This summer I had planned a kind of social distancing tour of the Alps. I designed carefully all details day by day, where to go, where to sleep, all GPS tracks were properly done and uploaded in my Garmin, every day they would have taken me from A to B. My touring bike was ready, fully loaded with my camping gear, clothes, rain gear, a bit of food, water and tools for a total of 25kg of the bicycle. The trip started as planned, I would have cycled through Savoie and Provence, but it didn’t happen in fact this is the story of a tour that completely changed on the road.
I left Turin (Piedmont) on a nice sunny morning in the beginning of August, my first climb was towards Col du Mont Cenis (Alt. 2083m), a long climb of 30kms that took me from Italy to France. The slop got very stiff quite soon it was between 9 and 11%, but after that, it was constant and let’s say bearable between 7 and 9%. I felt strong enough to go a bit faster than what I thought before, so I was on the top just in time for lunch. Despite the weather forecast temperature was agreeable and the sky was blue. I followed the road and soon after the top, I was reaching Lanslebourg, a small village with a French atmosphere, full of flowers and adverts for sports activities. I went to Les Balmasses Camping, there the owner was very nice and he found a small pitch for me, despite the fact that the camping was sold-out and he was also so kind to offer a special price because of that. Campsites in France are clean and more organised than those we’re used to in Italy. I put up my tent and I had time to go for a little walk around the village before dinner and before the rain.
The day after I woke up on a very cold day, it rained all night and the temperature was down at 10 degrees. I waited a bit, but I needed to make a move, so I packed all my staff, including the wet tent and I was on the road. My plan for the day was climbing Col de l’Iseran, but going up to 2700m with that cold was out of discussion. I didn’t want to spend my day waiting there, so I decided to proceed towards Saint Jean de Maurienne that was my endpoint for the day, hoping that there would have been less freezing. The road was going most of the time downhill, but a cold and strong wind was making it nearly impossible to pedal. I was so frustrated because I couldn’t follow my plan and also because cycling with the cold and the wind was making it very tiring. I reached the Grands Colls Camping, the perfect location to camp base for many of the calls of the Savoie. They have nice and wide pitches and a safe garage for bicycles. At the reception, whilst I was checking-in I found a map of Savoie and Haute Savoie, it was time to look at the alternatives, weather forecasts were not giving sing of improvement for another couple of days and ride in the cold up to high mountains was not an option.
This is how my trip changed, the map was listing so many circuits with detailed information about what to see, points of interest, length, difficulty. I had at once all the region in front of me and there was much more than I had imagined when I planned my trip.
The next morning as forecasted it was still raining and it was still cold, I went for breakfast with my map to look at my new leg of the day when I found on the ground 15 € fully soaked, I took it as a good sign, I was ready for the tour into the tour. That day I’ve followed route 35 and then 47 from Saint Jean de Maurienne to Les Marches where the small lake of Saint-André appear like a magic place to my day. The sun was out and the lake was surrounded by a green lawn that seems perfect for a relaxing afternoon. Close to the lake, I found the Camping La Ferme du Lac, where I could put up my tent and hang my clothes to dry whilst I was going to find my spot by the lake. That afternoon I spent some times just to relax and warm up after riding in the cold for two days. I read and I looked at my new tour guide, the map was telling me that I had many beautiful routes to chose for my incoming days.
I woke up and it was cold again, but I had a new plan. I was ready to follow route 20 the Plan vélo Grand Lac, an amazing route that led me to Chambery and then to Aix Les Bains, where I turned for the street of the lake of Bourget towards route 54, there I came across many cyclists. The ride along the lake was breathtaking. From there I wanted to move toward the well known green-lane Eurovelo 17 the Rhone Cycle Route. The day was getting hotter, I had a break by the lake, but on the hills, the sun was now burning. I was following the route and I found myself uphill again before Annemasse. Most of the cycle tourists I met that day were travelling with e-bikes, the hills were challenging with the up and down, but I was too close not to complete my day with another lake, so I went down to the lake of Geneve where I could safely follow the city cycle-lane that took me to TCS Camping Genève-Vésenaz. This was definitely the most featured campsite I have ever seen. Hairdryers in the restroom, camping tables for the tents area and they also provided guest with a travel card for the little ferries that were crossing the lake and for all public transportation. That was a very long day riding, but also a beautiful evening, visiting Geneva going from one side to the other of the lake for free.
The next morning I felt rested and happier, starting my ride still along the lake of Geneva heading towards the iconic Routes des Alpes. The climb from Thonon Les Bains was moderate, I was following the gorge of La Drance, beautiful views but unfortunately with too much traffic. I guess that in summer everyone would like to pass through the routes of Tour de France, but unfortunately most of the tourists are travelling by car or motorhome. I reached Col des Gets (Alt. 1172m) by lunch time. It was again getting boiling and I had to stop to freshen up every single water fountain I could find on the way. That day I stopped for the night in Cluses in the only campsite available which unfortunately was dirty and unwelcoming even thought it had a swimming-pool where I could jump!
