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Our summer in France

The perfect summer in France, 14 days and 18 peaks, a small adventure for those who enjoy cycling the highest and most majestic mountains in the Alps, conquering the territory by riding a bicycle.

Summertime, big plans or small plans? I have many ideas, but as usual, I look up to the mountains and they seem to call me, in the end, the Alps would always be my first choice. Nevertheless this year a friend told me she had never been cycling towards France and saying this she mentioned just after the world Provance, that one climb that was on my bucket list for some time: “Mont Ventoux”.

To plan a nice tour across the Alps and I have to look at where I can cross the border between Italy and France it always works quite well if I plan it starting from Turin. There are different passes, sometimes it is just a matter of making it flow from one stage to another.

Here is a quick recap of how it has gone, considering that we made some adjustments along the trip, I can proudly say that I’m pretty happy with my plan.

Tot. Tour-days14
Tot Distance cycled1.090
Tot. Elevation gained18.200
Tot. Colls climbed18
Tot. Camping nights11
Tot. Resting days1
Tot. Punctures0
Tot. Bananas eaten 14
Tot. Tuna, Onion, Beans dinners9
Tot. One full grille chicken dinners2

Day 1: Bussoleno – Briançon

Ref. Komoot: 81,1 Km, + 1550 m

Our tour started in Bussoleno (no one knows Bussoleno, no worries if you also don’t know it), which is a convenient small town between Turin and the mountains, 30 minutes with a train and we were ready for our breakfast at the friendly bar under the arcades that became our local landmark. Off we went for our first climb: Col de L’Echelle from North, through Susa, Fenix, and Bardonecchia. It is one of the short and easy climbs if you don’t consider the 45km that are still going uphill before Bardonecchia, from where the real climb starts. The path flowed between its hairpin bends and the heat of this summer, up to the plateau at the top. Down towards our first travel destination: Briançon, one of my favourite fortress cities, despite many touristic shops, it still retains its medieval character. Not too far we reached our first Campsite “Des 5 Vallèes”, I’d been there before and I loved its quiet and wild pitches, with many good services like the small grocery shop, the swimming pool, and the sharing room, where to sit in case of rain.

Day 2: Izoard round tour

Ref. Komoot: 84,8 Km, + 1740 m

Basecamp in Des 5 Vallèes, we went without any baggage for the Kilometer Zero to climb Col d’Izoard from North. In France, most climbs are equipped with milestones from the very beginning which accompany cyclists up to the top with all relevant information like average steepness, elevation, and distance to the top. The temperature is good, we stop only to fill in the water bottles, and we reach the top easily, but with the unpleasant surprise of finding the obelisk placed to indicate the altitude of the pass under renovation. Basically, we photographed a working site. The descent is fast and easy, greyish rocks give that side of the mountain a Martian character, we stop to grab a coffee and a butter croissant (which is always a must in France), and soon we reached the state road that goes through Les Gorges (the canyon) du Guil, a very panoramic road. We love the view but we have to keep moving, the temperature is high, and we need to stop for a refreshment in a water fountain, one of my favorite times of the day, just next in order after the evening deserved beer.

Day 3: Briançon – Saint Jean de Maurienne

Ref. Komoot: 87,6 Km, + 1600 m

Time to pack our camping gear and face a long climb, slowly up to the Col du Lautaret which is the perfect road for someone like us who is cycling with at least 20kg bicycles, never steep, never hard. From there the last 8kms to reach Col du Galiber are a bit more demanding, we keep going, it gets a bit windy, but the panorama is great, we don’t mind going slowly. After less than an hour, we’re on top, queuing for the “must have” photo in front of the double sign that points to and from this majestic pass. But the fun is not over, the descent is fast, even panoramic, in Valloire we stop for a coffee and to refill our water bottle before going up to Col du Telegraph, the last small climb of the day. From there we went down, proceeding along the national road pedaling with headwind to reach Sain Jean de Maurienne and there the Gran Colls Camp-site, which is altready promising well when at the entrance a compass rose indicates all the distances to the most famous passes in the area.

Day 4: Col de la Croix de Fer and Col du Glandon  round tour

Ref. Komoot: 69,7 Km, + 1930 m

Looking at the elevation profile of our track, we decided to change our initial plan and proceed for the day leaving our belongings at the campsite. The climb toward the Col de la Croix de Fer is a pretty long ride, 29 km, not always easy, plus the climb starts exactly 200 meters from the gate of the campsite. Wonderfull beginning uphill, the view of the mountains is astonishing, we’re riding deep inside it. As usual, we don’t want to stop too much before reaching the top, we’re also very afraid of the temperature that after lunch gets always higher and higher. As the climb progresses, the asphalt is covered with endless graffiti, possibly dedicated to cyclists who competed on this climb during the last Tour de France. We are at the top ready for the “must-have photo” and from there we turn towards the Lac de Gran Maison before going back and up to Col du Glandon. On top, a super tiny coffee place caught our attention, but it was time to descend and go back to the camping site. This summer’s extraordinary heat made cycling in the afternoon impossible, in the last kilometres we were only thinking about having a cold shower. We reached a very old bar in town where we got some refreshments before calling it a day.

