doesn’t go this way off any more, because it’s so bad, and they’ve replaced Croix de Fer, with Col de Glandon, and a different, safer route off.  Then there was a rather miserable, uphill, busy road section between St Jean and St Michel de Maurienne, of about another 10miles.  At least it was cooler now, as we tackled our last climb of the day up Col de Telegraphe.  After a coffee in a bar, we set off up the final climb - the col de Telegraph. Made in just over 1.5 hrs - well pleased. Overall did over 64 miles and 9000 ft of ascent today - the most climbing I have ever done.

Saturday, 2 July 2011

Vaujany Cycle Event 2011

At finish!
With the race starting at 7.30am, about 30mins up the road, it was an early start, up at 6am, tea and porridge, and then off.  Dropped Ian off about 15mins down the road from the start of the race.  He was surprised to meet one of his old colleagues from Whitbread, pulling into the same lay-by to get ready!

I brought the van back to the site, and set about cleaning the “house” and catching up with a few jobs.  We’ll be wild camping at our favourite mountain spot on the Col de Lauteret, so no facilities and a few preparations necessary.  I had a few hours before I needed to set off to meet Ian at the end of the event in the village of Vaujany, so time to catch up with the blogs! 

With Keith Lunn old Whitbread colleague
We’ve booked in at a local hotel to stay overnight next week, as we cycle through Bourg d’Oisan on the Marmotte circuit.  I’m really looking forward to it.  My first big alpine climb up the Col du Galibier, followed by the Col de la Croix de Fer and Col du Telegraphe.  The Marmotte starts and finishes at Bourg d’o, but because we are continuing north, we made the decision to base ourselves at Valloire.  The Marmotte also finishes at Alpe d’Huez, but I know my limits!  There’s no way I’m adding that one to the itinerary again!

Up towards Vaujany
Ian was hard on my heels, as I climbed up to Vaujany village, which was every bit as difficult as the climb yesterday, if a little shorter.  I managed to get a great shot of him going past, with superb mountain views behind him, as he strained up the final km to the village, a glass of water and a beer.  It was extremely hot and getting hotter, about 34deg!  The van being down the valley in Bourg d’Oisan,  we had to cycle back, which was lovely for me, able to enjoy all the mountain scenery, but yet another 11miles for Ian, on top of 69miles and 8000’ climbing, with a mountain-top finish!  So maybe that’ll keep him quiet for a while!  He was chuffed to bits to find that his time of 5hrs 5mins was a gold standard!

Just before the finish at 1500m
Back to a campsite that is beginning to fill up with mad Dutch cyclists.  You can see too much spandex and bib-shorts, so it is time to move on to our favourite piece of solitude up on Col de Lauteret tomorrow.  At 2000m it’ll be a bit cooler as well!

Alpe d'Huez

A well pleased Marie on the Alpe!
Alpe d’Huez, short and not so sweet!

Nearly there!
Really chilly last night, but a lovely day in store, as we set of at about 8am. On the 1000m climb up to the ski station of Alpe d’Huez, with its 21 virages/hairpins, each dedicated to famous cyclists of the past and present.  All the way up there is graffiti all over the road, mainly in Dutch, spurring on their heroes of the Tour de France.  Even at 8am, there are cyclists coming back down the mountain.  It’s hard going the first few kms, with some sections of 12% gradient, and then it steadies off to 8%. You smile for the cameras, waiting on the last virage to catch the first bit of business of the day!!  The experienced young studs don’t smile, or say allez, cos they’re far too cool for school!!  They push past on the bends, having changed gear, and get off the saddle to show you what the youngsters can do!  I plugged away in the same gear, and was really excited to find that I was able to keep going all the way to the top, about 14km.  But my backside was in agony, aching and sore, but I did it.  Ian was already at the top, having a good rest and a coffee, finishing in 1hr 07mins, faster than last time.  At 1hr 53mins, I think I was about the same as last time, but the biggest difference was managing to keep going.  As we shot down the hill, it was satisfying to see how steep it had been, and how many had felt the need to stop.  The views over the mountains were magnificent, and there was time to pause, get circulation back to the fingers, and enjoy the experience.  The road was full of cyclists and traffic, and it had been much nicer setting off earlier.

Nimes to Bourg d'Oisan

Not much happened today.  Drove about 150miles to the southern alps and pastures familiar.  First stop the Casino supermarket in Bourg d’Oisans, and then a reccy to find le Verney, and the edf parking area, where Ian’s Vaujany cycle sportive is from, on Sunday.  Then back to camp overnight at Les Cascades site, 28euros, compared with an average 13euros in Pyrenees!   Welcome to the Alps- high mountains and high prices to match!!!  They’re all about the same price around here, and it is a lovely site, set amongst the trees, with nice, big pitches.  This was going to “home2 for 3 nights (the longest stay yet!), so it was great to be somewhere so lovely, with mountains towering all around, and yet good restaurants and bars, full of crazy Dutch cyclists! Tomorrow’s steep climb up the Alpe d’Huez was only a stone’s throw away, not even enough time to warm legs up first.