The day after I was up earlier, I was afraid it would have been another hot day and my route was going towards Col de la Colombière (Alt. 1618m), 17 km climb from Cluses. This was one of the most challenging climbs of the holiday with my bicycle fully loaded and a series of kilometres of true champions with slopes well above two digits. It was amazing reaching the top led by the stones on the road that are announcing to cyclists elevation and gradient every km. Many other cyclists were encouraging me with their usual “bon courage”. The last few km had been very hard, but as you know, overtaken our limits makes us stronger. I was happy, my day was going to be easier skirting alongside Annecy lake though a green-lane perfectly paved and full of families of cycle-tourists that accompanied me up to Albertville which was also my destination for the day.
In Albertville, the Adoubes Camping was a very natural place where to stay, a soft green grass was hosting many travellers with bikes and tents. I loved the atmosphere and since my tour didn’t have a schedule anymore I decided to stay for two nights making the wise choice of climbing Col des Saisies (Alt. 1650m) following the black route number 8. Another popular col of Routes des Alpes that I managed to appreciate because following my map I reached the top from a smaller road, without milestones or fancy cyclists, but immerse into nature until the last few km when my track joined the main road up to the col. My experience of Savoie was improving every day, trusting my cycling map and the recommendation I could gather from other cyclists on the road.
After 2 days in that lovely camping, I was nearly sad to leave, but my tour was going to take me further and on another amazing cycle-lane. From Albertville I was going along the routes number 2 “La Vallée Olympique”. I was afraid I’d end up into a national road after Moutieres, which actually happened for a very short time before signs led me into another cycle-lane built on a former railway. The good thing in this area is that most of the time you feel safe on the road and many times you feel like cycling is a real thing for the local mobility. I followed the Voie Verte from Aim towards Bourg St. Maurice and I had lunch at another small lake where I could swim and relax for a while with other vacationers. Bourg St. Maurice wasn’t too far and I arrived before the usual evening shower at the Le Reclus Camping, another place full of cyclists who were camping to climb the nearby cols.
The next morning was pretty cold since it has been raining all night, but it is always a good thing starting the day and the climb in the crisp morning air. I was going to climb in 45km Col de L’Iseran (Alt. 2770m). Finally, since the first time I wanted to scale it from the other side, the storm had prevented me from doing so, even though I was nearly glad I had a chance to climb it from the longest route because it was the first time I have ever cycled uphill for so many km altogether. Col de L’iseran it has been the Climb with a big C of my holiday you can read more about it in my other “special post” because this kind of mountains deserves certain respect.
My holiday was going well I had my new plan by that time, I was following the Routes of Alpes all along, from Col de L’Iseran, down to Lanslebourg for another night in the first campsite had me when I arrived in Savoie. The day after I was ready to reach another of the “must” of my summer, Col du Télégraphe (Alt. 1566m) from Saint-Michel-de-Maurienne down to Valloire and up again towards Col du Galibier (Alt. 2642m) and down to Col du Lautaret (Alt. 2058m). Col du Galibier was also one of the big “monster” in my head especially arriving from the “hard side” as cyclists say, and also about this long and beautiful mountain I’ll tell you more in my next post, I can just say that after this climb I felt I could go home, I had all I wanted and I was smiling to myself whilst downhill I was freezing!
For the last night, I stayed in Briançon at Camping des 5 Vallées where I could relax at the swimming pool before the usual evening thunderstorm. At the Campsite, I met another cycling-tourer who was travelling on gravel, with similar bikepacking gear. He was a lot stronger than me, riding longer hours every day, a very inspiring person. I always find fascinated the stories of the solo cyclists who love travelling and reaching places, day by day, with the only goal of discovering the territory and connecting with nature.
The last day on my way back to Italy I went for an easy and really scenic route though Col de l’Échelle (Alt. 1762m) along Val des Prés. The day was warm and beautiful, entering the valley was easy and relaxing, the Alps distinct atmosphere that has accompanied me for most my tour of Savoie was still there. It has been all so unexpected, the route that changed after only a day from my departure and the reveal of the region thanks to the map I’ve found that brought me in so many unplanned places.
Tour numbers: 14 days | 932 km | 16036 m | 0 puncture
I learned once more that travelling by bicycle requires flexibility and spirt, but I also brought back a new positive feeling of confidence, being able to do it, without stopping in front of obstacles even when they cannot be overcome, but it is necessary to go around them.
TOTAL BUDGET 14 DAYS ALL-INCLUSIVE: 541 euro