Day 5: Saint Jean de Maurienne – Grenoble

Ref. Komoot: 112 Km, + 1400 m

Initially, I planned a shortcut to go from Saint Jean de Maurienne directly to Embrun by catching a train. However, our plan changed because the connection between Grenoble and Embrun had been suspended for programmed work on the line. The alternative ended up being 2 days of cycling along a route I didn’t really know much about. We left our camping early in the morning, luckily in France there are a lot of routes suggested for cyclists, so we followed one of those that took us initially on an agreeable gravel path and then after a few steep stretches toward from Saint-Pierre-de-Belleville and so the climb of Col du Grand Cucheron. We climbed the first km inside the woods, a pleasant climb, but the last 5 are demanding, it must have been the tiredness of the previous days, or the load, we got to the top and we felt like heroes! Grenoble was a long day, but we made it, and for the night we enjoyed a comfortable hotel room.

Day 6: Grenoble Saint Firmin

Ref. Komoot: 91,5 Km, + 1830 m

The second day of connection toward Embrun, was a nice surprise because our path opened with a pleasant up and down between sunburned hills and small villages. We left Grenoble on a two-lane cycle path equipped with all the accessories necessary for a noteworthy pit stop: a pump for inflating the wheels, maps and a bench. We went up on two hills where we find other passes for our collection: Col du Fau – Col de Cornillon, then we went down following the N4, called “Napoleon’s Route” towards the lake of Le Drac. The view is pleasant, we wanted to stop and camp in Corps, but the Camping Municipal has the toilets under renovation. In Italy there are no Camping Municipal, those are places where you can camp cheaply, you pay directly to the Municipality or to a manager who lives there for free and is in charge of collecting the fee, the services are minimal, but the places are always very wild. Nothing we could do, for the night we had to continue to the next camping site, in Saint Firmin, a small village that welcomed us with a last hard climb towards our lay-by. We eat in the tent, it rained for the first time since our departure.

Day 7: Saint Firmin – Barcelonnette

Ref. Komoot: 102 Km, + 1440 m

One last effort before reaching again our beloved mountains. Sun was shining and we needed to overcome the hills before heading again up to the mountain. I cannot complain about this part of the tour because the panorama was never boring and so the variety of the landscapes. We chose smaller roads and one little pass: Col de Manse, which seemed a very popular climb around the area, in fact, we crossed paths with my cyclists. Every day since we started our journey through the hills I wanted to ride a bit more and leave fewer kilometres for the day ahead, so with good pace, we managed to arrive in Barcellonette after thave followed the shore of the promised Lake of Embrun. Barcelonnette is a very lively town with many offers for sports and adventures. It is nice to see so many tourists around for the first time since we left Italy. I love this part of France and we slept just at the foot of our next challenging climb.

Day 8: Barcelonnette – Castellane

Ref. Komoot: 92 Km, + 1290 m

Camping gear quickly collected and packed, we left Barcelonnette for the ascent of Col d’Allos, 20 beautiful kilometres, never too steep, another perfect route for our heavy bicycles. Alps again, I cannot explain what exactly makes them so fascinating, might be the rocky profile or the open view towards the high peaks, but every time I climb one of those passes, I feel like I’m in the right place, my place in the world where I can breathe again pure air. We’re on top where we can take our usual triumphal pictures. It is a busy day in the area, there are a lot of cyclists running a competition, 3 passes in a day, nothing we are envious about, we can enjoy our tour and after the fatigue, we stopped in Saint André Les Alpes for a coffee break, this is how we spoiled ourselves all over summer, infract coffee is the most expensive drink in France, for 2,7 € you can have a cappuccino which is called Café Olè and for 1,7 € an expresso which is called Noisette if you want it as macchiato! The day’s route brought us to the next chapter of the tour, Gorges du Verdon. The Gorges du Verdon or the Grand Canyon du Verdon is one of the biggest canyons in Europe and for sure one of the most beautiful places in France. If you want to detox from city life and find some peace and recover from your stressful job, the Gorges du Verdon is what you need. We stopped in Castellane a traditional small village with at least 4 campsites. It is a lovely place where to spend our evening, get a Pastis before dinner and Genepy (typical herbal liqueur) afterwards.