We had a nice, basic menu de jour at La Rive Gauche, and checked out accommodation at a local hotel, with a view to doing La Marmotte cycle route, next week. 65 euros for the night and 10euros each for breakfast.


Walking up to the castle

In the land of the Cathars, there are ruins of Cathar castles dating back to 13th Century, perched high on vertiginous peaks, dotted all along what was until 1659, the border with Spain.  Driving past Cucugnan, towards the little village of Duilhac-sous-Peyrepertuse, we parked up at an aire and walked the remaining couple of miles through pineapple-scented broom, and past a profusion of wild flowers, dianthus, carnation, cornflowers, camomile and dozens of others.

The previous night had been full of lightning, thunder and pouring rain, oh and high winds!  It was a relief to waken to a half-decent day!  As we picked our way through the boxwood, towards the entrance to the castle, it became much cooler and cloudier, so the tour around the castle wasn’t as relaxed as it might have been.  A stunning castle which rambles along up the rock summits.  Must have been tortuous to build. The views over the surrounding countryside, vineyards of the Pays d’Oc, across to the intriguing castle of Queribus, the last Cathar stronghold to fall, and far into the distance to Perpignan and the sea, make you appreciate the motivation behind building these fortifications!

A plat du jour at a local tavern (11euros each), and we were off north and east towards the Rhone Valley.  We overnighted at a great spacious aire at Chusclan, just off the motorway near Nimes.  Great spot, with water, individually-shaded bays, with picnic tables, but sadly no toilets!

Within 5mins of parking up, our French “neighbours” came across and asked if we would like to join them for an aperitif.  Henri, Solonge and Henri’s mother, Odile, are from Nimes and were on their way back home.  It was Odile’s birthday today, 80, and clearly thrilled to be enjoying it with her family.  We talked of where we’d been and where to next.  Henri had cycled in the Pyrenees too.  He had worked for 32 years on the railways, and his wife had been a nurse.  They loved their new Hymer van, and talked of travels to Italy, Florence, Spain and Portugal.  They hadn’t been to Britain because of the poor weather.  (From what we’ve heard, this summer’s shaping up to be a bit of a Wimbledon-wash-out!)  They recommended various parts of France for the food, particularly Auvergne.  They too had been to Beaufort and loved the beaufortain bread and cheese, which I’m really looking forward to!  We made our excuses and went back to the van to make a meal, and for me to re-charge, after having to concentrate on understanding and responding in French for a good hour!  Exhausted!!  Later I remembered a cake I’d bought in Luz-St-Sauveur, peculiar to that area, a “broche cuit au feu sur les pendilles”, which seems to be a cake cooked over an open fire daubed onto a large wooden skewer.  I tried it first and then took our hosts a few slices, saying that it was like a birthday cake for maman.  They seemed delighted,  but I hoped they liked the cake!

Later we walked into the little village of Chusclan, with a couple of lively bars by the river, and a lively one in town.  It had more life than we’d seen so far in a small place.  Historical fact-  the locals were divided into culs-rouges and culs-blancs (red-arses and white-arses) depending upon their revolutionary or patriotic politics, and they met in different bars in this tiny hamlet!

The Final Leg!

The final leg!/ Axat to Perpignan

We woke to dampness all around.  Moisture hanging in the air and more heavy clouds.  Looks like today’s going to be another mixed day!  It’s the final day of our journey through the Pyrenees.  We’re now in the Languedoc-Rousillon region, and specifically the Occitane, the country of the Cathars, the Templars and the Holy Grail, Montsegur being among dozens of castles perched precariously on high mountain peaks, visible for miles around.  Out of the forests and woods and into Mediterranean maquis/scrub.  For Ian, along mainly downhill section along quiet country roads.  For me, main dual carriageways into Perpignan, getting progressively more and more busy.  I made for an aire just outside St Cyprien , and again Ian wasn’t far behind!  Can’t say the driving was satisfying today, and I long for the mountain climbs, the solitude and the isolation!

The weather picked up late afternoon and finally the sun came out, but very sticky!  Lovely sheltered, roomy aire, if we should ever find ourselves back here- highly unlikely!  The only way to visit this coastal area is by sea!

We celebrated Ian’s journey with a glass of Cremant, sparkling wine!  Looking forward to visiting Peyrepertuse Cathar Castle tomorrow.