Day 9: Castellane – Esparron de Verdon

Ref. Komoot: 78,5 Km, + 850 m

We leave Castellane early, following the red route of the Trans Verdon, a road that goes up and down along the dry river of the Gorges de Verdon, which has almost changed its appearance from green to grey, through the waters we could see the sharp rocks of the river bed, but then we passed near small lakes, perhaps a reservoir and there the situation improved, colours became brighter again. We climbed the Col d “Ayen and then we continued along the lake of Sainte-Croix following the recommended route for bicycles, so we found ourselves in a very hard stretch, the slope never dropped below 12%, we proceeded on this small road to the top when it opened up a completely different panorama, cultivated meadows, the first areas of lavender sowing. We arrived at Lake Esparron in the early afternoon, put up the tent at the first campsite on the road and descended towards the small town. On the lake, the shores are crowded as if we were at the seaside in Sardinia or so, but the water is fresh, and diving in is nice. In order to tone up a bit more, we rented a canoe for 12 euros and off we were, floating on the magnificent mirror, there are incredible places where if it wasn’t for our desire to cycle we would never have arrived.

Day 10: Esparron de Verdon – Bedoin

Ref. Komoot: 118 Km, + 1510 m

Usually, on vacation, I had always changed my plans due to the rain, but this year for the first time we had to change our plans due to the hot weather. Starting from the Verdon area we had initially planned two stages through Provence, but we decided on a shortcut, crossing the low hills in one day and getting directly to Bedoin, the base camp for our climb of Mont Ventoux. We started in the morning knowing we would have a long day, on the saddle, ahead. We climbed Col du de Montfuron towards the countryside, on the road, there were several signs for villages that we see in the distance, but we had a goal in mind: “Arrive, bear the heat, not to stop”!. Obviously, all the lavender in this area had already been harvested, and the drought burned the crops of the season. We continued while on the road we bumped into some organised tours that stopped waiting for the participants with cool drinks, while we, on the other hand, due to the water saving ordinance that closed all fountains in France had been forced to ask for water in a small hotel, just before the last climb for the day: Col des Trois Termes. Despite the distance, we reached our destination around 3 pm, luckily for us the campsite chosen had a nice swimming pool to dive into and regain some wellness.

Day 12: Mont Ventoux round tour

Ref. Komoot: 56,7 Km, + 1730 m

If you’re wondering what had happen on day 11, well we had a day of rest. Since everyone was telling us about Mont Ventoux as one of the hardest climbs and we had been cycling for 10 days, we thought we should have a break before facing the “monster”. Mont Ventoux has 3 different climbs, from Bedoin is the hardest because there are 10 kilometres in the first part of the climb at about 9-10% slop. However, since this was our goal for the summer, we really wanted to climb the mountain from the “real climb”, nothing less. On the day of the challenge, we left very early, at 7.17 we started the climb, and the forest accompanied us throughout the first part with nature and its insects, in fact, a swarm of flies wandered around us for the whole first 10 kilometres. When we got to the last part, the one we all know from the souvenir photos of the Tour de France, we reached heaven. This mountain has no barriers to the views, below we could spot the villages with their tiny houses, perhaps on a breezier day (which is quite common), we could have seen even the sea. One of the most iconic climbs in Europe, and about 2 hours later we were at the top, satisfied and victorious. We reached the peak of this adventure, a destination that I had dreamed of for years, I felt happy, but also sad that it had already passed. The rest of the day flew quickly we went back to the campsite for lunch and to rest at the swimming pool, then back to town we enjoyed some shopping. Bedoin is full of souvenir shops of the Mont Ventoux and we couldn’t leave without getting at a least few memories of our heroic feat.

Day 13: Bedoin – Orange – 🚂 – Modane

Ref. Komoot: 41,1 Km + 120 m

In light of the fact that we had completed our tour, we needed a fast and convenient way to return to Italy, and the easiest way would be to travel by train from Orange to Modane. We packed our tent and in less than 40km we arrived in Orange following for most of the time a greenway called “La via Venaissia” an Itinerary on the route of the old Comtat Venaissin railway line. It has been a pleasant morning until we jumped on the first train up to the last. Until our arrival in Mondane we had a “crazy” journey. The first train was overcrowded with bicycles, causing us to get stuck in the corridor, while the second train had no air conditioning and the old bicycle coach had no chairs, we sat on the floor. French TER’s poor quality service and its expensive tickets have made me no longer want to complain about the Italian regional train.

Day 14: Modane – Bussoleno

Ref. Komoot: 73,7 Km + 1210 m

Mont Cenis, the last climb of this tour to go back to Italy and casually to the same train station. We had breakfast and as usual, we made our sandwiches for the day before leaving. I felt ready but also tired and sad to climb the last mountain, even though I was very happy of having the opportunity to show my travel mate the beauty of Mont Cenis. The dam that creates the colourful lake of Mont Cenis is fascinating and with the strong wind on the top, it offered us that last feeling of the high passes we had challenged for the whole summer.
You might assume we felt tired, which we did, but not for the days spent camping or for the climbs pedalled against the wind, tired that there is always an end to such a beautiful journey.


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